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Why robust research methodologies are still important in Agile development

By: Tony Eustace
Date: October, 2014
File under: Articles

We all know the digital landscape is changing at an ever-increasing rate. But how does that impact the quality of the products and services being developed – at least relative to what their potential could be?

It’s an interesting question, and one that is particularly relevant given the shift many companies have made over the last decade to an Agile development environment. Its constant incremental releases and iterations are designed to move the product forward. Unlike the traditional Waterfall approach from the mid 1990s which came about at the start of the first dotcom boom, Agile is all about speed to market – not business plans with clearly defined objectives, delivery timeframes and outputs.

For this reason, Agile has become the development method of choice (particularly for startups). Processes are no longer started with an idea for a product or service; now they start with a feeling or an opportunity. Iterations are then created and refined over and over, until the right one is hit upon.

The modern day challenge

Companies no longer need to make significant investments into infrastructure. Hosting and storage costs continue to come down as the migration of physical data centres to cloud services continues at speed. This freedom and agility is significant as it enables access to free or low cost entry-level software/website/app packages (with the capacity to scale up almost immediately).

Unfortunately, such low costs contribute to the notion that the (business) cost to develop and launch a product/service quickly is also low too. Prototypes can be built and launched in a matter of days. This approach is where the greatest opportunities can be lost.

Taking advantage of changing market sentiment

We have all heard the phrase ‘first impressions count’ and the success of a product/service is inherently tied to the user’s initial experience. Yet, in the race to ‘cash-in’ on creating the latest hot App, researching what the end user actually wants has become a secondary consideration for many. The overall experience is, of course, poorer for it.

Why not take advantage of actually knowing ahead of time how well your product will be received by users? And gain the ability to get your product to market quickly to satisfy those needs?

Research should be undertaken as early as possible in the development cycle, starting with a thorough understanding of the business and user requirements. This should always be followed with user testing, preferably moderated for the additional qualitative nuggets it can provide, but there are certainly situations where online user testing is equally appropriate.

Benefits of maintaining a robust research methodology

Provides certainty of how successful your new product or service will be, even before it goes ‘live’.
Ensures future iterations hit the spot, without needing to run through the constant iterative process looking for the right solution.
Saves time and allows development teams to move to the next project, leaving sales and marketing to capitalise on having the right product to market, now.

Robust research and Agile development do not need to be mutually exclusive. By themselves, they each contribute to a better understanding of and way to address user/customer needs. When combined, the impact on user experience and overall product success can be profound.

 

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