Editor's note: This is the final in a series of three blog posts.
In my last post, I discussed how NPD teams can and should have processes and a cultural belief to embrace change. In this article I'll talk about another of the core Agile principles, delivering early and often for the customer.
From the twelve core principles of Agile, we know that our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. I believe that traditional new product development organizations suffer from believing they have to build a finished product before they can get customer or end user feedback and reaction. I have seen many software development groups struggle with the same thing. They want to build a whole solution in architectural layers and lock themselves into a solution early that leads to costly rework or failure late. A lesson we can all learn from Apple's iPhone and iPad successes over competitive offerings that have the same or perhaps more robust “feature set” is that emotional response from the customer is critical to new product success. The challenge that teams building truly new products face is how to predict that response. If these teams were to learn from the agile principles mindset of delivering early and often this gap could be closed. The key is for these teams to find ways of delivering early models and prototypes that are low cost instead of waiting until late in the development lifecycle.
New technologies are making this easier and easier. Take 3D printing as an example. 3D printing can be leveraged to deliver lower cost early prototypes for testing in consumer industries or even in more engineering / technology centric organizations. The time and cost to prototype design concepts can be greatly reduced through 3D printing. Ford is one example of a company leading the way in adopting this mindset and approach to new product development.
For more consumables type of companies, early prototypes and test launches can also greatly increase the success of a new product, or worst case at least avoid a costly mistake. Wendy's is an industry leader in leveraging test markets for both success ( Pretzel Burger) and lower cost failures ( Breakfast). Wendy's teams are showing the courage to try things out early but just as importantly, they are making decisions based on their customers' feedback.
Many product development teams find themselves reacting to poor market feedback after very costly launches. Much of a product's success is due to the customers' emotional response to the product. Understanding that this response and feedback is critical for a successful launch, these teams would benefit greatly from leveraging core Agile principles to deliver early and adapt based on responses. These teams may be hesitant and quick to point out how easy it is to adjust software versus a traditionally manufactured good. Although they are accurate that it is very costly to adjust a finished good, I believe by following the examples of companies above these teams can indeed implement the process and the innovation success will grow because of it.