In a previous blog post, “How Lean Methodology Boosts the Efficiency of Software Development”, we talked about the guiding principles that help us deliver innovative software solutions to our clients. Our lean methodology pushes the boundaries of product development by incorporating elements of various agile management frameworks. The result is a winning formula that allows projects to evolve as new information and opportunities arise. Part of this winning formula is a process called dual-track agile.
Defining Dual-Track Agile
At Spire, we fully embrace a dual-track agile approach to product development. We asked our VP Managing Director, Garrett Kroll, to give us a brief description:
“Dual-track is simply a way to dedicate more time and resources to the research phase of a project. Previously, product development was more linear. It started with a discovery period, where research was done to answer the big questions, such as the goals of the project. After the discovery phase, artifacts were passed on to the delivery team where the focus was on producing deliverables for the client. In contrast, dual-track runs discovery and delivery as two concurrent workflows, allowing for continuous validation of the work we’re doing and ensuring that we are meeting the goals of the project whilst delivering value to our clients.”
In other words, dual-track development is a process methodology that allows product teams to experiment against future epics while maintaining a build roadmap. This enables product teams to generate and analyze data rapidly to inform product roadmaps, which increases our efficiency, value, and speed to market.
There is a misconception that you can’t do quality research in an agile environment. Some argue that research is too slow and costly and that it’s too difficult to integrate research findings into agile product development. Instead, we’ve asked ourselves how we can develop a rigorous and agile research program that adds value to our design and paves the way for successful custom software development. The answer lies within our agile research approach. There are 4 main characteristics of our agile research:
- Recurring research cycles built into product roadmaps
- Defined end-to-end research process
- Toolkit of research methods
- Flexible research engagements
Depending on the stage of the project, there are three different approaches that we adopt within a cycle of research; generative, descriptive, and evaluative. Generative is a key phase of our research process, and it involves asking general questions aimed at understanding a new problem or validating our understanding of the problem. Another approach is descriptive research which allows us to investigate a known problem or known target user group, to identify the correct design solution. We also take an evaluative research approach where we validate or improve our solution.
Benefits of Using Dual Track
There are numerous benefits to using a dual-track methodology but most importantly, it improves the quality of our products. One of the ways we achieve this is by implementing user research as an ongoing, iterative process, which allows us to better understand the user journey. By seeing products from the vantage point of our user personas, we are better equipped to build products that users will love. Additionally, closing the development loop using dual-track allows us to fine-tune the user experience by integrating user research and feedback along the entire product development cycle.
Saving Time and Money
Essentially, products fail when they solve the wrong problems. By losing focus on the right problems, product teams end up developing unnecessary features and design elements that not only waste precious time but also incurs excess costs. Dual track empowers teams to validate the need for said features, ensuring that the focus remains on the overall user experience and the needs of the user. According to Marty Cagan, a champion of dual-track agile development, “actually building and launching a product idea is generally the slowest, most expensive way to validate the idea.” This is what commonly happens in the traditional, waterfall approach where discovery happens as a single phase, preceded by a hand-off to the delivery team. Oftentimes this leads to research presumptions that are not validated and the final product does not meet the user requirements. In contrast, dual-track allows us to validate items in the backlog, ensuring that the delivery team is only focused on tasks that create long-term value.
Flexibility and Adaptability
Another benefit of using dual-track is the improved flexibility and adaptability of software delivery. Technology trends, user needs, and product requirements shift rapidly and dual-track keeps product teams ahead of these changes. The ability to quickly respond to change also helps us eliminate the risks associated with bringing a product to market ensuring that we provide our clients with reliable market-ready software.
Dual-track provides a predictable and systematic means of generating new ideas and building a meaningful product roadmap. It introduces necessary structure to the creative process leading to outcome-based innovation. Moreover, implementing frequent discovery sprints increases collaboration and communication between team members which harnesses the power of collective creative thinking.
Integrating research as an iterative process using the dual-track agile approach has changed the way we create and deliver value to our clients. Beyond the continuous generation of new ideas, dual-track enables us to build a meaningful roadmap that ultimately saves our clients money, as we aren’t wasting time building ideas that test poorly. Dual-track has enabled us to improve the quality of products while increasing the velocity of product delivery. Increased collaboration has allowed us to remain flexible and innovative in a disruptive digital environment.