Considering Agile for your tool chain development

Developing and integrating complex toolchains in automotive companies is a challenging task. A number of those challenges is directly addressed by the principles behind the "Agile Manifesto". So it is worth while to see what "Agile" has to offer for these, independent of a specific framework (SCRUM, Kanban, ...)

Keeping the (internal) customer happy

Tool departments and ECU development projects often have a special kind of relationship. Often, the ECU projects feel that the tooling they are being provided with do not fulfill their requirements with respect to functionality, availability or support. They are often in very different organizational units. 

Principles behind the Agile Manifesto!
Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

So if agile lives up to its promises (and is correctly implemented!), then this should address these issues.

Dealing with a changing environment

For any project that is not short-term, your environment (and thus your requirements) is sure to change. Especially tooling for new technologies (like AUTOSAR Ethernet, Autonomous Driving, etc.) involve a lot of feedback loops based on experience in the project. And opportunity for change is abundant in addition to that:

  • Your customer's timeline. The ECU needs to be finished earlier, later, not at all, wait - now it's at the original schedule
  • Shifting priorities in functionality needed by the customer
  • Availability of new technologies: We have seen planned work packages turned completely redundant by the same functionality having become available in open source.

Principles behind the Agile Manifesto!
Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.

Getting customer committment

In some settings, a tool or tool chain is being discussed with the customer, then implemented independently by a team and provided to the customer upon completion, only to find the customer frustrated by what he has been delivered. This might lead to finger-pointing and dissatisfaction. A good way to get customer commitment is by integrating them into the development and be able to get early feedback and improvement suggestions. Because then it is "our" tool, not "their" tool. And everybody likes "our" tool more than "their" tool.

Principles behind the Agile Manifesto!
Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project. 

Agile is not simple

Agile methodologies and frameworks address some of the typical challenges of tool departments. However, "Agile" is no panacea and it doing it right is not necessarily an easy task. It forces change and it needs management support – otherwise you might just spin the buzzwords. But for many projects it is well worth the journey.

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About The Author

I am working at itemis as a project manager and business development manager (automotive) supporting and promoting the use of Eclipse and Open Source tooling for the implementation of integrated tool chains and the support of model driven (software) engineering.