Dual-Track Agile — the what, the why, the pros & the cons

We recently implemented the Dual-track Agile process into some of our projects, and it proved to have a lot of benefits. On that note, we want to share our experiences, and explain what Dual-track Agile actually is, what’s it good for and what benefits did this approach bring to us, as well as to our clients.

By using Dual-track Agile on a few projects during the last couple of months and comparing it to the “regular” Agile we use on other projects, we can already say that it has numerous positive aspects, and that it’s not a suitable approach for all types of projects.

But let’s not jump ahead… let’s start from the beginning!

What is Dual-track Agile

Dual-track Agile is a product development methodology that sees a cross-functional team dividing its daily activities into two parallel tracks — discovery and delivery. As opposed to standard Agile methodologies in which all project members follow the same flow, in Dual-track Agile members of the project team follow a non-linear flow with independent sprints that can have different lengths — team members are placed onto the discovery or the delivery track and given a specific project role which comes with its own set of specific tasks.

Dual-track Agile has Designers, Developers and Strategists working on Discovery as well as Delivery, which enables the team to implement new features onto the product while simultaneously testing new ideas and creating a roadmap for future upgrades.

Although it may seem like the two tracks are divided, project members working on each of the tracks continuously feed each other information about their progress, so that every person can have a general overview of the current state of the project.

Discovery track & delivery track

As we said, Dual-track Agile consists of two tracks that run simultaneously — each comes with its own set of activities and brings different types of value to the product.

Discovery track

In a traditional approach, product discovery is a set of activities that happen during the initial stages of the project — it’s usually a single phase that lasts for a couple of week or months (depending on the size of the project), and after it’s done, it’s time to switch over to delivery.

When it comes to product development, this approach just doesn’t cut it because market opportunities and user expectations can change… and you don’t want to invest months of development time into an untested functionality nobody wants or even needs.

Dual-track Agile takes a completely different approach. Instead of having discovery as a single phase at the beginning of the project, it makes it a continuous phase that goes ahead of delivery and serves as a guide for the entire project.

The activities of the Discovery track primarily revolve around conducting research, gathering information and extracting insights — all with the goal of creating a production roadmap for the product and ensuring that expectations and requirements are met when the launch time arrives.

Delivery track

In Dual-track Agile, Delivery revolves around taking all of the insights gathered in the Discovery track and delivering a functioning product or functionality to the users as quickly as possible — the objective is to gather user feedback, fix potential issues and tweak the product to further increase its value and appeal.

In this track, Designers, Developers, Business Strategists and Users all collaborate together in order to shape and fine-tune the final product.

What makes Dual-track Agile a good approach?

Dual-track Agile is a great approach for long-term product development because it maximizes the value that designers, developers and business strategists bring to the product. Instead of using them only to code, design or create strategies, by implementing Dual-track Agile onto the project, you enable the entire team to get involved in both the discovery aspect and the delivery aspect of product development — but in a way that is more structured and which minimizes the chance of overloading one person with a multitude of project roles, thus potentially reducing the quality of their output.

The key to making Dual-track Agile work is to set it up as one process and one team working across two tracks, instead of two processes, two teams and two tracks that aren’t connected.

When implemented correctly and on a project where it makes sense, Dual-track Agile will speed up the development and release cycles, but it will also lead to the optimization of the amount of resources that are used on different parts of the process, and result in a product development roadmap that is streamlined, tested and that can be easily adapted to market changes.

Benefits of Dual-track Agile

When Dual-track Agile methodology is followed on a project, it enables us to:

  1. Gather and validate insights more quickly
  2. Change the future focus of the project much more easily
  3. Make less assumptions and gain more safety when it comes to delivery
  4. Create precise delivery plans
  5. Ensure that the product will be scalable
  6. Ensure the higher quality of the final product

Gather and validate insights more quickly

Instead of having just one discovery phase at the beginning of the project, Dual-track Agile’s continuous Discovery leads to a lot of research that results in the ability to test more hypotheses and gather better insights faster.

Change the future focus of the project much more easily

Discovery track is always a couple of steps ahead of the Delivery track, so if we discover that the needs of the users or the market have changed, Discovery track can scratch all of its plans and start over without affecting Delivery — this streamlines production, minimizes idling and optimizes resource management.

Make less assumptions and gain more safety when it comes to delivery

Validations and insights from the Discovery track serve as a guide for the Delivery track — instead of blindly developing new features that users might or might not need or want, we can be sure that every element validated in the Discovery track is actually needed and will bring value to the users.

Create precise delivery plans

When it comes to delivery, we can create detailed timelines because we know in advance which features and elements need to be developed — together with their complexity and the estimated amount of resources that’ll need to be invested.

Ensure that the product will be scalable

As the output of the Discovery track is a continuously growing product development roadmap with a backlog of features to be implemented, we can make sure that the product we’re working on can follow the needs of the users by adding new and upgrading existing features.

Ensure the higher quality of the final product

Because every aspect of the product is validated in the discovery track and further tested on users, no unnecessary or unwanted features or elements need to be developed and added to the product. This results in a better user experience and streamlines the way the product is designed and developed.

Weaknesses of Dual-track Agile

When it comes to the process itself, we haven’t really found any clear or obvious weaknesses. But you have to understand that Dual-track Agile, just like any other project management methodology, has its limitations and there are certain scenarios where using it is not the optimal approach.

For example… there is no point in using Dual-track Agile on smaller projects where the entire specification is defined upfront and where the team consists of only a handful of specialists. If we were to use Dual-track Agile on this kind of a project, the only thing we would get are problems as that handful of people would need to balance multiple project roles and constantly switch from the discovery track to the delivery track.

Dual-track Agile is primarily made for long-term product development where the project team is much larger and where the goal is to continuously test, iterate and improve the product we’re working on — that’s the type of project where having the discovery and the delivery track brings the most value. That’s the type of project where you need continuous discovery and delivery, where project roles can be clearly spread among team members, and where that setup will actually ensure that the entire project is constantly moving forward.

The whole point is to use Dual-track Agile on projects where it makes sense, instead of slapping it on any project you work on regardless of its scope.

Stay tuned for more

This was the first in our series of articles about our experiences with Dual-track Agile.
In the following blogs, we’ll talk about:

  1. Project organization and specific roles within the Dual-track approach
  2. Why Bornfight implemented Dual-track Agile and how we set it up
  3. The main advantages of Dual-track Agile for agencies and clients