Preston Smith's Corner

Does flexible product development complement or contradict phased development processes?

Quick Tip

October 2007

Phased product development processes (including Stage-Gate®) are popular, and most companies today use them. They allow management considerable control over and insight into a project without a great investment of time on their part. Thus, phased development systems have great appeal.

Unfortunately, these systems have the undesired side effect of not being flexible to change during development. They encourage management and the development team to make many project decisions before their last responsible moments, thus imposing unnecessary constraints on change. They encourage planning a project in advance and following this plan, thus penalizing project leaders who vary from plan— the essence of flexibility.

It isn’t that flexible development is “good” and phased development is “bad,” nor is one approach always preferred. It all depends on how much change you face in a project— or better yet, in a certain part of a project. If change is unlikely, phased development is cheaper and easier to execute. However, if change is likely, phased development will probably be frustrating and more expensive because work will have to be redone and decisions undone.

Consequently, it is a matter of recognizing where change is likely to occur in a project and employing flexible approaches there and more traditional phased development elsewhere.

So why not avoid change altogether and proceed comfortably with easy-to-manage phased development? Unfortunately, change is linked inescapably to innovation. If you aren’t changing things during development in response to what you are learning, you aren’t innovating. And innovation is what CEOs claim they seek

(c) Copyright 2013 Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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