I love working as a discovery coach.
I work with dozens of teams at several companies spanning many industries. I coach each team—a product manager, a design lead, and a tech lead—for three months, working with them virtually week over week.
During that time, we focus on developing their research skills (e.g. conducting customer interviews, running sound product experiments, building rapid prototypes) and critical thinking skills to connect their research activities to their product decisions. The goal is to find the quickest path to driving measurable product outcomes.
It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy the work and the teams that I work with get a lot out of it.
Coaching, however, is a high-touch solution. While that’s great for learning outcomes, it means that it’s only available to the small percentage of companies who are willing to make this investment.
I got into coaching because I wanted to create a service that I wish I had had access to early in my career. But I never worked at a company that would have invested in coaching.
So while I love coaching (and will continue to do it), I’m starting to explore options for individual product team members who want to invest in their skills, but might not have the buy-in or support from the rest of their team or company.
I hear from product managers, designers, and engineers every day who want to invest in their own product discovery skills, but work at companies that aren’t working this way yet.
And until today, I didn’t have an answer for you.
The Value of Deliberate Practice
If you are like most of the product people that I meet, you are hungry to master your craft. You’ve read the books, you keep up on the latest blogs, and you attend the big conferences.
And, most importantly, you aren’t afraid to start doing something that you’ve never done before.
I love it when I meet a product manager who read about customer development interviews and just started doing them. Or a designer who learned about landing page tests and added them to their experiment toolbox.
We all know that the more you do an activity, the better you get.
But this is only true to a certain point.
Do you remember Anders Ericsson? He studied the differences between experts and novices and summarized what he learned in the book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.
Ericsson argues, when it comes to developing skill, doing the skill over and over again only helps to improve your skill until it becomes automatic.
After that, if you want to improve, you need to focus on deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice has the following key attributes:
- It involves breaking a skill into its component steps.
- It requires focus—your full attention.
- It requires feedback.
- It requires getting outside your comfort zone.
These elements are what allow your brain to slow down and improve the skill. They override the shift to automatic behavior and allow you to keep growing your skill.
The teams that I coach get this week over week. So as I started to think about how to help individual product team members who wanted to invest in their skills, I knew that deliberate practice needed to be a part of it.
Improving product discovery skills requires deliberate practice. – Tweet This
Your Job is a Marathon, Your Practice Needs to be a Sprint
If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m launching a new course.
I learned when I ran my Map the Challenge course last year that product people are busy.
Several of you expressed interest in that course, but were scared away by the time commitment of three to five hours per week for ten weeks. That’s like a college course.
It was too much. I get it.
So for my next iteration I’m cutting the time commitment way back. I’m designing my new courses to better fit into your busy schedule.
Now this is a challenge, because deliberate practice takes time. So here’s how it’s going to work.
- There will be up to 30 minutes of reading or video watching each week.
- Plus one hour of practice time with some of your classmates each week.
- And rather than ten weeks, the course will run for four weeks.
If you can spare 90 minutes each week for four weeks, this course is for you.
If you want more, there will be plenty of opportunities to go deeper. Each week will include tips for how to get more practice time beyond the required hour, if you want it. Each of the readings will refer you to additional readings, if you want them.
You can scale your time commitment up or down based on what’s going on at work that week.
The Keystone Habit that Drives Continuous Discovery
I’ve noticed an interesting pattern amongst the teams that I work with. There’s a habit that once teams develop it, the rest of their continuous discovery practices fall into place.
I can’t back this up with research yet, but I believe that there is a keystone habit that helps teams accelerate their discovery.
If you aren’t familiar with the concept of a keystone habit, it comes from Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.
Duhigg argues, “Keystone habits start a process, that over time, transforms everything.”
They are habits that, once adopted, drive the adoption of other habits.
Keystone habits, once adopted, drive the adoption of other habits. – Tweet This
For most people, exercise is a keystone habit. When we exercise regularly, we naturally tend to eat better, we have more energy, and so we are more productive at work.
For many, making your bed each morning is a keystone habit. It sets the tone of rigor and discipline from the start of your day. This is why many military leaders advocate for this habit.
To be clear, it’s not that exercise makes you eat better or making your bed makes you more disciplined, but doing the former makes the latter easier. The keystone habit builds motivation for the subsequent habits.
I’ve noticed this exact pattern emerge amongst many of the teams that I coach.
When a product team develops a weekly habit of customer interviews, they don’t just get the benefit of interviewing more often, they also start rapid prototyping and experimenting more often. They do a better job of connecting what they are learning from their research activities with the product decisions they are making.
I believe continuous interviewing is a keystone habit for continuous discovery.
Continuous interviewing is a keystone habit for continuous discovery. – Tweet This
Introducing a Short, Practice-Oriented, Continuous Interviewing Course
I’m offering a short, practice-oriented course on continuous interviewing.
The course is designed to help you build a continuous habit of interviewing, and more importantly, get some deliberate practice with the skill of interviewing so that you get more from each interview.
You’ll learn how to ask the right interview questions so that you get actionable insight from your prospects and customers.
You’ll learn how to improve your active listening skills and take better notes during the interviews.
You’ll learn how to synthesize what you are learning from each interview using interviews snapshots, making it easy for you to act on what you are learning.
You’ll learn how to automate the recruiting process, removing the biggest hurdle to continuous interviewing.
And, most importantly, you’ll get a minimum of 4 hours of deliberate practice (more if you want it) to hone your skill.
The reading and video watching (30 minutes max per week) can happen whenever you have time. The practice sessions will be with 3–5 of your classmates and can be scheduled whenever works best for your group. I’ll do my best to group students by time zone proximity.
This is one of the easiest ways to improve your interviewing skills and start building the keystone habit that will help you accelerate your discovery skills.
If you are interested, you can join the next cohort here.