“How do we know if we are building the right things?”
“We are building feature after feature but to what end?”
“How do we know what customers really want or need?”
Have you heard these sentiments before? I am hearing them more and more.
Underlying each quote is a yearning to do more discovery work.
Marty Cagan makes a great distinction between discovery and delivery.
Discovery is the work that product managers do to figure out what to build.
Delivery is the work that product managers do to deliver a product.
Some teams split these roles into product mangers who focus on discovery and product owners who focus on delivery. I like that model. But not everyone has that luxury.
Delivery Eats Time for Discovery
When the same person is responsible for both discovery and delivery, discovery is often left undone. – Tweet This
Many companies view product development from the perspective of throughput in a factory. A product manger’s primary job is to keep engineers busy.
The problem with this model is that product managers tend to spend the majority of their time working with their engineering teams on getting product out the door.
They spend their days grooming backlogs, prioritizing bugs, answering questions, and simplifying requirements in response to schedule slips.
These are all important tasks, but when they fill your day, it means that you aren’t spending time talking with customers, understanding needs, observing challenges, and uncovering pain points.
It means that you don’t have the context to know whether or not you are making good product decisions.
It leaves you and your team left asking the questions we opened with.
Don’t Start By Adding Discovery
It can be easy to recommend to teams mired in delivery to start doing discovery. But this doesn’t work.
You already know that you should be doing more discovery. The challenge is figuring out how to add it to your busy day.
You need a systematic approach to discovery that is sustainable. – Tweet This
A usability study here and there is better than nothing, but it’s not a discovery strategy.
Neither is talking to customers here and there.
Nor is combing through your feedback emails or your GetSatisfaction / UserVoice feeds.
A systematic, sustainable discovery strategy requires time.
Fix Delivery Challenges to Free Up Time for Discovery
That time has to come from somewhere.
Companies have two choices. They can either put the halt on delivery to free up time for discovery or they can relieve their product managers of the burden of delivery.
While I know more than a few companies who are getting very little out of their delivery efforts – either they are building the wrong things or their throughput is very slow – I know of none who are willing to halt delivery all together to free up time for discovery.
So this leaves us with our second option.
If you want to free up time for discovery, you have to lessen the burden of delivery on your product managers. – Tweet This
Now I’m not suggesting that product managers shouldn’t play a role in delivery. They absolutely should.
However, product managers should not be the only ones responsible for delivery outcomes.
Product development teams need to share the responsibility for delivery.
This means everyone from your tech leads to your designers to your data analysts need to feel responsible for shipping product.
This may sound obvious, but it rarely happens in practice.
Product managers interact with the rest of the business. They shield the rest of the team from the consequences of missed schedules.
This can be a good thing. But when taken too far, it means that the rest of the team doesn’t share in the responsibility. Over the next few weeks we’ll explore how to find the right balance.
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