Special features of agile development of physical products

Agile working is still often associated with software development. This is understandable because many of the documents and information freely available on the internet deal with agility in the programming environment. Even the Agile Manifesto originally referred to software development. However, the roots of agility lie in the development of physical products, because significant competitive advantages can also be created there with agility. However, a few important aspects have to be taken into account if you want to develop mechatronic products in an agile way. If you try to apply the rules of the game that apply to software development in the same way, you will not achieve the full benefits or even fail. We at CO Improve know what matters and want to briefly describe the essential differences here.

A short excursion into history

If you look for information on the history of agile working, you usually come across Kelly Johnson, a designer for the American defence company Lockheed Martin. In 1943, he was given the seemingly impossible task of developing a new fighter jet in 180 days. Of course, there was no Scrum Guide at that time, but in a rough summary it can be concluded that the result of completing the P80 in 143 days was essentially due to the application of the rules and frameworks known today as Agile principles.

The working method was not based on scientific research results, but more on practical experience of the conditions under which people work together successfully in complex projects. The fact that the focus was on a high degree of customer orientation, self-organisation in connection with close spatial cooperation, the focus on added value and continuous improvement was therefore not a specific finding for this project, but are aspects that are decisive success factors for any kind of development.

Both the Scrum Guide and the Agile Manifesto are based on these very principles. However, due to the situation around the turn of the millennium, they were rather driven by software developers and formulated with a view to the environment of software production. The same success factors applied and still apply there. However, as with so many things, the devil is in the detail when it comes to practical implementation.
We would like to discuss the most important differences in the following.

All differences at a glance

Team size and organisation

Due to the division of labour in companies that manufacture mechatronic products, special challenges arise for the formation of Scrum teams.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

With physical products, it is not possible to create a functioning product with partial functions after every sprint. Nevertheless, the premise of getting feedback from stakeholders on the development status as quickly as possible should be maintained. This requires a special approach.


A good product backlog is in any case an important success factor for a good product. But with mechatronic products, one function cannot be developed after the other. The networked, complex organisation of work during product development must also be mapped in the backlog.

Agile and PDP

Agile working also requires a product development process. However, this process must not restrict the self-organised teams, but must be used as a valuable orientation aid.

Stage planning

When developing mechatronic products, it is not enough to plan sprint by sprint. At each point in time, the team must keep an eye on the overall product and the target deadline. For this, backlog work and sprint planning must be implemented in a special form.

Interface between agile and non-agile organisation

Companies that develop and produce physical products cannot be organised in a completely agile way. Therefore, there will always be an interface between agile and non-agile areas that must be designed to meet the needs that arise from both sides for collaboration.

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