Curious about dual-track agile? It’s an agile development methodology that separates work into two sprints that run concurrently (discovery and delivery).
So you’re always researching and validating ideas while building and shipping product improvements.
The best development teams in the world all utilize dual-track agile.
In this guide, we dive into why this approach is important and how to organize and run your own sprints.
What’s in this guide:
What is dual-track agile?
Dual-track agile is an agile product development methodology characterized by the parallel operation of two distinct tracks: the discovery track and the delivery track.
In the discovery track, teams focus on the exploration and definition of user problems during discovery sprints to delve deeper into real user needs and market demands. Validated ideas graduate to the delivery track and are organized into delivery sprints for efficient development cycles.
The dual-track approach offers a strategic and iterative process, facilitating continuous adaptation to evolving market conditions and user feedback throughout the product development lifecycle, (instead of keeping discovery to only the initial launch phase of a new business venture)
The origins of the dual-track agile approach
Several years after the inception of the Agile Manifesto, the Journal of Usability Studies brought forth a publication titled "Adapting Usability Investigations for Agile User-centered Design." This paper delved into the collaborative efforts of UX and engineering within the framework of "dual tracks" or "parallel tracks."
At that time, the close collaboration between designers and developers was a groundbreaking concept, offering a valuable contribution to the agile community. However, it essentially manifested as mini-waterfall handoffs between distinct teams—a methodology that has since evolved.
Around 2012, in the midst of various discussions and articles, notable figures in the product management realm, Jeff Patton and Marty Cagan, introduced the terms "dual-track Scrum" and "dual-track agile." Cagan, particularly, began contemplating the concept of continuous discovery, a notion that gained prominence alongside the surge of continuous delivery in the agile and DevOps landscape.
Teresa Torres, a designer-turned-product-leader, accumulated eight years of experience working with product teams across diverse companies. In May 2021, she unveiled the groundbreaking book "Continuous Discovery Habits," featuring a foreword by Marty Cagan. The book comprehensively explores the inseparable relationship between discovery and delivery, highlighting the crucial triune interplay between design, product management, and engineering.
Top 5 reasons to use dual-track agile
Dual-track agile is growing in popularity for good reason.
Here’s why this approach is worth following:
1. Satisfy real market needs
There’s no point in building a feature that users don’t need...or one that kind of solves the pain point, but not quite...or one that is so poorly designed, it won’t get much use.
By adopting a dual-track agile approach, you can incorporate prototyping and real user testing into every sprint. You won’t develop a new feature unless it’s been validated by your users.
2. Prioritize features accurately
A dual-track agile approach also helps you prioritize features. Ideas will be coming at you from all directions—your customers, your competitors, your team.
How will you work through them? How will you know which ones to build?
You’ll have a strategic process to follow. Each discovery sprint should be dedicated to just one feature, or two or three related ideas, so you’ll be forced to devote discovery sprints only to the most pressing problems.
3. Save money on development
Ultimately, companies that adopt a dual-track agile development approach waste less time and money building things users don’t want.
As a result, they’re able to drastically lower their development costs and increase the likelihood of achieving ROI from a new feature or product improvement.
4. Test concepts with users
The discovery sprint requires that you understand the problem, sketch the solution, prototype it, and test it with users.
This means you’re always testing ideas with users, instead of guessing what they want (or taking their feedback in a less direct way).
By incorporating user insights early and often, your team can make informed decisions, refine prototypes, and ensure that the final product meets user expectations. This iterative testing process leads to a more user-centric and successful end product.
5. Ship great updates faster
Agile methodologies are renowned for their emphasis on delivering value quickly. Dual-track agile takes this further by allowing teams to not ship faster, but to ship things users actually want and that will stand out in the market.
The parallel tracks of discovery and delivery foster a seamless workflow, ensuring that development stays aligned with evolving user needs. This agility in adapting to change enables your team to release updates frequently, keeping your product competitive and relevant in the ever-evolving market.
When to use dual-track agile
The dual-track agile approach should be used if you’ve already launched a product and have at least a small user base.
However, if you’re building and launching a brand new product, you should begin with a longer, more in-depth design sprint process, such as DevSquad’s Sprint Zero. This will ensure that your software concept is validated and that there’s a real market need for your product.
Whether building a new product or improving an existing product, the discover process is similar. You will go through the main stages of understanding user needs, sketching different solutions, prototyping the best one, and conducting user testing to get user’s real, unbridled feedback on your design.
However, what differs is the sprint questions you’re trying to answer. With a new product, you need to figure out if the concept is something the market will pay for, and if it is the most pressing problem to solve for your users (or if there are bigger fish to fry).
But with an existing product, you’re trying to figure out how a feature update or addition will impact revenue. How will it improve sales from top leads? How will it reduce churn? How will it position you against competitors? Which users have the most to gain from the update? Are these the users you want to cater to?
The dual-track agile approach helps you address all of these concerns.
Why product discovery matters throughout development
Product strategy doesn’t just happen in the early phases of a business or product. To stay competitive against new disruptors and scrappy startups, you need to continuously run product discovery.
Dual track agile essentially gives you a way to organize this work so you’re not just willy-nilly building features as you think of them or as customers request them.
Instead, you have a process for vetting ideas and ensuring that they will take your product in the right direction.
How the dual-track agile development works
Below, we dive deeper into the discovery track and delivery track, covering the team, process, goals, and sprint organization for each.
The discovery track
Here’s a closer look at the key players and goals of the discovery track.
The discovery team
The discovery team consists of the product owner or strategist, product manager, UX designer, and technical lead or software architect who can inform the others on what is feasible given the foundational technology. You might also want to involve the head of finance to weigh in on costs and the ROI of a large or complex feature improvement.
The discovery process
The discovery track includes a 4 step process:
Understand - Gain a comprehensive understanding of the project requirements and user needs through thorough research and stakeholder discussions. Clearly define the problem you aim to solve and establish project goals to guide the design process.
Sketch - Translate your understanding into rough sketches that outline potential design solutions. Utilize low-fidelity sketches to explore different concepts quickly and collaborate with team members to gather diverse perspectives, refining your ideas before moving forward.
Prototype - Transform your selected sketch into a clickable prototype using Figma. Create an interactive representation of the user journey, incorporating essential elements and interactions. This prototype serves as a tangible preview of the final product, allowing for iterative testing and refinement.
Test - Show your prototype to users during user testing sessions. Allow them to click around the Figma file and give open-ended feedback before you ask any clarifying questions.
It’s impossible to really research and understand an idea if multiple ideas are competing for your team’s attention. So, you’ll need to first choose which ideas should be part of each sprint. Try to only discover one idea at a time, or two to three if they are related. You can use the RICE prioritization system to know which ideas should get their own sprints first. Give each idea a score for each of these factors: Reach, Impact, Confidence of completion, Ease of completion and tally up the totals to determine which ideas are worth discovering and potentially validating.
Key goals for discovery
The main goals of any discovery sprint is to effectively research, understand, and validate ideas for new features and feature improvements. Move validated ideas into the next delivery sprint.
The delivery track
Now, let’s explore the delivery track.
The delivery team
The delivery team includes the product manager, who will ensure that the development work satisfies the UX design and user needs, developers, DevOps engineers, tech leads, and QA testers.
The delivery process
Plan - Initiate the delivery sprint by outlining tasks, setting goals, and establishing priorities. Break down the delivery sprint into tasks, add them to your backlog, and assign them to collaborators.
Code - Execute the planned tasks by writing code that aligns with the established goals. Implement best coding practices, adhere to coding standards, and ensure proper documentation to facilitate collaboration within the development team.
Review - Thoroughly review code to assess the qualtiy. Collaborate with team members to address any identified issues. QA test new features and impacted features using a variety of QA testing methods including automated testing, pre-determined manual test cases, and exploratory testing.
Ship - Release developed features or updates to the production environment. This involves deploying the code, ensuring seamless integration with existing systems, and monitoring for any potential issues. Successful shipping marks the completion of the delivery sprint, providing tangible value to end-users.
Similar to discovery sprints, a delivery sprint should be organized around one core feature improvement or validated idea. Less frequently, a delivery sprint consists of smaller but interrelated feature updates so that development work is narrow in its focus. This makes for a more productive and efficient sprint.
Key goals for delivery
The core goals for any delivery sprint is to develop and ship ideas that have already been prototyped and tested during the discovery track.
3 pitfalls to avoid with this approach
Watch out for these major pitfalls when adopting a dual-track agile approach.
1. Rushing the discovery process
The discovery track runs concurrently with the delivery track. If you have a small team where many collaborators are doing double duty and working on concurrent sprints from different tracks, it can be easy to get lost in development and overlook discovery.
Don’t let this happen. Separate the process and team as much as possible, so that discovery gets your full attention.
Check out our list of the top product discovery tools to help you manage this process.
2. Not incorporating user feedback for every sprint
Conduct user testing during every discovery sprint. Even when you think you don’t need to. Even when you’re sure you know what users want out of that feature.
Why? User testing saves you a lot of hassle and time. Users will stop you from designing and building a feature in the wrong way. So even if you just conduct two or three user testing sessions, that’s better than none at all.
3. Failing to optimize UX
It’s important that when you run discovery sprints, you’re not just validating the idea for a new feature, but also the design.
Make sure to optimize, redesign, and retest prototypes as needed so that when something is added to a delivery sprint, it’s truly ready to go.
Develop a product that competes to win with DevSquad
Looking for a software development agency that builds products and features users really want?
DevSquad offers product strategy and discovery to all clients.
For new products, we recommend our signature Sprint Zero process for validating your idea with real target users.
And for existing products, we utilize a dual-track agile approach to concurrently validate new improvements while building approved ideas.