To execute NPI efficiently and competitively, R&D organizations need to leverage the right tools. The obvious tools, such as software version control, release management systems and defect tracking systems are critical. Less obvious are tools to help manage the Agile software development process, feature priority tracking, iteration planning and release planning. But all of these tools are very valuable in allowing teams to approach best-in-class.
Other specialized tools are also important, such as CAD tools for mechanical or circuit board design, signal integrity tools that enhance design quality and speed regulatory compliance, protocol compliance tools to validate software functionality and network stress testers to assure network performance capabilities. Your need for these tools will depend on the nature of your R&D activities. The more specialized your work, the more specialized your tool needs are likely to be. It is very important that you do not starve your teams of the tools critical to their success. Often creative solutions such as renting, leasing or sharing tools can be managed. In startup situations, I have leveraged participation in software “bake-offs” to gain short term access to critical tools. The point is that the cost of using the right tools is less than the cost of problems, re-engineering and lost time-to-market.
Finally, I will briefly highlight the use of continuous build/continuous test tools and methodologies. While there is quite a lot of information on this available from other sources I feel that it is important to emphasize here that your software engineering leadership should be pushing in this direction. The idea is that, in time-box development, automated tests and regression test suites used with continuous build-and-test automation dramatically improve the efficiency of the team. While it is already well known that test automation dramatically improves engineering quality and speed, continuous build-and-test methods are emerging and very important concepts. In fact, these practices are becoming main-stream in best-in-class organizations. It is critical that your leadership team is aware of these competitive advantages and that they are moving toward this goal. (more coming on this …)