Moving Beyond Agile Research

At IIEX in Atlanta yesterday, Thor Ernstsson, CEO of Alpha, shared his vision for the evolution of insights and its impact on how business is done in general and product management in particular.

Classic Modern Advanced
Waterfall workflows Agile workflows On-demand workflows
Upfront research Congruent research On-demand research
Gated decision making High-velocity decision making Democratized decision-making
Irreversible decisions Reversible decisions AI-supported decisions
Consensus required Disagree and commit Transparency and accountability

Too many organizations build products today the way they were built at industrial scale, with extensive work done in advance of any decisions and before taking any action (waterfall workflows). Some have adapted agile software development beyond IT, to conduct research congruently to execution to enable rapid decision making. This is the world of two-week sprints, time-boxing, developing prototypes or products and exposing them to user or customer feedback, then executing again iteratively. While agile research is still in the future for many organizations, Thor sees the pace accelerating.

His firm is pioneering the deployment of automated tools to enable on-demand, next-day research to help people throughout an organization to make decisions, perhaps with the assistance of AI.

Thor believes that on-demand insights will transform product management. His five predictions for product management in 2028:

  1. Manual efforts needed today will be seen as archaic.
  2. There will be products for the “nichest” of markets.
  3. Product decisions will be decentralized.
  4. Virtual reality will make everything testable, enabling on-demand workflows for physical product development.
  5. Today’s competitive advantages will be table stakes.

“There will be a hammer for every nail” – you’ll be able to solve a problem for a market that today can’t bear it with the heavy workflow of legacy approaches. The revolution is not just one of insights but of how organizations expect to use insights. “You have to change the organization’s mindset, beginning with key stakeholders”:

  • Move from a bias to plan to a bias to act, doing something and learning from it. Get over the mindset that if you don’t have all the data jumping into it and doing something seems risky; if your competition is testing something, they are learning faster than you are.
  • Move from being comfortable with predictability to comfortably unpredictable, accustomed to working in scenarios where you don’t have all the data and are making decisions on incomplete, imperfect information.
  • Most important, move from upfront research to iterative experimentation. “Each subsequent test is informed by what you’ve learnt so far, doing something and moving forward and being a partner to those teams, because they need to make a decision today.”
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