Why Should Agile Teams Make Time for Innovation?

“The Innovator’s Dilemma” is a book that highlights the danger for companies that put excessive focus on improving their current products and processes, which can leave them exposed to disruption and eventual failure.

Innovation has become a crucial strategy for companies to stay competitive and relevant in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world, with constantly emerging new inventions, trends, and competitors. Companies that fail to innovate risk losing their customers to competitors who are able to offer better products or services. By continuously innovating and improving their products, companies can stay ahead of the curve and maintain their competitive edge.

In this article, we’ll cover the characteristics that define innovation in the context of digital product development, how key it is as a strategic process, and why Agile is an effective approach.

Demo day at last winter PIWEEK hackathon edition in December 2022.

What is innovation in digital product development?

Innovation in the context of digital product development refers to the process of:

  • creating new or improved products, features, or services that meet the evolving needs of customers and

  • provide a competitive advantage for our users or customers.

This may include incorporating technologies, improving user experience, or creating new business models.

Working on something new is not necessarily innovating. Innovation requires a deliberate and systematic approach to identifying new ideas, testing and validating them, and ultimately delivering them to users in a way that creates value and drives business success.

Innovation also involves taking risks, experimenting with new ideas and technologies, as well as being willing to fail and learn from those failures. Simply creating something new without this systematic approach may result in products or services that do not meet user’s needs or fail to create a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Therefore, it is crucial for organizations to focus on innovation as a deliberate and strategic process, rather than working on new features just for novelty.

Books like “The Lean Startup” can help you a lot to know more about this experiment-driven approach to management.

Innovation as a strategy

As a strategic process, innovation requires a clear understanding of the organization’s goals and objectives, as well as the needs and desires of customers. This involves conducting market research, gathering customer feedback, and analyzing trends and data to identify new opportunities.

It is also a deliberate process that involves a systematic approach to idea generation, testing, and implementation. This involves creating a culture of creativity, experimentation, and continuous improvement, where team members are encouraged to share ideas, collaborate, and take risks.

To be successful, innovation requires a supportive organizational culture that values experimentation, rewards creativity, and encourages learning from failures.

Organizations must also provide the necessary resources to support innovation initiatives, including time, budget, and talent.

Therefore, innovation as a strategy requires ongoing commitment and investment.

Why Agile is an effective approach to innovation

Agile encourages teams to iterate quickly and continuously improve their products based on customer feedback. This process involves delivering small, incremental improvements, which enables teams to validate their assumptions and make adjustments as needed to create value for customers.

Exercising this experimental mindset on a daily basis can make the process of generating new ideas more natural. If a team is used to working only on assigned tasks, they may feel uncomfortable when asked to come up with new ideas, as they will probably understand it as another task assignment, which can restrain creativity.

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. Principles behind the Agile Manifesto

This approach also allows Agile companies to maintain their competitive advantage by continuously innovating and improving their products. Practices like hackathons are extreme examples of launching ideas very fast in order to have feedback that will help to avoid working on those that are not viable or eventually feed even more ideas.

Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

Kanban module overview at Taiga

Agile also emphasizes collaboration and cross-functional teams, which fosters a culture of innovation by generating a wider range of ideas and solutions. By bringing together individuals with diverse skills and perspectives, we can create more innovative solutions.

If a team only understands a part of the whole system or has a narrow set of skills, such as a team of specialists, they not only have less ability to adapt to changing requirements, but they also have fewer opportunities to find innovative solutions. This is also true when new skills and knowledge, such as UX, are not introduced.

Tools like Penpot, the first open-source prototyping and designing tool made for teams, can streamline the productivity and creativity of your team by allowing them to collaborate via Taiga. By the way, both Taiga and Penpot were the result of the PIWEEK (Personal Innovation Week), an internal hackathon-like event run by Kaleidos.

The Penpot team relies on Taiga as their project management software.

Innovation is key for long-term success in business

In this article we’ve seen innovation as a strategic process, essential for businesses seeking long-term success, that requires understanding customer needs, a supportive culture, and investment.

I’ve also covered why Agile is an effective approach to innovation as it prioritizes seeking for customers’ needs and a diverse environment to foster creativity.

In my next article, I will share practical tips on how to innovate from an Agile approach, including creating a culture of experimentation and leveraging customer feedback.

Some key recommended bibliography on innovation that may be of your interest:

  • Christensen, Clayton M. The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book that Will Change the Way You Do Business
  • Ries, Eric. The Lean Startup