A method that gets to a viable solution that satisfies the customer faster and at lower cost. It uses small multi-functional teams working closely together to produce a series of incremental improvements that can be quickly tested with the user.


Agile development was created as a concept in 2001 to improve software development. The basic ideas are captured in the Agile Manifesto:

“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

The agile approach stresses:

  • A relentless focus on the customer
  • Very rapid development cycles
  • Getting the product into the hands of users as quickly as possible and incorporating their feedback into the next iteration – ‘launch and learn’
  • Keeping things as simple as possible
  • Keeping customer facing and technical people in the loop
  • Using self-organising teams and face to face communications for speed and understanding

Agile has become a dominant model for software development, and people are now increasingly asking where else can it be used for innovation and product development?

Hundreds of books, courses and online resources are available using dozens of variants on the basic ideas.

Where do you Use the Tool?

Agile development targets the development of an innovation
in the offer part of the innovation canvas.

At the core of the agile development methodology is rapid cycles of improvement and live testing. A tight feedback loop between the target users and the product developers.

The method is best adapted to situations where a new version of the innovation can be produced quickly and at relatively low cost, and where it can be put into the hands of real users for rapid testing.

It was developed for software, and finds application in games, online services and other sectors with a strong digital component.

At the other end of the spectrum there are sectors such as pharmaceuticals, where costs mount up very rapidly, there are high regulatory hurdles before data from real users can be obtained, and few development cycles occur before a product is launched or abandoned.

Although there are agile ideas that can be imported, managing these sorts of innovation projects needs other tools such as Stage-Gate development.

How to Use the Tool

There are so many versions of agile development in use that it is impossible to describe a single method. One popular approach is the ‘Scrum’ method.

This consists of a series of short development cycles or ‘sprints’ designed to make an agreed set of changes or improvements and to get them into the hands of users.

The product or project owner identifies things that need to be added to the product. The team makes a selection that can be delivered within a defined period of time for testing (the sprint). Each day the team holds a brief 15 min scrum meeting to review progress, identify blockages and decide what to do in the next day. At the end of each sprint a new version is ready for testing. A new sprint then starts with feedback from the last set of testing incorporated into the list if features to be worked on.

Developing and testing go on in parallel. User and developer are closely linked, and the product is adapted and improved through each cycle.

In the right situation this approach is much faster and cheaper than other innovation processes, and is more likely to produce a product that satisfies the customer.

External Resources

Agile Project Management for Dummies”, M Layton & S J Ostermiller, John Wiley & Sons, 2017, ISBN-13: 978-1119405696

The Age of Agile”, S Denning, McGraw-Hill, 2018, ISBN 978-0814439098