An In-Depth Guide to Dual Track Agile for Product Managers

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Dual track agile has become an increasingly popular product development methodology that combines agile software practices with UX design thinking. In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll dive deep into dual track agile to help product managers understand how to successfully implement this approach.

The Evolution of Agile

To understand dual track agile, it helps to know how agile practices have evolved over time:

  • 2001 – The Agile Manifesto establishes core values and principles for faster, customer-focused software development. This catalyzes the agile movement.

  • Mid 2000s – Practices like Scrum and Kanban emerge and spread as concrete frameworks to apply agile values. They prove successful for single team projects.

  • 2010s – Scaled agile frameworks like SAFe tackle multi-team agile scaling challenges. But gaps remain around UX design integration.

  • 2015 and beyond – Dual track agile addresses gaps by combining agile development with UX design thinking.

Thought leaders like Marty Cagan, Jeff Patton and Jeff Gothelf pioneered dual track agile as the next stage in agile‘s evolution. It brings integrated product discovery to agile delivery.

The Case for Dual Track Agile

Research indicates dual track agile offers substantial benefits compared to traditional sequential approaches:

  • 56% faster time to market (PMI)
  • 50% higher initial product quality (PMI)
  • 42% more features per release (Standish Group)
  • 38% lower defect rates (IBM)

For example, video streaming platform Hulu adopted dual track agile in 2016. They reported it enabled:

  • Faster experimentation through minimum viable prototypes (MVPs)
  • Tighter collaboration between product, UX, and engineering
  • Ability to respond faster to changing market conditions

For products with high ambiguity and uncertainty, dual track agile is ideal. The discovery track helps teams rapidly explore the problem space before locking into solutions.

Inside the Discovery Track

The discovery track focuses on quickly exploring ideas, problems, and solutions before committing to building anything.

Based on thought leader Marty Cagan‘s model, this track has 3 core stages:

1. Frame the Opportunity

Explore if a potential product concept is worth investing in by:

  • Conducting customer interviews
  • Examining market and competitive conditions
  • Exploring téchnical feasibility

Cagan recommends spending no more than 2-4 weeks on this initial framing.

2. Identify the MVP

Define a minimum viable product (MVP) to start testing key hypotheses:

  • Document key assumptions in a lean canvas
  • Story map the MVP feature set
  • Outline objectives and key results to measure

"MVPs force teams to ruthlessly prioritize what‘s absolutely critical to test", says entrepreneur Eric Ries.

3. Validate the MVP

Get your MVP into users‘ hands to validate it:

  • Build prototypes for UX testing
  • Develop simplified code to demo
  • Release an early access version on a small scale
  • Gather feedback through surveys, interviews etc.

The key is to start validating with real users as early as possible before overinvesting in product capabilities.

Inside the Delivery Track

The delivery track takes the validated ideas from discovery and turns them into a working product using agile software development practices like:

  • Regular sprints to work in small batches

  • Continuous integration and deployment to release updates often

  • Daily standups to improve team coordination and spot impediments

  • Retrospectives to regularly inspect and adapt processes

  • Test automation to prevent regressions and enable continuous testing

Sample Agile Delivery Cadence
Sprint Length 2 weeks
Sprint Activities Planning, Build, Review, Retro
Daily Sync 10-15 min standup
Continuous Integration Automated builds and tests
Release Frequency Every sprint

The delivery track builds incrementally using a "think big, start small" approach. The goal is to complete thin vertical slices rather than entire features before getting feedback.

Making Dual Track Agile Work

Dual track agile introduces some complexity. But close collaboration and strong leadership can help teams succeed with it.

Experts highlight these keys to making dual track agile work:

  • "Secure executive support early on." – Marty Cagan, author of Inspired

  • "Assure teams they won‘t be penalized for failures during discovery." – Tanya Grounds, StarLab Head of Product

  • "Build slack time into delivery sprints for discovery collaboration." – Jeff Patton, Story Mapping creator

  • "Create opportunities for informal sharing between tracks." – Jeff Gothelf, Author of Lean UX

  • "Monitor results often and inspect processes even more often." – Mik Kersten, Tasktop CEO

With training, support, transparency, and a continuous improvement mindset, product teams can overcome dual track growing pains.

Smoothly Transitioning to Dual Track Agile

For teams new to dual track agile, here are some best practices for the transition:

Pilot on a Low-Risk Project

Prove the model on a smaller scale before going all in. Limit the blast radius.

Educate Senior Stakeholders

Ensure executives understand the benefits and support the transition.

Train Team Members Extensively

Invest in hands-on training across product, UX and engineering.

Coach Along the Way

Provide ongoing coaching as the team gets up to speed with new practices.

Start Simple

Don‘t customize too much initially. Stick close to established dual track frameworks.

Gather Feedback Often

Check in frequently on team sentiment and continuously improve processes.

With commitment, support, and a focus on learning, teams can transition smoothly to dual track agile.

Key Takeaways

  • Dual track agile has evolved as the next wave of agile, integrating development and UX design.
  • Running discovery and delivery tracks in parallel results in better products built faster.
  • This approach is ideal for complex products with high uncertainty and ambiguity.
  • Make sure to provide extensive training and coaching to support the transition.
  • Monitor progress closely and inspect and adapt processes frequently.

The best way for product teams to evaluate dual track agile is to run small experiments and see results. For many, it unlocks faster innovation along with happier, more engaged teams. Are you ready to give it try?

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