Make Your New Product Process Agile and Adaptable With “Spiral Development”

Spiral Development makes your new product development process a much more adaptable development process, one that is particularly well suited to innovative new products, and one that adapts to changing, uncertain market conditions. Build in the concept of spiral or agile development, allowing project teams to move rapidly to a finalized product design through a series of “build-test-feedback-and-revise” iterations.

Customers or users really don’t know what they want until they see it, especially in case of very innovative products. So get something in front of the user, fast – something the customer can see, feel, touch and respond to.

Spiral development does this: it deals with the need to get mock-ups or protocepts in front of customers early in the process, and seek fast feedback. Spiral development also allows for smart-and-fast failures; these spirals are relatively inexpensive, and often the first few spirals result in negative responses. Not a problem: revise, rebuild and test again via the next spiral.

Spiral development also bridges the gap between the need for sharp, early and fact-based product definition before development begins and the need to be flexible, agile and to adjust the product’s design to new information and fluid market conditions as Development proceeds. The method thus allows developers to continue to incorporate valuable customer feedback into the design even after the product definition is supposedly locked-in before going into Stage 3, and could even result in a much different or more innovative product than originally envisioned.

How does spiral development work in practice? It’s really a set of “build-and-test, then seek feedback-and-revise” iterations with the user or customer. A sample set of spirals is shown in the exhibit.

Note that these loops or spirals are deliberately built in from the front-end stages through the development stage and into the testing stage. The first loop or spiral is the voice-of-customer study undertaken early in Stage 2, where project team members visit customers to better understand their unmet and unspoken needs, problems and benefits sought in the new product. At this point, the project team probably has very little to show the customer; and that’s the way it should be: The purpose of this visit is to listen and watch, not to “show and tell.”

The second spiral, labeled “full proposition concept test” in the exhibit, is where the project team presents a representation of the proposed product. Depending on the type of product and industry, this representation can be a computer-generated virtual prototype, a hand-made model or mock-up, a very crude protocept, or even a few computer screens for new software. The product obviously does not work at this early stage, and in some presentations, is only two-dimensional. But it is enough to give the customer a feel for what the product will be and do. Interest, liking, preference and purchase intent are thus established even before the project is a formal development project. Feedback is sought, and the needed product revisions are made.

Moving into the Development Stage, within weeks the project team produces the next and more complete version of the product, perhaps a crude model or a rapid prototype. They test this with customers, and again seek feedback, which they use to rapidly revise and build the first working prototype… and then to Spiral #3, #4 and so on… with each successive version of the product getting closer to the final product, and at the same time, closer to the customer’s ideal.

These loops in the exhibit resemble spirals, hence the name “spiral development.”

Use a series of “build-test-feedback-and revise” spirals with the customer in your development process. The result is a better and more innovative product, and one that is more likely to delight the customer. Employ the spirals to adapt quickly to changing market conditions and requirements, and to move rapidly to a proven, finalized product design.