Agile Prototyping for technical systems – Towards an adaption of the Minimum Viable Product principle
Editor: Ekströmer, Philip; Schütte, Simon and Ölvander, Johan
Author: Schuh, Guenther; Doelle, Christian; Schloesser, Sebastian
Institution: Aachen University
The realization of radical innovations is a crucial success factor for manufacturing companies acting in an environment of increasing market dynamics. Heterogeneous customer requirements, which are increasingly changing in shorter cycles, become a major challenge for manufacturers of technical systems. Alongside these external circumstances, functional complexity of technical systems increases, which constitutes another major challenge in product development. As an answer to similar circumstances, the software industry introduced agile development methods in the early 1990s. The iterative development of functional product increments being shippable to potential customers at the end of a development phase has helped the industry to dynamically align the product to the customers’ needs and to reduce the development time significantly. In this context, the concept of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) has gained particular attention. The MVP is a product, carrying just enough functionality to satisfy customers and to gather feedback for subsequent development with the least amount of effort and time. Taking the Lean Start Up initiative into account, the idea of MVP is generalized to be applicable to any type of new business or product. However, the aspect of selling incomplete products is commonly considered to be hardly applicable to technical systems. Nevertheless, the idea of iteratively validating major concerns and risks in product development applying the least amount of time and resources is equally agreed as a necessary step to tackle the challenges described above. Based on user stories for the product to be developed, major concerns and risks are deduced to be cleared out as early as possible with impacted stakeholders. Following the Design Thinking approach, Feasibility (Can we do this?), Desirability (Do they want this?) and Viability (Should we do this?) are types of uncertainty to be reduced as far as possible with each iteration. Due to increasingly interconnected technical systems, most of these subjects are very likely to impact several non-separable functions and disciplines within the system at once. Considering this along with the inherent fact of expensive and time-consuming realization of physical prototypes, the application of the MVP principle becomes a major challenge itself. Therefore, this paper introduces a holistic framework to elaborate an appropriate methodology to support the planning and design of prototypes in agile product development of technical systems. Thereby, the methodology provides an approach to implement physical prototypes in line with the Minimum Viable Product principle. As part of the overall methodology, the paper outlines a procedure to systematically structure design variables, which are meant to be specified and validated by a prototype with respect to particular concerns and risks under investigation. Therefore, the affected functions are systematically graduated and described by generic prototype features, capturing generic design elements such as the geometrical shape, the operating principle or the performance level which enables an initial evaluation whether a feature needs to be specified and captured within the physical realization. Based on this classification, a target-oriented design of physical prototypes is facilitated. Subsequent research will focus on further validating this procedure and on detailing the overall methodology, encompassing the procedure subject to this paper.