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Agile: Dual-Track Agile

What is dual-track agile?

Dual-track agile is a type of agile development in which the cross-functional product team breaks its daily development work into two tracks: discovery and delivery.

The discovery track focuses on quickly generating validated product ideas for the backlog, and the delivery track focuses on turning those ideas into software ready for the market.

How does dual-track agile work?

The agile development methodology is built around the philosophy that rapid, iterative, data-driven development work leads to a better product. Agile teams regularly make small updates to their products, release those products to the market as quickly as possible, and learn from their user base what works and what doesn’t.

Dual-track agile takes this philosophy—that product development should be iterative and cyclical, as opposed to linear—and extends it even to the interim steps within an agile team’s work. As Silicon Valley Product Group’s Marty Cagan explains, agile organizations often allow their workflow to become “little mini-waterfalls.”

In other words, even within the context of an agile sprint, the product manager will create a set of requirements and hand them off to a designer, who will then create wireframes or some sort of prototype, and pass that onto the development team. This is still a somewhat linear process.

Dual-track agile, by contrast, “captures the parallel nature of Discovery and Delivery,” Cagan explains.

What Cagan means is that dual-track agile allows both tracks, discovery and delivery, to happen concurrently and with a great deal of team collaboration. It does not require that the Discovery Team fully define all product backlog items before the delivery team can begin its development work. The entire process is collaborative and nonlinear, involving the team’s key members (product manager, designer, developer) working together throughout the process.

Why dual-track agile?

This methodology can offer product teams many advantages, including:

1. Better products

Dual-track agile encourages teams to allow only validated product ideas onto their backlogs. This means product teams can increase the chances that the features they work on, and ultimately the products they release to the market, will resonate with their user base. It also reduces the likelihood that the team will develop functionality that users either don’t find valuable or find only marginally useful.

2. Less wasted time

Breaking the cross-functional team’s work in two parallel tracks—one devoted just to discovery, or validating items before they make it onto the backlog—means the team is more likely to get an item right with users within the first of iterations, rather than having to go back and forth many times. This can result in faster development and release cycles, and fewer wasted resources.

3. Lower development costs

Finally, dual-track agile can lead to lower overall costs of product development, for several reasons. First, the parallel-track nature of the discovery and delivery work can increase product development velocity. This means a cross-functional team can be making progress on both fronts at the same time, rather than having one team somewhat idle while it waits for the other to complete its tasks.

Second, it can make validation itself more cost-effective, because under this system items will not be allowed onto the product backlog until they’ve been validated by market research, usage data, or some other objective means. This means the team will not waste time or budget pursuing projects that either have not been validated or that have been poorly thought out and will likely not help the product’s bottom line.

What all of this means is that dual-track agile can help an organization focus on the right types of innovations for their markets, and ship products users will actually pay for.

How to do dual-track agile development

Using the dual-track-agile approach, the team’s work on the parallel tracks might look like this:

The discovery track

  • Conduct stakeholder interviews
  • Develop personas and user stories
  • Perform market research (surveys, user interviews, etc.)
  • Move items validated through this process onto backlog for the Delivery Team

The delivery track

  • Build prototypes (wireframes, etc.)
  • Conduct iterative user testing
  • Apply user feedback to product updates

Remember, progress on these tracks can and should happen concurrently, and the cross-functional team members should be involved with (or at least kept informed about) both tracks. This will help prevent confusion, mistakes, and costly rework.

Conclusion

Dual-track agile is a proven method of both speeding and improving product development work. For teams unsatisfied with their product release velocity, or frustrated by the amount of work they are producing that falls flat with users, dual-track agile might be worth a try.