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Recognizing and capitalizing on potential: Agile processes in product development

Agile product development
Image: © Viewzilla / Adobe Stock

At the end of the waterfall – when conventional development methods reach their limits

Traditional methods of product development can quickly reach their limits when it comes to creating precisely tailored solutions for sales and customers. “The problem is that the production processes are often inflexible,” says Theine. As the manager responsible for products at the consulting firm zeb, he advises and supports customers in the successful introduction of agile processes. He specializes in products in the insurance market.

“A conventional approach based on the waterfall model is structured rigidly.” He also says there is often a lack of cross-departmental collaboration between development, sales and other relevant departments. So it may well be the case that the final results do not align with the product portfolio and sales requirements – and that the customer’s needs are not met either. The agile method kit solves this:

Thanks to agile product development, the essential performance components and special features of a product can be worked out in a target-oriented manner, revised flexibly and fine-tuned to sales requirements and target group interests.

Why agile product development?

“Agile product development offers clear advantages over conventional methods,” Theine reports. “Better products can be realized and sales figures can increase – this justifies the potential greater expense for introducing and applying agile working methods.” Theine names four important advantages:

  1. Added value
  2. Risk minimization
  3. More flexibility
  4. Greater involvement

1. Added value

Agile development processes allow results that are a far better fit than those achieved through conventional methods. The central features of a product can be realized in a target-oriented manner and in short cycles. The value of the result increases. Myth: Agile product development is quicker than traditional approaches. According to Theine, this is often not the case. The aim of the agile approach is to achieve better results. For example, a waterfall approach may be quicker, but often leads to an end result that is less optimal.

2. Risk minimization

Agile product design reduces the risk of developing products that do not align with sales and customers. Compared to traditional development cycles, solutions can be tested early on with the customer and in sales. The results and potential for optimization can be incorporated directly in the next sprint. In this way, optimum results are achieved step by step and monetary risks are minimized.

3. More flexibility

Agile product development is far more flexible and always allows you to adapt your own schedule. While change processes in a waterfall approach are time-consuming and costly, agile solutions undergo a continuous optimization process thanks to iteration loops and a sprint structure.

4. Greater involvement

Agile product development methods make it possible for cross-functional teams to work together in a target-oriented manner. “But nobody can sit back and rest on their laurels,” Theine says. “Everyone in the process is continuously involved. They put their heads together. Every single employee is called on. This is of course challenging, but is also more fun.” The level of involvement is high in agile product development – as is employee motivation thanks to quick and visible progress.

Basics for the introduction of agile methods

When it comes to introducing agile methods, Theine advises: “don’t take a sledgehammer to crack a nut!”. Companies should not and cannot make all processes agile overnight. “Product managers should ask themselves where methods make sense and where they don’t.” Using agile development methods does not usually cause any problems. Introducing them, however, puts an organization to the test: “Many companies looking to implement agile products don’t have agile organizational forms in place yet,” Theine says. Often, previous workflows are rigidly designed based on the waterfall model, so it is not possible to switch to frameworks like Scrum.

The important thing is to first create the space for agile processes.

And this is an issue for management level in particular. We must ask the question of whether the corporate culture is even capable of agile working. “It’s not enough just to read the method manual,” Theine says. Existing processes have to be thoroughly reassessed. And a change in product development can only be successful if management level demonstrates agile working methods and gives employees direction and assurance. There must be, for example, an understanding that an employee is only assigned to one project for a whole day.

The establishment of agile product development methods will proceed successfully and quickly if the prerequisites are created in the project management units. Theine recommends: “In general, companies should bring an experienced partner on board. Change support or at least one agile coach will provide support in initiating the necessary change processes for agile working methods.” An upcoming new product development is a promising starting point. This is an excellent opportunity to make development processes agile for the first time and to define them and flesh them out more precisely for future products.

Julia Stüdemann
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