The Core Concepts series addresses common questions and concerns within the world of continuous product discovery. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at common questions about the product trio. Did you miss the previous posts in this series? You can find them all here.
Today’s post is about getting your engineers more involved in your product trio. You can watch the video or read a lightly edited transcript below.
What do we do if engineers don’t want to be part of discovery?
Can product and design drive discovery on their own?
Does an engineer really need to be a part of our product trio?
What should you do if an engineer doesn’t want to be a part of your product trio?
I get this question a lot. I get it. I know many engineers who would rather stab themselves in the eyeball than conduct a customer interview.
So what do we do when we face resistance? I’m going to give you three tips for how to encourage your engineers to participate in discovery.
Create a Culture that Connects Decision-Making to Discovery
While I’ve met many engineers who don’t want to do discovery, I’ve rarely met an engineer who didn’t have an opinion about what the team should be building.
While I’ve met many engineers who don’t want to do discovery, I’ve rarely met an engineer who didn’t have an opinion about what the team should be building. – Tweet This
Sprint planning meetings take far longer than they should because everyone has an opinion on each and every user story. This is a good thing. We want our engineers engaged with what they are building.
Our meetings go off the rails, however, not because our engineers have opinions about what to build, but because they have uninformed opinions about what to build. Many engineers have never had contact with a customer. So instead of forming an opinion about what’s best for the customer, they form an opinion based on their own experience. By the way, this isn’t unique to engineers. We all do it.
The problem is we are not our customers. We should be making discovery decisions from our customers’ point of view, not our own. The only way to do this is to stay close to the customer, to infuse our process with continuous feedback, and to design with our customers.
When we create a culture where we frame our discovery decisions from our customer’s perspective, we connect the dots between participating in discovery and having an opinion about what we are building.
So the next time an engineer expresses a dissenting opinion about the value of a user story, invite them to participate in discovery. Make this a requirement for having an opinion about what to build.
However, this is not enough.
Reduce the Fear of the Unknown
Many engineers resist participating in discovery because of the universal fear of the unknown. Engineers don’t want to do discovery because they don’t know what it entails.
You can help build momentum and enthusiasm for discovery by starting small and iterating. Just like we need to create a pleasant onboarding experience for our customers, we also need to onboard our engineers to discovery.
So don’t invite them to conduct an interview as a first step. Instead, ask them to watch a video of an interview you’ve already conducted and ask them to share their thoughts. Help them convert those thoughts into opportunities.
After that, invite them to observe your next interview live. From there, you might ask them to take notes. After that, you might ask them to suggest a question or two. Then you might role play some mock interviews where they conduct the interview.
Again, this isn’t unique to engineers. Most of us need time, space, and practice to get comfortable with a new skill.
(Do you want to practice customer interviewing? Join one of our upcoming Continuous Interviewing courses.)
As you gradually remove unknowns, you’ll see much of the resistance to discovery fade away.
Rebuilding Trust Takes Times
Sometimes we can remove the unknowns and we still face resistance. With engineers in particular, this isn’t surprising.
We’ve spent the past 30+ years asking engineers to be order takers. We’ve often shut down their ideas before they can even fully explain them. We so easily fall back to asking them to just deliver what we asked for.
As a result, they simply don’t believe us when we say we want them to be a part of our discovery decisions.
It will take time to rebuild this trust.
Again, start small. Look for opportunities to reinforce the value of your engineers participating in discovery.
Don’t shoot down misfit ideas right away. If they suggest an idea that seems irrelevant, start with curiosity. Why do they like that idea? Explore their perspective before you share your own. Odds are, you’ll be surprised by what you learn.
Look for easy wins. What suggestions can you act on right away? For ideas that are less relevant or harder to implement, help to reshape the ideas. Share more of the context you are working with to help them generate better ideas.
Reinforce that their perspective matters. Highlight when they hear something in an interview that you missed. Don’t just ask them to supply data when making prioritization decisions. Ask them how they would make the decision. Celebrate innovative ideas, even if they aren’t the best idea for right now.
Here’s the reality: We’ve trained engineers to want nothing to do with discovery. It’s our job to undo that training. – Tweet This
Here’s the reality: We’ve trained engineers to want nothing to do with discovery. It’s our job to undo that training. Start by connecting the dots between your discovery activities and the decisions you are making, reduce the fear of the unknown, and work to rebuild trust over time. You’ll be surprised by just how motivated and excited your engineers will be to join your discovery efforts.