WAGILE product development is a hybrid methodology to plan and execute innovation projects. It is a blend of traditional waterfall (“W-“) and Agile (“-AGILE”). The WAGILE philosophy is:
- Move fast,
- Practice discipline,
- Understand risk,
- Engage customers, and
- Provide autonomy.
These elements combine the best of conventional staged-and-gated processes with the flexibility and adaptability of Agile systems, like Scrum. Both waterfall and agile processes have advantages which are merged in WAGILE.
What is Waterfall?
Traditional waterfall processes are usually implemented through a staged-and-gated process for new product development (NPD). Popularized by Robert G Cooper, the staged-and-gated process manages investment risk by phasing experiments at a small scale to gain market and technology information. As the innovation team learns more about the product development concept, investments are more focused and risk declines. Each subsequent stage involves larger and more complex testing until the decision is made to scale-up production. Alternatively, if the business case at any gate review does not appear viable, the project is closed, and resources are re-assigned to the next most valuable opportunity.
Advantages of Waterfall
Because staged-and-gated systems are widely deployed for project management, implementation is easy. Most industries use a form of phased work, scaling up based on information gathered in the previous stages. Work is predictable and losses are minimized since Go/No-Go decisions align with the strategic objectives of the organization.
Disadvantages of Waterfall
It is, however, predictability and risk-aversity that are most often cited as pitfalls of a traditional waterfall process for innovation. Implementation of a staged-and-gated system often increases bureaucracy through required templates and reports that are standard prerequisites regardless of the new product complexity. Often work that is slated for a later stage is advanced to an earlier stage to ensure a “watertight” business case. This reduces risk but forces unnecessary rigidity into a creative process.
Another disadvantage of waterfall project management is a lack of customer interaction. Upfront planning freezes product features early in the NPD process and customer testing is often limited within these fixed design boundaries. Further, decision-makers struggle to halt projects with huge sunk costs, even when customer feedback is negative.
Scrum is the most frequently implemented project management methodology within the Agile framework for new product development. Scrum (read more here) involves short bursts of work (called “sprints”) in which small increments of product features are designed and developed. Scrum teams are small and intimate and since the scope of work for each “phase” is very limited, adaptations in product design and development are easy to implement.
Advantages of Agile
Agile processes were designed specifically for software development where flexibility is essential. Team members are “generalist-specialists” with the capacity to learn and expand their skills while offering cross-functional subject matter expertise. Launching a minimally viable product (MVP) with frequent updates to enhance features allows an organization to establish market share early in the product life cycle.
Disadvantages of Agile
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of agile is defining “done.” A product owner (read more here) represents the voice of customer and approves the results of each sprint and feature release. Software can never be perfect, so the decisions to launch products range from too early to too late. Often, customer feedback is indirect through the product owner rather than through Intimate customer interactions as intended.
Another disadvantage of Agile is that sprints are short periods of time in which an increment of work is completed. While this is feasible for software development, short increments of work (two to four weeks) are often challenging for hardware or other tangible product development efforts. For example, beta testing and other product use tests may require lengthy customer assessments.
WAGILE to the Rescue!
WAGILE blends the advantages of both waterfall ad agile project management processes to improve customer satisfaction and speed-to-market. Stages and gates reduce risk and increase discipline over Scrum, while customer testing increases learning (iterative design) and improves customer satisfaction. Iterations allow incremental testing and accelerate new product development.
Waterfall to WAGILE
Converting from a traditional waterfall system to WAGILE offers speed and flexibility. Too many organizations have failed in trying to adopt Scrum when they deployed upfront planning for decades. Agile practices and tools, like Kanban and Design Thinking, accelerate traditional staged-and-gated product development in a hybrid innovation process.
Agile to WAGILE
Many organizations struggle with strategic focus. Introducing the discipline of stages and gates helps these firms focus on targeted product development. The end goal is in mind (e.g., the definition of “done”) and risks are analyzed in-depth (especially financial investments) when the project is managed in a more structured way. Moreover, organizations that use annual budgeting processes or are beholden to stringent regulatory reporting (e.g., oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, etc.) can integrate medium-term and long-term planning with a flexible product development process.
WAGILE – Why and How
In this post, we have discussed why WAGILE is the most attractive new product development process available today. To learn how to implement WAGILE at your organization to increase NPD profits, join me for a quick overview at PDMA Carolinas on 15 June and then for an in-depth application of WAGILE tools and templates on 15 and 16 July (register here).
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