You’re Doing Agile Product Development Wrong And That’s Okay

According to a 2018 Stack Overflow survey, 85.4% of respondents said they use some form of the agile methodology to keep their teams on track. But what does it mean to be agile? There are a number of different frameworks, techniques, and processes that make up the agile methodology. With so many people adopting the agile product development framework as a way to move faster through the product and software development process, whom do you listen to?

The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think. Because it doesn’t really matter.

We’re not saying that the agile method isn’t valid or that the framework isn’t solid, because it certainly is. What we’re saying is that the beauty of agile is its adaptability. What agile looks like for your company will be significantly different for others. Even teams within your organization can have slightly different workflows based on their specific needs.

Creating an agile product development process is all about context. It requires deep insight into the underlying methodology as well as your team’s desired outcomes and goals. All that knowledge comes together to help you create a product development framework that’s tailored specifically for your team, making it easy to find the agile workflows and processes that work best for your team.

Agile Product Development: The Flexible Framework That Adapts Your Team

At its core, agile product development is a framework for looking at how your team builds new products for customers. The focus of agile is incremental change, small customer-feedback loops, and adaptable product teams.

Agile product teams create processes based on these core ideals, making it simple to add continual value through careful iteration. In agile, every product you build, every process you use, and every goal you strive for is the subject for analysis and change.

That’s why there are different frameworks, like Scrum and Kanban, within the agile method. Each helps your team organize and visualize the various different types of work required to move through the product development process. Think about it as the lens you use to look at any given project.

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These are the two primary agile frameworks:

  • The Scrum method has your team break up their work into “sprints”—defined units of time in which your team is responsible for completing a specific amount of work.
  • Kanban focuses on creating swim lanes for every individual task. As your team executes on these tasks, they move it from a backlog to work in progress (WIP), review, completed, etc.

Keep in mind that these two frameworks aren’t mutually exclusive. Depending on your goals, it can make sense to limit WIP to a single task before moving on to the next throughout a given sprint period.

Or it might make more sense to give your developers more freedom to bounce between tasks within the sprint as their needs or requirements change. The beauty of agile product development is having the freedom to figure all this out.

5 Benefits of Agile Product Development’s Flexibility

The agile methodology helps your team think strategically about the work required to build new products and how that work can be broken down into smaller, faster-moving, iterative tasks. But that’s not the only benefit. There are a number of ways that agile product development helps your team build better products via its flexibility, including the following:

  1. Learn from users at key points in the product development life cycle. Being agile helps your team stay connected with ever-changing customer and business goals, it boosts engagement with day-to-day responsibilities, and it ensures that your team can pivot to different tasks quickly without issue.
  2. Create an adaptable product roadmap that helps you meet and exceed customer requirements. When you’re able to adjust requirements throughout a project, it’s easier to refine your vision for the product throughout the work.
  3. Deliver continual value to customers through iterative releases. The agile methodology is similar to Lean product development, in that you work from a minimal viable product (MVP) and add value over time. This is possible only when you’re able to adjust requirements based on the changing needs of your customers and business.
  4. Make it easy to respond to changing business requirements. Your business goals will change; when your team is agile, they can easily pivot to new ideas quickly without losing momentum.
  5. Promote honest and autonomous collaboration between teams. Relying on shorter periods of work forces your team to communicate more often, which fosters stronger relationships and more effective collaboration. It also helps people adapt faster to new ideas, share feedback, and stay on course if there is a need for a change.

Understanding how to leverage these benefits to create more efficient processes for your team is the key to building a great agile product development process.

How to Make Agile Product Development Work for Your Team

There are lots of different ways to do agile product development. As a fundamentally adaptable and iterative framework, building agile processes always starts with a solid understanding of what works best for your team. Everyone’s requirements are slightly different depending on their available resources and bandwidth, so being able to address each of these requirements directly can have a really positive impact on your team.

When thinking about becoming agile, start by looking at how your team can use both Scrum and Kanban frameworks in tandem or individually, depending on the constraints of your project. Understanding how to adapt these frameworks to your individual needs is the first step in creating an agile product development process that really works.

Let’s say your team is overhauling an existing customer database—a database with valuable context for making decisions about their experience with your product. If the goal is migrating this entire database to a new server, your back-end engineers would definitely want to use a four-week sprint. That gives them the time they need to spec out all the hardware/cloud-based resources they require for the project as well as provide ample time to complete the actual move.

In contrast, if you’re working on a project that’s further up the stack, maybe an update to the design of your customer-facing control panel, that would work better with two-week sprints. The shorter sprint duration would give your web developers more than enough time to make the requisite changes in your staging environment and roll them out to customers through a phased release.

Because the agile method breaks down work in these defined units of work, you can create more effective plans as well. Using a Kanban board, that planning might look something like this:

Kanban spring planning via Trello

Each card represents a step in your team’s product development process—Backlog for planned work, To-Do for upcoming tasks, Code Review for once the task is complete—every element helps your team visualize how long it takes to complete a single task. With that knowledge, you can proactively manage resources in advance and create more realistic projections for how much time the work will take.

Understanding these processes can make agile product development a collaborative framework as well. Agile product development forces your team to document everything they’re doing publicly, either on a Kanban board or on another project management tool. Your team will easily be able to track their and their colleagues’ work and communicate proactively when issues arise.

With increased visibility, it’s easier to see how each individual task contributes to the success of a project, which brings the team closer and builds trust across the board.

Being Agile Helps You Build New Products Faster

Adopting the agile methodology gives your team the power to create and refine processes that match their own specific requirements. This not only makes it easier to deliver consistent value to customers with every release but also helps each member of your team feel invested in the overall success of a given project.

When building new products or features can be a time-consuming and complex process, anything you can do to speed up the process and make it work better for your team is paramount.