Flexible Development: Building Agility for Changing Markets

 

Flexible Development Pioneer

Preston Smith

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 development. 

Based on his long experience with developing non-software products, he was able to translate agile principles to applyFlexible Product Development book to products outside of the software domain.  His book Flexible Product Development records his thinking in clear, easy to use, language for all product developers.

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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 product innovation.   

Flexible product development gives you the tools to become more competitive in today’s fast-changing, markets.

What is Flexible Product Development?
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 Flexible Development?

What Are the Tools and Techniques of Flexible Development?
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
  • Close-knit project teams
  • 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.

Is Flexible 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 successes.

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Last updated: 07 April 2014.

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