July 1, 2024

The Agile Advantage: Launching Successful Products in the Digital Era

Woman working at laptop on project management


    Agile project management is a modern, iterative, and adaptive approach that has revolutionized how ideas are brought to market.

    At its core, Agile breaks projects into discrete time increments called sprints, each lasting a few weeks. At the end of each sprint, the team and stakeholders review the work and make necessary adjustments.

    This methodology was forged in the fires of rebellion as digital products languished under traditional software development approaches. Those rigid, linear project management structures led to bottlenecks, lengthy development cycles, and lots of wasted resources. Sure, they could produce a product with all new features — but those features might be obsolete before they even hit the market.

    Agile came along and changed the game, embracing a collaborative, iterative approach to hedge against the unpredictability of complex digital projects. It allows teams to aim in a general direction, build, test, and adjust according to real-world feedback, producing a product (and real value) with far higher chances of adoption and success.

    The Agile Framework in Practice

    Imagine you’re tasked with building a new app. The product owner gathers input from all stakeholders — from customers to C-Suite executives — to create a backlog, a list of all requirements or “stories” needed to achieve the project’s goals. The team then holds a pre-sprint meeting to review this backlog and decide how much work they can realistically take on in the upcoming sprint.

    Each day, the team meets for a brief stand-up meeting to review progress, address any issues, and make necessary adjustments. At the end of the sprint, the team and stakeholders see the completed work via a demo, make further adjustments, and then begin the next sprint. This cycle repeats until the app is complete.

    This iterative process, which breaks down complex tasks into manageable chunks (sprints), is designed to increase productivity and morale while reducing wasted investment up front. Teams see continuous progress and adapt quickly to any market conditions or client requirements, abandoning features deemed no longer viable through testing.

    Defensive vs. Offensive Project Management

    The transformative nature of Agile’s approach lies in shifting project management from a defensive, preventative stance to an offensive, proactive one. The digital product landscape benefits enormously from this kind of adaptive strategy, increasing the probability that a great product idea will not only make it to market but thrive.

    One of the biggest misconceptions about Agile project management is that it slows down the creation process or creates unnecessary overhead. In reality, Agile methodologies like Scrum enable companies to see their ideas in action every two weeks. It’s a dynamic development environment that incubates and refines, modifying and perfecting ideas by tapping into real user feedback and analytics.

    As teams see data on the outcome of each work period, they discover whether adjustment is needed and where to allocate resources. The methodology actually facilitates speed and reduces unnecessary overhead spent on unsuccessful features.

    While such speed and fluidity disconcerts some companies at first, those that embrace the flexibility of Agile’s process gain an undeniable competitive advantage.

    Infographic: How Agile Project Management Facilitates Successful Product Launches

    Traditional vs. Agile Project Management

    Traditional project management methodology, like the waterfall methodology first popularized in the 1970s, is linear and sequential, including a number of pre-planning steps and significant overhead.

    A major disadvantage of traditional project management for digital products is the need to know and define every requirement you’re looking for six months (or more) ahead of time. The process offers few opportunities to make changes along the way. Once a project is set in motion, deviation from the initial plan is often costly and time-consuming.

    Agile project management, on the other hand, is a leaner and more flexible approach. Agile embraces self-organizing teams where members have the autonomy to decide what tasks they can accomplish within each sprint. This empowerment promotes accountability and motivation without the need for extensive overhead to monitor progress.

    Agile’s iterative nature means teams build, test, and learn continuously, allowing for rapid adjustments and refinements toward a final product that accomplishes its goals. Agile project managers simply facilitate this process, primarily by removing obstacles from the team’s path and grooming the backlog to prioritize stories for the next sprint.

    Insights From Experience: High-Profile Digital Product Releases

    The Build, Test, Learn cycle that lies at the heart of Agile’s effectiveness featured prominently in many successful companies I’ve had the pleasure of working with.

    Amazon: Blue Ocean Projects

    When working on a team tasked with developing new features and products at Amazon, my (very experienced) mentor always emphasized the importance of testing.

    He shared that while he always had high confidence in the product features he wanted to build, he still tested every product with real consumers. Invariably, he discovered a new insight he hadn’t considered on his own, which he then incorporated into the development process.

    Bank of America: Apple Pay Integration

    Working with Bank of America to incorporate Apple Pay presented unique challenges. This was at the dawn of the Apple Pay era, when the concept and technology were relatively unknown.

    As we integrated Apple Pay into BoA’s mobile app, we tested the functionality in real-world environments. This crucial phase showed us that customers didn’t understand when and where they could use the technology. Cashiers, too, were often unaware of the payment mode, despite it being integrated into their registers.

    If we had followed a traditional approach, we would have built and built and built, then followed with a massive product launch and marketing campaign. Only then, when the technology had already reached all BoA’s customers, would we have discovered the issue.

    Instead, the Agile method allowed proactive iteration. On the BoA side, we added additional messaging to inform consumers about the product; on the Apple Pay side, we advised Apple on the need for additions at the software level for registers and the education level for cashiers.

    Kohl’s Red Dot Initiative

    When well-known retail brand Kohl’s embarked on an ambitious update to their company app, they initially planned to include a “red dot” feature. Intended to enhance the user experience, a red notification dot would appear over the app icon to alert users to missed messages from the brand.

    During customer testing, however, it became evident that this feature was entirely unnecessary. Smartphone users had already learned to ignore such notifications, and no customers expressed an interest in the feature.

    Realizing the feature would simply divert resources from more valuable initiatives and dilute the brand’s marketing, we decided to drop the red dot and focus elsewhere.

    Quote: How Agile Project Management Facilitates Successful Product Launches

    Final Thoughts

    Producing a product that aligns with customer desires is often a function of how often you get feedback. Agile provides those feedback opportunities, allowing companies to course-correct along the way to launch, not after.

    At Method, we prefer Agile because of how we define success:

    • Effectiveness — launching a product customers want, with the features they’ve helped prioritize
    • Efficiency — avoiding the waste of sinking months of resources into a feature no one actually uses

    While traditional project management certainly can produce results, the Agile approach is particularly effective in increasing the likelihood of successful digital product launches.

    In our modern reality of ever-changing markets and digital expectations, the flexibility to adapt alongside becomes your superpower.