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Here's how to adapt and refine your processes in order to escalate your embedded product's development and deployment.

Jacob Beningo

October 5, 2023

5 Min Read
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Decreasing time to market is crucial for embedded software teams to stay competitive and quickly address the evolving needs of their target audience. In a rapidly changing technological landscape, ensuring your embedded product reaches consumers promptly without compromising quality is paramount. To achieve this, organizations need to adapt and refine their developmental processes. This post will explore three essential time-to-market strategies that can effectively fast-track your embedded product’s development and deployment.

Strategy #1: Automate Testing

Embedded software teams have traditionally done a poor job of testing their code. This is because teams often rely on manual testing to verify and validate their products. While essential in specific contexts, manual testing can be time-consuming and prone to errors. Today’s embedded products are complex devices with hundreds, if not thousands, of features. Manual testing might make sense early in the development cycle because there aren’t very many features in the product. However, as time passes, more features are added, and the time and effort required for comprehensive manual testing increase exponentially. It’s not uncommon for complete manual testing processes to take a month or more to run! Automating testing is the only way to successfully test your embedded product in a timely and costly manner.

Automating testing has many benefits that it can offer you and your team. First, automated testing adds consistency to your development processes. Automated tests ensure that each module or feature is tested the same way every time, eliminating inconsistencies that might arise from human intervention. Next, your test efficiency will dramatically increase. Automated tests can be run as often as needed without additional resource costs. This means you can test more frequently, catching and addressing issues early in the development cycle. There’s nothing like checking in a feature before lunch and then, when you get back, knowing whether there are any new issues. Rapid feedback is critical to decrease costs and time to market. Finally, test automation allows a greater range of tests to be conducted in a shorter period, ensuring a comprehensive coverage that might be hard to achieve manually. While 100% test coverage is not an indicator of code quality or that the software is bug-free, it can still be a reasonable metric to ensure that all the branches and lines of code are being exercised.

By reducing the time and resources spent on testing, automation can significantly speed up the development process and ensure a more robust end product.

Strategy #2: Use a Modern Toolchain

Your development toolchain is the backbone of your product's creation process. It encompasses all the tools used in the lifecycle of your product—from compilers and debuggers to version control systems and integrated development environments (IDEs). Using outdated or mismatched tools can hinder productivity and lead to unnecessary delays. Many traditional tools have limitations regarding how flexible and customizable they are for developers. Individual developers often must adapt their natural workflow to that of the teams. A modern tool will allow consistent code delivery while allowing each developer to customize their development environment to meet their needs and make them as efficient as possible.

Newer tools are often designed to work seamlessly with other popular tools in the ecosystem, ensuring smooth transitions between different stages of development. For example, you may find that your IDE seamlessly integrates with Docker, your CI/CD system, and your silicon vendor's build system. At the same time, you may utilize plug-ins or extensions that help you track unwanted white space, perform autocompletion, or even suggest code. If you’ve locked yourself into an old or outdated toolchain, you won’t be as efficient.

Investing in the latest tools and ensuring that your toolchain is optimized for your needs can result in a smoother, quicker development journey. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to spend money on tools, but you do need to invest time into learning and configuring the latest tools.

Strategy #3: Use Simulation Before Hardware Is Available

Software development for embedded systems is often held up, waiting for the hardware to be ready. While efforts are usually made to get development boards and create Franken boards, the results hinder development. With advances in simulation technologies and the wide availability of “no code” hosts and web frameworks, development teams can start testing and refining software even before the hardware is finalized and available.

Simulation provides many benefits that will help revolutionize how you develop embedded systems. First, simulation provides you with parallel development paths. By simulating the hardware environment, software developers can work concurrently with the hardware team, reducing overall time to market. Next, abstraction layers can allow the application code to be used on any hardware platform, including your host environment. That means you can get the application features and results in front of customers sooner, enabling a feedback loop that will save rework and changes late in the development cycle. Finally, simulation helps you to mitigate risk. Simulations can help identify potential compatibility and performance issues early on, allowing for modifications before they escalate into more significant challenges.

Simulations allow for a more agile, adaptable, and efficient development process by decoupling software development from hardware availability.

Conclusions

Launching an embedded product is fraught with challenges and potential pitfalls. However, you can significantly reduce your product's time to market by embracing automated testing, ensuring an up-to-date toolchain, and leveraging simulation technologies. These strategies save time and enhance the quality and reliability of your embedded product, ensuring a win-win scenario for both developers and end-users. Stay ahead of the curve by integrating these strategies into your development processes and watch your team start meeting their delivery dates and budgets.

About the Author(s)

Jacob Beningo

Jacob Beningo is an embedded software consultant who currently works with clients in more than a dozen countries to dramatically transform their businesses by improving product quality, cost and time to market. He has published more than 300 articles on embedded software development techniques, has published several books, is a sought-after speaker and technical trainer and holds three degrees which include a Masters of Engineering from the University of Michigan.

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