Making Agile Product Development Work: Insights from a Scrum Master

Written By: Dave Martin
  • 12/16/2020
  • Read Time : 4 min.
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As an engineer for decades at multiple companies, I have repeatedly seen the same problems and complaints in product development.

“We move too slowly.”

“The project lacks leadership.”

“We’re never going to make our unrealistic schedule.”

That may be because traditional product development programs follow a Waterfall methodology. Think of a Gantt chart; you have distinct heavily planned sequential phases, such as concept, design, prototype, test, and production. A design review gates each phase.

Fortunately, in 2001, a group of software developers formulated a new process. They came up with Agile, which is an iterative incremental approach. One method used to implement Agile is Scrum, which consists of team members, events, and artifacts.

At my last two companies, we attempted to use Scrum. It mostly did not work. However, I felt there was great potential, but we had done it wrong. Therefore, earlier this year I obtained my Scrum Master certification to figure out how Agile concepts can better be applied to product development. And how CAD software can make Agile more successful. Here’s what I learned:

Elements of Scrum

The team member roles in Scrum are as follows:

  • The product owner owns the product backlog and is responsible for the work produced by the team.
  • The Scrum master serves and protects the development team and maintains Scrum practices.
  • The development team does the work and releases the increment (a version of the product).

The events involved in Scrum are:

  • The sprint, which is a time-boxed event that results in a releasable increment. While software development sprints would be days or weeks, for product development I recommend a month.
  • Sprint planning, during which the development team decides what will get done.
  • Daily Scrum, during which progress is discussed and roadblocks identified.
  • Sprint review to demonstrate the increment and discuss the product backlog.
  • Sprint retrospective to identify what worked and what did not during the previous sprint.

The artifacts for Scrum are:

  • The product backlog, which is a living, breathing document of everything that should be implemented in the product.
  • The sprint backlog, which lists the product backlog items that should be completed during the Sprint.
  • The increment, which is a releasable version of the product, as described above.

Challenges of Scrum for Product Development

When you are working on a physical real-world product, all systems are integrated. Changing one thing sometimes impacts the rest of the product.

When I was working on autonomous aerial vehicles, one sprint backlog item was to add an antenna. Sounds simple. But that meant developing new structures; relocating many components; and updating the wiring diagram and cable routing. We scoped the problem inadequately and failed to deliver our increment.

I believe Scrum failed to work in my previous organizations due to:

  • Inadequate training. The development team did not understand Scrum values and processes.
  • Not following the principles of Scrum. You cannot do Scrum halfway. The entire team needs to commit to the process.
  • Inadequate emphasis on the increment. It is better to commit to accomplishing less, rather than overpromise and underdeliver.

Tap Creo Parametric Tools for Scrum

Tools within Creo Parametric that facilitate the Agile development process include:

  • Design Exploration. This module allows the development team to create checkpoints and branches for alternatives during the sprint. This provides an excellent method for reviewing the increment at the end and deciding whether to commit to it.
  • Top-down design. As mentioned earlier, integrated product development is a challenge to Scrum. Tools like skeletons help define interfaces between systems to prevent scope creep. Repercussions to other systems can be added to the product backlog.
  • Real-time simulation. Dedicated analysts might not be part of your Dev Team. Handing designs off to specialists risks not meeting your sprint backlog. By empowering engineers to perform to perform their analysis while they design, Creo Simulation Live eliminates unnecessary iterations and streamlines workflows.
  • Additive Manufacturing. When you work in short bursts with an increment due, you do not have time for traditional subtractive manufacturing techniques like CNC and mold design. With 3D printing, you can deliver a prototype to present at the sprint review. Use the additive manufacturing features in Creo to make these prototypes fast and successful the first time.
  • Topology Optimization and Generative Design. Given the time constraints, these artificial intelligence design assistants free up valuable resources to address the inevitable distractions and fires that occur during the sprint.

Give Scrum a Chance

If you face challenges meeting schedule and making progress under traditional Waterfall development, maybe it is time to give Agile and Scrum a chance in your product development process. Just make sure you line up good training, follow guidelines closely, and don’t hesitate to enlist your CAD system’s unique tools to make the most of this alternative approach to development.

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About the Author

Dave Martin

Dave Martin is a former Creo, Windchill, and Mathcad instructor and consultant. After leaving PTC, he was the Creo specialist for Amazon; and a mechanical engineer, Creo administrator, and Windchill administrator for Amazon Prime Air. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT and currently works as an avionics engineer for Blue Origin. 


Martin is the author of the books Design Intent in Creo Parametric and Top Down Design in Creo Parametric--both available at www.amazon.com. He can be reached at dmartin@creowindchill.com.