QuickBYTES interview with Amy Silberbauer: What is Agile Engineering?

By | 4 minute read | October 2, 2018

Ahead of the Watson IoT Agile Engineering Summit 2018, to be held October 15-17 in Washington DC, we asked our speakers for some thoughts about systems engineering and agile practices. I met Amy Silberbauer, our first speaker, to ask for her take on agile.

Amy Silberbauer

‘Agile is not your grandmother’s agile anymore’ – Amy Silberbauer, IBM Solution Architect

Amy, tell us about your role in Watson IoT.

I am on the Watson IoT Continuous Engineering Offering Management team – that’s a mouthful. I’m a solution architect on that team and I’m in charge of our enterprise scaled agile solution, both internally and for IBM customers.

What is your favorite thing about engineering?

I’m kind of a geeky engineer myself. I’m not a systems engineer but my favorite thing about it is that it’s so darn complex. It involves every role in the organization. Both systems engineers and business roles. There is no way you can be successful with systems engineering without involving every role in the organization. That’s my favorite thing about it. It’s really cross-discipline and cross-domain.

So, you love the complexity and getting into the nitty-gritty of everything. What is the role of Agile in modern systems engineering?

That’s a really good question. Agile principles apply regardless of what you’re doing, whether you’re doing systems engineering or running a business. The role of Agile is to really help organizations build quality in as part of an end-to-end process. To address that, you need to have cross-discipline, cross-functional teams that are self-governing. They have to be able to see the system as a whole in order to deliver value. That’s the role of Agile at a 10,000 foot view. We could get into details but we’ll have to wait for this summit for that! 

We know enterprises design and build things are delivering lots of connected products and services. What is your view on managing complexity while delivering things at a fast pace?

My view is that delivering things faster shouldn’t be your ultimate goal. You can deliver a whole bunch of stuff faster but if there’s no value in it then no one is going to use it or buy it. If it doesn’t fulfil the requirements then what’s the point? So really, Agile systems engineering is understanding the right outcomes to deliver with high quality. It is about understanding how to apply the right design and requirements management with an understanding of how to validate those requirements and prioritize the right features. I always say: “it’s about delivering the right stuff faster not just the stuff faster right now.”

Let’s talk about modeling for a moment. Can sophisticated modeling lead to any sort of increase in confidence for decision making in engineering?

Modeling is in my opinion the most critical part of the end-to-end life cycle. It is the thinking part of the life cycle and it is also the part where you can get early feedback without investing too much. Don’t get too far in the process and invest too much before you know what you want or need to deliver. That’s where modeling comes in. The first part of modeling defines the requirements. Modeling also defines changes and allows testing. You don’t have to do any engineering and you can still find defects before you develop a single component or write a single line of code. That’s what modeling gives you.

What has the Internet of Things done to change engineering today?

The Internet of Things has introduced such an amazing level of complexity that applying agile and lean principles, and working in a truly cross-functional cross-discipline organization, and using tools that support that, is not a nice-to-have anymore. It’s actually an imperative, because the amount of moving parts in these kinds of applications, and the impact when changes happen or defects occur, is amazingly complex. The Internet of Things has meant that a full suite of systems engineering application tools is required. It is critical for organizations to see the system as a whole and apply some very good economic and value based delivery strategies to make sure that they deliver the right things.

Your session title for Agile Engineering Summit really caught my eye: “You mean I need requirements even if I’m doing agile?!”. What are you going to cover?

Agile has a bad name, bad history, bad rep. Agile is not your grandmother’s Agile any more. Agile systems engineering does not imply you don’t plan or that you don’t need formal documentation. Those are tenants of the Agile principles but not necessarily for systems engineering, so the session is about why requirements matter and how they are an integral part of an Agile transformation for systems engineering. It really is about things like compliance and the fact that systems engineering organizations deal with supply chains and subcontractors and how requirements are critical in those kinds of environments. You can be agile and still have requirements, of course. You just need to apply the same principles to incorporate requirements into the overall life cycle.

What are you most excited to see at the Agile Engineering Summit?

I’m going to be a little selfish here and say that what I’m really excited to see is how customers react to a new initiative that we’re driving around the new continuous engineering user experience. I’m also excited for them to see some prototyping that we’ve done to re-imagine how they use our solutions at a systems engineering level. We spent the last few months trying to re-imagine this usage model and I’m really keen to get customers’ feedback on whether it helps them do the right thing to deliver the right things faster. I’m very excited about this.

Go deeper at the Agile Engineering Summit

You can meet Amy and other Systems Engineering experts at the Agile Engineering Summit. Don’t forget to register to attend, and in the meantime, you can learn more about IBM Systems Engineering Solutions on our website.