Engineering, Product management, User experience, Leadership

Dual Track Agile

An approach to product development that combines the exploration of new ideas with the delivery of working software.

Also called: Two-Track Agile and Dual-Track Scrum

See also: Agile Framework, Agile Manifesto, Agile Principles, Agile Values, Continuous Discovery, Cycle Time, Design Thinking

Relevant metrics: Time to market, Product quality, Customer satisfaction, Evidence strength, Certainty of Success, and Productivity

In this article

What is Dual Track Agile

Dual Track Agile is a product development methodology that combines the iterative and incremental approach of Agile with the user-centered design of Design Thinking.

It is a process that allows teams to work on two tracks simultaneously: one track focuses on the development of the product, while the other track focuses on the user experience.

This approach allows teams to quickly develop a product while also ensuring that the user experience is taken into account.

Where did Dual Track Agile come from?

In the year 2005, a few years after the release and widespread acceptance of the Agile Manifesto, Lynn Miller, the Director of User Interface Development at Alias, presented a paper that outlined a novel approach to software development. In it, she discussed “interconnected parallel design and development tracks.” Although Miller did not explicitly articulate her vision as “dual-track agile,” it is reasonable to assume that this was the first time such an idea had been expressed in written form.

In a paper published two years later, Miller’s colleague, Desirée Sy, once again referred to this idea. She described a process that utilized two tracks, one for design and one for development, that operated autonomously but concurrently. This approach enabled the team to focus on user needs and prototype development while simultaneously finalizing the architecture and code for the software.

The concept of “dual-track scrum” was eventually introduced by Marty Cagan and Jeff Patton in 2012. This framework consisted of two tracks: discovery and delivery. The discovery track was responsible for determining what to build, while the delivery track was responsible for determining how to build it. The outputs of the discovery track served as the inputs of the delivery track, ensuring that the final product met user needs and requirements.

Leveraging Dual Track Agile to Achieve Optimal Results

Dual-track agile is a software development methodology that allows for the parallel operation of two autonomous but interdependent tracks: discovery and delivery. The discovery track is responsible for researching and testing product ideas, defining requirements, and creating user stories. The delivery track is responsible for building, testing, and delivering the product to the end-users.

The discovery track works on understanding the user needs and refining the product vision, while the delivery track works on designing, building, testing, and releasing the software. This methodology enables the product team to validate their assumptions and make informed decisions by gathering feedback from the end-users throughout the development process.

In dual-track agile, both tracks work in sync to ensure that the final product meets the requirements and expectations of the end-users. The discovery track feeds the delivery track with the necessary information, insights, and requirements to build a high-quality product. The delivery track, in turn, provides feedback on the feasibility and implementation of the ideas generated by the discovery track.

Closing the Gap with Dual-Track Agile

Agile development provides the benefits of swift iteration and value delivery to users. However, even teams that excel at shipping new releases can still encounter large gaps between iterations. This is where dual-track agile comes into play. It is a framework that allows for the closure of those gaps by introducing research and user-centered design between development cycles.

The Issue with User Feedback

Traditionally, product managers have relied heavily on user feedback to determine what to build next. However, user feedback can often be ambiguous or incomplete. The accuracy and relevance of user feedback can be hindered by details that are lost or incorrect, user misunderstanding or lack of awareness, and other factors that make the feedback flawed. These issues can lead to inaccurate assumptions and can compromise the integrity of products.

A better way with Product Discovery

Product discovery is a proactive process that helps to validate the ideas and priorities of your users. By implementing a discovery cycle, product managers are able to work on the best possible features for their products, without the need for assumptions. This eliminates wastage of resources on features that users do not need and instead ensures that teams put in their time and effort into the most valuable features.

“Our higher order objective is to validate our ideas the fastest, cheapest way possible”, Marty Cagan

Dual-track agile is a framework that allows teams to balance discovery and delivery. As development teams work on improvements, a discovery team can work on figuring out the next set of improvements. This way, teams can focus on the right features without the guesswork, thereby improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the product management process.

Marty Cagan, a key proponent of the dual-track agile framework, stated, “Our higher order objective is to validate our ideas the fastest, cheapest way possible”. Dual-track agile serves as the solution to that objective.

Benefits of Implementing Dual Track Agile

One of the most significant benefits of the dual-track agile methodology is that it allows for continuous feedback and iteration, ensuring that the product meets the needs of the end-users. By starting the development process with a thorough understanding of the user needs, teams can avoid costly mistakes and build products that are more likely to succeed in the market.

Implementing dual-track agile can offer several benefits to product development teams. Here are some of the main advantages:

  • Improved Collaboration. By working in two parallel tracks, dual-track agile can help improve collaboration between different teams and stakeholders. The discovery track ensures that user needs and business requirements are understood and validated, while the delivery track ensures that the product is built efficiently and effectively.
  • Better Product Outcomes. By integrating the discovery and delivery tracks, dual-track agile can help ensure that the product meets user needs and business goals. The discovery track ensures that the team is building the right product, while the delivery track ensures that it is built in the best possible way.
  • Reduced Risk. Dual-track agile can help reduce the risk of building the wrong product or building it in the wrong way. By validating assumptions and testing prototypes early on in the discovery track, teams can make better decisions about what to build and how to build it.
  • More Flexibility. Dual-track agile allows for more flexibility in the development process. Teams can adjust the focus of the discovery track based on new information or changes in business goals, while still keeping the delivery track running smoothly.
  • Faster Time-to-Market. By focusing on discovery and delivery in parallel, dual-track agile can help speed up the time-to-market for new products. Teams can validate assumptions and test prototypes early on in the process, reducing the risk of delays and rework later on.

Implementing dual-track agile can help teams build better products, reduce risk, and bring products to market faster.

Challenges of Implementing Dual Track Agile

While dual-track agile can bring significant benefits to product development, implementing it can be challenging. Some of the challenges include:

  • Change in organizational culture. Dual-track agile requires cross-functional teams to collaborate closely, and this may require a shift in the organizational culture. Teams need to be willing to learn from each other and be open to new ideas.
  • Managing expectations. Dual-track agile requires more planning and coordination than traditional agile, and this can lead to delays in delivery. It’s important to manage stakeholders’ expectations and communicate the value of the discovery track in order to ensure buy-in.
  • Resource allocation. Dual-track agile requires dedicated resources for both the discovery and delivery tracks, which can be a challenge for smaller organizations. Finding the right balance between the two tracks is crucial to the success of the process.
  • Balancing speed and quality. Dual-track agile requires a balance between speed and quality. It’s important to not sacrifice quality for speed, while at the same time, not get bogged down in analysis paralysis.
  • Limited research budget. Discovery research can be expensive, and many organizations may have limited research budgets. This can limit the amount of research that can be done, which can impact the quality of the insights generated.

Overcoming these challenges requires a commitment to the process and a willingness to adapt to changing circumstances. Dual-track agile is a journey, and it’s important to keep the end goal in mind while making adjustments along the way.

Relevant questions to ask
  • What is the purpose of using Dual Track Agile?
    Hint The purpose of using Dual Track Agile is to enable teams to explore and experiment with new ideas while still delivering on existing commitments.
  • What are the benefits of using Dual Track Agile?
    Hint The benefits of using Dual Track Agile include increased innovation, improved customer satisfaction, and faster delivery of products.
  • What are the risks associated with using Dual Track Agile?
    Hint The risks associated with using Dual Track Agile include increased complexity, potential for miscommunication, and difficulty in managing multiple tracks.
  • How will Dual Track Agile fit into our existing development process?
    Hint Dual Track Agile can fit into an existing development process by integrating it into the existing workflow and ensuring that the team is properly trained in the methodology.
  • What resources will be needed to successfully implement Dual Track Agile?
    Hint Resources needed to successfully implement Dual Track Agile include training materials, tools, and personnel.
  • How will we measure the success of Dual Track Agile?
    Hint Success of Dual Track Agile can be measured by tracking customer satisfaction, delivery times, and innovation.
  • What are the potential challenges of using Dual Track Agile?
    Hint Potential challenges of using Dual Track Agile include difficulty in managing multiple tracks, potential for miscommunication, and increased complexity.
  • How will we ensure that Dual Track Agile is implemented correctly?
    Hint To ensure that Dual Track Agile is implemented correctly, teams should be properly trained in the methodology and have access to the necessary resources.
  • What are the potential longterm impacts of using Dual Track Agile?
    Hint The potential long-term impacts of using Dual Track Agile include increased customer satisfaction, faster delivery of products, and improved innovation.
  • How will we ensure that Dual Track Agile is sustainable?
    Hint To ensure that Dual Track Agile is sustainable, teams should regularly review and adjust the methodology as needed.
People who talk about the topic of Dual Track Agile on Twitter
Relevant books on the topic of Dual Track Agile
  • Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition by Lyssa Adkins (2011)
  • Succeeding with Agile: Software Development Using Scrum by Mike Cohn (2010)
  • Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan (2007)
  • Empowered: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products by Marty Cagan (2020)
  • Scrum and XP from the Trenches by Henrik Kniberg and Mattias Skarin (2011)

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