With dozens or even hundreds of suppliers, various industry regulations to adhere to, and an immense volume of software code, automotive development processes are perhaps among the most complex lifecycles that companies face.
There could be over 100 million lines of code in a modern car, the sheer volume of which necessitates practices to cut development time and enhance the efficiency of the development lifecycle. Therefore, it's not surprising that more and more automotive development companies are turning to Agile.
However, transitioning to Agile really isn't a simple decision to make in such a highly competitive and heavily regulated industry. The (primarily Waterfall) processes used by established automotive companies have been developed over years or even decades to provide thorough quality assurance & product safety, and to ensure compliance with relevant automotive standards such as ISO 26262. Changing these processes incurs a lot of extra work to verify compliance. But there's more to the problem than this.
Working software vs comprehensive documentation
In addition to safety-related stipulations, a fundamental requirement of all standards and of ISO 26262 in particular is that of documentation. Not only do you have to use adequate processes, you also need to document & report on them, along with a change history of your work items, show full traceability, and prove process/permission control. These are all fundamental to verifying compliance.
Agile, on the other hand, inherently values working software over comprehensive documentation. Therefore, the focus is removed from documentation to allow for faster, more efficient development – making ISO 26262 compliance that much more difficult.
Still, a growing number of automotive companies are adopting Agile for the development of complex, safety-critical end products. How do they align Agile practices to these heavy processes, and ensure thorough documentation throughout the lifecycle?
Documenting processes effortlessly
First of all, a portion of these companies don't really use a method that Agile fans would consider "pure Agile". Instead, some companies choose to blend in Waterfall & other process elements to create a Hybrid solution tailored to their own needs, processes and of course the appropriate regulatory requirements. Compliance with ISO 26262 and other standards can be simply achieved with customized Agile methods and processes, as the standard is not prescriptive in nature. However, documentation would still be an issue, was it not for adequate ALM solutions.
Advanced Application Lifecycle Management platforms such as codeBeamer ALM can take the burden of documentation off your shoulders. Processes may be defined in advance and enforced throughout the lifecycle, with reports about them easily exported to help compliance audits. Links between all work items may be simply (or even automatically) established, and gapless end-to-end traceability shown.
Safety requirements can be managed with a high priority, and a risk management lifecycle implemented & reported on. Using the right ALM solution, you can also create custom dashboards and reports, and export these to share with regulatory bodies: codeBeamer allows you to export your own reports or Excel or Word. In fact, codeBeamer also offers a preconfigured template for automotive developers to automate compliance.
Overall, it's safe to say that indeed, Agile can be tailored to heavy safety processes for the development of complex automotive products. That said, the Agile Manifesto shouldn't be interpreted word by word: custom processes are needed to adapt Agile to such a highly regulated, safety-critical environment.