Regular Delivery Isn’t Really The Point

Living the role of agile hardware development advocate has been a learning process for me. Obviously, I’ve learned a lot in terms of agile development process but that’s not all. I’ve also had a chance to speak with people seeing new ideas for the first time. That’s been very interesting for me.

Through talking with people, I learned quickly that people sit in 1 of 2 camps when you present the basics of agile hardware development. The first camp responds with “what a great idea… this makes a lot of sense”. The second camp responds with “this doesn’t make any sense at all… how the heck am I supposed to tape-out an ASIC every week/month/quarter?”.

To the first: I enjoy the long discussions we have. I’d say great ideas, opinions and concerns flow both ways. There’s always some skepticism (which there absolutely should be) but there’s a level of acceptance and that’s been encouraging.

To the second: this may seem a little odd… but discussions with you guys have become more valuable to me. I’ve found that a great way to learn is to have my opinions methodically dismantled by an all out pessimist. I get to hear all the reasons why I’m wrong in one short burst. Awesome! The argument against usually starts with how product and delivery are too different between software and hardware so agile can’t work. They might be able to deploy product weekly, but us taping out an ASIC several times is entirely ridiculous.

That discussion can go further but it’s the “product and delivery are too different” argument that allows people to dismiss agile out-of-hand.

Conveniently, I recently found that I’m not the only one bumping into that argument. In this article just published on eetimes (which is a good intro level article and not just for embedded software developers), James Grenning makes a very good point related to development and delivery of embedded software. It seems some in the embedded software world are using the same argument to dismiss the potential of agile:

Because value cannot be delivered each iteration some say that agile cannot be used on embedded software development. My opinion is different. Instead of delivering value, we provide visible progress. I don’t mean doing show and tell on what might be build, but rather a demonstration of real working running software.

Substitute “hardware” for “software” in that quote and I think it’s a decent response to the “product and delivery are too different” argument. Of course it’s absurd to think an ASIC should be delivered every week or every month. In fact that argument is so valid that it’s silly to get caught up discussing it. Instead, and just as James notes for embedded software, the potential for agile in hardware comes from regularly demonstrating progress instead of just describing it in documentation and discussing it in meetings.

Regularly demonstrating progress is where the discussion of agile in hardware development should be starting, regardless of what camp you’re in.


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