How Altium 365 Supports Agile Hardware Development

Lena Weglarz
|  Created: April 4, 2024  |  Updated: July 2, 2024
How Altium 365 Supports Agile Hardware Development Cover

For hardware development teams, the shift towards agile methodologies presents a unique set of challenges distinct from those faced by their software counterparts. This transition demands not only a change in mindset but also the adoption of tools and frameworks that resonate with the tangible, iterative nature of hardware design and production. 

Altium 365 offers a platform that aligns with the agile philosophy for hardware teams. It facilitates this transformation by supporting the three enablement capabilities: digital evolution management, rapid prototyping, and customer feedback loops. Each of these elements plays a crucial role in shaping the agility of hardware development teams, ensuring they can respond swiftly to changes, make informed decisions, and ultimately deliver greater value to their customers. 

Join us as we walk through these three pillars, using a reference drone design to illustrate how Altium 365 can be your ally in making agile hardware development a practical reality.

What Is Digital Evolution Management?

Digital evolution management is all about embracing change as a constant in the hardware development process. It's the practice of integrating the ability to swiftly adapt to new insights and alterations into every phase of design and documentation. This approach doesn't just minimize the hassle of making changes; it encourages teams to view these adjustments as steps forward rather than setbacks.

At its core, digital evolution management involves accepting uncertainty and using it to our advantage. For instance, when working on a drone design for package delivery, the focus might initially be testing the drone's precision in specific scenarios. This phase doesn't aim for a fully operational model but seeks to combine enough elements from various disciplines—like PCB design, mechanics, software, and firmware—to address the most critical design questions first.

As we progress, certain design aspects get finalized early on, while others remain flexible, allowing for adding, removing, or altering features based on what we learn. This strategic flexibility is crucial for documenting value and mitigating risks while achieving our goals.

A common concern with adopting agile methods in hardware is the perceived need for constant design changes, which seems at odds with the necessity to finalize designs at certain stages. However, an effective agile approach enables us to lock down designs swiftly while keeping strategic options open and adapting as needed.

So, how do we manage this balance? The answer lies in leveraging digital tools

Traditional methods like Word documents and PowerPoint slides can quickly become cumbersome, especially when frequent updates are the norm. Agile development thrives on rapid iteration and execution cycles, necessitating tools that allow for quick design updates, change tracking, and clear traceability. Knowing which design elements drive the most customer value at any given time is essential for making informed decisions.

Digital Evolution Management in Altium 365

This is where Altium 365 comes into play, offering an integrated digital solution that supports agile evolution management. Its capabilities in ensuring transparency and traceability are invaluable, enhancing team autonomy and efficiency across the agile development cycle.

Altium 365 simplifies the process of tracking designs across different disciplines, ensuring every decision is traceable back to its origin. This feature is crucial for maintaining coherence and unity among team members working on various aspects of a project.

The platform's digital collaboration tools enhance alignment. Features such as commenting, task assignments, and review processes are embedded directly within the design context, making it easier for the entire team to stay well-informed and in sync.

Altium 365 allows for the direct integration of customer needs into the electronics design files as specifications and technical requirements. This ensures that everyone involved clearly understands the project goals from the design phase through to production, fostering a unified direction and purpose.

The platform reduces the burden of constantly updating documentation by incorporating version control. This feature enables easy tracking of changes and the associated rationale, significantly cutting down on administrative overhead.

Rapid Prototyping in Agile Hardware Development

Rapid prototyping in agile emphasizes the creation of tangible outputs in short cycles. This approach works efficiently for software development, where outputs are typically working code. We release it. We see it. People can try it. But what does it mean for hardware?

In hardware, rapid prototyping is essential for quickly materializing concepts into physical forms to test, learn, and iterate. The goal is not just to build something; it's to learn from the build process, reduce risks, validate technical choices, and ensure the project moves in a direction that adds value to customers. Unlike traditional methods, which might rely on project timelines or Gantt charts to show progress, agile focuses on producing real, functional prototypes to demonstrate advancement and address real-world problems.

However, building a prototype for every sprint is not possible. It would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. The essence of agile and lean methodologies is to add value. Therefore, the approach to prototyping must be strategic, focusing on what's essential for learning and decision-making at each stage. Prototypes can range from simple mock-ups or 3D models to more complex, fully functional products. An example of effective early prototyping is Steve Jobs using a mock-up of an iPod to determine the optimal form factor.

How Can We Start with Rapid Prototyping?

The first step in rapid prototyping is defining the approach, which varies based on project complexity and goals. Not every project requires a series of intricate prototypes. For simpler or incremental projects, fewer or no prototypes might be needed. The key is to ensure that each prototype created serves a purpose, whether for internal learning, customer feedback, or technical validation.

Adopting rapid prototyping may require developing new skills or acquiring new tools, such as simulation software or 3D modeling tools. It might also mean seeking faster turnaround times from suppliers for components or prototypes. While this can initially stress the team and the organization, developing these capabilities is crucial for agile hardware development's success.

Although agile may allocate more resources to prototyping than traditional methods, the investment is justified by the value it brings in terms of learning, risk reduction, and speed to market. The focus should always be on cost-effective solutions that provide significant insights and propel the project forward.

Rapid Prototyping in Altium 365

Altium 365 simplifies the rapid prototyping process, making it more accessible and efficient for hardware development teams through several CoDesigner tools, including MCAD CoDesigner, for seamless collaboration between electrical and mechanical engineers. This ensures that all team members can work together effectively, regardless of their specific roles.

Late Bill of Materials (BOM) changes often cause many delays in prototyping and production. Altium 365 BOM Portal allows procurement professionals to shift left and engage earlier in the design process. This early involvement helps prevent lags and re-spins by allowing for real-time updates and adjustments to the BOMs.

Altium 365 offers three key features to speed up prototype builds:

  • Release Package Export lets you quickly and easily send your design packages to contract manufacturers.
  • Octocart enables the direct purchase of components from your BOMs, streamlining the ordering process.
  • Altium 365 Assembly Assistant helps you with manual board assembly by highlighting the precise location and orientation for each component, which reduces assembly time and minimizes errors.

Customer Feedback Loops

In agile hardware development, integrating customer feedback is crucial for refining products and meeting user needs. 

Unlike software development, where feedback can be quickly incorporated into the next release, hardware presents unique challenges in gathering and implementing customer insights. However, with a thoughtful approach, it's entirely possible. For hardware teams, this means finding creative ways to collect and use feedback, even when the product is embedded within other systems or only available as a partial solution.

The fear of negative feedback and the potential need for significant changes can deter teams from seeking customer input. Yet, these three capabilities—rapid prototyping, digital evolution management, and customer feedback loops—must work in harmony to facilitate swift and painless updates to the design.

Building a Feedback Strategy

Developing a strong customer feedback strategy begins with setting clear goals and understanding what you need to learn from your customers, why, when, and from whom. This strategy should be integral to your project's onset, guiding how you plan iterations and engage with customers.

Establishing direct channels with your customers, such as customer panels, can foster cooperative development and ensure a steady stream of valuable insights. Expecting and planning for regular feedback is essential, turning it into a predictable aspect of the development cycle.

In an agile hardware environment, the product owner/manager is crucial in managing customer feedback. They must develop skills in Voice of the Customer (VOC) techniques to extract meaningful insights and effectively integrate this feedback into the development process.

Receiving feedback is just the first step; the real challenge lies in how to adapt your designs accordingly. Not all feedback will lead to changes, but strategic adjustments in critical areas can significantly enhance the project's success. Leveraging feedback as data helps inform decisions, avoiding the trap of relying on the loudest voice within the organization.

Incorporating Customer Feedback in Altium 365

While Altium 365 does not directly gather feedback from end users, it excels in incorporating received input into actionable design changes. 

The platform simplifies the process of updating workflows by including steps for adding customer feedback. This flexibility allows teams to adapt processes based on specific strategies and needs. Once customer feedback is converted into technical specifications and requirements, the Altium 365 suite of tools facilitates quick design updates, ensuring new insights are promptly reflected in project iterations.

Try Now

Altium 365 stands out as a comprehensive solution for hardware development teams seeking to adopt or enhance their agile practices. By offering tools that support digital evolution management, rapid prototyping, and feedback integration, Altium 365 enables teams to respond more effectively to changes, make informed decisions, and deliver products that better serve their customers.

Discover how Altium 365 can revolutionize your hardware development process. Try now and start your journey towards more efficient and responsive product development today.

About Author

About Author

Lena Węglarz is a dynamic and engaging content creator and storyteller, known for her  commitment to clarity and the 'write-like-you-talk' rule. She joined Altium in 2023, and since then she’s been the driving force behind Altium 365 content, letting the community know where the  world designs electronics. Her work stands out for its ability to make complex technical concepts accessible and relatable. Collaborating closely with engineers, Lena integrates their insights and perspectives into the narratives, bridging the gap between engineers' technical expertise and  the broader community. She fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of the intricacies  of electronic design.

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