Agile Innovation is a way of thinking about and structuring your NPD process to reduce costs and increase the likelihood of success. It prioritises a short iterative process designed to more rapidly determine what’s working and what’s not. Typically, ‘Agile’ refers to an approach to software development, but the processes can be transferred onto NPD processes. It differs from traditional development that passes work from function to function, as it integrates design, development, and testing. Companies like NPR and Spotify use Agile methods.

How does Agile Innovation work?

Agile Innovation is a holistic methodology that carries across all departments in a company, to develop and put new ideas into action. It depends on continual revision and improvement, encouraging flexibility and a quick response to variations.

An Agile ‘team’ is made up of a small, cross-functional group of people. The team come up with a list of ideas, looking for features that are beneficial to consumers and will lead to financial gain. They may also explore existing problems or internal projects already present, and determine who the customers and stakeholders are.

The team then prioritises tasks and breaks them down into smaller chunks, work out how to approach the task and how long it will take. These chunks are known as sprints. Spur innovation by experimenting in rapid “plan, do, study, and act” feedback loops. Plan in detail only the things that won’t change before they’re executed. Everyone in the team is aware what the others are doing, with regular progress meetings. This type of working reduces the need for micromanaging, so managers have more time to collaborate and devise solutions. The team gives attention to the two or three most important initiatives, rather than working on multiple projects at once. They would limit meetings to once a daily, and keep them brief. Team leaders shouldn’t become too involved with what individual teams are doing.

Daily stand-up meetings (also known as ‘scrum’ meetings) are held to talk about progress and identify blockers. Blockers are resolved through experiments and feedback, and not debating or taking it to superiors. This type of working ensures evidence-based innovation is employed. The team tests small working prototypes, which may be released to the public straightaway, and find ways to enhance future cycles and to develop the next top priority. MVP stands for ‘minimum viable products’, and refers to the most basic, but sufficient product that appears to the public to be tested by the market.

Scrum is a framework, where teams work together in a creative and adaptive manner to solve problems. A small cross-functional team is assigned to the problem, who have all the skills needed to solve the problem. The team is responsible for the work. The ‘initiative owner’ or ‘product owner’ delivers value to the consumers and business. The product owner splits their time between working with the team, and with the stakeholders. Using design thinking, the product owner makes a list of worthwhile opportunities, and ranks them in order of value to both the consumer and company.

What are the benefits of Agile Innovation?

The benefits include bringing important features to the market quicker, increasing customer appeal, and reducing waste and repetition in meetings. It relies on continuous observational feedback and clarity, with regular reviews of performance metrics. Agile Innovation aims to develop and implement solutions economically. It significantly lowers cost than the alternative tools required to achieve similar output, driving innovation overheads down.

Agile increases team productivity and boosts employee happiness. It also improves consumer satisfaction, because Agile constantly adapts and responds to consumers’ priorities. By using a team across different departments, it expands on company experience to deliver a project.

Agile thinking aims to increase product flow, identifying disruptions and blockers with day-to-day tasks, to make time for Agile projects. Adopting Agile principles leads to an increase in productivity, with up to three times as much success compared to a more traditional approach. In thousands of software development projects, Agile methods have boosted average success rates from 11% to 39%.

Other benefits are demonstrated in these statistics:

  • 76% reduced project risk
  • 77% faster time to market
  • 79% increased team morale and motivation
  • 84% increased team productivity
  • 87% ability to manage changing priorities

Agile leaders are there to steer people in the right direction, to focus on strategic problems, remove blockers, and facilitate cross-team collaboration.

What is Agile architecture?

In IT, architecture are the standards and technologies needed for collaboration across the company. Prior to Agile, the ‘waterfall’ model was employed across the many IT departments. In software, this is where development flows in one direction (downwards, like a waterfall), through the various phases, including conception, design, testing, and maintenance. Its disadvantage is that it doesn’t lend itself to iteration or flexibility.

Agile architecture comes in five pillars:

  • Everyone is on the same page – Every team focusing on small areas of a more complicated project needs to work from the same list of tasks. Make sure every individual team can see the big picture, and use the same list of priorities, even if some teams aren’t using agile processes. Ensure the environment is fun and collaborative, with empowered employees and minimal bureaucracy.
  • Change roles before changing structures – It is more important to changes roles of individual members and assign new functions than it is to restructuring entire teams, which can be disruptive for creativity.
  • One decision owner – There should be only one person in charge of making final decisions, to avoid time-wastage and arguments. Other leaders should, of course, offer their expertise and guidance.
  • Concentrate on teams, not individuals – Teams that work together will offer their collective intelligence, leading to faster results.
  • Lead with questions – Asking people questions – “What should we go next?” – rather than giving orders leads to a more productive work environment.

Essentially: work on one major feature at a time. Decide on which are the most important features to align with goals, e.g. gaining a bigger market or increasing revenue potential. Agile works by implementing the most valuable features earlier in the process.

Where Agile doesn’t work

Agile doesn’t tend to work in routine operations, such as sales calls, purchasing, or accounting. It is more suited to creative teamwork and innovation. It involves additional training, changes to behaviour, and an introduction to information technologies. Agile works well for strategic planning, and breaking down complicated problems into modules to be solved by multidisciplinary teams.

How to start implementing Agile in your innovation process

Start small

Start with smaller teams, implement, then grow from there.

Master the basics

A team will initially benefit best from practicing the commonly used procedures that other Agile teams use. One example is keeping the same teams; it has been shown that stable teams are “60% more productive and 60% more responsive to customer input than teams that rotate members”.

Over time, teams can adapt their practices, but use experimentation to track changes and results, to ensure these changes are benefitting the project overall. Tracking, ranking, and adaptive planning is essential in Agile, as well as improving the work process.

Practice Agile in senior positions

Agile can be used for strategy development, innovation, and improving business cooperation. Senior staff member who come together as an Agile team benefit greatly, with improved productivity and morale, learning what works best for Agile teams and how to streamline work channels.

Structure

  • Team – Small, stable, focused, diverse, self-governing teams
  • Customer and business involvement – Constant collaborations
  • Design – Focus on highest-value features, aim for usable prototypes
  • Development – Iterate and continuously learn from customers what is most valuable
  • Testing and integration – Test and rapidly adapt to unpredictable insights
  • Delivery – Rapid, frequent increments

Vypr is a product validation platform that can help you with your Agile Innovation process. It lets you test every element of your NPD by asking our consumer community questions about your products. You can use this data to screen concepts, and to test packaging, messaging, claims, and pricing against consumer purchase intent.

Design, test, learn. Vypr helps supercharge your product innovation, getting you better products, faster.

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