4 Min

How we are taking a design-driven development approach to build a valuable and cutting-edge manufacturing execution system


Up to now, companies, managers and scientists have had to weigh up the choice between two approaches to innovation: market pull or technology push. Here, market pull refers to the demand-driven need to produce. In this case, the incentive for product innovation comes from the buyer. By contrast, the stimulus with a technology push originates primarily from the benefits of the technology itself. However, there is a third important pathway to innovation. By following the design route, it is possible to develop a product that goes beyond customers' current needs, one that will continue to impress customers with its functionality so that they are more than happy to buy it.

Working together with global, interdisciplinary teams, we now take a design-driven approach in the development and enhancement of our manufacturing execution system. This innovation approach enables us to take SMS digital's manufacturing execution system to a new level.

What is design-driven development?

Design-driven development describes an agile process for creating innovative requirements for developing better solutions. It is used in close conjunction with the SCRUM framework to manage and implement the relevant requirements. This involves a diverse team of product managers, product owners, designers, and technology experts, who discuss a specific customer problem, a user story, or a business use case with the aim of bringing together various perspectives and developing different ideas for solutions. The most valuable ideas are then identified and the designer creates an initial 'quick and dirty prototype'. This goes through various stages of development and is regularly scrutinized in user tests and internal reviews carried out by stakeholders.

How we do that

Our team comprises global representatives, our international product and project teams from Germany, India, Brazil, and Poland, and follows an iterative, six-stage design-driven development process.

The design-driven development cycle

First, all stakeholders apply the customer's needs and ideas from the market to the strategic design. Customers benefit from this array of different information sources. Optimization potential or problems that have not been the focus of attention up to now are also incorporated into the manufacturing execution system. This allows us to develop a holistically innovative and valuable product. The product development backlog thus emerges from the strategic design based on customer requirements and technical feasibility, with a special focus on the holistic user experience.

The detailed design then starts with the development of the simple sketch into a low or high-fidelity mockup or even into a clickable prototype. These mockups and prototypes can be tested by customers and other stakeholders to obtain feedback and to better understand what exactly is required before coding.

The design can drive the process even after the learning phase. While design and development need to work hand in hand to succeed, the design needs enough space to do its job and create a definition before coding. A really good example of this is that the design must be completed at the beginning of the sprint and can be used as a tool to steer the development. In doing so, we can focus on delivering functionality and drive a solid design and validation process, provided that the right priorities are set and the time required for it is scheduled accordingly.

The coding takes place in two-week scrum sprints. The quality is ensured in tests and the feature is thoroughly checked before its approval for the new software release, until the finished product is ready to be handed over to the customer.

The team

Alongside digital collaboration, working on a personal level is key to our success. That is why the entire SMS digital product team from Germany, India and Poland got together in partially hybrid meetings at Macrix Technology Group in Poznan, Poland. The visit showed us just how harmonious and highly motivated our team is in the way it works together, which is what makes it extremely valuable.

Over the course of an intensive week of lively discussions, moments of creativity, and innovative ideas, the Coding Team kicked off another sprint as part of our design-driven development approach. We firmly believe that by taking the design-driven development approach, we are developing a groundbreaking manufacturing execution system that goes beyond current customer needs and creates genuine added value for the metals industry.

Edda Müller
Junior Product Manager
SMS digital GmbH