Agile Methodologies: Streamlining the Product Development Process

Agile Methodologies: Streamlining the Product Development Process

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Agile methodology is a project management methodology — usually used for software development — where demands and solutions are approached through the collaborative effort of self-organizing and cross-functional teams. It advocates evolutionary development, speed, and flexibility. Agility is part of a larger movement toward a more human and dynamic organization.

To find out more about agile methodologies and their application to project management and beyond, GLG recently conducted the teleconference “Agile Methodologies for Life Sciences Companies” with Alessandro Di Fiore, founder & CEO of ESCI Consulting. He presented an in-depth look into agile, including its history, and gave us a detailed example of how agile methodologies produced results for a biotech firm.

After the presentation, Alessandro took questions from our audience. The questions and answers below are edited for clarity and length.

What are the best practices for applying agile methodologies for a specific project, when the organization or leadership is not necessarily sponsoring or promoting agile?

If leadership is not buying in, my recommendation is that you keep it very narrow and focused on the scope of your agile initiative. Obviously, if the leadership is not behind this, there is no way you can even think about starting an organizational agility transformation, but you can eventually take some projects and shield them. You need to carve out those projects from the rest of the organization, give those teams the autonomy they need, and they can still achieve a good performance.

I think you need to protect these agile teams against the rest of the corporation that is working in a traditional way. Some companies have been doing that. At BMW, for example, they created a separate legal entity working on autonomous and self-driving cars. They’re a small team, all working agile, but they are separate from the rest of the organization.

Obviously, you cannot scale if the leadership is not behind the effort. You can do something narrow and focused, but you will not be able to scale across the overall organization.

How do you apply agile in a work-from-home environment, where every pivot requires coordination via phone or video call and email?

If you’re going by the book, agile methodology expects a team to work physically in the same place. These are called “agile rooms” because the team is in the same room and there is proximity. They coordinate on a daily basis. This is the ideal situation.

But even before COVID, large companies meant teams that weren’t necessarily in the same building or even the same city. How do we apply agility when a team is working remote for most of their activities? Now COVID-19 has accelerated and made an extreme case for this.

My view is that agile works even if you are in a remote team. It works because today the available technologies like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, JIRA, and others help create a collaborative environment for the team to create a sprint backlog, understand how things are going, and allow them to coordinate efficiently.

These collaborative technologies are helping us confront the reality that COVID has brought us. COVID is accelerating their adoption. Even when the pandemic will be over, multinational companies will continue to have dispersed teams, and the future is for them working efficiently together from their own geographies.

This can work. We might lose a little bit of the performance, because obviously ideally you would like to have someone in the same room, but working agile in remote teams will be able to provide some gains in performance.

Can agile be applied earlier than the actual R&D phase, in more of a strategy or conceptualization phase?

When you’re developing a new business model, you have a list of assumptions, and those assumptions represent what you want to test. Perhaps you’re testing a new business model. You’ll test it with some potential customers in a Sprint, and based on the results you can learn that you might need to change two elements, triggering a pivot.

And then you work for another Sprint. You test the business model again, but in this case, I’ve already changed the concept based on the first feedback. I’m also adding granularity: for example, information related to the pricing model, the price level. You get a feedback that tells you, “Okay, this price point, this monetization model, doesn’t seem to fly with this B2B segment,” and you go back and develop new hypotheses.

This is much more effective than doing desk research analysis. You should split your work in Sprints, and test all the critical assumptions supporting your strategy and/or business model. You can pivot based on the feedback, and at the end you can develop a business model that is stronger and more robust because you’ve got all those feedbacks along the way.

You can also get the feedback from the stakeholders, not only from the customer. You can involve the stakeholders along the way, more frequently and in a more informal way during the Sprint review, so that it would be no surprise at the end. You’d avoid a big-bang presentation only at the end, with the risk that the executives don’t like your recommendations on the new strategy and/or business model.

About Alessandro Di Fiore

Alessandro Di Fiore is a consultant, author, and media commentator on strategy & innovation. He founded ECSI Consulting with the aim of creating a truly unique global consulting boutique focused on strategic innovation, organizational agility, and innovation management. Alessandro started his career as a product manager at Colgate-Palmolive. He went on to work at Gemini Consulting, a large international consulting group, where he was responsible for life sciences in continental Europe, Managing Director for Italy, and global head of its Market Focused Strategy Center of Excellence. Alessandro is also a frequent author and contributor to global management magazines like Harvard Business Review, London Business School Review, Rotman Management, and others.

This article is adapted from the July 23, 2020, GLG webcast“Agile Methodologies for Life Sciences Companies.” If you would like access to this teleconference or would like to speak with Alessandro Di Fiore, or any of our more than 700,000 experts, contact us.