Rising product and service complexity
The Aerospace and Defense industry faces significant change. Supply chains face increasing volatility, and the industry is seeing a pivot to services as customers’ requirements change. Technology is transforming product design and manufacturing. Ninety-three percent of industry executives agree that emerging technologies have accelerated the pace of innovation over the last three years.
Agile product development is critical for success
To respond, companies must explore new business models that will address volatility and sustain profitability. This means a new approach to delivering value across the entire product lifecycle. The answer? Agile approaches that support the demands of service-based business models and the rapid creation of new customer-focused features.
Yet many players remain unsure whether agile can be applied to an industry characterized by complex products, with long lifecycles, that must comply with multiple regulatory regimes. These concerns should not prevent aerospace and defense companies from adopting an agile approach. But it must be adapted to the industry’s specific challenges.
Agile approaches in focus
An agile approach is high frequency, cross-functional, model-based and feature-driven. Product development is ‘operationalized’, engineers are empowered to do their work and goods are delivered just-in-time. Agile approaches’ characteristics contribute to faster, more responsive and higher-value product development:
- High frequency
Product development cycles shortened to encourage faster learning.
Development teams are cross-functional, spanning the entire company, and organized by feature.
Model-based systems engineering, hardware emulation and virtualization techniques are essential.
Product functionality is described from the user’s perspective.
Requirements and systems definition are delivered ‘just-in-time’ to accommodate change and local context.
Teams take accountability for performance, self-improvement, local organization and planning.
Product development becomes ‘operationalized’, making it predictable and repeatable.
Lift off with agile
Aerospace and defense companies can harness agile methods and reap the benefits of doing so. But they need to adapt agile to the industry’s specific needs. Industry concerns about deploying agile center on three areas:
- Requirements management
Agile development methods encourage a more flexible and iterative approach. To begin with, only a product’s essential specifications need to be established. The rest are subject to ongoing assessment. By adopting this approach, product designers can test the assumptions underlying their product earlier and faster.
- Program management
Companies cite the complexity of regulation and program management as barriers to agile. The reality is that program management is made easier with agile methods. For example, if cross-functional teams work more closely together they simplify the management of dependencies. Regulatory activities can also be built into the agile development cadence rather than deferred to the end.
- Product and service development
Aerospace and defense companies cannot release products and services incrementally or share beta versions with customers. But that doesn’t mean agile approaches are unsuitable. Stakeholder feedback about early versions of a product will still be valuable, even if the delivery is into a test or virtual environment.
Agile can also benefit developers of reusable components, or platforms who struggle to prioritize the competing needs of their internal customers. Clearly defined priorities can simplify interlock and optimize return on investments in research and development.
Build a culture for change
Aerospace and defense companies need a culture that encourages change. Starting small and building on success is the way forward:
- Build a coalition of change agents and supporters
- Identify suitable candidates for agile pilots
- Design an Agile Engineering Operating Model
- Plan, Do, Check, Act
- Extend to broader groups
- Celebrate success
As aerospace and defense companies confront the challenges of a changing market, they need to reimagine their approach to product and service development. By adopting agile methods, they can break out of their holding patterns and soar to new heights.