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As business models across industries are destabilized by disruptive threats, organizations are searching for effective ways to manage their digital projects to deliver the highest value outcomes. Agile methodologies that were originally used in software development are increasingly being applied to cross-functional projects such as e-commerce websites and mobile apps.1
While there has been progress, barriers remain, particularly in cases where companies try to coordinate multiple agile projects simultaneously and scale them across the organization. Although some managers are attempting to move beyond linear development processes in hopes of completing projects faster, most are working in siloes, with little or no interaction or cross-fertilization with other groups. The result is that there’s little opportunity for sharing best practices across functions, divisions, and regions.
In studying agile approaches over the past three years through interviews at more than 50 companies and surveys at more than 100 companies, we found that the organizations that achieve the most success with digital projects use processes that allow for continuous learning and that support critical business goals. For starters, they try to ensure that teams are working on the right problems to address the needs of customers, business units, and other stakeholders. This requires designing prototypes to test key assumptions and value propositions. These organizations also create experiments to collect meaningful data from their customers and other stakeholders so that they can learn what works before pivoting and iterating to develop good solutions. Finally, they pitch their findings and ideas to internal business leaders who are able to provide the resources, including funding and staff, to take the most promising ideas to market. With everyone following those same processes — we summarize the system as prototype, pivot, and pitch — organizations are better equipped to juggle multiple projects at the same time and reap the benefits of scale.
Over the past few years, Johnson & Johnson, one of the organizations we studied, has employed this approach.
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1. J. Birkinshaw, “What to Expect From Agile,” MIT Sloan Management Review 58, no. 2 (winter 2018): 39-42; and VersionOne, “The 11th Annual State of Agile Report,” April 6, 2017.