One of the most persistent challenges in getting a project off the ground is coordinating workflows between the teams responsible for different aspects of the project. In particular: discovery and development. At times, it can seem like bringing together two different countries with different languages and cultures. Because of the differences in the way each team works and how they approach their responsibilities within the framework of launching a project, it's essential to start with an agile framework that takes these differences into account and actually accentuates the positive while eliminating the difficulties. This is why many companies are now experimenting with and getting good results from an agile framework called "dual-track scrum." Instead of one team running while the other team waits, or vice versa, the two tracks—workflows—run parallel to each other, give regular feedback, and provide each other support along the way. The result is a better, faster project completion experience.
Exactly what is dual-track scrum?
Dual-track scrum is an organizational framework that is agile and flexible because it has re-imagined the typical process of development. As the name suggests, instead of one, often bottle-necked track where everyone is trying to follow separate workflows that may or may not fit with one another at any one time, there are two tracks running at the same time:
- Discovery: This track has a team that runs through ideas, decides what needs to be built, efficiently validates these ideas, and then passes them off to the delivery track.
- Delivery: This track has a team that efficiently builds and tests the code based on pre-validated code discoveries and turns it into production-ready software that really works for the end-user.
The main key to remember is that, unlike the traditional development process where discovery took place before development, discovery and development run concurrently at all times. This creates a faster pace, but it also ensures that the discovery and delivery teams are working much more closely together, which can develop a better, more cohesive understanding between the two.
What to expect with dual-track scrum
These two tracks run simultaneously and continuously through the course of the whole project, even during the life of the software itself. Discovery doesn't end when development begins. The tracks feed actionable information and insight into each other as the dual-track agile system progresses through tasks, and project turnaround can be significantly accelerated with a higher quality software product outcome. These are some of the things that you can expect when working on a dual-scrum product development cycle:
- Easier delivery, review, and retrospective
In the traditional discovery-first model, projects would often get hobbled when problems arose during the development process because of miscommunications and misunderstandings that inevitably occur between discovery and development. Projects couldn't proceed until problems were fixed, time was wasted, and money spent. In the agile, dual-scrum framework, there is more room for "failed" experiments that can be processed quickly on both tracks, and then swiftly removed from the queue. It's these failures that usually lead to the real golden solutions on the other side, through a continuous review and retrospective process because the two tracks meet and work more in sync with each other.
- Tasks in backlog are more clear
There is also a level of clarity and visibility that comes out of the dual-track scrum process that eludes the traditional formats. Because discovery is laser-focused on validating backlogged items in the product queue, they can offer better insight to the delivery track as they pump out cleaner, ready-to-release software. Although it's not all sunshine and roses (of course not), there is more realization on both tracks of what has to happen next, and there is less confusion about the priority of various items in the backlog.
- Discovery work is more efficient
When discovery and development work in isolated teams, there is a disconnect that happens to the best of them. In many discovery-only setups that feed later into development, there's a tendency for the discovery team to assume things will work that may not actually work in reality. By adopting a more agile scrum system, discovery teams test and validate with input from development, which is a far more efficient use of time and resources.
Dual-track agile: pros and cons
Every development framework has its benefits and drawbacks, and dual-track agile is no different. When choosing a new path forward, you have to evaluate whether or not your team can work effectively within that framework. However, with two paths running side-by-side, this does remove some pain-point obstacles that companies typically deal with.
1. Better products
Because validation is baked into the dual-track scrum from the discovery point, and continues throughout the development process, this ensures that un-validated ideas don't leak into the backlog and clog up the system. This enables only the validated product concepts to travel the course to development and into the end product.
2. Less time wasted
There's a great reality-check that happens when you have cross-functional teams working in parallel with each other. As discovery validates items, they're receiving continuous feedback and understanding from the development side to refine ideas that will work, while quickly eliminating ideas are headed for the rubbish bin. So, items that aren't going to work more often than not don't waste developers' time, and the teams can "get it right" the first time in terms of what end users are really going to enjoy working with. In other words, this significantly cuts the back-and-forth that often takes up a vast amount of time when non-validated ideas are floated, don't work, and everyone has to go back to the drawing board.
3. Lower development costs
Wasted time is wasted money in the business world, so it makes sense that if you can save a bunch of time by having discovery and development working parallel tracks, there will be a faster, market-ready product (perhaps several even). The whole process will cost less while potentially bringing in more revenue faster because the products are better and more customer-focused. There is less downtime on either side of the dual-track scrum as both teams harness their powers together in the same direction more effectively.
Of course, there are two sides to every story, and dual-track scrum is no different. In fact, the very thing that could make this framework a boon can also make it a bust. Let's examine the teamwork needed for this system to work, for instance. If you have teams that already work well together and communicate effectively with each other, there's a good chance that this style of discovery and development working side-by-side will get the job done for you. On the other hand, resistance from either group, contention, misunderstandings, or lack of effective communication will break the tracks before the race begins. Also, validation being required during discovery is a new idea for many companies who are used to throwing ideas into the backlog for developers to figure out. Any new way of thinking can take some time to get used to, and some may balk at the idea. For some companies, culture change is required. But teams need to understand that discovery should always be a cross-functional activity, and it involves everyone on the team. Discovery is the centerpiece of a fluid workflow, and everyone has to be involved with it. Discovery needs to use all the tools at its disposal to experiment, A/B test using quantitative and qualitative measurements, and validate each idea before it enters the development track. And for that, they'll need input from the developers, and vice versa. Teamwork is central.
Things to consider
When adopting dual-track agile, the main thing to understand is that discovery is not the "first phase" of a project. It is a critical cord woven throughout the entire process, from start to finish. Getting your teams to work in tight coordination with each other is the only way to make this work well, and for those companies who have been able to do it, the results have been impressive. It also involves a much tighter relationship with customers, from whom the best data on usability and functionality comes. And this is a good thing. When discovery and development are working closely together as a unit—with customers and end-users—a greater understanding develops, and better products emerge from that convergence of ideas and needs. It also helps companies achieve greater relevance in a stiffly competitive atmosphere.
How Dual-Track is Aiding Digital Transformation
There is an understanding amongst 9 out of 10 global executives that dual-track is the future of digital transformation. Many companies are frustrated that their pace of digital change has been slower than desired. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it painfully clear just how much faster it needs to go, and how much more flexibility and agility they need to stay relevant and competitive in markets upended by change and unpredictability. Traditional development processes are no longer sufficient to keep up with the pace of digital transformation needs. Dual-track offers an essential way of moving forward faster and more efficiently, with better code being generated along the way.
Dual-Track Agile: The Takeaways
The need-to-know takeaways from the dual-track agile discovery and development model are clear: A new level of cross-functional, holistic teamwork is crucial. When discovery and development work in tandem, both delivery speed and quality improve significantly, and end-users receive better, more relevant products to fit their needs. The key is total team input all along the way, with discovery as an ongoing part of the development process, not as a "first phase." For teams that struggle with getting their products to market fast and effectively, dual-track scrum is something to consider. Our team at Spark Equation have been working this way for a while now, and the benefits are definitely worth the effort. If you'd like to learn more about our Dual-Track process or how to accelerate your agile transformation, reach out to us!