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A simple step by step guide to help you choose the appropriate New Product Development Process between Agile or Traditional Development. It provides a detailed description of each factor that matters in your choice of approach.

Agile Vs Traditional New Product Development Process – The Battle

Make no mistake – the answer to the question “Agile V/s Traditional New Product Development Process – which is better for you” is not a straightforward one. In fact it is a complex decision. I would rather avoid giving an answer.  Instead, let me handhold you to arrive at the answer yourself. I believe you have fair understanding of what Traditional Product Development and the Agile values and principles are, so I am skipping an introduction of these here.

Let’s first understand what prompted you to ask this question. Well, you must be at a stage where you have decided to build something – a new Product. It may be for your own Organization or for a Client and you are just wondering about how do I manage the overall journey (of Product Development) so that I reach to the finish line (A Market Ready Product). The focal point of this question is – “The Product” and thus the choice of approach will depend on factors associated with the Product.  These factors are:

  1. What is to be built– “Product Requirement”
  2. Building for whom – “The Customer”
  3. Who will build – “The Team” – I.e. Scrum Master, Product owner and Development Team
  4. How much Tolerance to Change – “Scope, Budget & Time To Market”

Let’s examine each of these factors in detail and see how they impact your choice of approach.

What are your New Product Development Process Requirements?

Every Product that is conceived is based on a Product Vision and purpose that it will serve. The questions that you should answer are:

  • How much clarity you have about this Vision?
  • Can you visualize the finished state of the Product?
  • Do you completely understand the purpose of the Product and how Users are going to use the Product?
  • Do you understand the complete composition of the Product in terms of Functional Blocks?

If you can confidently say YES to all the questions before starting the Development then Waterfall may be best suited for you. If not then Agile may be the best option for you.

In today’s Industries, it is less likely to get a YES for all of these questions.

Customer Availability & Engagement Model

Let’s first understand who is your Customer? If you are building the Product for your own Organization then most likely your Customers
are your Product’s End Users. But if you are a Development vendor and building the Product for a Client then your Client is the Customer and representing the End User for you.

If it is an internal Product then you may not have challenges about the availability of Business Stakeholders and your choice of approach may not depend on this factor.

For a Client’s Product you need to consider following:

  • Client may have an established approach for Vendors to follow
  • Is the client continuously available and willing to engage / validate during the Development? If yes, you may be better off with Agile rather than Waterfall

Needless to say that every product has to be useful & usable to the end user and end users are becoming evermore demanding. How well and how soon you can validate with the end user also influence the choice of your approach. If you can engage end users incrementally then Agile could serve you better than waterfall.

Development Team’s Affinity and adaptability

Product Development is increasingly becoming complex and needs a higher degree of team collaboration.  Achieving high productive team dynamics is a huge investment of time & cost. Such a harmonious team often have developed affinities to specific approaches and any change may be detrimental.  Hence, team level of maturity and flexibility has a great influence on choice of approach.

Tolerance to Change

“Change is the only constant” – this is no more an adage only. It is the founding belief of most of the business today. We are living in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world which is highly reactive. To make business viable in this situation we need to adopt a framework that embraces change. Agile is your choice for the VUCA business model. If at all we can control the VUCA factor to a great degree, waterfall is the approach to choose.

You need to ascertain the tolerance level for change of scope, budget and timeline.

Product development is increasingly shifting to On-Demand availability and there is an ever growing need to continuously ship in small bursts. This is best achieved by following the agile values and principles.

For Products that are more linear and stick to the milestone based market release model you may prefer the waterfall approach.

Conclusion

The choice between Agile or Traditional New Product Development Process is not based on any inherent superiority of one over the other. Instead, it largely depends on the circumstances of use. For example, Traditional Product Development is a better choice for monolithic, large-scale projects that are well defined & constrained. Agile, on the other hand, is a better option for evolving and more flexible Projects.

Our Favourite Agile Books

We found these books great for finding out more information on Agile Scrum:

You may want to use a Traditional New Product Development Process when:

  1. Work is for a big client that has well-defined Traditional Product Development based processes for vendors
  2. You work on fixed-scope, fixed-price contracts and the client is comfortable with formal change requests
  3. Your project team is experienced with the pre-established and documented Traditional Product Development approach- they know how to deal with it and how to use it to deliver a high-quality project.
  4. The upfront investment is not risky
  5. You focus your performance measures on a delivery date and budget

You should consider an agile approach when:

  1. Work is on an in-house project or projects with more flexible clients
  2. You work on a project where requirements are evolving
  3. Your team isn’t fluent with any specific approach as generally the agile values and principles make the learning curve pretty smooth in terms of introducing best practices.
  4. You want to benefit from fast feedback and visibility of objective data
  5. You have a team passionate about it or a coach who will help

The Agile values and principles are a paradigm shift and requires a change in mindset. The core focus of Traditional Product Development had been scope whereas the Agile values and principles focus on achieving maximum business value. Budget and schedule are often altered in Traditional Product Development to achieve the desired scope whereas in Agile, scope is evolved to achieve the main objective of attaining maximum business value.

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