Most businesses today employ a new product development (NPD) process to manage innovation. Studies indicate that over 80% of leading US companies use a phased and gated framework to convert embryonic ideas to commercial products. Yet research also shows that about half of all new products fail.
So, it is not surprising that companies are looking for other systems to manage NPD projects. Because Agile has been successful in software development, many firms are considering project management frameworks, like Scrum, for physical new product development. You can learn more about traditional, waterfall NPD processes here and Scrum for NPD here.
A disadvantage of Scrum in physical product development is that while features can be designed during a typical two- to four-week long sprint, it is often difficult to test a feature without the availability of the whole product solution. Consider, for example, testing automatic collision avoidance on a vehicle without knowing the weight, horsepower, or tire diameter of that vehicle.
“Wagile” for NPD
So, we know that NPD projects must be faster and more responsive to customer needs than we can normally deliver in a traditional phased and gated process. We also know that going fully agile is not practical in many situations. What’s the answer? “Wagile!”
“Wagile” is a hybrid of waterfall and agile processes, adopting the positive aspects of each project management framework to physical product development. Wagile processes are faster and more flexible than conventional staged and gated processes but recognize the whole system as a product. Moreover, wagile processes interface with customers at key intervals to determine functional needs and to garner important design insights at the right times in the project life cycle.
Iterative wagile processes are often used for new product development projects that have a few, higher risk technical or market uncertainties. The market is known and developing so speed-to-market is a critical factor in commercial success. Frequently the firm has significant technical competency in the product category and is skilled at quality production in this product arena.
In this variety of wagile NPD project management, sprints are applied early in the process to address specific technical questions or to gain customer feedback for a particular product feature. The business case is documented upfront and project requirements are known within a wide bandwidth.
The iterative sprints are used to answer some specific questions so that the product design can be locked. Once those design requirements are determined, through a series of iterative technology or market experiments, a traditional waterfall process is followed for prototype generation, technical development, and commercial launch.
An example of a product for iterative wagile development is the iPad™. The market was generally known and growing as the use of eReaders was expanding in 2010. However, the iPad touchscreen required technical design beyond the smaller iPhone™ screens and some user interactions needed testing. However, once these design specifications were frozen, technical development and product manufacturing followed Apple’s traditional project management models – the same used for other existing products.
In other cases, new products are really new platforms built to serve customers and users with new technologies and with novel applications. Consider, for instance, wearable fitness trackers. The goal of the NPD project is to deliver quality and to meet customer satisfaction objectives. Customers needed to be educated on how the product worked yet were knowledgeable about the intention and utility of the product.
For fitness trackers, an incremental wagile NPD process was appropriate. While technical and market uncertainties were both high, it was important to test proofs and prototypes in the marketplace. A minimally viable product (MVP) that simply counted steps was a first version of the product. The company gains market insights from the niche customers using an MVP and develops a second version of the product, purchased by a growing customer base.
Again, technical requirements are developed based on customer insights and feedback rom using the real product. Another, more sophisticated version is released based on this new market information, and the cycle repeats itself again and again.
Incremental wagile is an especially useful project management approach for a new product category. Fitbit™, like Kleenex™ and Xerox™, identifies the product category for fitness tracker today, yet functionality is radically more complex than the original step counters released as MVPs just a few years ago.
Wagile for NPD
Each NPD project is unique in some way. Thus, applying the “right” NPD and project management process approach requires evaluating several variables for the project. Some of these factors include the following.
- Technical uncertainty
- Market uncertainty
- Customer availability
- Company culture
- Team structure
- Competitive threats
However, most NPD projects can be successfully implement using a waterfall (staged and gated), agile (Scrum), or hybrid (wagile) approach.
We invite you to learn more about “wagile” new product development in an upcoming Agile NPD or New Product Development Professional (NPDP) certification workshop. Check out our full class schedule at Simple-PDH.com. Please contact me if you’d like a free pdf copy of the Scrum Body of Knowledge (SBOK) and check out our current course list for Agile NPD and Scrum here. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 281-280-8717. At Simple-PDH.com where we want to help you gain and maintain your professional certifications. You can study, learn, and earn – it’s simple!
- Essential Scrum by Kenneth Rubin
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
- Effective Project Management by Robert Wysocki
- Being Agile by Leslie Ekas and Scott Will
- Making Sense of Agile Project Management by Charles Cobb
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