What is the Agile Product Development Process? [Explained in 7 Steps]

What is the Agile Product Development Process? [Explained in 7 Steps]

Over the years, the traditional approach to product development has changed significantly. To keep up with the changing requirements, manufacturers have had to evolve and become more agile. As a result, the concept of agile product development came into existence.

Since the methodology/philosophy is still fairly new, there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding it.

Regardless, agile product development has been widely accepted by software developers, and today, manufacturers of certain conventional and tangible products are also applying this methodology.

If you’re a product manager who’s new to the concept, I highly recommend that you keep reading. In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know about the agile product development process, by breaking it down into 7 steps.

Let’s dive straight into its definition first.

What is the Agile Product Development?

Agile is a methodology – commonly applied to the development of software solutions/applications – where products are developed through continuous collaboration between cross-functional teams.

The entire agile methodology is based on the following two strategies:

  • Incremental Development – as the name suggests, this implies creating the product step-by-step (or piece-by-piece). This is similar to a standard, non-agile production sequence. That being said, a delay or error in the production of an increment could still delay the next one, which is why, time is of the essence.
  • Iterative Approach – this involves continuously refining the components or features as you develop them (through testing and feedback), as opposed to only reviewing the product once it’s fully complete. This minimizes risk and ensures that you’re on track to achieving your goals.

The above two strategies/principles work together to form the agile product development methodology.

Key Differences Between the Waterfall Methodology and the Agile Methodology

The “waterfall” methodology is the exact opposite of the agile methodology.

Unlike the latter, it involves a linear sequential approach, where major components of the product are manufactured one at a time. The next step or phase only begins once the previous one is completed (a good example is that of an automobile assembly line).

The following diagram, via Yodiz, does a good job at differentiating the agile and waterfall strategies:

agile-product-development-vs-waterfall

To summarize, here are some more key differences:

AGILE WATERFALL
Agile methodology focuses on developing small increments of the product.With waterfall, you go all in on finishing large phases at once.
In agile, the small incremental phases are mostly independent.The initiation of the next phase depends on the completion of the previous one.
Agile allows for continuous testing and improvements. Stakeholder and customer feedback can be easily implemented.Waterfall is more rigid and the changes are often irreversible (or very expensive). Because of that, it requires comprehensive documentation.

As far as software development is concerned, most product managers favor the agile methodology since it’s far more flexible when compared to waterfall.

The Benefits of Using the Agile Product Development Method

Here are a few exciting benefits of implementing the agile approach:

1. Less Time Taken for Deliverables

Let’s start off with the basics.

Through agile development, you can experience quicker delivery-times.

That’s all thanks to the iterative approach and sprint times (which we’ll discuss soon).

In fact, according to a survey, companies that use the agile methodology can cut down their time-to-market (the total time it takes for a product to make it to the market) by 18-20%.

2. Greater Flexibility

The agile product development methodology allows for greater flexibility when compared to the traditional approaches.

This is due to the fact that agile doesn’t allow for major finalizations of components until they’re tested and improved through extensive feedback.

3. More Chances of Success

Research indicates that, on average, companies that use the agile methodology have a 28% higher chance of succeeding than others.

That’s all a result of consistent communication, strong collaboration, testing, and feedback implementations.

4. Promotes Teamwork

Besides the immediate, product-related benefits, agile also promotes teamwork and collaboration.

This, in turn, can work wonders for employee engagement, making your teams more productive and loyal in the long-run.

A study revealed that 54% of companies claimed that agile development helped enhance collaboration amongst teams.

Breaking Down the Agile Product Development Process into 7 Steps

Now that we’re clear on how both development methodologies differ, let’s dive further into agile.

A typical agile process can be broken down into the following steps:

1. Determine the Basic Requirement or Design

The agile development process begins with getting down a basic customer requirement or a product design.

Creating any high-quality product begins with identifying a basic need, challenge, and/or a potential solution that could add value.

This could also be a basic design.

After all, with nothing to work with, how can you develop a working software/product in the first place?

Product managers then build upon those product requirements or designs.

2. Organize Your Teams

Once you get the basics down, the very next step is to rally an agile team for the development process.

Identify the area of expertise and skillsets that you’ll require for your agile project, and build a cross-functional team accordingly.

While product management doesn’t favor a single line of authority, having a leader to steer the ship and keep everyone on the same page can help.

Besides, having a manager, or better yet, a product champion, will help ensure that the development teams are on track of completing the deliverables within the specified time periods.

If a product/project manager is unable to manage multiple teams at once, they’ll find the whole process incredibly difficult.

3. Set a Proper Vision

With the basic requirements and an agile team at your disposal, now is the time to set a clear and documented vision for your product.

The product vision is the end-goal that you set for your product.

Some product managers might start off the entire process with this step.

A great way to come up with your product’s vision is to answer questions such as:

  • What problem do I want to solve?
  • How do I want to solve it?
  • Who am I creating the product for?
  • What will be so special about it, or, how will it be different from the others?

You can also develop user-stories, which is a written description of a required product feature from a user’s perspective. These “stories” help uncover opportunities that you could capitalize on, which may otherwise not be realized through simple surveys.

Remember that in agile product development, the end-goal or vision might change from time-to-time. Since the agile methodology relies on continuous feedback and improvements, the end-results are often different than what development teams initially aim for.   

4. Build the Product Roadmap

Regardless, having a product vision will help you set a clear path i.e. a product roadmap, which is the very next step.

A product roadmap is a document or visual summary that guides the product development.

In the most simple sense, it’s a game-plan or a blueprint that helps your team execute the entire product development cycle.

It provides a bird’s-eye view of the entire project and its requirements.

This could include:

  • Finalizing the design of your product
  • Developing individual features/components
  • Testing out the said features/components

This could also include coming up with a release plan and a GTM strategy (go-to-market strategy), as well as, developing a customer onboarding strategy.

Each requirement should also have a loose timeframe for completion. This means that the product roadmap doesn’t dive deep into the specifics of the whole development process, rather, it provides a rough idea of what to do and which steps to prioritize.  

5. Plan Out and Conduct Sprints

This is where the iterations-approach of the agile methodology comes into play.

Leveraging the product roadmap, divide your requirements into “sprints,” i.e. incremental phases that are time-bound.

Once you plan out the sprints, the actual development grind begins – as in, it’s time to execute.

Each sprint should end with the team members developing a working feature or component for the product.

Keep in mind that in order for the process to be considered “agile,” there should be multiple sprints. If that’s not the case, your process is no different from a standard waterfall approach. To get a clearer picture, refer back to the “Agile vs. Waterfall” illustration that we looked at earlier.

Furthermore, while there are no “universal” time limits, experts recommend keeping your sprints as short as possible.

6. Test Out the Product Increments

As discussed earlier, you can’t engage in agile product development without consistently testing out and refining each component.

Considering that, make sure that, throughout the sprints, you run tests, gather feedback, and get a fully-operational feature/component that meets the standards. This entails conducting daily standups to ensure that you’re well on your way to fulfilling your goals.

You can gather feedback from the stakeholders and/or actual users.

Finally, using the feedback, the software developer teams work on improving the increments.

That’s the beauty of agile – the development and improvement processes occur simultaneously.

7. Get Feedback on the Final Product

While feedback throughout the development process is a key-feature of agile, feedback on the final product is still mandatory.

Once the agile teams are finished with all of the sprints and come up with a working software product, it’s time to get the final feedback.

For this purpose, you can call a meeting of stakeholders or invite actual users from your target audience to test it out.

Use that feedback to finalize your product.

Once everything’s all set to go, it’s time to execute your release plan.

Different Frameworks of Agile Product Development

While the basic agile principles are the same, the methodology can be further broken down into the following frameworks:

Scrum

Scrum is the most popular framework of agile product development.

In fact, the steps that we just went through are that of the scrum methodology.

In scrum, the entire development cycle is broken down into small sprints, and cross-functional teams work towards a common goal.

Additionally, scrum involves the following two major roles for successful completion of deliverables:

  • Scrum Master – this individual coaches the teams and ensures that the scrum principles are followed right to the end. A scrum master essentially “facilitates” the entire process and also acts as a gatekeeper. In most cases, the product manager fulfills this role.
  • Product Owner – the product owner has more power than the scrum master, and is the subject-matter expert for the product being developed. The product owner sets expectations, goals, and product roadmaps. Additionally, they arrange and allocate the resources needed for execution.

The scrum master and product owner work together to follow the framework.

While scrum is most commonly used in software development, the framework is being applied in the development of other types of products, as well.

Kanban

Next on the list is Kanban – another popular and go-to framework for project management.

The framework has a Japanese origin and emphasizes on simplifying the entire development process.

The end-results?

Development teams are not overburdened with responsibilities and unrealistic expectations. Furthermore, bottlenecks are recognized on time and waste is minimized.

Kanban methodology involves the use of a board to visualize the entire process.

This “board” is essentially a table that helps teams keep track of:

  • What needs to be done
  • The work in progress
  • What has been completed

With Kanban, your work needs to flow meticulously and deliverables should be achieved continuously, without any considerable bumps or prolonged gaps.

Because of that, the entire process focuses on simplification and avoiding complex to-do lists.

Crystal

The Crystal development process refers to a set of agile development methodologies that prioritize communication, collaboration, and symbiosis.

Here are the categories of the crystal methodology:

  • Clear – applies to a project involving a team of up to 8 individuals.
  • Yellow – involves a team consisting of 10 to 20 people.
  • Orange – refers to teams comprising of 20 to 50 people.
  • Red – involves heavy-duty projects comprising of 50 to 1,000 individuals.

The crystal methodologies were founded by Alistair Cockburn, according to which, the investment and collaboration is necessary.

Since this framework allows for constant communication, the chances of errors and misunderstandings occurring are extremely low.

Extreme Programming (XP)

While the terminology may sound intimidating at first, extreme programming is actually one of the most disciplined frameworks of agile development.

Kent Beck, the software developer who came up with the idea, based it on the following four values:

  • Communication
  • Simplicity
  • Feedback
  • Courage

In extreme programming, developers are expected to expect customer feedback and implement it as soon as possible, regardless of how far down they are in the development process.

Additionally, teams gather feedback on a consistent basis and implement changes on-the-go (agile-101).

The underlying goal of XP is simple – to meet customer expectations and ensure that they’re satisfied.

Dynamic Systems Development Technique

Another popular framework for agile development is the Dynamic System Development (DSD) technique.

This framework prioritizes the time spent on developing the products.

Leveraging the 80-percent rule of sociology, the Dynamic System Development (DSD) technique emphasizes on completing 80% of the application, by using the 20% of the time it would take for 100% completion.

It’s a little difficult to follow, but it’s one of the most efficient ways to get a product finalized if time isn’t a luxury.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, it’s safe to say that the agile methodology is a one-of-a-kind approach that, if implemented correctly, can help product development teams overcome time-related obstacles, keep up with the changing market demands, and stay on top of their game.