Paradoxes of Product Development

A paradox is an often exaggerated, absurd and seemingly contradictory statement. However, this contradictory statement can lead to new insights. I believe that we should consider a few interesting paradoxes in embedded product development.

Is the Obvious Thing always the Right Thing to do?

There are these few ideas in product development, especially in software development, which turn into their opposite when examined closely:

How these contradictions occur in practice and how they can be resolved, you can read here:

Paradox 1: If you want to Develop Faster, take More Time

...more time for specification and finding the appropriate technical solution (the "architecture").

A Short Story

which illustrates this. "Help, the standard comes into force at the end of the year.... And none of our 12 control systems meet the new requirements." We then invested a total of four (4) months in specification, first two months until we had an optimal technical solution and four control variants remaining. Then another month each with product management to dump one control variant each.

During this time, very clear and detailed specifications and a clear architecture were created, which documented the consensus with product management, mechanics and production. We were then able to bring the remaining two variants to production maturity within six (6) months, on schedule by the end of the year. And by the way: the controllers are still being produced today, after thirteen years, without any significant changes.

What Happens when one Starts Fast?

If you start with a product development based on unclear requirements, in embedded development this has the disadvantage that the developers have to make assumptions when selecting the processor, the operating system, the interfaces, etc. If these then turn out to be wrong in the course of clarifying the requirements, e.g. the processor is too weak, theresult is a lot of effort for redesign or for development around "bad technical decisions".

And What about Agile?

The agile processes and work methods of generating specifications during the project were developed for a type of (IT) problems where they have their justification. It is often about adapting solutions to customer needs, where both the basic platform and the basic function (web presence, web store...) are already known. In embedded product development, where you can't just add another rack full of servers, generating specifications during the project is certainly not the fastest option. For critical systems, it is even blocked by the standards.

That doesn't mean other "agile" processes don't have merit. We too do iterative delivery and integration, automated testing, etc., even on critical projects.


Fast and smooth development must be bought with early clarification of the requirements.

Paradox 2: If you want to Develop Cheaper, take the Higher Hourly Rate

...just as your high-quality products are not the cheapest, high-quality engineers are not the cheapest.

A Short Story

A customer contracted the software for a graphical user interface as a near-shoring project in an iterative/"agile" way. Except for the visual design, the software had exactly the same features as the user interface we developed for another platform at a fixed price. This near-shoring development was initially estimated to be massively cheaper.

Two years after the start of production, the customer's CTO said: "A graphical user interface costs the same everywhere". The costs for both developments were the same after all changes in the near-shoring project. And not even just the same: our development additionally included the entire electronics and sequence control, the graphical user interface accounted for only 60% of the "same" development costs.

What happens if one Only Looks at the Hourly Rate?

For a first iteration a simple case is estimated, out of ignorance or to show low effort, so that one can start with the development. Then the immature requirements are assigned to inexperienced developers, who fulfill the requirements to the best of their knowledge. The subsequent iterative changes and elimination of misunderstandings eat up the entire cost advantage again.


The savings that result over the whole product lifetime stemming from the experience of the engineers, from clear, lived processes and from continuous training must be bought with an increased hourly rate.


Do you still have questions about these paradoxes and contradictions? Do you have a different opinion? If so, contact us directly or comment your thoughts below!

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