This week’s blog continues our series on the Wagile product development process. Wagile is a hybrid of traditional waterfall (“w-”) and Agile (-“agile”) systems. The Wagile philosophy is to move fast, practice discipline, understand risk, engage customers, and provide autonomy.
Traditional Stages and Gates
In a conventional new product development (NPD) process, stages are defined intervals where work gets done. Gates are used as decision points – does the project advance to the next stage of work? The advantage of a staged-and-gated framework for innovation projects is the discipline of a structured system. Risk is managed because the investment in R&D or technology development is low when uncertainty is high (e.g. early stages).
A common complaint of traditional NPD processes is that the system becomes overly bureaucratic. Many managers recognize the inherent risk of innovation projects. So, in the view of a risk-averse person or entity, knowing all the answers and planning for all contingencies upfront should eliminate risk. Yet, this behavior drives costs of investigation and evaluation up without learning from failure. Failure is perceived negatively.
Scrum Artifacts and Meetings
Scrum, the most common implementation of Agile, uses increments of work called “sprints”. Rather than defining specific task completions as in the traditional staged-and-gated framework, sprints are defined by time. A typical Sprint last two to four weeks.
The team works with the organization’s business analysts to determine what work tasks they can accomplish during each Sprint. The idea is to have a deep focus on the highest priority features first.
Risk is managed in Scrum by developing a minimally viable product (MVP). The advantages that cost should be low by designing highest priority features early and avoiding “gold-plating” of products and services. A challenge in Scrum is to define “done”, and my many features end up with gold-plating anyway.
Another difference between Wagile and Scrum is when the team cannot complete the agreed-upon tasks within the sprint. Activities then rollover to the next sprint, creating a backlog. Sprint backlogs impact the overall project schedule and can cause delays in market launch.
As we discussed in an earlier post, the Wagile gates are decision points in a project to move forward. The plan for the next stage of work is approved at the gate review. Stages of work in Wagile have two boundaries: task completion and risk. Schedule or project budget serves as a proxy for risk. A stage is complete when either (1) the tasks are finished or (2) the schedule/budget is consumed. Every stage has a set of required activities (standard) and a set of specific questions related to the individual project. The Wagile stages are:
- Opportunity Identification,
- Business Case,
- Technology Development,
- Scale-Up, and
Wagile Stage Activities
A key differentiator for Wagile versus other innovation processes is customer focus. Stage-Gate™ was designed by Bob Cooper to include customer feedback but does not explicitly call it out. Scrum uses the role of the Product Owner to represent the voice of customer. Unfortunately, the Product Owner often presses internal demands for features and technology rather than the external needs of a target market. In Wagile, each stage requires customer interaction via the Customer Representative role, tools, and tests.
For example, in Stage 1 (Opportunity Identification), activities include Create, Trial, and Validate. Both Trial and Validation require customer feedback. These activities cannot be completed (or measured) without external data. At Stage 1, however, these data are qualitative for the most part.
Similarly, subsequent Wagile stages include required customer feedback activities of concept testing, technical functionality testing, prototype testing, and market testing. Wagile stages are complete only when customer feedback is recorded. In the situation where schedule or budget (project risk elements) are depleted before customer feedback is gathered, the project is re-evaluated through the Product Portfolio Management system. Often, challenges in gathering customer feedback are symptoms of an unattractive project.
Wagile stages, like conventional NPD process stages, are where work gets done. Unlike a traditional system, recycle of activities and iteration of the new product or service idea is encouraged. On the other hand, Wagile varies from Scrum (which also encourages utilizes iterative design) by installing hard barriers associated with customer feedback and risk.
Ask yourself if your NPD process is balancing discipline with flexibility. Are you getting the expected results within the desired time frame? If not, it’s probably time to revamp your process. Research shows that revitalizing your product innovation process with industry best practices leads to continued success. And if you don’t have consistent customer feedback, flexibility, and discipline built into your NPD process, it’s time to become Wagile! Join me on 11 November for a Wagile tutorial and right-size your product innovation workflows. Register here.
Learn more about Wagile Product Development in my Webcast with PDMA on 10 September (register here). Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a complimentary 30-minute innovation coaching session.
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I am inspired by writing, teaching, and speaking at great professional events. 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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