WAGILE is an emerging approach to product innovation. You might ask, “Why do we need yet another, new approach to managing product development?” The answer is that every system has advantages and that over time, we can recognize process improvements. A secondary answer is more data-based. Studies indicate that revamping and revitalizing your new product development (NPD) process can not only enhance participation but yield improved results, such as creative solutions, time-to-market, and profitability.
Traditional NPD Processes
Organizations implement NPD processes to manage risk. Risk in innovation is more loosely defined than in traditional project management. Innovation professionals encounter risk from two perspectives: understanding the product or project requirements and developing the required technology. These are identified as “requirements uncertainty” and “technical uncertainty” in the figure.
A traditional NPD process, such as the staged-and-gated process, is designed primarily to manage investment risk. Each stage of work involves more resources but as the project advances through the various stages, technical risks are addressed. Each subsequent stage of work encounters less uncertainty. In this way, financial risk is minimized because there is little investment for small-scale experiments during initial stages and as more knowledge is gained, the investments will grow but with reduced uncertainty in the outcomes. Sometimes these processes are called “waterfall” since each step flows to the next; however, there is no easy way to go “backward” in the system.
To counter the bureaucracy that many large companies incorporate alongside traditional NPD processes, the Agile methodology intentionally leaves the overall requirements uncertain. Theoretically, the customer provides feedback after each incremental development step (called a “sprint”) so that the requirements uncertainty is reduced. A drawback of Agile is that real customers are often not included in the process. Further, it is difficult to determine when a project is “done” in terms of meeting market requirements.
What is WAGILE?
WAGILE is a hybrid process that blends the best of the traditional waterfall systems with Agile philosophy (“W” + “Agile”). The rigor of a staged-and-gated project management approach is coupled with required customer feedback in each phase. Incremental and iterative work within a stage allows innovation teams to adequately address design and development needs. Yet repeating a phase of work is done only when necessary. The WAGILE philosophy incorporates key ideas from these innovation approaches.
- Move fast
- Practice discipline
- Understand risks
- Engage customers
- Provide autonomy
You can read more about the WAGILE Philosophy here.
Roles and responsibilities are defined clearly for Agile processes, such as Scrum, as well as in traditional project management. Many of these roles are similar to those utilized in WAGILE. Some key roles and responsibilities for WAGILE are described below. You can read more about the WAGILE Roles here.
- Project Leader: Somewhat like a traditional brand manager, the Project Leader in WAGILE is responsible for the overall product life cycle and drives product innovation.
- Customer Representative: In Scrum, the product owner represents the voice of the customer. In WAGILE, the Customer Representative carries out this responsibility and helps to translate or articulate customer needs for the innovation team.
- Team Leader: In many ways, the team leader in WAGILE is similar to a traditional project manager with tactical and operational responsibility for the execution of the project. Team leaders are servant leaders yet maintain autonomy for project decisions within the scope of the project.
- Cross-Functional Team: Like all new product development teams, successful innovation under a WAGILE approach requires participation from all relevant departments and functions. Team members are generalist-specialists, as in an Agile approach and the core team maintains continuity throughout the project effort.
Some WAGILE Tools
WAGILE tools are based primarily on Design Thinking to incorporate customer feedback at each stage of development. Each individual WAGILE project will use several complementary tools to complete the work of a given phase. Depending on the scale, scope, and breadth of the innovation work, several tools are used at multiple points during development. A fundamental decision point in selecting feedback techniques is to use the data gathering, testing, and experimentation tools that provide the highest density of customer information. Read more about WAGILE Tools here – a list of some of my favorite tools follows.
- Customer empathy map
- Customer journey map
- Affinity diagrams
- Product Portfolio Management
- Scrum board
- Business model canvas
- Paper prototypes
Benefits of WAGILE
Again, you might be asking, “Why do I need a new system to manage product development?” Often the NPD process becomes stale and the links to customer feedback become broken. You need WAGILE if you find your innovation teams bogged down in idea generation stages or if recent product launches are met with “ho-hum” market responses. The biggest benefit of WAGILE is that it is a flexible, risk-based process to get new products into competitive markets. We measure success of product innovation in WAGILE via market success: customer satisfaction, market share, and profitability.
If you’d like to learn more about WAGILE, please join our WAGILE class on 18 and 19 February. We will dig deeper into each of these concepts. Your homework during the course allows you to begin transitioning to a more flexible and adaptable approach to innovation within the governance of a risk-adjusted process. For personalized problem-solving or customized training, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for innovation consulting.
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I am inspired by writing, teaching, and coaching. I tackle life with an infusion of rigor, zeal, and faith. It brings me joy to help you build innovation leaders. Teresa Jurgens-Kowal is an experienced innovation professional with a passion for lifelong learning with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and an MBA in Computer and Information Decision Making. My credentials include PE (State of Louisiana), NPDP, PMP®, and CPEM, and I am a DiSC® certified facilitator. Contact me at email@example.com or area code 281 + phone 787-3979 for more information on coaching for entrepreneurs and innovators.
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