Applying Agile into my hobby: 6 steps to build the perfect trainset.

I have a trainset layout at home, and it has been quite a journey of complexity and attention to detail in my life! And this is where my professional experience with Agile comes into the rescue.

I’ve inherited and purchased material for a trainset with the idea to build a layout on a table. Before I could start, I had to plan carefully how I would lay down the tracks, bridges, buildings, and the electric wires to feed the trains, switches, traffic lights and illumination.

The Agile Approach.

As a Business Analyst I’ve learned the value of working with Agile processes and I believe it will be the perfect way to make this project moving forward with the minimum setbacks.  I also believe we can adopt Agile in many aspects of our lives, and this was a good opportunity to put it into practice.

The 6 steps defined on the image below can be repeated as long as they leave room for continuous improvement.

Image: from Reserchgate.

First Step: Requirements.

I need first to figure out the requirements in order to understand what it is possible to deliver as an MVP (minimum viable product), which means running multiple trains without crashing them into each other, therefore I made a list with the necessary parts to execute this having a simple double track with a station for some maneuvers and multiple trains.

Truthfully, I could make the MVP even simpler and easier to execute I could just do a simple oval shape track to start. But I have more material and so I can start this project with some degree of complexity.

I have 3 big boxes with many tracks with all shapes and sizes and I’ve listed them all the with that in mind. These are the key elements a product needs to be successful.

Second Step: Design.

I’ve used a software to design the basic track layout. My first approach was to do a simple oval shape double track loop with 3 track sections on one side for the main station, so I could have one train parked with extra space for locomotive maneuvers and a roundabout to park steam locomotives in separate bays.

I also did an electric diagram to keep track of the connections for two train controllers and one transformer for the lights, switches, and signals.

The MVP requirements for this layout are to have straight tracks, curves, switches, locomotives, wagons and a roundabout, electric wires and transformers, each type of track has a code and I had to be sure that I have the right quantity. The design software is made specifically to add the different types of tracks using the track code.

After executing this plan I will be able to run two trains simultaneously in two directions, and have a 3rd track to park an extra train or make maneuvers independently without affecting the two main tracks.

Third Step: Development (building).

Now that I have the parts and the design, it’s time to build the layout. I am using a 3m2 table (custom build) and around a hundred  track pieces on this first stage. I also had some buildings to decorate the table so I bought the Main station building with a platform but I had to restore a few parts, like locomotives and tracks that were a bit rusty and damaged.

Finally, I connected the wires to feed the tracks and the lights (lamp posts, buildings, and track switches).

This is the layout after the development following exactly the previous track design. Now is time to go to the next step.

Forth Step: Testing.

This is the moment of truth: checking the electrical connections, wires, lights, track switches and finally testing the tracks with trains. I executed a few tests with different locomotives and wagons to be sure there aren’t derailments or accidents.

I ran into a few problems, like some tracks were rusty and I could see the trains were not running smoothly and one light bulb was burned out, It was an easy fix in the end, I just had to clean the tracks and replace the bulb, test again and surprisingly no derailments!

Fifth Step: Deployment.

Now, time to enjoy! The trains are rolling at full steam (or in this case, electricity!), the lights are on, and the table suddenly came to life. All is working as intended and no bugs to report, so let’s grab the camera and start taking macro photos and videos.

Sixth Step: Review.

After such a successful launch I’ve started analyzing what features can I add and improve. I want to add more trains, levels with bridges, crossings, traffic lights to keep a safe distance between trains, and using the full extent of both tracks (inbound and outbound) with the same trains.

So, it’s time to go back to step one and repeat the cycle: This is Agile! And this is how my layout looks like after running the previous 6 steps a few more times. Still is a work in progress but at the same time business as usual…

If you want to follow the project photos, you can check the Instagram account @marklin_analog: I woud appreciate all your comments and will be glad to share experiences!

João Vasconcelos
Business Analyst at Polarising