I often feel in the agile world we have a tendency to work solution-first — even whilst we coach others to do the opposite. This solution-first approach is driven as much by businesses as it is by us as individuals. Businesses will often hire agile coaches/scum masters to “do” rather than to “achieve”. We get hired to coach, to introduce particular methodologies etc. This isn’t inherently bad, but having worked closely with some excellent product managers over many years, I’ve realised that applying a product thinking approach to the agile coaching space can deliver better value for our customers and users — i.e. the businesses that pay us and the people within those businesses that we help.
Thinking Like a PM
When I’m approached to work with a business, I like to steer the conversation away from what I will do to what I need to achieve. What are the desired outcomes? If my engagement is successful, what would that look like? What would change? This conversation helps me to understand the outcomes and success measures the business actually wants — and remains agnostic of particular solutions.
Once I have an understanding of the desired outcomes, I explore the “problem space” in more detail. I call this activity discovery, and it serves exactly the same purpose as product discovery. During discovery I want to understand how things currently work, what works and what doesn’t. What are the pain points, what are the needs?
In order to find out, I talk to my customers — in this case the people within the business. The people I actually speak to depend on the desired outcome, but I’m always seeking to get a wide range of perspectives so I have a really good understanding of the problem space.
As well as helping me to define problems, I build empathy during these conversations. And there is yet another benefit of this discovery when it comes to introducing change:
- Firstly people are more open to change when they feel they’ve been consulted
- Secondly, it helps to sell change because I can reference a particular problem or pain point and describe how the change I’m recommending will help.
Defining the problem space is an exercise in gathering information, but the magic really begins to happen when you identify insights. I identify insights by root causing. By asking “why” I can start to uncover the underlying problems that sit beneath the symptoms that have been described to me.
These insights are really the secret sauce of discovery. It’s these insights that enable me to develop a strategy and specific tactics that will result in successful change.
The next step is of course to deliver on that strategy and execute the tactics. change. Once again I follow the PM playbook by prioritising and then using a test and learn approach. I start small, gather feedback and iterate.
I have found this approach has immeasurably improved my ability to deliver results. It also helps manage expectations — in discovery I invariably uncover systemic issues, and while I can consult and support on tackling these problems, it is not normally appropriate for me to lead on those changes. This helps me manage expectations and secure buy-in for wider change.
Coaching, methodologies and practices all have their uses. However, I find it helpful to think of them as a toolkit which I can leverage once I understand the problems I need to solve and the outcomes I need to achieve. I can then delve into my toolkit to tailor really targeted solutions that can deliver lasting improvements quickly.
Could I help your business identify opportunities to improve? I’m a Business Agility Coach & Consultant helping companies adopt lean and agile working to increase impact, speed and engagement.
Find out more at betterfasterhappier.com