How apps deliver value: agile methodology in manufacturing
From connecting your physical products to the digital world to remote monitoring and maintenance saving you the cost of sending engineers across the country, mobile and web apps carry a lot of weight in the manufacturing industry.
But there is a specific approach that separates a software solution that meets your business objectives from one that simply ticks boxes.
That approach is agile. Agile methodology doesn't focus on the end product. Instead, the focus is on the process:
You don't start with a high-level feature list. You start with collecting evidence relating to the issue you want to solve. You don't focus on your goal. You do user research and gather data to create a solution that's fit for purpose – an approach which also saves you time and money.
You wouldn't build a house without consulting an architect. Similarly, you shouldn't build an app before having someone take the time to understand the problems your users will actually face when using it.
How the agile methodology gets you what you need
App developers use one of two methodologies. The first is the waterfall. Here, tasks are completed sequentially. Once one is done, the team moves onto the next.
The other – the agile approach – is team-based. It's iterative. The development process happens in “sprints” of tasks. After each of these, you and your developer's project team can collaborate and review.
The goal is to break everything down into manageable chunks. You don't need to have every single planned-for feature implemented for every single target user immediately. You do want to have a limited feature set implemented for a smaller group perfectly.
The key takeaway is that this is a process. You end up with software that receives the same care and attention you give to the products you manufacture. Because that is what a software solution that delivers value really needs.
The agile methodology in action – the importance of UX
Critical to the entire process is understanding your UX, or User eXperience. The best way to do this is to create a “user story map” that lays out your technical architecture and demographics, desired features, user flow, and business aims.
Creating a map usually involves workshops and collaboration sessions and a great deal of user research. Here are a couple of example of the process in action:
Example one – overcoming manufacturing process problems
Plumbing manufacturer Kohler Mira was developing a tap for waterborne bacteria control in hospitals. The tap would connect to a mobile device via Bluetooth.
The company had invested heavily in the project, but the manufacturing process was growing more complicated and costly because of connectivity issues caused by a specific component.
To solve the problem, MyOxygen first had to research it – along with a whole range of alternate solutions. This research was constantly reviewed by Kohler Mira's team and extensively tested until fast download times and connection reliability had been achieved.
Example two – fix slow manual commissioning through UX design
Energy company Utiligroup were installing increasing numbers of home smart meters as part of a government drive. At every installation, Utiligroup engineers had to manually connect to a web service and enter a 16-character alphanumeric code. This was prone to mistypes and had to be followed up with a phone call.
A mobile app was the obvious solution. MyOxygen worked with Utiligroup engineers and product owners to refine what an app that automated smart meter commissioning needed to be able to do based on user research.
A key finding was that the company's preference for a certain mobile device led to hardware problems when barcode scanning that could be addressed by the app. Flagging potentially disastrous issues such as this is only possible with effective user research and an agile approach.
Focus on the process and the product will come
These two examples only scratch the surface of how an agile approach, extensive user research and transparency between you and your app developers will lead to a software solution that actually meets your needs.
It's been said that you should focus on the process and the product will come. Nowhere is this more apparent than in app development for the manufacturing industry.