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Lean and Agile Mechanical Engineering: Part 3

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Lean and Agile Mechanical Engineering: Part 3

Railway switchyard

In this series of blogs, I’ve been looking at the strategies that agile software developers use to keep up with the ever-advancing cutting edge of their field, and taking stock of which of these ideals could be useful to a mechanical engineering firm.   The twelve principles laid out in the original Agile Development Manifesto

[1] may not be radical, ground-breaking new ideas, but they can be a valuable benchmark for any business.   In this blog, I’ll take a look at the second principle listed in the manifesto.

Second Principle of Agile Development

“Welcome changing requirements, even late in development.  Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.”

If a bleeding-edge software company wants to thrive, they must not only stay on their toes and adapt to any changes, they must embrace those rapid changes as part of their identity.   As the drafters of the manifesto saw it, the ability to quickly adapt to any changes—whether revised requirements by the client, shifting markets, or updated tools—is essential for an agile company.   This has the obvious benefit of making it cheaper and easier for the company to meet new requirements or achieve new goals on any project.   Furthermore, a company that isn’t entrenched in one static, unalterable set of procedures for every project may find it easier to incorporate new technology into their process, to improve and evolve both the product development process and the product itself.   This is what Eric Ries describes as a “Technology Pivot”: using new technology to achieve the same solutions, but with “superior price and/or performance”.  (Ries, p.  176) [2]

However, the above examples are only a small part of what both the Agile drafters and Eric Ries were writing about when it came to “change”.   A technology pivot is small potatoes compared to the other types of dramatic pivots Ries describes, in which a business might entirely upend itself to focus on a completely different customer base or totally redevelop its product line to fill a new niche.  A company might expand a single feature of its initial product into its whole product (Ries’s “Zoom-in Pivot”), or realize it can use its initial product as just one part of a much larger design (“Zoom-out pivot”).  Or, in working closely with customers, it might discover that it could solve a larger and more lucrative unfulfilled demand, and switch to producing an entirely new product (“Customer Need Pivot”).  (Ries, pp.  172-175) [2].  Ries mostly discusses pivots in the context of his own experience with software, but some mechanical engineering and electronics companies have found their own success with incredible pivots.  For example, Sony Corp. and Suzuki Motor Corp.’s first humble wares were electric rice cookers and weaving looms, respectively [3].  The point here is not that a company needs to be constantly reshaping itself in order to succeed, but that the businesses and industries and populations it serves are in flux.  If they keep an eye on this, that company might see the opportunity to manufacture an entirely new product with the process they already have on hand, or target an emerging market before that market even knows what to call itself.

Change at Glew Engineering

At Glew Engineering, we welcome change in a different fashion.  We’re not subject to much goalpost-moving on a per-project basis, as our design projects tend to have fairly straightforward objectives and requirements.  We’re actually prohibited from modifying our work on some expert-witness legal projects after a certain point in the process.  Rather, our variation occurs from project to project, moving from designing a centrifuge for PCR DNA separation one month to certifying chemical deposition equipment the next, from expert witness work for the defense in a trade secret case to assisting the prosecution in an industrial accident suit.  While it might be safe and reliable to take only semiconductor jobs from here out, we get more creative and more capable the more we step outside our comfort zone and have to learn new mathematic models, new industrial codes, and new software.  That adaptability lets us take on and excel at any project that comes our way, no matter what the subject material is.

And, who knows…maybe we’ll have our own huge pivot at some point.  You just might see Glew’s Glues on the shelf at your hardware store in the future.

 

[1] Beck et al.  ‘Manifesto for Agile Software Development’.  N.p., 2001.  Web.  11 Mar.  2015.  http://agilemanifesto.org/.

[2] Ries, Eric.  The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses.  United States: Crown Publishing Group, Division of Random House Inc, 2011.  Print.

[3] http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonnazar/2013/10/08/14-famous-business-pivots/

By | 2016-12-15T22:25:10+00:00 April 24th, 2015|Mechanical Engineering|0 Comments

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