This is part 1 in our 3-part series on Agile NPD. Read part 2.

It does not seem possible today to open a browser or attend a leadership conference without hearing about the rapid digitization of business and the Agile movement. It’s important before we claim Agile as "the" solution to all the pressures we face, first we must understand what it is and why it is such a powerful way of thinking.

The Agile movement started in the IT space — specifically software development — about 15 years ago. The ways of the old were not working. A study in the United Kingdom showed that of 1,027 projects, only 13% did not fail. When this study was conducted, waterfall-style scope management was the “single largest contributing factor for failure, being cited in 82% of the projects as the number one problem”.1

Because of these all too common failures in delivering the intended value for the software projects, 17 leading software developers created the Agile Manifesto. The leading phrase from the manifesto is “We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.”2

Now let’s take a step away from the software world and think more holistically as to what Agile has become.

Agile has evolved to become much more than a group of processes. It has become a way of being, a culture, a belief in the intent to provide the most value from the work we do. We understand in order to maximize the value of our work we will be constantly learning along the way. It’s this recognition that has led to Agile business thinking far deeper than just how we build software. In every endeavor our businesses take on, we know the least about where we will end up when we are at the first step of the journey.

It’s because of this constant need to evaluate where we are today versus the true intention of where we need to be that has driven us to look deeper into what Agile can provide our whole business. The pace of the business world is changing faster today than ever and will only continue to grow, and the Agile mindset will help.

The idea that we must provide the most real value in the work we do and reduce waste is not unique to Agile. It’s been around for decades with Lean, Six Sigma, and other process improvement centric methodologies. Even the waterfall process’ original intent was efficiency and consistency. These methodologies are still at the forefront of toolkits. The key is to understand which tool to use, when, and why.

The dilemma behind the more traditional process toolset is that they assume repeatability. In business strategy, planning, and new product development (NPD), the only real repeatable aspect are those artifacts we create as outputs. Every time we create them we must think in the context of the current NEW challenge, NEW business landscape, NEW technology. It’s all NEW. We don’t know everything about our journey and thus we need a supporting culture and underlying process to allow us to discover along the way while focusing us on the goal — the value or desired end-state.

In summary, do not think about Agile as a process. Think about it as a way of going about our business. Agile is a supporting platform and way of thinking that is exceptionally powerful to assist our business practices that are not well defined and have uncertainty along the way.

We know the desired outcome or destination, but getting there is NEW to us.

This is part 1 in our 3-part series on Agile NPD. Read part 2, "The Effect of Agile on NPD Planning," and stay tuned part 3, "Embedding Agile into the NPD Work Stream."


[1] The Benefits of Agile Software Development




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