Most executives would agree that in the age of cloud-first, mobile-first development, organizations that are agile and innovative have the best chance of beating the competition. However, it is no longer about achieving first-mover advantage. Being first to market used to mean something, but no longer. The barriers to competitive entry have been compromised. The real advantage comes not from being first, but from being able to iterate quickly, learning from earlier versions through metrics and feedback, and using customer feedback to rapidly improve upon your service or product--and to develop a superior user experience so that customers never leave. Someone else might be first to market, but the company that can out-iterate the competition will ultimately win.

Look at the related changes happening within software development: Microsoft announces a strategic re-positioning of its internal systems and external delivery mechanisms based upon a cloud-first, mobile-first model, moving away from the multi-year release cycle. As part of this massive change, the company also dramatically improved the telemetry within its tools to better learn from customer usage patterns, as well as ramped up the feedback loops between customers and product teams to be able to better respond. The result is a company that can respond much more quickly to customer and industry movement.

Let's face it: When trying to meet (or exceed) customer expectations, it's often less about the fact that you were first to step forward (the initial design), and more about how quickly you are able to apply what you learn from that first step and iterate across steps two, three, four and beyond.

Iteration Is King

The idea of an evolving, iterative design and development strategy achieved through the use of self-organizing, cross-functional teams that take an idea from conception through delivery is nothing new. In fact, the idea of creating a minimally viable product (MVP)--piloting basic features quickly so that you can get some immediate feedback from partners and customers and then rapidly iterating that design-- has, arguably, entered into the mainstream of corporate canon. In fact, some of the roots of MVP and agile development point back to the beginning of the personal computer era.

A great example of early iterative methodology was the Joint Application Development (JAD) process. Early in my career, I was trained as a JAD facilitator. JAD was introduced back in the late 1970s as a method to accelerate the design of information technology systems and platforms by involving all key stakeholders, from end users to developers, and from customers to business decision-makers. The idea was to create an environment where small teams could discuss, design, and prototype new products and systems. With key decision-makers essentially "sequestered" in a room with a facilitator and one or two front-end developers, everyone would work together to identify a shared vision and goals, map out requirements and an initial design, and then develop a minimally viable product. The model does not work with every project or technology, but it works well when designing a new user interface (UI) or process model for more complex systems or solutions, where approvals are required from various teams and business units.

Of course, in the few years that I practiced the methodology, my experience was that the key to a successful JAD implementation was to come to an agreement on not just the UI, but also the end-to-end user experience (of which the UI might only be a small part).