Nowadays there is no escaping the Agile hype. Large organisations are “becoming Agile” one after the other, fuelled by hopes of higher employee engagement and more efficient product development.
A Service Delivery Executive at a Fortune500 company in the technology sector told us that the implementation of Agile in his organisation raised high expectations of easier product and service design but in reality fell short of those initial expectations. He was wondering if Agile works for new product development and if not, what could replace it or complement it.
Doing ‘Agile’ for new product development
Let’s start by taking a few steps back to understand where all the hype is coming from. As a software development methodology built on the 2001 Agile manifesto, Agile has been a resounding success. Nowadays no one would deny its efficiency to develop better software.
As software started eating the world in the 2000s, products and services became more and more digital, and the frontier between software development and product development became more porous. Agile shifted to being widely used for product design.
Over the years, different Agile frameworks based on the Agile manifesto emerged – such as Scrum one of the most popular ones - and large companies joined the Agile party and implemented those frameworks in their product development process. In many cases however, as pointed out by the Executive who contacted us, the expectations of easier product and service design were not met.
Blending ‘Agile’ with other frameworks
When it became clear than using Scrum, or any other Agile framework, for product development was not enough in those organisations, product teams looked for solutions by combining different methodologies, by blending Agile with other frameworks.
Gartner showed in a 2016 article on digital innovation a first articulation of how Design Thinking, LEAN startup and Agile could work together as a powerful problem-solving combination.
In hindsight it is easy to see how unrealistic expectations with Agile were, and often still are. How could the implementation of an Agile framework be the silver bullet to develop better software, build new products, acquire another company, transform the organisation, and manage your shopping list?
At Strategyzer, we always advise our clients against dogmatic and simplistic answers to the business challenges of the 21st century. Combining methodologies, such as Design Thinking + LEAN + Agile, to build a better product development process is certainly a step in the right direction.
But it might not be sufficient to find the winning formula for product development in the digital age. Many large organisations miss the most obvious reason why their Agile framework does not yet enable great product development.
On a concrete, tangible but also superficial level, Agile is seen as a set of tools packaged in a framework, e.g. Scrum. Implementing an Agile framework in an organisation will lead teams to doing Agile without necessarily embracing the principles behind it. They are following the framework, but they are not necessarily being more agile.
More and more leaders want to achieve the Graal of "business agility". In order to get there, one needs to do much more than just implementing a framework. This requires a completely new cultural operating system (OS). One that is based on empiricism (i.e. accepting uncertainty) and rigorously experimenting and discovering (rather than acting as if one can know and plan for everything upfront).
Only organisations and teams that embed these principles of empiricism, “inspect & adapt”, experimentation, continuous learning in their cultural DNA will develop business agility, and radically improve their product development capability.
Being agile + Strategyzer toolkit = the perfect fit
At Strategyzer we help entrepreneurs and product teams create products customers want. In Business Model Generation in 2009 and then Value Proposition Design in 2014, Strategyzer defined the process to go from a new business idea to a business and the tools (including the Value Proposition canvas and Business Model canvas) to support this process.
When the product teams we work with have adopted an agile way of thinking and operating then the grounds are fertile for great product development work.
In the search phase, teams use the prototyping tools and design process outlined in Value Proposition Design. They also use the experiments library and testing process outlined in Testing Business Ideas. Together these tools help them go through many design-test loops until they’ve proven that their product actually fits customer needs. Only then can teams move on to building the product in the execution phase.
However, getting to product-market fit is an iterative and messy process. The iterative nature of this innovation work comes more naturally to teams used to Agile frameworks. And getting to product-market fit requires a total commitment from the team to the Agile principles of empiricism, experimentation, continuous learning.
Following an agile framework on its own is not enough, but agile principles and the Strategyzer toolkit are a powerful combination to build products customers want. And after a bit of meandering, that’s what I would answer the initial question.
Recap on key ideas on helping Agile teams build products customers want:
What are your key questions on innovation and business transformation? Let us know in the comments below!