By Christabel Nazareth Instructional Designer, and Wayne Stottler Manager, Product Development, Kepner-Tregoe, Inc.

Agile philosophies are all the rage and are being applied to seemingly everything. So, when KT’s Marketing and Products Group was asked to develop and launch a series of related products in four months instead of the normal 12+ month timeframe per course, we agreed to see if there was anything in Agile that could help us succeed.

A significant challenge was a common understanding of Agile, and how to apply the concepts to these projects. Agile IS NOT just a gimmick intended to produce a highly-engineered end result in one-third the time for half the cost (we all know that’s not possible). Rather, it IS a number of approaches that, when used in combination, can efficiently produce something that works and can be rapidly improved based on feedback, in an accelerated timeframe. But you have to be willing to work in a different way so that you, “don’t let perfect become the enemy of good.”

When we looked for examples of non-IT-related Agile projects there were few to be found, and even less detail on specific factors for success—the all-important “how” to do it. So, we had to consider how to use the best of Agile concepts without completely changing our existing processes or producing ineffective courses. The goal became to get work done quickly, and for that work to be conceptually sound, and ready for customer use.

The project was successful in that six new products launched in four months. Along the way, there were many “aha moments.” The five that we think are key learnings about a more Agile approach to product development are:

  • Set scope and schedule carefully, then be disciplined about meeting them. Determine specific, achievable outcomes, then produce only those outcomes, very rapidly. Do not fall prey to requests to add “nice to have” features as the project progresses.
  • Use an established team. This removes the time needed to learn to work together. It also improves support and tactical risk-taking because trust already exists.
  • Make full use of existing content and processes first. To the extent possible, put existing content into new configurations. When gaps are found, plug them with literature searches and use in-house subject matter experts. Resist the urge to “gold plate,” new content, graphic designs, layouts, etc., while very desirable, can lengthen the schedule considerably.
  • Communicate often—but briefly—and clearly with stakeholders. This helps avoid swings in direction, helps manage expectations, and ensures high-levels of support.
  • Plan for what comes after the project is completed. Don’t stop with recording lessons learned and the “wrap” party. Ask what’s next for the products just launched. What plans need to be put in place for continued success and who will own those?

By understanding the range of Agile tools—the backlog, the burndown, the sprint, the standup, the retrospective—and adapting them to our project environment, we were able to rapidly deliver an important series of projects, leverage resources effectively, and capture lessons that will make our future efforts more effective.

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