For many years now, agile has been enjoying its time in the sun as the en vogue method for product development.
For teams making the switch, whilst agile can bring lots of improvements, it can also cause a few headaches. As people face into the difficult reality of transparency of work, ownership, and responsibility, tough cultural and people challenges can arise.
The new methods and mindsets sometimes even lead to short-term pains and inefficiencies as people struggle to navigate the changes.
Over time, the role of an agile coach has developed to help with the implementation of the method. Coaches assist with smoothing out the bumps, identifying potential areas of trouble, and giving teams assurance that they are doing things the right way.
Agile coaches are one of the most sort after roles in the job market today, and rightfully so. They provide an invaluable service to help organise the complexities of delivering software.
So what’s the problem?
The majority of agile coaches come from product delivery backgrounds. Very few have the required experience to assist with product discovery.
It doesn’t matter how much you optimise your delivery processes if your customer assumptions are wrong. Your product will not be successful if you are not able to articulate who your customer is and what pains and gains you can solve for them.
Discovery vs. Delivery
With 42% of all new ventures failing due to building a product that nobody wanted, it’s essential that organisations start to place the same, if not more effort into improving the capabilities and process for product discovery.
Product discovery takes an idea, hunch or assumption, through a series of observations and experiments. Intending to learn about customer needs and attractive solution options, discovery enables sustainable business models.
The discovery process supports the team to answer the following questions:
Will the user or customer choose to use this, and for what price? (Desirability)
Can we build this? (Feasibility)
Is the solution viable for our business? (Viability)
In his best-selling book, ‘Inspired: How to create tech products people love’, Marty Cagan summarised the discovery phase:
“In product discovery, we’re essentially trying to quickly separate the good ideas from the bad as we work to try to solve the business problems assigned to us.”
Regardless of the idea. In the early stages of a product, there is no more important skill than the ability to understand the customer and craft a solution to address their needs.
Business model, technology choice, marketing strategy are all irrelevant decisions if the customer isn’t compelled to choose your product over competitors.
Time for Discovery Coaches?
Where an agile coach focuses on the process to optimise the what and the how, a Discovery coach focuses on the process for understanding the why.
Despite the importance of product discovery, currently, very few Discovery coaches exist.
These coaches work with teams to help develop & facilitate the process of customer research, ideation, experiment design, and solution validation with end-users.
Discovery coaches assist conversations with engineers to understand feasibility. They also help identify the right business model to work for your business and context.
The few coaches who do exist typically come from product management or design backgrounds. Their ability to wear three hats is likely one of the leading reasons that few discovery coaches exist.
Having the ability to talk product, tech, and business is a rare combination. As product & tech companies increase their focus on the customer it will become a necessity.
As Roger Martin surmised, business priorities have changed.
“Businesspeople don’t need to understand designers better. They need to be designers”