4 Ways to Improve Agile Product Development with Document Management

Fix failing product developmentA failing product development process can cost your sanity, your company’s reputation, and a lot of money.

In the high tech space, even using an Agile approach to manage a complex build against an evolving set of requirements is no guarantee of success.

In fact, at the last count an estimated £37 billion was being wasted in failed Agile development projects in the UK every year. 

That’s not to say this approach to product development is flawed, it’s fundamentally part of the development landscape in the UK.

But there’s no point in your team being agile if the tools they’re using aren’t.

Here are four ways an Agile process can be supported by a Lean Document Management System and save you from project failure.

1. Scaling up your Agile approach

A product development process that served you well as a small company might start showing signs of strain as you begin to tackle larger and concurrent projects.

The iterative, agile approach to development that you were once able to manage informally through emails and daily stand up sessions may require a more formal implementation as you grow.

In a sprawling development project with numerous teams spread across multiple locations, you need a way to scale up these processes while remaining flexible and responsive.

Using a document management system that allows you to update specifications while notifying others when changes are made can make this iterative approach less prone to error. A DMS that can automatically seek approval or acceptance from others when changes are made will ensure that everyone is always working from the latest version of each document. It can help you avoid wasted time, resource and costly mistakes.

2. Working with external Collaborators

The emphasis on close collaboration among teams facilitated by face to face meetings, which is so much a part of an agile development process could be threatened when a company starts working with third-party suppliers in different locations and different time zones.

To make this kind of long-distance collaboration work companies need to take a dynamic approach to file sharing, ensuring all the most up to date project information is available to the right people at the right time.

However, allowing third parties unfettered access to a network can represent a threat to IP and cybersecurity.

A document management system that allows individuals from external organisations to be granted creation, viewing and approval rights of certain pieces of documentation will help keep them fully informed and projects on track, while protecting the overall security of your systems. The ability to protect documents with digital watermarking will also help to keep your IP safe.

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3. Sustainable development

 In the Agile development process, there is always the risk of projects slowing up, or mushrooming out of control as new requirements are added into a spec or a team wait for a new iteration of a product to be delivered.

There may be periods of downtime when teams are waiting for approvals and focus may be lost. Later there may be periods of furious activity as interdependent deadlines are worked on simultaneously. But one of the aims of agile is ensuring a pace of sustainable development, ensuring that focus doesn’t wane or fatigue set in.

The right document management system can help make sure all stakeholders in a project are constantly aligned with each other and prevent timelines from slipping or key deliverables from being forgotten about. Whether it’s through version control, approval notifications, or ownership oversight, a good document management system will define responsibilities throughout a development process, giving you the tools to keep a project moving forward at a sensible pace.

The ability to quickly add and remove privileges for collaborating parties can also keep a project moving forward where otherwise a partner would have to wait to be given access. All parties can keep working on a single set of shared documents without disruption or having to share or update files in multiple locations.

Graphical business management tools will also give the whole team an ‘at a glance’ view of the progress of projects, outstanding items and delivery against requirements.

 4. Better planning

While a recent survey found that 34% of failed Agile projects failed because of a lack of upfront and ongoing planning, a Lean Document Management System gives you the tools to create a dynamic plan that is always underpinned with structure and rigour.

The more specific the requirements gathering process is, the better you will be able to deliver against client expectations. A good document management system will help you seek approval of key stakeholders on key specifications and get ‘sign off’ before work commences, so everyone is clear the direction they are headed before work begins. With different stakeholders feeding into a document, there is a greater chance all requirements will be captured and prioritised.

At the same time, without careful and constant management there is always the risk an agile approach could morph into an endless cycle of scope creep. But that can be due to the way objectives are defined and managed during a delivery phase.

The use of certain business management tools, like phase gating will help to focus minds on checking delivered products against requirements, ensuring the most up to date and relevant document versions are used and omissions noticed before release.

But, more than this, a Lean DMS equipped with business management tools, can provide you with an instant company-wide snapshot of the status of any project.

This kind of project oversight helps Product Managers and ScrumMasters make better decisions and better prioritise competing demands on time and resources.

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Tags: Document Management and Control

Joe Byrne

Written by Joe Byrne

Joe Byrne is the CEO of Cognidox. With a career spanning medical device start-ups and fortune 500 companies, Joe has over 25 years of experience in the medical device and high-tech product development industries. With extensive experience in scaling businesses, process improvement, quality, medical devices and product development, Joe is a regular contributor to the Cognidox DMS Insights blog where he shares expertise on scaling and streamlining the entire product development cycle, empowering enterprises to achieve governance, compliance, and rigour.

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