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Agility at Bosch: mission impossible?

boot transport container freight feeder river port Source: fotolia/Kara

In the digital world, the boundaries between traditional industry and internet companies are becoming increasingly blurred, and connectivity is opening up new business opportunities. In light of successively shorter product life cycles, major corporations such as Bosch must also address the issue of how they can become more agile – not only in corporate management but also in the development of physical products, software, and services.

Agile projects embedded in an agile organization

I am often asked whether a major corporation such as Bosch is equal to this challenge. And each time, my answer is “yes” – because we can draw on the strengths of the Bosch Group: we take the steadfastness, power, and range of an ocean-going tanker and combine it with the speed and agility of a speedboat. In recent years, Bosch has responded to new market conditions with many measures (“speedboats”), such as a start-up platform that serves as an incubator for new business ideas. The platform supports Bosch researchers as they rapidly launch new products and services on the market that have not yet found a place in the divisions. Another “speedboat” is exploratory testing of new business models and technologies. This is carried out in innovation clusters, such as those for connected industry or mobility.

In addition to the organizational aspects, we also take agile action regarding engineering. Take a real-world example: the systematic collection and analysis of field data from vehicles or heating systems. Here, we can be successful in the marketplace only if we can provide fast feedback loops based on device data and customer experience.

Connected asset lifecycle management requires fast feedback loops based on device data and customer experience Source: Bosch.IO

Asparagus field 2.0: scrum as the anchor of agile IoT development

As an example of agile engineering, we have been applying the scrum process in software development for many years, and have also begun using it in various IoT (Internet of Things) projects. With this method, we meet the new requirements of our customers and markets even better than we did before. Agile developments make sense in particular if the technologies or solutions for the development are still partially unclear at the outset, and if the requirements for a new product change over the course of time. Scrums are often possible without detailed targets, yet they still lead quickly to excellent solutions.

In just three weeks of development time, developers from different Bosch divisions used this method to create a connected sensor solution for asparagus growers. Data on temperatures in the asparagus beds are transmitted to a smartphone, so farmers can track temperature changes in detail. This helps provide optimum growing conditions and predict the best time for the harvest.

Connected sensor solution for asparagus growers: data on temperatures in the asparagus beds are transmitted to a smartphone, so farmers can track temperature changes in detail Source: Bosch.IO

Connected asparagus harvesting

Asparagus grows especially well at 20 degrees Celsius. One way farmers achieve this is by covering the mounds with strips of sheeting that are black on one side and white on the other. For this technique to work, the weather forecast has to be taken into account. Bosch’s approach embeds tiny sensors at various depths in the ground to measure the temperatures. The measurement data is sent to a small box, which transmits the data to a cloud based on the Bosch IoT Suite. From there the data is routed to an app on the farmer’s smartphone. Here once again, we have consolidated our expertise in sensors and software on the IoT. The system for controlling the temperature in the fields has already been tried out in this year’s asparagus season. The principle can also be implemented for the cultivation of other crops. We are currently examining the industrialization and marketing of this new system.

Agile cooperation with Tesla

Agile development also helped in our collaboration with Tesla. We supply chassis and safety systems for its electric vehicles. Many of these hardware and software components can be precisely matched to the requirements of the respective vehicle and adjusted to the desired handling characteristics. This application was successfully completed with Tesla within a short period of time, and the project proved to be well suited to the use of agile engineering methods. In recognition of our successful collaboration, Tesla presented us with the Excellent Development Partner award in 2014. This shows once again that Bosch is able to meet a diverse array of customer requirements, including those of new market entrants. Altogether, only half the usual development time was needed for calibration work with Tesla.

Agility is a key success factor for established companies in the digital and connected age. Bosch embraces this agility in our organizational structure, by introducing agile methods adapted to the new, rapidly changing requirements, and together with our customers in many projects. That is why I am convinced:

Agility at Bosch is mission possible!

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The term scrum originates from rugby, but when translated into the business world, the term describes small, highly motivated teams who focus intently on jointly developing a product. They thereby assume more responsibility than usual and organize their work largely autonomously. In so-called sprints, they achieve small intermediate objectives and then determine the next steps. The teams work in particularly close coordination with customers or users, which means that feedback is provided at very short intervals. The scrum method has been increasingly put to use since the turn of the millennium, first in the IT world, but more and more in the development of hardware products as well.
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Asparagus grows fastest at around 20°C, and speed matters because asparagus commands higher prices during the first few weeks of the season. However, 22°C is already far too hot, and quality suffers to the point where the harvest no longer fetches an acceptable price.
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To control the temperature in the mounds of earth, farmers use lengths of foil with a white and a black side, flipping them depending on whether they want to increase or decrease the temperature. They also use transparent tunnels to store heat during the early weeks.
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The temperature difference in the asparagus field between the root and the top should be minor. Otherwise, the asparagus will grow faster at the top than at the bottom, leaving the stalks with a hollow center. Quality suffers as a result and the crop has to be sold at a lower price.
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Bosch supplied Tesla with comprehensive driver assistance technologies. The project initially started with hardware delivery and basic software. Bosch worked closely with Tesla to optimize and validate the software. The project provided the perfect opportunity to apply agile engineering methods and operate in sprint mode.

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