How to accelerate your automotive development by implementing agile methodologies

Published by EEVAM Technologies on

The term “agile development” has been gaining traction in the tech industry and tends to be associated mostly to software development. This technique is interpreted as a work method focused on fast-paced, interactive activities involving frequent iterations and versions under the premise of error mitigation through constant revisioning. The virtual and implicit nature of software has contributed to the adoption of these techniques in the tech industry but, would it be viable to use an “agile development” in the automotive industry, where projects are heavily regulated, span over longer time periods and include manufacturing phases?

As a matter of fact, it is already in use in this industry, but under a slightly different approach of the term agile, which will be now discussed.

A traditional waterfall scheme is proposed to study the main opposing (or complementary) option to the agile methodology. The next image shows a project following a traditional waterfall sequence.

The process starts with an initial requirements analysis and cascades into the next design phase, followed by integration and verification to conclude in maintenance activities. The V-model follows a similar route, but takes into consideration different design levels while executing simultaneausly testing and designing tasks, which in result optimises the final design aswell as error detection.

In theory, if this model is to be strictly followed, returning to previous phases would not be contemplated, as it is limited to a linear and sequencial flow. In practice, projects are always subject to changes during their execution, forcing a return to prior stages resulting in a new scenario with two main consequences .

  • A pure waterfall scheme is no longer applied due to revisioning of previous steps
  • The project is delayed due to non-scheduled tasks 

This has been the traditional way of project execution in industries like the automotive and relies heavily on schedule adhesion and deadline completion.

As a solution to this issue arises the agile methodology, a concept that can be summarised with two words “embrace change”.

Agile methodologies take changes in the project’s planning for granted and assume that, in order to proceed to next stages, feedback has to be considered and activities must be looped back into previous phases. This process is seen as part of the agile methodology itself and not as a operational failure or mistake as it would be perceived in a more traditional development scheme.

However, this aspect brings into question the ability to prevent delays and budget overruns if return phases are taken into account. Two key concepts provide the answer: Obtaining fast feedback and streamlining the work forward.

Fast Feedback

Is there a part of your project that does not let you sleep? Start working on it. Fast feedback is based around identifying the main risks in order to act on them as soon as possible. These risks can be located in advanced phases of the project and, by following a traditional development, they would have been dectected late, with a high cost of solution.

The concept of risk anticipation is known and frequently used in engineering. However, together with aglile methodologies, this concept has extended throughout the whole process of product development. Is my product going to be well received in the market? Will the production costs be assumable? Do I need X specific technology to reach the set specifications? All these questions associated to different phases of the product’s lifecycle can condition the rest of the development, which is why the objetive should be working to answer them as fast as possible.

One of the most used tools in this area is the use of a prototype like the minimum viable product associated to Lean Startup or an EVT prototype from a more conventional development. It has to be mentioned that, allthough a prototype is similar in nature to a final tangible product, it is no more than a tool for reaching a greater goal, obtaining feedback about the project in order act swiftly upon updates and possible deviations.

Streamline the work

But, how does the procedure of a feedback iteration work in a design process? Imagine your team has discovered the need to implement a change in a product’s initial architecture. Albeit a minor change, it affects the whole design, resulting in remakes of documents and schematics. Regarding this last point, a solid document management needs to be established in order to keep track of activities and maintain traceability, which is then used in the final change approval by the team members.

The previous process is typical in the automotive industry, where control about every minor detail must be kept and, due to traditional developments following an incremental workflow, procedures are not optimised towards flexibility, consequently causing cumbersome changes.

In agile development, you are constantly getting feedback on the different parts of the project, however, if you want to integrate this feedback into development and not throw it away, you need to optimize your processes so that the flow of information and change is carried out in a simple way. necesitas optimizar tus procesos para que el flujo de información y el cambio se realice de forma sencilla.

There are different ways of optimizing processes, for example by using collaboration tools, which facilitate communication and work of several users on the same document, or automation tools, which make it possible to get rid of repetitive processes such as the generation and versioning of documents after each change.

The main point here is that, regardless of the tools used, if you work in an industry like automotive, your project is almost certainly complex enough that it is worth investing resources in improving internal tools and processes in order to facilitate subsequent work.

And third...constant process improvement

In this article we’ve talked a lot about the main concepts that agile methodologies are based on but not much about specific tools to implement them. Why? Because choosing these tools is also part of the methodology. In every project, the sum of processes that enable fast feedback and make progress possible don’t have to be the same. Establishing a set of tools and processes at the beginning of a project (or company) and restricting 100% to them is the exact opposite to agile. Instead, you should include the processes themselves as part of the feedback’s revision in order to progressively optimise the loop between these two ideas.

Agile development by startups in the EV market

In a new and growing market like the electric vehicle market, all main actors start from square one and the best results will be achieved by those who advance fast. Agile techniques are the ideal tool for this and lots of electric vehicle startups are using them to progress further in the market.

Companies with no previous experience have been able to penetrate the market thanks to agile methodologies applied not only to engineering, but to all branches, form market analysis to manufacturing, with the goal of validating and verifying these processes before the initial start.

From a more technical standpoint, the use of new tools like the Model Based Design (read more on our article here) or the application of OTAs (commonly used by Tesla) allow manufacturers to boost their development and focus on the relevant parts.

Generally, “newschool” EV companies have interiorised the agile concepts to a higher level due to the nature of their structure that allows them to adapt more easily to these methodologies. As a rule of thumb, Conway’s law is applied:

“Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization's communication structure.”

— Melvin E. Conway

However, any company can employ the concepts presented in this article and, as the improvement of the processes itself is part of the methodology, they can be progressively implemented.

At EEVAM, our activity in the automotive industry has been guided under these principles working hand in hand with our clients on the successful development of their vehicles. If your electric vehicle project needs assistance to reach the market, don’t hesitate to contact us.. Si tú también tienes un proyecto de vehículo eléctrico que necesita llegar al mercado de forma óptima, no dudes en contactarnos.

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