We are at a unique moment in time. There are massive challenges in fields such as food, healthcare, and energy. Yet at the same time, there are unprecedented opportunities. Big changes are happening that make hardware development easier and more affordable for everyone.
Digital fabrication and low-cost electronic components are enabling engineering teams and open source communities to iterate quickly and produce locally in small batches. It means innovation doesn’t have to be left to governments and big corporations anymore.
Humans need hardware innovation to survive and thrive: We have to come up with new solutions to deal with local and global challenges, and we need to make new interpretations of the world so we can contribute to it.
When tackling challenges, having the right approach to the development process, and a supportive day-to-day workflow can ensure your new product or technology makes a successful impact on the problem you are trying to solve.
A User-centric & Iterative Process
At Wevolver, we feel that Bolt, a venture capital firm that specializes in early-stage hardware startup financing, has done an excellent job of clarifying exactly what steps teams should take during their hardware development process. The guidelines from Bolt provide everyone with a clear roadmap to creating better products, faster, and at lower risk.
The main principle to understand is that the success of a new product or technology increases dramatically when the development process is user-centric and iterative.
A user-centric approach ensures your product solves a genuine need its users. This can best be achieved by validating ideas and solutions with users throughout the development process.
In addition to a user-centric approach, an iterative development process ensures you can implement your learnings continuously, as well as act on insights that you gain when engineering your technology. The added benefit is reducing the impact of mistakes.
Bolt’s user-centric and iterative approach consists of four major phases: Starting with `Ideation`, then `Design and Engineering` carried out in parallel, and finally `Validation`.
Read our detailed summary of this user-centric and iterative process.
The Hardware Version Control Workflow
An iterative process needs to be supported by the right day-to-day workflow.
We have established a workflow based on our own experience, as well as on research into how software development teams and communities manage to work together effectively.
The ‘Hardware Version Control Workflow’ is built on three key ideas: `Distribute Information`, `Develop in Parallel`, and `Synchronize Continuously .`
The practical implementation of these ideas is supported by a distributed version control system, a technology that also comes from the software development world.
Distributing information means ensuring each member of the development team or community has access to the concurrent version of the project, its complete history, and any relevant context.
Access to this knowledge increases the speed of development, reduces the chance of mistakes, and empowers people to work more independently.
This idea entails that development happens in parallel for each independent part, while there is always one clear, stable concurrent version; a single ‘source of truth.’
The result of Parallel development is that everyone knows what and where the latest stable revision of your project is while being able to carry out development and experiments independently and securely.
Maintaining separate parallel tracks of development also groups the revisions for each part of your project, which keeps your history organized.
When you follow the concept of Continuous Synchronization, you store every substantial change in the history of the project and sync it with the development team or community.
Committing revisions continuously creates a logical stream of changes that you can always revert to. And having those in place gives you the confidence to make quick iterations.
Using a version control system ensures that you store a message alongside each revision, which enables you to retrace steps and decisions made by yourself and team members. No more reinventing the wheel for decisions that have already been made.
Digital manufacturing and affordable electronic components have made hardware development more affordable and easier than ever. This new reality can greatly empower people to create innovative technology. And the new way of developing hardware with a user-centric & iterative process, and version controlled workflow enables you to fully capture the opportunity.