About seven years ago, I started a deep dive into all things product. I found myself coaching teams that could consistently produce, but not consistently produce the right product. I shifted DevJam coaching to be a blend of product discovery and product delivery. The shift included more time spent learning about all things product from brilliant design thinkers like Alan Cooper, as well as any and all product producers, UX designers and product managers who are passionate about learning more about who they are building for and what these people really need.

In recent years, DevJam has been providing more discovery coaching, often times working with organizations that have adopted the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®). The engagements start in a similar fashion: teams and collections of teams (in trains) are doing better moving forward with cross team delivery, but struggling with cross team discovery. For many of these companies, we are helping them to introduce a product discovery cadence to augment the flow in delivery.

Product Discovery and Continuous Discovery

The idea of a discovery cadence is not new at DevJam, but we have adopted it a bit for use within the SAFe framework. To simply introduce the idea of a discovery cadence, let’s examine the simple (and sub-SAFe model) of one team and one product. As an example, many Scrum teams work hard at getting work done sooner. These teams tend to adopt the mantra of start by finishing, working to complete fewer things faster, and then adopt the practice called “backlog grooming” so they are more ready for planning. From that point, adding a bit more intent and a few more practices is all that is needed to produce a cadence of discovery.

An intentional discovery cadence is the starter to what we called continuous discovery or continuous product learning. It tends to take place upstream from delivery but not in a waterfall fashion. For teams that are new to product discovery, working one iteration ahead of delivery is a nice starting place and trying to stay two iterations ahead with readiness is the next step. For some teams, discovery and delivery are happening within iterations, with discovery feeding delivery and delivery validating and informing discovery thinking around product, services, and customers, or consumers.

One Team, Two Cadences

Getting started can be as simple as a few people from a team, gathering for a handful of sessions where they talk about readiness for the next iteration. To avoid the common pitfall of creating a discover teams and a delivery team, we introduce the ideas of one team, two cadences at the team level, and one community, two cadences at the cross team, program level. For those in the discovery cadence, we start introducing ideas and practices that help them “learn outside the code.”  The following are examples of common discovery practices that augment product exploration and diminish the injection of needless complexity in the delivery space, the code, and the delay environments:

  • Customer development with pragmatic personas and user interviews
  • Product exploration with story mapping, examples, and customer journeys
  • Early learning with A/B testing, prototypes, and other interactive experiments

Cross Cutting Discovery

For more complex, cross team eco-systems, as is the case with many SAFe implementations, we have introduced a cross cutting discovery cadence composed of technical and product people from teams and trains. Starting in a lightweight manner, we introduce short collaborative, cross cutting discovery sessions to help with readiness for work injected within and across teams, as well as within and across trains.

By ensuring that we keep the meeting overhead low, and the collaborative value high, we coach people toward discovery that cuts across teams, leaving the inter-team solutions to the teams. For many clients using SAFe, introducing a cross-team discovery cadence and a collection of tools and practices that help them learn outside the code has improved readiness for planning and decreased the amount of technology needed to produce the same amount of product learning and real value produced.

More information about product discovery and scaling product learning can be found at devjam.com

Scaled Agile Framework and SAFe are registered trademarks of Scaled Agile, Inc.

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