The Definitive Resource for
Agile for Hardware Methods

The Complete Agile for Hardware Framework

Introduction

When the MAHD Framework was initially developed, the primary focus was on how to manage a specific development project from conception to launch with Agile principles. This purposely allowed flexibility for teams and companies to scale it for more complex systems and product portfolios based on the unique needs of each company. How to do this was not always obvious.

As more companies adopt the MAHD Framework, having a complete agile for hardware framework to manage more and larger projects became important. The Complete MAHD Framework below shows the key elements for managing projects ranging from simple cost reductions to whole product portfolios. While the key roles and elements are typical of many new product organizations, the framework is designed to allow you to adapt to your situation, culture and objectives.

Primary Scaling Factors

While all projects will use the primary MAHD principles and methods, including project kickoff with the MAHD On-ramp, using Iteration Plans to guide projects, and executing short development cycles in autonomous teams, there are some additional elements to consider as you scale. A summary of these include: 

  • A MAHD team-of-teams approach – With major projects, having one large MAHD team isn’t often practical and you need mechanisms to manage multiple teams. 

  • New responsibilities – While each MAHD team will always have some form of Product Owner and Agile Project Manager, additional skills and responsibilities are needed to manage larger projects, whole product lines and the overall portfolio using Agile methods.

  • Multi-level Iteration Plans – For large systems, you might even have multiple levels of Iteration Plans to manage each major workstream. 

Executive and Functional Leadership

Overview

Executive and functional leadership directs strategic objectives and sets enterprise priorities for portfolio advancement. In the MAHD Framework, these managers are responsible for:

Setting clear project priorities and allocating resources
Allowing Agile teams room to innovative and make decisions
Removing roadblocks and providing support

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Optimizing Product Portfolios

Overview

Most hardware-oriented companies have a range of product lines, each with it’s own roadmap and relative importance to the company. The MAHD Framework ensures that these priorities get clarified and driven down into the organization to:

  • Identify the right level of resources for each project

  • Set priorities for products, technology development, and shared resources

  • Align strategies across products and product lines

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Managing Portfolio Projects

Overview

A complete NPD process must also consider the range of projects to investigate new technology, deliver innovation initiatives and execute other business improvement projects.  With Agile methods at its core, the MAHD Framework:

  • Structures projects and teams to optimize resources

  • Drives  priorities, milestones & stakeholder feedback

  • Organizes the backlog of portfolio initiatives

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Establishing MAHD Metrics

Overview

Metrics become the yardstick with which your product development process will be measured and allow you to make focused improvements as you learn. We recommend establishing metrics in four dimensions:

1) Market success – forecast accuracy, ROI, margin, etc.

2) Customer satisfaction – net promoter score, ratings, competitor rankings, etc.

3) Team satisfaction – autonomy levels, morale ratings, etc.

4) Efficiency – speed from concept to market, decision-making speed, resource utilization, etc.

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Managing Product Roadmaps

Overview

A critical element for successful scaling of the MAHD Framework is the process for managing product roadmaps. While each product is typically managed by its own MAHD project, the product vision and next generation products are always integral in the MAHD process to:

  • Focus on the most critical attributes and features for the current product under development

  • Dynamically make feature tradeoff decisions as new information is obtained through IPAC Iterations

  • Provide a mechanism to capture and prioritize features and attributes for next generation products

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Managing the Full Range of Projects

Overview

The portfolio team, led by a senior Agile Portfolio Manager, provides the guidance to ensure product development projects and programs are going to yield the desired business results. They do this through:

  • Using a combination of agile/MAHD skills and product management expertise

  • Leveraging the MAHD Framework to ensure IPAC Iterations align with portfolio priorities

  • Driving decisions, removing roadblocks and resetting priorities to align strategies across products and product lines

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Managing Program Level Projects

Overview

Large projects, such as complex products, systems, and product lines need a MAHD team-of-teams approach. This requires some additional roles and coordination, including:

  • Agile Program Manager – Team leader with MAHD skills and experience to lead multi-team programs with cross-team dependencies

  • Program Level Iteration Plan – Planning and executing an Iteration Plan for the full system and/or multiple products, often with shared resources

  • Program Level Team – Comprised of project team leaders (agile project managers and owners) and other key decision-makers

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Large MAHD Projects

Overview

Projects with multiple, coordinated MAHD teams are considered large projects and require a team-of-teams approach. They typically have many more Iterations than small projects and have other unique characteristics:

  • Agile Program Manager – A leader of the overall project to coordinate multiple project managers  and teams

  • Program Level Iteration Plans – The need to coordinate alignment points of all the teams working toward common interim objectives

  • Shared Resources – Often key roles will be shared across projects and need to be coordinated

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

The MAHD Project On-Ramp

Overview

An important difference between the MAHD Framework and typical agile for SW methods are the steps taken to initiate a project. This series of activities is designed for rapid, cross-discipline collaborative planning resulting with team buy-in to the Iteration Plan and a backlog sufficient to plan the first sprint. On-ramp activities include:

  • Identifying and prioritizing customer needs through system-level user stories

  • Clarifying preliminary product attributes to begin developing the backlog of tasks

  • Identifying areas of focus to prioritize Iteration Plan milestones, prototype plans and customer engagement points

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Flexible IPAC Iterations

Overview

At the core of the MAHD Framework are IPAC Iterations. These are rapid learning and development cycles where cross-discipline work is integrated, progress is demonstrated, and the resulting stakeholder and customer input refines planning for subsequent Iterations. The execution mechanism to meet IPAC Iteration goals are 2-4 week sprints (similar to Agile for software). Some characteristics of IPAC Iterations: 

  • Flexible durations of one or more sprints (more than 4-5 sprints before completing an IPAC Iteration is not recommended)

  • IPAC goals and durations are determined by the team during Iteration Planning

  • With each IPAC Iteration, the product is further defined, costs clarified, plans are developed for production, etc. 

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

The Manufacturing On-ramp

Overview

As the product design nears completion and approaches production, IPAC Iterations typically begin to focus on manufacturing preparedness and launch activities. Prior to launch, Agile methods help to systematically optimize cost and improve manufacturability. Some considerations in this period include:

  • Agile teams might have new team members that need to get up to speed quickly

  • Parts, tooling and testing lead times and needs must have been considered in earlier Iterations

  • Hard decisions on product design and readiness need to be made

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Managing the Product Launch

Overview

As the product nears launch, the focus changes from getting the product right to creating a high-impact launch. The IPAC Iterations will begin to reflect these goals depending on the size and timing of your launch. Some considerations: 

  • New members added to MAHD teams need sufficient time to come up to speed

  • Product designs need to be frozen with any ideas captured for next generation products

  • Marketing strategies need be aligned with production readiness through IPAC Iterations, using customer engagement to test marketing messages and activities

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Sustaining Products and Customer Support

Overview

After the product launch, Agile methods are a great approach for ongoing product fixes, enhancements and customer service. The prioritized backlog is executed using sprints or Kanban (team preference), with coordination across MAHD project teams so that appropriate backlog items get transferred to NPD projects. Some considerations after launch:

  • The customer service backlog must have a mechanism for escalating issues needing Sustaining Team support

  • Capture new ideas and service problems as fuel for next generation products

  • Include key team members into IPAC Iteration Planning well before the launch

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Project Resources and Teams

Overview

Central to project success is the allocation of resources. The right people, at the right time with the right focus.  While Agile teams best run with dedicated team members, hardware developers, architects, designers, etc. can rarely be allocated entirely to a single project, so the reality of shared resources is built into the MAHD Framework. Some considerations when allocating resources:

  • Use Iteration Planning to identify key resources you’ll need to remove risk and focus on the highest priority attributes early

  • Ensure shared (part-time) resources on your teams participate in task development and estimating

  • When one critical resource is shared across too many projects, ask “How might we help these teams be successful?”

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Managing MAHD Project Teams

Overview

A key principle in the MAHD Framework is autonomous teams that plan and execute tasks.  For hardware-based projects this is a cross-discipline team typically comprised of designers, engineers, architects, etc. For small projects, this might be one MAHD team with all members working on sprints together. For large projects, teams can be comprised of functional team members (such as electronics) or sub-systems (such as the customer interface) who execute sprints and then then align at IPAC Iteration points. Some MAHD Project Team considerations:

  • Each MAHD project team typically includes three roles in addition to R&D team members: An Agile Project Manager, a MAHD Product Owner and a MAHD Master (often these roles can be shared)

  • All team members must be committed to completing sprint-level tasks and achieving IPAC Iteration objectives

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Agile Project Briefs

Overview

One key objective in the MAHD Framework is to enable fast starts to projects while ensuring the team is pointed in the right direction. The Agile Project Brief is a concise summary of business and market objectives for a product or program project and becomes the starting point for the MAHD On-ramp. The Agile Project Brief is not a detailed PRD or business case, but contains enough information to enable the CD Team to start immediately and work autonomously through On-ramp planning. Some Agile Project Brief considerations:

  • It is usually developed by a Product Manager with input from others

  • They are short–one page is often sufficient for small projects and 2-5 pages for complex programs

  • Larger, more complex programs should include information to guide how multiple MAHD teams will be structured and managed

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Small Project MAHD

Overview

One of the advantages of Agile and the MAHD Framework is that it is easy to scale from the smallest projects to the largest. Small projects are a great way to get started implementing the MAHD Framework since the same set of tools and methods can then scale up to any number of projects and larger-scale programs. Some characteristics of small MAHD projects include:

  • A small, single-team effort (usually 4-15 team members) where all are involved in both sprint and Iteration planning

  • An Agile Project Manager may also take the role of MAHD Master

  • For really small and/or short duration projects, the 2-4 week sprints can also be considered IPAC Iterations

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

MAHD Principles

Overview

The MAHD Framework applies Agile principles throughout, but modifies agile methods to meet the needs of hardware development. The core principles include:

  • Rapid (IPAC) Learning Cycles – Short execution and learning cycles allow teams to quickly adapt to new information, align the various disciplines, gain customer feedback, and set priorities.

  • Autonomous Teams –  Once clear strategic direction is set, autonomous teams are the most capable and knowledgeable mechanism to focus development priorities and make fast decisions. 

  • Customer Engagement – As with software, customers can’t tell you if they find something better or valuable until they experience it. Through built-in customer feedback loops, the team is always on track to learn and adapt quickly.

  • Rapid Prototyping – With each IPAC Iteration, the team has the opportunity to demonstrate progress and functionality. Whether it’s a document, foam mockup or partially functioning subsystem, prototypes can validate both market and technical feasibility.

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

MAHD Support Services

Overview

Hardware-based products require a range of support from supply chain management to market research services throughout the development cycle as well as during the ramp up to production. For project success, the right resources must work with product teams at the right time.  The MAHD Framework helps optimize how these resources engage with product development teams to:

  • Align support services needs with R&D needs

  • Set priorities and structure tasks

  • Align timing and deliverables with product development

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

IPAC Iterations = Rapid Learning

Overview

While all Agile methods use rapid learning cycles, the MAHD Framework uses two levels of development cycles to meet the needs of hardware-based product development. Teams work in 2-4 week sprints to execute tasks, but each sprint also moves the team toward the larger IPAC Iteration objectives to enable:

  • Integration of Functions – Work from each discipline (such as mechanical, design, electronics functions) and/or subsystems come together for testing or feedback.

  • Prototyping Opportunities – Key points to demonstrate parts or all of the product at any level of functionality.

  • Alignment Across Teams – Whether its a support function, software or other product team, alignment points are needed to gain clarity and set joint milestones. 

  • Customer Engagement – A key principle of Agile is getting consistent customer feedback throughout the development process.

Each IPAC Iteration consists of one or more 2-4 week sprints, but the duration is flexible based on team-designated objectives.

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Key Role: Agile Portfolio Manager

Overview

If you download our guide to MAHD Roles (register to be a free member here), you might notice this role is not described. That’s because it will have many different definitions and responsibilities depending on your organization. What’s common is that: 

  • Someone must be responsible for the whole product portfolio or various product lines. This is usually a senior P&L leader.

  • Someone who is familiar with Agile and MAHD techniques to guide portfolio level Iterations and  prioritization.

  • Someone who can direct a team of Agile Program and Project Managers.

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Key Role: Agile Program Manager

Overview

An Agile Program Manager may have various levels of responsibility. They might be leading a complex system project that has multiple subsystems and related MAHD teams, they could be leading multiple product-level projects, etc. Some important attributes of this role: 

  • They will lead multiple MAHD teams and Agile Project Managers

  • They must guide Iteration Planning at the whole program level and ensure alignment across teams and sub-projects

  • They are mostly internal facing, but interact heavily with Product Owners, Product Managers and Agile Portfolio Managers

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Key Role: Agile Project Manager

Overview

The Agile Project Manager is a critical role to facilitate MAHD activities and Iteration Planning, maintain the backlog and keep the team on track.  This is not your typical project manager with PMP certification, but one who knows both project management and Agile skills. Some attributes of this role include:

  • Works closely with the team to ensure all disciplines are aligned on tasks and milestones through Iteration and sprint planning

  • Works closely with the Product Owner/Manager to prioritize all activities as well as execute customer engagement activities

  • Should be the expert on MAHD/Agile principles and methods and help others understand and execute

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Key Role: Product Owner

Overview

A MAHD Product Owner is similar to a Scrum Product Owner, but usually at a different level of responsibility. Often for physical products, there is another role, the Product Manager, that has decision-making authority for the whole product or program. A MAHD Product Owner is part of the MAHD team, but also may have a shared role as a discipline leader or even a MAHD Master. Some attributes of this role include:

  • Guides priority decisions at Iteration and sprint planning sessions

  • Help set task priorities in the backlog

  • Executes the customer engagement plan

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

Key Role: MAHD Master

Overview

The MAHD Master role is similar to a Scrum Master role in that they are primarily coaches and keepers of the team moral. This is usually a shared role with a discipline lead or can be part of the Agile Project Manager’s responsibility for small teams. This role’s focus is to:

  • Lead sprint and iteration retrospectives

  • Remove friction, build a positive team environment and help each team member be successful

  • Work closely with the Agile Project Manager to ensure all tasks, milestones, etc. are aligned to goals

Learn more by joining the MAHD Community to access a range of resources.

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