71% of companies, including SaaS businesses, have adopted agile approaches, and more corporations are joining the party. Should you also switch to an agile product management approach? Well, that depends. If you want a more flexible approach to product development that increases your chances of creating a successful final product, switching to agile practices may be a good idea.
However, before switching to agile product development, you need to understand what you are getting into. Below is everything you should know about the agile process, its alternatives, and how your SaaS business can benefit from adopting an agile framework.
The boom of agile practices
The agile concept came into the spotlight in the early 1990s and gradually grew in popularity. Search agile methodology on Google Trends today, and you will see that the concept’s global popularity has only gone up in recent years.
More businesses are adopting an agile project management framework because it helps them complete product development in less time and with a higher success rate. How? The agile product management style prioritizes flexibility, collaboration, and efficiency during product development.
Instead of following a strict, pre-defined plan, agile teams split product development into multiple phases called sprints. The team collaborates with stakeholders and target users during each phase to get feedback. They then use the feedback to make product improvements that deliver value to users.
Since agile approaches require splitting product development into sprints, development teams can easily adapt in response to changes in target market needs and preferences. The adaptability eliminates sticking with a product roadmap that has become incompatible with the end user’s needs or irrelevant to the current market.
Most companies that have adopted agile practices have become more effective at completing projects on time and delivering value to stakeholders. For example, 98% of companies have become more successful after adopting agile processes. In fact, after adopting agile processes, companies in various industries have experienced an average of 60% growth in revenue.
Scrum is currently the most popular agile framework, with over half of the businesses in 70+ countries relying on it. Studies indicate that using Full Scrum can help a company increase product quality by up to 250%. Governments are also cashing in on the benefits of agile product management, with about 80% of U.S. federal IT projects relying on an agile framework.
Other statistics convincing companies to switch to agile methodologies include:
What is the agile manifesto?
The 2001 agile manifesto is the official blueprint for how to be an agile company. The online document lists 4 agile values and 12 agile principles that any team can follow to operate and deliver results that satisfy customers.
The 4 agile values are:
1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
The first agile value advises teams to prioritize communication, collaboration, and a customer-first mindset over processes and tools. Why? The best tools and processes cannot guarantee success. On the other hand, clear communication and collaboration across teams ensure productivity and high team morale.
Also, it's easier for teams to use tools and processes to achieve a common goal when everyone is on the same page. The only way for every team member to be on the same page is through frequent and clear communication. Lastly, putting customers first increases the likelihood of delivering results that ensure customer satisfaction.
2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
Agile processes prioritize delivering value to stakeholders quickly. The approach helps agile teams put working products in the hands of end users within less time.
The sooner you put products in the hands of users, the sooner you can test an iteration, get feedback, and improve. It's different from traditional methodologies that require thorough documentation before proceeding to the next product development phase. Performing comprehensive documentation every time you complete a sprint will delay product development and value delivery.
3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Traditional product-centric processes prioritize sticking to contract terms, such as pricing and accessibility. On the other hand, agile methodologies put customers first, allowing teams to focus on working with customers and getting insights. The insights from the collaboration help eliminate guesswork and facilitate the development of useful products with desirable features.
4. Responding to change over following a plan
Product development plans are necessary but can be restrictive in a changing market. Agile processes prioritize adaptability, ensuring development teams do not remain stuck with obsolete or ineffective plans or goals.
Next are the 12 principles provided in the agile manifesto. These principles are not final commandments that dictate how agile teams should operate. Instead, the principles serve as general guidelines that lead teams on the path of agile thinking. Below is a breakdown of the 12 principles:
Agile Principle 1
Agile teams should prioritize satisfying customers above all else. Teams can satisfy customers by continuously and quickly delivering valuable software. If you are not a software development team, you can satisfy customers by frequently delivering working iterations of your product until you have your final product.
Agile Principle 2
Be open to changing your product by adding or removing features, even during the final stages of development. Modifying your product becomes necessary if customer feedback suggests it or if the change will give you a competitive advantage in the current market.
Agile Principle 3
Provide stakeholders with working iterations of your product at least every two weeks or at most every two months. The sooner you deliver iterations, the sooner you can get feedback to optimize your product and come closer to launching a market-ready product.
Agile Principle 4
Collaborate with stakeholders and developers during every stage of product development.
Agile Principle 5
Hire the right team members to build your product, and do not micromanage them. Give your development team the freedom to do their jobs and provide them with the support they need.
Agile Principle 6
Communicate frequently with your development team. As often as possible, have face-to-face meetings instead of communicating primarily via calls or digital channels. If in-person meetings are impossible, the second best option is video calling.
Agile Principle 7
Measure your product development's progress by looking at how well your product works. The closer you are to a market-ready product, the closer you are to production completion.
Agile Principle 8
Set realistic goals and adhere to sustainable practices during development. Unrealistic goals will lead to unsustainable timelines, which can cause missed targets and deadlines.
Agile Principle 9
While prioritizing building a working product that delivers value, do not neglect functionality and aesthetics. Your product should be easy to use and attractive.
Agile Principle 10
Keep your product development process as simple as possible. Your goal should be to gain maximum results with less work and fewer steps.
Agile Principle 11
Every team involved in your project should be independent. Each team should be responsible for its own projects and contribute to decision-making.
Agile Principle 12
An agile team is always open to self-improvement. Constantly improving will help the team become more efficient at delivering customers the best results.
How is agile different from waterfall?
Waterfall is the OG project management style. Initially, only businesses in the construction and manufacturing industries used it, but now, you can find software developers using the system.
Unlike agile product management, the waterfall process is not flexible. It involves following strict and linear principles that guide product development from start to finish. Each project consists of a single phase, and teams cannot move to another project until they finish the current one.
For instance, if building a product with the waterfall model, you cannot test or deliver an iteration to stakeholders until you finish building the product. It’s very different from the agile framework, which requires breaking product development into multiple phases and testing and delivering iterations frequently.
Key features that define the waterfall model include:
- Longer iterations or sprints
- Less frequent delivery of working products
- Less collaboration with customers
The main advantage of waterfall product management is it is more predictable because development teams follow the same plan and project requirements from start to finish. On the downside, sticking with a single plan throughout the development process leaves no room for flexibility. So, if the target market changes, developers cannot modify the plan to match the changes.
Agile product management fixes the shortcomings of the waterfall model by requiring frequent testing, iterating, and collaborating. Frequent testing and collaborating facilitate the early identification of minor or major flaws that may compromise product development goals.
Also, since the agile model requires breaking production into short sprints, developers can deliver value to stakeholders quickly and frequently. Lastly, collaborating with target users and incorporating their feedback minimizes the risk of building an unsatisfactory final product.
According to Ambysoft’s 2013 Project Success Rates Survey, agile processes have a 64% success rate, while waterfall has a 49% success rate. A more recent study discovered that agile teams are 39% successful, while waterfall teams have an 11% success rate.
Why agile isn't just for software development
86% of international software developers use agile. These developers rely on agile software development to experience benefits like:
- Accelerated software delivery
- Increased productivity
- Improved business and IT alignment
- Enhanced software quality
However, software developers are not the only ones who can use agile. Experts in IT, marketing, construction, healthcare, and other industries can use agile methodologies to reach their end goals.
Also, organizations of all sizes can use agile practices to their advantage, including entrepreneurs launching startups. In fact, small projects that rely on an agile framework have the highest success rate.
However, agile works best for companies that have a customer-focused mindset. Why? Following agile principles requires collaborating with customers and using their feedback to improve.
Besides the product development team, other departments in an organization can use agile principles to complete tasks and achieve specified goals. For instance, in large organizations, you can find finance, HR, customer support, and sales teams using agile tactics to complete projects and deliver satisfactory results.
7+ ways to take an agile approach to product management
You now understand how agile product management works, but how can you incorporate it into your operations? Here are our best tips for becoming an agile product developer:
1. Apply agile roadmapping
Agile roadmapping involves creating a flexible and adaptive roadmap that guides your product development process. Unlike a traditional roadmap, an agile roadmap can easily change to fit new product requirements or a changing market. The roadmap will guide your development team toward delivering a product that offers value to users.
The roadmap is also essential for collaboration because it ensures transparency by letting everyone know your product vision, goals, and strategy. Transparency makes it easier for team members to prioritize tasks and work together toward achieving a common goal.
2. Have an agile product strategy
An agile product strategy emphasizes flexibility, collaboration, and customer focus during product development. It’s better than a traditional product strategy, which you cannot easily modify to meet changing requirements. Also, a traditional product strategy restricts product testing and getting customer feedback for improving your product.
With an agile product strategy, you can deliver a minimum viable product quickly and continuously improve iterations based on customer feedback. Following this strategy increases your chances of delivering a final product that excites target customers.
3. Leverage agile user stories
User stories paint a picture of the level of functionality target end users desire from a final product. With user stories, you can identify the most desired features of your target users and incorporate those features into your product.
Other tips for using user stories to your advantage are:
- Deliver value: User stories can help you identify the unique needs of your target market. You can use the information to develop a product that satisfies those needs and quickly delivers value.
- Prioritize stories: Prioritize your user stories based on importance to stakeholders and project goals. Satisfy the most important stories before building features for other user stories. What determines user story priority typically varies between organizations. However, most agile teams prioritize user stories that mention essential features that can facilitate faster product rollout and value delivery to customers.
- Refine stories: Break down user stories into smaller, more manageable tasks and use them in sprint planning. Since a user story helps prioritize the features to add during product development, you can plan which features to add during each sprint.
- Test and refine: Evaluate your product after each sprint and use customer feedback to refine and prioritize user stories
4. Clearly define a sprint
A sprint in agile product management is a short, time-boxed period during which a scrum team works toward completing specific tasks. Your team must clearly define the tasks to complete and goals to accomplish at the end of each sprint. Neglecting to define what counts as a sprint may cause misunderstandings and complicate measuring your progress.
Each completed sprint will bring the team closer to completing their project. Also, since each sprint is time-bound, it helps forecast how long product development might take. Lastly, when crafting sprints, be sure to build each sprint around a user story. That way, completing a sprint brings you closer to building a market-ready product that satisfies your target customers.
5. Discovery sprints
A discovery sprint fast-tracks the design thinking stage of product development. It accomplishes this by identifying customer needs and validating potential solutions for resolving those needs.
In summary, discovery sprints help development teams quickly move from understanding a problem to testing potential solutions. A successful test validates a solution, proving that the product development team is on the right track.
At DevSquad, we customize the discovery process based on client needs and run 4 to 6 weeks of discovery sprints for each new client. With the help of discovery iterations, we ideate new product ideas and determine if they are worth building.
Once we identify the best solution for the most pressing user problem, we create a low-fidelity prototype. The stakeholder feedback we receive for the low-fidelity prototype helps us determine if it's time to build a high-fidelity prototype.
6. Evaluate the sprint
When you end a sprint, you should evaluate it to determine if you achieved your desired results. You can measure the success of a sprint by tracking if it:
- Fulfilled its pre-defined goals
- Stayed within budget
- Exceeded its planned timeline
You should also record stakeholder feedback and any issues you encountered and overcame during the sprint. The insights from the recorded information will help you get through your next sprint more efficiently
7. Stay up to date on market research
Your agile product management strategy framework should include market research to verify your product-market fit. However, do not do this once. Perform market research regularly during product development to stay updated about happenings in the overall market.
The insights from your research will help you confirm if your product is still in line with the desires of your target users. If market requirements change suddenly, you can adapt your product to match the change and avoid the dangers of delivering an unwanted final product.
8. Use agile project management templates
Agile project management templates provide a shortcut for completing and delivering projects. Instead of creating a project development plan from scratch, you can modify an existing template to match your needs and achieve your goals. The typical agile project management template contains user stories, sprints, and product backlogs.
In summary, with an agile template, you can save money and time and help team members work toward the same goals faster. Below are examples of agile templates you can use to document and manage projects:
- Smartsheet's agile project plan template
- Project Management Docs’ agile product backlog template
- Office Timeline's agile project plan
Pitfalls to avoid when managing products using the agile manifesto
Agile product management has several benefits, but you will only experience these benefits if you correctly follow the agile framework. Mistakes to avoid if you want the agile process to pay off include:
- Rigid processes and documentation: Focusing on process documentation and following strict processes beats the whole point of the agile model. Instead of following rigid processes to the letter, stay flexible and open to change. Otherwise, you will have trouble adapting to match new requirements, which can hinder your product development process.
- Lack of communication: Communication and collaboration are essential for a successful agile product strategy. Continuous communication and collaboration should exist between team members, stakeholders, and end users. Otherwise, you may experience miscommunication and misaligned expectations.
- Micromanagement: The fifth agile principle advises giving team members the environment, support, and freedom they need to do their jobs. Micromanaging your team will stifle creativity and innovation, which can impede ideating solutions to customer issues.
- Ignoring customer feedback: User feedback helps agile teams identify and add desirable features during each sprint. Without feedback, you may build a final product that fails to deliver value and meet user needs.
- Poor prioritization: Prioritization lines up user stories and customer needs to tackle first. Prioritizing low-value tasks can lead to an inefficient product development process, wasted resources, and missed deadlines.
- Infrequent process review and adjustments: The beauty of agile processes is you can modify and optimize them as much as necessary to achieve the best results. Continue finding ways to optimize your agile process by performing regular reviews and assessments. Another benefit of frequent reviews is the early detection of inefficiencies that may compromise project delivery
Top tools for agile product management
If you are new to agile product management, you can find several tools that simplify applying and leveraging agile principles. The top tools commonly used by agile teams include:
Jira is an agile project management tool for implementing agile methodologies like scrum, Kanban, and others. The tool gives you access to agile boards, roadmaps, and various integrations that facilitate collaboration and user feedback collection. The all-in-one tool has a free plan, but you can choose a paid plan if you want advanced features.
Aha! is a product development software that offers roadmapping for plotting how to reach your agile goals. Several team members can access the tool to collaborate and manage the entire product development lifecycle from one place. Also, Aha! supports agile principles of flexibility by allowing teams to remain adaptable during sprints.
ProductBoard supports agile product management by helping developers understand user needs. Agile teams also use the platform to strategize and roadmap product development strategies. Another excellent feature of the tool is it simplifies identifying and prioritizing user problems to solve during sprints.
ProductPlan is a user-friendly agile product management tool with roadmapping features and more. The platform’s roadmap templates simplify building an agile roadmap within minutes. Even better, you can share live roadmaps and update roadmaps in real-time to ease collaboration with team members and stakeholders.
ClickUp is a comprehensive agile project management tool that offers a host of features that boost product development efficiency. These features include task management, sprint planning, and backlog management.
ClickUp also offers agile metrics, such as burn-down charts and lead time, for measuring progress and identifying areas for improvement. Access to such data enables agile teams to make data-driven decisions that lead to better results.
Asana is among the most recognized tools for agile teams because it’s been around for a long time. The tool is popular for its impressive features, such as Kanban charts and task card templates.
Another valuable feature is the communication options that allow remote teams to collaborate in real time and share files. Lastly, Asana provides key metrics, such as task completion rates, cycle times, and lead times for tracking product development progress and success.
Do you need help switching to agile product management? DevSquad takes the hassle out of agile product development by handling everything for you. Click here to learn more about us and how we can help you achieve your product vision.