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Agile team

When Product Developers Turn Sprinters

To accomplish the perfect sprint, you need to be well prepared and above all well positioned at the start. Only then can you make it to the finish line. Quickly. Directly. Efficiently. What applies to sports also and especially applies to the development of new products at Vorwerk. Making product development agile is one aspect of Dr. Henning Hayn's mission; at Vorwerk Elektrowerke, he is responsible for advance development. The fact that he “just happens to be” a keen athlete in his spare time speaks for itself.

“Agile work methods can be a great help to us, especially at the innovation and advance development stage,” explains Dr. Henning Hayn in our interview. Glancing across to the cartoon-style picture on the wall of his office at Research & Development illustrating the various phases of agile advance development, he clearly indicates what he and his team are aiming for: If I know exactly what I’m after when I’m working on new products, I can achieve my goal without losing valuable time along the way. “And that’s not always the case in the early stages of product development,” Hayn adds. “That’s why it’s important, especially in advance development, for us as a team to employ agile work methods so that we can react immediately when things don’t run smoothly.“

Accordingly, the team must keep its sights firmly on the goals of each sprint: “First of all, we have to develop our products to meet customer demands. Only then will we be able to sell them.” The second challenge concerns allowing modifications to be made during the development process so that the best possible result is ultimately achieved for the customer – in other words, the new features and digital connectivity they require, for example.

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“That’s why it’s important, especially in advance development, for us as a team to employ agile work methods so that we can react immediately when things don’t run smoothly.“

“From the company’s perspective, the third challenge is risk management, where it’s a question of ensuring the quality of a product,” says Dr. Henning Hayn. “Agile work methods stand for a transparent development process that also allows for product managers and the Executive Board to be actively involved anytime. Here too, though, the main thing is that ultimate responsibility for the development process always lies with the development team itself. No one is better qualified to evaluate it.”

However, establishing agile development at Vorwerk is also a challenge, “because we are all well aware that that also means a big change in the way we work and are organized.”

This means that the early phase of agile product development begins with a scouting and discovery process that’s followed by an agile technology project. The scouting process begins with the generation of new product ideas based on trend and market observations as well as the corporate strategy. “Here, too, we apply agile work methods to define sprints,” explains Hayn, referring to the close collaboration between product managers and product developers: The product managers want to know about the problems and challenges as seen from the customers’ perspective and then refine their terms of reference to work on initial ideas for solutions and a business model for the product. On the development side, this is the stage at which technical solutions and prototypes are developed and also tested – both from a technical point of view and in terms of customer acceptance.

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“As soon as we have brought these ideas to a certain maturity, we can decide whether or not the product should be included in our road map.” If that is the case, the process moves forward into the agile technology project, when the product concept is developed. Here, too, agility is ensured by week- or month-long team sprints, the results of which are presented to everyone involved in reviews. These focus equally on technical and business aspects and the timeline of all “sprinters” on the way to their goal, which means that cost and customer awareness are of equal importance.

In the best case, the goal of the sprints in both early phases is to have produced a prototype with a maturity level of approximately 80 percent, high development quality, and that’s tailored precisely to customer requirements. All of this benefits subsequent series development at Vorwerk, providing it with a solid basis on which to continue working on the product using lean and agile methods.