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Agile PLM development and offshoring are not mutually exclusive

By Joachim Christ

A growing number of companies are relying on agile approaches when developing their PLM systems to enable faster reactions to new market requirements. At the same time, they often want to outsource development activities to offshore partners for financial reasons. Two new white papers explain how PROSTEP supports customers when it comes to using agile methods and introducing agile methods in context of near- and offshoring.

Companies in the manufacturing industry must be ready to quickly respond to changing market and customer requirements. Therefore, they need PLM solutions that support this, for example by making the growing dependencies between software and electronics in connected systems more transparent or ensuring traceability for safety-critical functions. New approaches such as model-based systems engineering (MBSE) or virtual validation of system functionalities by means of co-simulations are needed. The entire PLM architecture must be geared towards change.

IT organizations must also adapt to reduce the time between new requirements and working-functionality implemented in the PLM-Systems. Waterfall or V-model are typically not appropriate to fulfill the dynamics required here. Too much time passes between the definition of requirements and their implementation; time during which the developers do not receive any feedback. They run the risk of developing software that fails to meet the needs of the users. Specifications are often cluttered with requirements and are difficult to change. Then, their implementation is based on the contracts and not on the actual benefits. These and other factors lead to extremely long project runtimes, which can delay the introduction of innovations into productive PLM operations by months and sometimes even years.

A growing number of companies have identified the weaknesses in their existing software development processes and have started introducing agile approaches or are planning to do so. When implementing agile methods, they not only have to decide on a suitable agile model but also find development partners who are able to go along with their agile approach. Furthermore, they have to challenge existing contract models, because in agile approaches, project scope is typically only fuzzily defined at the start of the project.

PROSTEP has been using agile approaches to develop its own software solutions for many years, and as a partner and supplier also brings this experience to bear on customer projects. We are currently involved in agile projects with numerous major customers in the automotive, shipbuilding, and other industries. In many cases, we assume overall responsibility for these projects as general contractor and coordinate subcontractors, be it on site at the customer’s premises or at an offshore partner.

"Our teams combine PLM expertise and hands-on experience with using agile methods. They know the strengths and weaknesses of Scrum, SAFe and other process models from experience gained in the field and can therefore actively help to shape agile transformation at the customer's site and drive it forward," says PLM manager Frank Brandstetter. He is the author of PROSTEP's new white paper, which provides more detailed information about the challenges posed by agile PLM development. (English version available soon.)

The white paper on agile PLM development is complemented by a second white paper in which Rainer Zeifang, Chief Technology Officer Daimler Projects at PROSTEP, reports on his experience with the use of agile methods in nearshoring and offshoring projects. The main driver for the outsourcing development activities is the increasing cost pressure to which we and our customers are subjected.

PROSTEP has been working together with selected nearshore and offshore partners on both the development of its own software products and on customer projects for some time now. We also make use of nearshoring internally. For the past year, we have been maintaining a subsidiary in Wrocław, Poland, which uses agile Scrum teams to provide the development team in PROSTEP’s Berlin office with support in the context of software development projects for major automotive customers.

Agile approaches are compatible with nearshoring and offshoring, but they also amplify some of the challenges involved. The partners have to create a common understanding of the customer project and exchange know-how that is generally in the heads of the developers. They need to establish a uniform approach to ensure that the software being developed is consistent and enables a coherent user experience despite distributed teams and long distances. And they must break down obstacles to communication or find new forms of communication that are compatible with agile approaches.

As Zeifang explains, personal contact and interaction are crucial for project success. "At the start of the project in particular, it is important that the key players get to know each other personally in order to exchange know-how but also to understand what makes their counterparts tick, what is important to them, and how they work." In the new white paper (english version available soon), he answers questions like: What advantages and disadvantages do time differences offer when it comes to agile software development? How should the distributed agile teams be structured? Does nearshoring and offshoring work with all agile process models?

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