Friday, August 3, 2012

Rapid Innovation and Customer Focus at Tait

After publication of an article in Forbes about the shift in global manufacturing from multi-year product cycles to rapid and continuous innovation with a focus on the practices used by WIKISPEED and the coaching provided by SolutionsIQ at industry-leading companies such as Tait Communications, Emre Aras posted the following questions on the WIKISPEED mailing list:
  • What kind of hardware engineering team is it?
  • What do you do?
  • Is it like Research and Development Center?
Below are my responses.

Engagement with the team at Tait has been particularly interesting because the team comprises mechanical and systems engineers in addition to software engineers and testers, all co-located in a single area with workbenches that contain only the tools and test fixtures necessary to execute on the singular vision for their pilot project. As far as the specific details of what the team was working towards, I am hesitant to give more details than just to say that they were building out a base station for use by the types of hand-held radios you might see firefighters, police officers and other emergency responders using (which is not giving away much since that is what Tait does). Since all team members were sitting together and working towards the same concise and focused vision, since everyone was aware of what everyone else was doing because of the information radiators used throughout the room and morning just-in-time planning sessions, and since the product owner was always available to answer questions and refocus priorities, the team was able to identify several knowledge gaps that related not just to this individual project but to other projects ongoing at Tait, the team was able to cut scope responsibly because of new information exposed by members that emerged from the serendipitous conversations that happen when teams work in close and open proximity, the team was able to inspect and adapt daily from the actions that surfaced in afternoon retrospectives, and the team was able to demonstrate a working product to a customer proxy within the span of just 5 days!

My role is just to be a catalyst for change. Team members often know what they need to do to get work done. Someone in my role just helps to get team members together in the same space, talking to one another, and using project management frameworks and tools that encourage teams to produce small customer-visible features on a regular cadence.

One goal of this project was to deliver a small, fully-realized feature into the hands of a customer and to get immediate feedback on a short timescale, so the project was more than just a theoretical exercise. Another goal of the project was to identify knowledge-gaps in order to minimize risk for ongoing development.