Building Agility for Changing Markets
Preston G. Smith, who retired in
2012, has been a leading thinker in the product development community and
worked with clients in industries as diverse as packaged goods,
electronics, medical devices, and motor vehicles.
He pioneered new thinking about Flexible Product Development after
observing how agile methods were revolutionizing software
Based on his
long experience with developing
products, he was able to translate agile principles to apply to
products outside of the software domain. His book
Product Development records his thinking in clear, easy to use,
language for all product developers.
Compete in today’s dynamic markets with
agility and innovation.
“You can’t solve a problem
with the same thinking that created it.” - after Albert Einstein
Decades-old thinking about new
product development “best practices” may actually be limiting your ability to
compete. In today’s fast-changing business environment, competition is
based on agility and innovation, rather than operational efficiency.
- Do your customers' needs change
after you freeze requirements?
- Do technical discoveries
disrupt your advanced product development projects?
- Do competitors launch
disruptive products before you can launch your own?
Yesterday’s “best practices”
were built for operational efficiency -- they don’t support today’s need for nimble
Flexible product development gives you the tools to become
more competitive in today’s fast-changing, markets.
What is Flexible Product
Flexible product development is the ability to bring new products to market with a minimum of disruption when markets, customers,
technologies, or management direction changes frequently. The less disruptive the change is and the later
it can occur, the greater is your flexibility.
How Can I find Out More About
What Are the Tools and Techniques of
Flexibility uses various approaches to
Some of the tools enabling these are
- Modular product architectures
- Front-loaded prototyping and testing techniques
- Set-based design to preserve options
- Frequent feedback from customers
- Collaborative decision making
- Framing decisions and anticipating the information needed to make them
- Rolling-wave project planning
- Development processes that maintain both quality and flexibility
Isn't Flexibility Expensive?
Seasoned managers have learned that leaving options open, not making
decisions, or changing direction are expensive. Their job is to nail things down and proceed
according to the original plan. This is how Apple managers approached the development of their
iPhone 4 recently, and their
unwillingness to change is proving costly.
Actually, anticipating and preparing properly for change is far less costly
than being faced with the expensive dilemma of do-it-wrong or do-it-over (not satisfying new market
conditions or redesigning the product) late in the project. Flexibility introduces the middle road
of making much less expensive changes to satisfy new information that arises. These changes are less
expensive because they have been anticipated and prepared for.
We have completed research on this topic recently and are preparing three
articles for publication on it. They will be posted on our resources page
when published. In the meantime,
contact us for details.
Development the Newest “Best Practice”?
No. As with all product development methodologies, flexible development is only appropriate
under certain circumstances, in this case, when change is likely. If your technologies, markets, customer
desires, and management direction are all reasonably stable, flexibility
adds cost and
can lead to undesirable side effects, such as volatility. However, if your environment is this
stable, you might ask yourself whether you are really innovating or just
maintaining the status quo.
But when change is likely, flexible development is cheaper, faster, and provides a product
meeting customer needs better than traditional methods.
Development flexibility is not a variant of
lean development, rapid development, or any of a
host of others. It is a package of tools focused on one objective: dealing with change effectively.
Its nearest relative is agile software development, which also aims at embracing change but depends
on some special characteristics of object-oriented software development to achieve its demonstrated