Increasing Productivity with Agile Product Development

Emily Suzuki October 5, 2022 3 min read

This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)

Learn about the principles of agile product development, a unique methodology that has taken over the worlds of software design and product design.

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Product development has greatly evolved from what it once was. Designers can now bring projects to life in an agile environment effectively. Formal product development processes historically followed “the waterfall model.” In this paradigm, products are designed linearly, one step at a time, with the output of each step cascading to the step below it.

The waterfall method steps are strictly defined and often split between dedicated teams. In the specification step, designers must think through and document every aspect of the product. The resulting document feeds the design and development steps, transforming the specification into a real-world product. Teams then test and fix the product as needed. After this, the product gets deployed to customers and enters a maintenance phase where teams make updates and tweaks based on market and customer feedback. 

The fundamental problem with this approach is that any mistakes, oversights, or unknowns early in the process can derail all of the steps further down the line. Additionally, the customer typically only has input at the processes’ beginning and end stages. As a result, design improvements that could be added during the development and test phases are lost. In 2001, a group of software developers decided to formalize the methodology they had been following to address these shortcomings. The result was the “agile manifesto” and the birth of a new era in rapid, high-quality product development.  

Agile product development principles

The core ideas behind agile product development fit within these three domains: product, team, and tools. From a product perspective, agile development demands that teams iterate on working prototypes quickly with frequent input from the customer and a willingness to change requirements often. This ensures that the product constantly evolves to meet the customer’s needs rather than drift astray while following a misguided specification. 

From a team perspective, agile development requires that all team members and customers work together, face-to-face if possible, to collaborate and adapt. Individual team members must take ownership of their tasks and be trusted to perform at a high level, given they have the necessary tools. This caveat segues to the tools perspective of agile development. All development must be technically excellent with a focus on sustainability and simplicity. Teams can leverage various software tools and management strategies to help organize, foster, and enable agile principles to achieve this goal. 

The agile manifesto states, “[one must value] individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working software over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and responding to change over following a plan.”  This set of rules extends beyond software and has found a home in many development shops ranging from electronics hardware to mechanical design to chemical engineering.

Fusion 360 for agile product development

Agile product development has even impacted the design and manufacturing industries. Autodesk Fusion 360 is an excellent example of a CAD software tool that naturally encourages agile product development.

First, consider the principle of rapid, incremental prototype production. Fusion 360 can speed up the design process by establishing real-time communication with supply chain partners and shortening engineering change order (ECO) cycles through automated reviews and approvals.

Second, agile product development demands technical excellence with a focus on sustainability from every stakeholder. By aggregating bills of materials (BOMs), quality documents, design files, and other essential records into a single source of truth, Fusion 360 ensures that every designer can access the latest revisions from anywhere from any device. And with the addition of Autodesk Prodsmart, businesses can keep even better track of their resources. This creates a sense of ownership and accountability, eliminating errors and omissions that often arise from poor data organization. 

It’s also worth noting that the agile product development process focuses on the individual and their ability to collaborate with their team, ideally face-to-face. Cloud product development tools like Fusion 360 enable global remote and in-person collaboration like never before.  

Agile product development has taken over the world of software development and has more recently found its way into the product design industry. New and derivative methodologies are also gaining traction as the world recognizes the benefits of moving away from the classic waterfall model. Fusion 360 is a prime example of a tool that adapts to the times. It has helped usher in the design industry’s age of agile product development, helping teams move faster and smarter.

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