Fitbit, a popular wearable fitness tracker brand, has embraced agile throughout its lifespan in order to bring fitness technology to consumers in order to improve their health with innovative and competitively-products (McNew, 2018). At the top of its market, Fitbit creates purpose-built hardware and advanced software to deliver technologies like GPS, heart rate monitoring, and sleep monitoring to consumers (McNew, 2018). Agile plays a key part in Fitbit’s growth and success.
Fitbit: Born on Agile
Fitbit, as an innovative hardware and software platform now owned by Google (Osterloh, 2021), has embraced agile methodologies throughout its history. Initially, Fitbit embraced the Scrum agile methodology. Fitbit, across the organization, had widespread understanding of agile and how to implement agile methodologies. As Fitbit evolved, its agile methodologies also evolved. As a result, Fitbit has been able to compete with and succeed against other fitness trackers and smart watches by brands such as Apple and Samsung (Lee, 2020).
Fitbit’s Scalability Issues with Scrum (2007-2015)
Scrum is an agile methodology that is used to innovate creatively and deliver value productively while solving complex problems. Fitbit experienced scalability problems with the Scrum methodology. They needed to find another agile methodology as a solution.
In Scrum, tasks are prioritized by a Product Owner into a list of tasks called a product backlog, which the Scrum Team pulls tasks from. The Scrum Master is the team’s facilitator, often analogous to a project manager, who organizes the Scrum Team and manages the Sprint, which is the iterative interval on which the Scrum Team works (What is Scrum?, n.d.) It is a lightweight framework for organizing and performing prioritized tasks according to agile methodologies.
Fitbit used Scrum successfully in its earlier stages to meet customer needs and holiday consumer demand (Null, n.d.). From 2007 to 2015, Fitbit used Scrum as it scaled. Fitbit found that its processes slowed and target dates like major holiday sales were harder to keep up with (How Companies Are Using The Agile Method To Innovate Faster, 2021). Damian Brown, the Senior Director of Program Management at Fitbit, said “With our growing team and global presence, we knew our Scrum efforts were not going to scale” (Fitbit – Benefits of Using SAFe in Consumer Technology, n.d.).
Fitbit’s Implementation of the Scaled Agile Framework (2015-2016)
Fitbit deployed the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) in 2015, beginning with 12 Scrum teams in an Agile Release Train (ART) interval from SAFe called the Program Increment (Fitbit – Benefits of Using SAFe in Consumer Technology, n.d.). A Program Increment in SAFe is like a Sprint in Scrum. SAFe is an enterprise-scale framework for implementing agile which enables coordination and collaboration across agile teams (Piikkila, n.d.). SAFe allowed Fitbit to implement agile practices while continuing to scale up and grow, supporting more consumers. In 2016, SAFe enabled development and release of four new products and 22 million devices.
Agile as Competitive Advantage for Fitbit
According to Brian Hsieh, Manager of Program Management at Fitbit, “Teams reported that they could see the whole picture across company-wide initiatives and understood where they could contribute” (Fitbit – Benefits of Using SAFe in Consumer Technology, n.d.). The first improvement achieved by implementing SAFe as their agile framework was increased visibility across their teams and projects.
By implementing SAFe, Fitbit was able to deliver on all of its objectives, from fast and flexible workflows to scalable teams and enabling cross-team collaboration. This enabled process evolution, long-term product roadmaps, short-term planning, and increased velocity. All of these together allowed Fitbit to respond more quickly to market changes and customer needs, bring products to market quickly, and align programs, security, compliance, and marketing SAFe enabled Fitbit to be agile and continue to grow while improving their performance (Eliav, n.d.). Teams at Fitbit, thanks to their agile transformation, teams were able to regularly hit their objectives (CASE STUDY: Fitbit, n.d.).
Fitbit’s software and hardware designs are part of their competitive advantage in the digital economy (Lawson, 2021). Agile allows Fitbit to innovate and deliver products quickly to market. Agile allows Fitbit to quickly and effectively develop code that drives their fitness tracker, which is Fitbit’s competitive advantage.
Competitive Advantage: Michael Porter’s Forces, Agile, and Fitbit
Michael Porter, famous Harvard professor and business theorist, developed a framework of Five Forces for industry analysts. Agile empowered Fitbit to continue to scale and combat Michael Porter’s force: Rivalry among existing competitors (Bourgois et al., 2019, p.150-151). Agile methodologies Scrum and SAFe propelled Fitbit to grab market share, acquire customers, and continue to release new products despite competition from Apple and Samsung (Lee, 2020).
Thanks to agile, Fitbit has been able to conquer Porter’s force of rivalry among existing competitors and gain competitive advantage. In fact, Fitbit had 70% of the wearable device market share and 85% of the market by dollar value in 2015. Their agility enabled them to create a brand synonymous with wearable fitness (McNew, 2018)
Impact of Agile to Fitbit’s Value Chain
. Michael Porter’s value chain describes how a company creates value through creation of a product or service, where each step of the chain is a piece of that value. Agile development, for Fitbit, improves all phases of the value chain, especially sales and marketing, infrastructure, and technology development (Bourgois et al., 2019, p.147-148). Product releases, driven by the business, were coordinated with marketing as development was underway for the new products and the infrastructure to support them (CASE STUDY: Fitbit, n.d.). Agile enabled marketing by delivering products to new consumers at key holidays (Fitbit – Benefits of Using SAFe in Consumer Technology, n.d.). Being an agile-focused company, Fitbit’s teams are all driven by agile throughout their value chain, but technological improvement and the effect on marketing are the largest impacts.
Despite Fitbit’s change in agile framework from Scrum to SAFe, they have been true to agile methodologies, valuing customer value and speed to market. Fitbit has used their competitive advantage to build a respected and powerful brand in the fitness tracker industry which offers new products and features to market very frequently. Agile is key to their success.
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