What Is Agile Design When Developing New Products What is Agile design?

Agile design is a highly collaborative way of design and developing new products that breaks big tasks into groups of subtasks to be performed in short ‘Sprints.’ These tasks are regularly reported back to the virtual team in informal scrum meetings (all virtual team members in attendance, often first thing every day, and led by a scrum-master, 20 minutes and done standing up).

Project management is always visual and simple often using a tool such as a Kanban board with post-it notes.

agile design project management kanban board

This means the agile design process is highly transparent across a multi-disciplined virtual team, encouraging quick feedback, regular pivoting in the light of new information, and avoidance of going down rabbit holes when developing a product.

It is always highly iterative and based on the principle of:

Build Measure Learn

build measure learn


And Underpinned by a couple of concepts:

“Move Fast and break things” (Mark Zuckerberg)


‘Perfect is the enemy of Good’ (Voltaire, 1770)


The Agile Design Toolkit

How does it all work together? You will typically embrace the elements of this toolkit in order to implement an agile design process for your new product development:

  • Daily ‘Scrum’ Meetings (standing up)
  • ‘Scrum Masters’
  • Virtual Teams
  • Visual project management (eg Kanban Bords)
  • Washup meetings to review and learn from sprints
  • Burndown charts.
  • Rapid prototyping =- ‘Build-Measure-Learn’ rapid development cycles
  • Definition of done (MVP)
  • Design Sprints – break a project down into 2-week sprints – after each sprint review in a washup
  • Sprint Wash-Ups (aka Project Retrospective)
  • The Minimal Viable Proposition (MVP)
  • Fail Early
  • Move Fast and Break things – Mark Zuckerberg
  • Good Enough and on time beats Perfect and late

Where Does The Agile Design Methodology Come From?

The agile design methodology was developed in the early 2000s by a bunch of software developers in the US in response to software projects being consistently late the industry over, meaning in the fast-moving world of software that their product was often technically obsolete before it even hit the market.

Their early methodology was taken from the Japanese ideas developed in the 70s called Just in Time Engineering and Lean Manufacturing.

👂 Listen to our podcast episode on Just In Time Manufacturing.

The irony is that there is a massive industry selling the Agile project Management tools back to the manufacturing industry today.

Growth sectors include:

  • Public Sector
  • Creative Marketing
  • Accountants
  • Manufacturing


Agile Design VS The Waterfall Model

The Agile design method (new school) versus the Waterfall Method (old school) can be seen below.

agile design versus waterfall design methods

With the agile method, cross-functional teams work together in sprints which may cover different phases at one time. At the end of a sprint, a design iteration should be ready and can then be reiterated in further sprints if needed. The objective is to get a minimum viable product designed as quickly as possible then refine it as and where required.

Whereas you’ll note that in the waterfall method each stage is fully completed and deliverables provided before the following one begins. This means that a delay on one stage causes a hold up for the entire project, which, of course, is what the software developers back in the early 2000s objected to.


The Agile Manifesto

Unlike many development models, Agile is not overly dogmatic. If something works for you, keep it, even develop and improve it. If it doesn’t work in your context drop it quickly (agile in itself). That’s why I really like it: creative people can play and have fun with it. Instead of it being a straight jacket to creativity, it offers support and a framework on which you can actually explore your ideas more quickly and efficiently.

This is the Agile Manifesto which helps to understand the main principles:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan


The Benefits Of The Agile Design Methodology

So, why implement an agile design process over a more traditional process such as the waterfall method?

With agile, you can expect these benefits:

  1. FASTER DEVELOPMENT (a key goal for the makers of new products)
  2. Reduced feature creep
  3. On-time, on cost, on spec
  4. Happier Development Team
  5. Improved Quality
  6. Focus on Users
  7. Stakeholder Engagement
  8. Transparency
  9. Early and Predictable Delivery
  10. Predictable Costs and Schedule
  11. Allows for Change as you learn, or as the context changes


Keep learning about agile design

Here’s a video of a fun talk I gave titled ‘herding creative cats’ where I discuss the agile design toolkit:

This post is also interesting: The Creative Process in an Agile Development Environment


How about you? Have you started designing products in an agile way, or does your company follow a more traditional process? What are your thoughts and experiences about making the change? Let us know by leaving a comment, please!

Contributed by Andy Bartlett, a UK-based new product development expert with a deep experience in toys. Several of our clients have worked with Andy with good results.

Product Design Manager at Worlds Apart for 14 years.

Designed products for Disney, LEGO, Hasbro and Mattel including Scruff-a-luvs and GoGlow


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