I presented a session about this at Mile High Agile 2011 in Denver on April 7.
The agile movement is proving the value of development agility for software products. Although you can’t apply Agile practices verbatim to other kinds of products, you can translate the principles to make development for any kind of product more competitive in innovative, dynamic markets.
Agile software developers have learned that the traditional waterfall development process (the software version of phase-gate) has become ineffective. As a recent article shows, even large, complex software projects work better with Agile practices. (Visions magazine, October 2009, pages 13-15)
But if you’re developing products outside the software domain, you have to translate Agile principals before you can apply them to, say, an electronic hardware project.
The first step is to break free from the Orthodoxy of the Plan. I think this orthodoxy dates back to the time of the Pharos, but anyway, it holds that the only way to avoid the costly waste of mid project changes is to plan thoroughly and freeze the plan before starting development.
But if markets are changing faster that your development cycle, freezing the plan keeps you from learning and adapting at market speed. The trick to getting around this is to keep design options open and take steps to reduce the cost of changes that are likely to occur later in the project.
There’s a copy of the presentation on my web site here.