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.
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.
- 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?