Flexible Product Development Resources

The Bookflexible development book

There are many resources you can turn to on flexible development, including Preston Smith's book on the subject. Here we list a few.


If delay, waste, and risk seem to orbit around your product innovation projects, it may be time to pivot your process thinking from something that's not working to something that might work.  This webcast explains the planning dilemma:  You freeze plans early to avoid project chaos, but frozen plans can amplify delay, waste, and risk.  Speed Innovations to Market with Less Waste and Risk was presented through the PDMA on April 17, 2014.

"Brown Bag"

The best introduction to flexible development tools and principles is the article "Change: Embrace It, Don’t Deny It." Published in Research-Technology Management, July–August 2008 (Volume 51 No. 4), pages 34–40.

Book Chapters




  • Flexible product development (Wikipedia). Also provides links to other pages in the Wikipedia.
  • Agile Leadership Network (ALN). An organization devoted to the management of agile/flexible projects.
  • Agile Alliance. A rich source on agile software development, a filed with many parallels to flexible development.
  • The Flexible Developer's Bookshelf

    We organize this list by chapter in Flexible Product Development and attempt to explain the connection between the reference and flexible development. Any items dated after about April 2007 have been added after Flexible Product Development went to press (thus, are not cited in the book).

    1. Understanding Flexibility

    Beck, Kent. Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change. Boston: Addison-Wesley, 2000. Excellent, easily understandable introduction to the agile software development methodology of Extreme Programming by an originator of the technique.

    Brown, Shona L., and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt. Competing on the Edge: Strategy as Structured Chaos. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1998. An introduction to the turbulent contemporary world of business that prompts the need for flexible product development.

    Cooper, Robert G. “Your NPD Portfolio May Be Harmful to Your Business’s Health,” Visions 29(2): 22–26 (April 2005). The driving data from product development guru Robert Cooper showing that we have lost the innovativeness in our new products over the past decade. Flexible Product Development attributes this to a loss in flexibility that needs to be restored.

    Doz, Yves, and Mikko Kosonen, Fast Strategy: How Strategic Agility Will Help You Stay Ahead of the Game. Harlow, UK: Wharton School Publishing, 2008. Using companies like Nokia, IBM, SAP, HP, Canon, Cisco, and Intel, this book illustrates how leaders cultivate agility in executing their strategy to keep ahead of the competition.

    Eckstein, Jutta. Agile Software Development in the Large: Diving into the Deep. New York: Dorset House, 2004. One objection raised against agile and flexible techniques is that they do not apply to large teams and projects. Eckstein shows how to overcome this hurdle.

    2. Customers and Product Requirements

    Antonucci, Mike, "Sparks Fly," Stanford, March/April 2011, pp. 4653. Describes how innovation is taught at Stanford University by applying the principles of customer involvement, iteration, and prototyping (the same ones applied in flexibility). Article features David Kelley, a professor there and also founder of the legendary product design firm, IDEO. Read it online, or download a PDF.

    Patton, Phil, "Before Creating the Car, Ford Designs the Driver," New York Times, 19 July 2009, p. AU1. An excellent illustration of Cooper's persona technique applied to automobile design. PDF of article.

    Cockburn, Alistair. Writing Effective Use Cases. Boston: Addison-Wesley, 2000. Full coverage of the use case technique that allows developers to specify a product at a higher level that is less likely to change.

    Cohn, Mike. User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development. Boston: Addison-Wesley, 2004. Excellent source on user stories to define products at a level of how they are used, which is unlikely to change.

    Cooper, Alan. The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity. Indianapolis : SAMS, 1999. Engagingly covers the persona technique for likewise specifying products at a level that rides above most change.

    Hohmann, Luke. Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Addison-Wesley, 2007. A fun collection of lightweight but useful market research tools you can use to stay close to your customers.

    von Hippel, Eric. The Sources of Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Explains the lead user technique in detail, which aids flexibility by providing insight into future areas of change.

    von Hippel, Eric, Stefan Thomke, and Mary Sonnack. “Creating Breakthroughs at 3M.” Harvard Business Review 77(5): 47–57 (September–October 1999). An illumining case study showing how the lead user technique can illuminate areas in which customers are changing.

    3. Modular Product Architectures

    Baldwin, Carliss Y., and Kim B. Clark. Design Rules: The Power of Modularity. Cambridge, MA : MIT Press, 2000. Explains the importance of modular interfaces -- called design rules here.

    Thomke, Stefan, and Donald Reinertsen. “Agile Product Development: Managing Development Flexibility in Uncertain Environments.” California Management Review 41(1): 8–30 (Fall 1998). An excellent early article on flexibility that explains how architectural flexibility can be enhanced by shifting functionality from hardware to software by using programmable devices.

    Ulrich, Karl T., and Steven D. Eppinger. Product Design and Development (Third Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003. Provides a process for creating a product architecture to meet the objectives of a particular project, for instance, providing flexibility in certain areas.

    4. Experimentation

    Bonabeau, Eric, Neil Bodick, and Robert W. Armstrong. "A More Rational Approach to New-Product Development." Harvard Business Review 86(3): 96-102 (March 2008). Applies front-loaded experimentation to the pharmaceutical industry by establishing a separate organization to dispassionately understand the prospects of a drug candidate through fast, early experiments.

    Moran, Mike. Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules. Upper Saddle River, NJ : IBM Press, 2007. Excellent description of front-loaded experimentation to understand early what will work and what won't.

    Thomke, Stefan H. Experimentation Matters: Unlocking the Potential of New Technologies for Innovation. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2003. A comprehensive treatment of front-loaded experimentation using modern computer-driven technologies to radically alter the development process, facilitating flexibility.

    Thomke, Stefan H. “Capturing the Real Value of Innovation Tools.” Sloan Management Review 47(2): 24–32 (Winter 2006). Shows how Japanese auto companies, by using front-loaded prototyping, can innovate more effectively than Western companies.

    5. Set-Based Design

    Morgan, James M., and Jeffrey K. Liker. The Toyota Product Development System: Integrating People, Process, and Technology. New York: Productivity Press, 2006. Explains how Toyota expands the set-based design philosophy to maintain design flexibility in everything they do.

    Sobek, II, Durward Kenneth. “Principles That Shape Product Development Systems: A Toyota-Chrysler Comparison.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, 1997. A careful explanation of set-based design, including many examples from Toyota.

    6. Development Teams and People Factors

    Ancona, Deborah and Henrik Bresman. X-Teams: How To Build Teams That Lead, Innovate, and Succeed. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2007. A landmark book that fits perfectly with flexibility. The authors show that teams in the midst of change need to be more outward-facing, which is a big cultural shift in most companies.

    Avery, Christopher M. Teamwork Is an Individual Skill : Getting Your Work Done When Sharing Responsibility. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2001. Emphasizes that effective teams start with individuals and individual responsibility.

    Cockburn, Alistair. Agile Software Development. Boston: Addison-Wesley, 2002. This book originates the three levels of process mastery that are so important for teams working with emergent development processes.

    Duarte, Deborah L., and Nancy Tennant Snyder. Mastering Virtual Teams: Strategies, Tools, and Techniques That Succeed (Third Edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006. Perhaps the best book available describing the complications of running a dispersed team and how to overcome them.

    Olson, Gary M., and Judith S. Olson. “Distance Matters.” Human-Computer Interaction 15( 2–3): 139–178 (2000). A key article based on extensive research that shows how dispersing (making them virtual) teams degrades their performance.

    Teasley, Stephanie, Lisa Covi, M. S. Krishnan, and Judith S. Olson. “How Does Radical Collocation Help a Team Succeed?” Proceedings of the 2000 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Philadelphia, pp. 339– 346, 2000. Describes an experiment in which the same project was conducted with both co-located and dispersed (virtual) teams to understand the performance differences.

    Turner, Richard, and Barry Boehm. “People Factors in Software Management: Lessons from Comparing Agile and Plan-Driven Methods.” Crosstalk: The Journal of Defense Software Engineering 16(12 ): 4–8 (December 2003). A "wake-up call" that emphasizes why people factors are far more important to development project success than are the processes and tools on which we typically place so much emphasis.

    Williams, Laurie, and Robert Kessler. Pair Programming Illuminated. Boston: Addison-Wesley, 2003. Another gift from agile software development, in this case providing great detail on the pairing (pair programming) technique that allows teams to move more certainly in a sea of change.

    7. Decision Making

    Lehrer, Jonah . How We Decide. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2009. Like most literature since Plato, Flexible Product Development considers decision making as a rational, cerebral process. But contemporary research is finding that emotion is an absolutely crucial part of it. When a baseball batter decides whether to swing at a pitch, the ball is in the air only one-third of a second—far too little time to make a conscious decision. Lehrer covers effective integration of emotional and rational approaches and illustrates the downfalls when either is neglected.

    Faulkner, Terrence W. “Applying ‘Options Thinking’ to R&D Valuation.” Research-Technology Management 39(3): 50–56 (May–June 1996). One article explaining how the real options technique can be applied to product development. It also suggests the shortcomings of the technique: complex mathematics and an emphasis on strategic decisions at the expense of tactical ones.

    Poppendieck, Mary, and Tom Poppendieck. Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit. Boston: Addison-Wesley, 2003. Introduces the concept of last responsible moment for making decisions at late as possible in order to preserve flexibility.

    Savage, Sam L. Decision Making with Insight. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, 2003. An excellent and easily absorbable treatment of decision trees; includes a CD with an Excel add-in for creating them easily.

    8. Project Management

    DeCarlo, Doug. eXtreme Project Management: Using Leadership, Principles, and Tools to Deliver Value in the Face of Reality. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004. One book covering the management of agile software development projects that can be translated to non-software development (Highsmith is the other one).

    Derby, Esther, and Diana Larsen. Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great. Raleigh, NC: Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2006. Describes the project retrospective process from an agile perspective that applies directly to periodic reviews during a non-software project.

    Githens, Gregory D. “Using a Rolling Wave for Fast and Flexible Development.” In The PDMA ToolBook 3 for New Product Development, Abbie Griffin and Stephen Somermeyer, eds. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2007. Githens lays out the rolling wave technique for planning a project when you know that change will most likely invalidate the initial plan.

    Highsmith, Jim. Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products. Boston: Addison-Wesley, 2004. Along with DeCarlo (above), Highsmith presents agile software development techniques for managing a project that transfer well to non-software projects.

    Kerth, Norman L. Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews. New York: Dorset House, 2001. Like Derby and Larsen above, explains how to continually improve project performance, but unlike Derby and Larsen, Kerth is oriented toward project-end reviews.

    Loch, Christoph, Arnoud DeMeyer, and Michael T. Pich. Managing the Unknown: A New Approach to Managing High Uncertainty and Risk in Projects. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2006. Explains how to manage the unk unk risks in a project that you can't even identify beforehand. Such risks are especially prevalent in highly changing and uncertain projects to which flexibility applies.

    9. Product Development Processes

    Boehm, Barry, and Richard Turner. Balancing Agility and Discipline: A Guide for the Perplexed. Boston: Addison-Wesley, 2004. Explains the wisdom of building rather than scaling down processes and provides an excellent approach for tailoring a process to the project's needs by balancing the opposing risks of not enough with too much process.

    Lévárdy, Viktor and Tyson R. Browning, "An Adaptive Process Model to Support Product Development Project Management," IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 56(4): 600-620, 2009.  Models a flexible development process in which activities are decided upon at the last responsible moment and executed in a discrete-event simulation.

    Cockburn, Alistair. “Learning from Agile Software Development—Part One.” Crosstalk: The Journal of Defense Software Engineering 15(10): 10–14 October 2002). Explains how one can invest in flexibility through either money-for-information (MFI) or money-for-adaptability (MFA) and where to consider each.

    Morgan, James M., and Jeffrey K. Liker. The Toyota Product Development System: Integrating People, Process, and Technology. New York: Productivity Press, 2006. Using Toyota as an example, shows the critical role of tacit knowledge in flexibility and how Toyota enhances such knowledge.

    10. Implementing Flexibility

    Bridges, William. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change (Second Edition). Cambridge, MA: DaCapo Press, 2003. Bridges says that organizational change efforts fail most often because management fails to address the psychological effects that transitions have on people, and he shows how to do it more successfully.

    Kotter,  John P., and Dan S. Cohen. The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002. Describes an eight-step top-down organizational change process with real-life examples of each step. Also can be used as a framework for bottom-up change using Manns and Rising's tools (below).

    Kotter says that see-feel-change is more powerful than analysis-think-change. In the United States political arena, an excellent example of this is the Obama administration's turning around decades of agribusiness dominance of the US food industry by emphasizing organic, locally grown, unprocessed foods. Then they initiated this change at the White House and the Department of Agriculture.

    Manns, Mary Lynn, and Linda Rising. Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas. Boston: Addison-Wesley, 2005. A bottom-up organizational change approach adapted from the design pattern methodology employed in software design