As technology continues to press forward at a relentless pace, organizations are searching for any advantage they can to keep up or get ahead. However, the road to innovation is fraught with competition, complexity, and constantly shifting market conditions. There’s no bandaid fix or plug-and-play solution at the ready - and if there was, it would no longer be innovation.
So, how does an organization actually innovate in the modern business climate? In the world of software development, the answer lies in Agile project management processes.
Agile project management is a fluid approach to managing highly complex and fragmented projects. Agile was loosely modeled after the ‘Toyota Production System’ designed in Japan - a system of lean manufacturing which aimed to eliminate unnecessary waste at every possible junction. The system worked well because it made small adjustments to an extremely complex process, rather than trying to fully strip and rebuild a segment based on a new idea. Fast forward many decades, and the lean management system has morphed into subsets, including what we now call ‘Agile’ - most commonly seen in software development teams.
At its core, Agile software development is a continuous cycle of iteration. In its full form, it could begin with a hypothesis on a certain part of the software, then an iteration to it, a measurement of results against the hypothesis, then a further iteration based on those results.
In day-to-day operations, Agile really means that there is no “large” undertaking of development work, but rather many small items which are tackled based on priority to the business. An oversimplified example may be that an organization is building a new website - but instead of planning for the entire thing page for page, function for function at the start, the team will tackle the important pages first and release them to the public before working on the rest. That way, data is coming in which can reinforce or iterate the initial work and feed into the new work.
Clients are consulted early and often throughout the development process to embrace the possibility for requirement changes, instead of delivering on the final product after many months and then going back to make the inevitable changes (because who can really see several months into the future with 100% accuracy?).
Cross-functional teams then take part in the project from conception to deployment to ensure all team members are invested. The project typically involves cycles of development that last anywhere from 7 to 30 days, which are called ‘sprints’. At the end of each sprint, the product is demonstrated for the clients so they can give feedback or input new information which may have come to surface during the period; which then informs the next sprint.
Agile approaches promote regular internal team meetings where developers can talk about what they accomplished the day before, their goals for the current day, and any upcoming roadblocks they might face. The focus of Agile methodologies is to drive quality from beginning to end while continuously improving upon the product and ensuring the software is primed for functional demonstrations at the end of each iteration.
Agile practices serve to enable the rapid and stable development of new software that can quickly adjust as technological breakthroughs occur or requirements become modified. This allows Agile teams to keep up with customer expectations while adapting to the changing environment they are developing. Agile methodologies are particularly useful when dealing with burgeoning technologies that are seeing rapid innovation, such as virtual reality (VR).
Clever engineers and designers across the globe are discovering innovative applications for VR technology, and it’s not just in gaming and entertainment. Emotional therapy, virtual education field trips, and medical simulations are some of the industry or niche applications that take advantage of the new format. With virtual immersion comes the possibility for high fidelity simulation at vastly reduced costs and lower risk when compared to traditional training methods.
Leveraging VR in medicine, for example, allows surgeons to hone their surgical skills inside a virtual surgery training module instead of practicing on cadavers, observing others, or studying videos and text. These breakthroughs in medical technology have paved the way for inexpensive surgical training that will help to create better prepared and more skilled surgeons, while reducing risk to patients.
Orthopedic surgery in particular is a highly complex endeavor that poses many challenges. Virtual orthopedic modules, which provide surgical training for some of the most difficult procedures, allow surgeons to understand and practice the procedures ahead of time while receiving real-time feedback on their performance.
The human body is immensely complex - especially concerning the musculoskeletal system. No two human bodies are exactly alike, and additional layers of complexity are added when trauma, deformities, or diseases come into play. As such, the practice of orthopedic surgery is inherently difficult and nuanced while also being critical to the patient’s life and wellbeing. One mistake or miscalculation could mean the difference between an elite athlete winning a gold medal and spending the rest of their life in a wheelchair.
Educating and training surgeons in orthopedic surgery is no small feat - surgical educators are constantly searching for tools that can improve the training process, ensuring surgeons are prepared when it comes time to make their first incision on patient. VR technology has recently advanced to the point where it has become an invaluable tool for training surgeons and increasing the success rate of surgical procedures. However, creating a VR module with the detail and accuracy necessary to mimic such a complex process comes with its own challenges.
The core challenges in creating orthopedic surgery VR modules are the domain complexity of orthopedic surgery, incorporating detailed client feedback, and the rapid evolution of VR technologies. Agile development helps to address those challenges in isolation without overcommitting to any one system or line of thinking.
For example, orthopedics is so complex that orthopedic surgeons will specialize in specific parts of the body, which they study in minute-detail for years. Successful orthopedic surgeons require high degrees of manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination as well as a vast knowledge of human anatomy. Given that VR technologies are tasked with simulating this complexity, the software development work extremely closely with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in the field to ensure the working model is accurate. A short sprint system allows each specific part of the anatomy to be handled at a time, as well as the underlying and connecting systems.
As for gathering rapid feedback, KOL’s can be consulted via remote VR sessions, allowing the product team to see exactly what the KOL sees in their testing and measure their reactions in real-time. This level of collaboration allows software developers to iterate on their work with rich insights thanks to the highly visible feedback environment.
Finally, like any early technology, VR is seeing rapid advancement as resources and expertise are committed. New input and output hardware is being developed alongside new software to run them. As the technology evolves, VR developers need to be able to incorporate changes quickly, and deter from over-investing in anything that will soon become obsolete by updated hardware. Building ‘microservices’ rather than ‘macro-products’ is a clever way to remain current. The high speed and collaborative environment allows for the creation of incredibly accurate and detailed modules that are on the knife’s edge of technological advancement and medical expertise.