There is an interesting difference in how software folks talk about product development and how “hardware” people do. Note that I am lumping traditional, tangible products into the category of “hardware”. Software product managers don’t always want to talk to the customer, yet hardware folks are anxious for customer feedback.
First, I’d love to hear how you view software versus hardware development. Is there a difference in your approach to customer input? What systems do you use for design and marketing? How do you select among features and next generation products?
Of course, I’ll offer my own opinion on product development for software and hardware. I don’t think there should be any difference in the approaches to design, development, and marketing. Today, there is a lot of “push technology,” forcing updates in software and apps. Yet, many of those updates are bug fixes. Software development experts herald the beauty of doing many tests per day. But, hardware is more costly to design and develop – failed tests, mistakes, and quality issues (“bug fixes”) cannot be tolerated
Furthermore, most products today involve both a software component and a hardware component. Cars operate with tangible elements of an engine and transmission, but a software program optimizes fuel-to-oxygen ratios and the gear ratio. Cell phone apps tell us weather predictions, but the software would be useless without the phone itself. Instead of differentiating new product development (NPD) processes from software or hardware, why not apply a hybrid approach that incorporates best practices from emerging Agile for software and traditional waterfall for hardware?
WAGILE – A Hybrid Approach
Because most products include both software and hardware components, WAGILE is the best hybrid approach for product innovation. WAGILE is a combination of the words waterfall (“w-“) and Agile (“-agile”). The WAGILE product development process takes the best practices of each development methodology to gain speed-to-market, customer satisfaction, and team collaboration. WAGILE uses creative concepts from design thinking and provides a toolkit for project execution. Learn more here in our upcoming WAGILE product development class.
The Agile Manifesto (https://agilemanifesto.org/) provides guidance for software development. The Stage-Gate™ process definitions (from Robert G. Cooper) provide a framework for traditional waterfall product development. Combined, the WAGILE Philosophy offers guiding principles for hybrid product design and development. These principles are as follows.
- Move Fast: Certainly, Agile has been adopted for software development so that apps are released quicker. Because technology is changing rapidly, being first-to-market is an advantage for a software company. Yet, moving fast is also an advantage for tangible products too. Companies that get products (or prototypes) in the hands of customers quickly gain feedback to improve customer satisfaction.
- Practice Discipline: Senior managers and executives are often uncomfortable with the wild, wild West approach of Agile. An evolving scope of work is hard to understand from a perspective of resource utilization, cost, and schedule. WAGILE adopts a staged-and-gated framework with key decisions to overlay discipline on the product development process. For a deep dive into activities and tools for each stage, please join our class on 23 and 24 September.
- Understand Risk: We all know that product development is inherently risky. Software development is often viewed with less cost risk – “only” labor is involved and you can always send a “bug fix“ update later. On the other hand, hybrid products (involving both software and hardware) may require capital investment, worker training, and regulatory approvals. These elements of product development require assessing and understanding risk as well as an approach to managing and mitigating uncertainties.
- Engage the Customer: Both the staged-and-gated and Agile methodologies were initiated to improve customer interactions and to increase the frequency of feedback. Unfortunately, in practice, both systems fail to achieve these goals. WAGILE forces customer engagement with key activities. As part of practicing discipline, all NPD projects collect real customer feedback at each phase of development as a stringent requirement.
- Provide Autonomy: One of the benefits of Agile theory is to allow experts at time and space for coding and testing. Team autonomy is also a key element of the WAGILE philosophy. Project leaders serve as guides and mentors rather than micro-managing the team. Within given constraints, the design and development team makes their own decisions, structures their own work, and manages project artifacts.
Applying Hybrid Product Development
Hybrid approaches to product development might not be new. Yet, today a balanced methodology for designing and developing products is more important than ever. Most products include elements of both software and hardware. While traditional approaches fail for software development, Agile approaches suffer for tangible product (hardware) development. The answer is WAGILE – a hybrid product development methodology.
Learn more about WAGILE product development in my presentation for PMI Dallas Professional Development Day – Valuing the Customer. Check out our upcoming course (23 & 24 September) on WAGILE Product Development here.