Reading is one of my favorite ways to spend my time. I’ve designed my business to allow plenty of time for reading books, articles, interviews, etc.
As much as I love reading, I firmly believe that reading alone is rarely enough to help us change our behavior. Most of us need an extra push to go from ideas and inspiration to action.
As much as I love reading, I firmly believe that reading alone is rarely enough to help us change our behavior. Most of us need an extra push to go from ideas and inspiration to action. – Tweet This
I was very intentional about including the word “habits” in my book title, Continuous Discovery Habits, because I wanted to emphasize the fact that anyone can make small changes in their behavior to get better at discovery.
But I didn’t stop there.
I also created the Continuous Discovery Habits Community as a place where product people could gather (virtually), share their successes and frustrations, and hold each other accountable for putting the ideas from the book into practice. In learning and development circles, this type of community is known as a “Community of Practice.”
Product leadership coach Petra Wille became fascinated with the idea of Communities of Practice because in her experience, they were the differentiating factor between companies that had successful product orgs and those that didn’t. Like any good product person, she decided to conduct both qualitative and quantitative research to dig into this topic, including running a survey and holding in-depth interviews with community leaders and organizers (like me).
To celebrate the launch of Strong Product Communities, I’m publishing an excerpt here: Petra’s interview with me about the CDH community.
I hope this look behind the scenes will inspire you to come join us in the CDH community—and pick up a copy of Petra and Melissa’s book!
Please note: This interview was conducted in 2022. Some of the specifics of how the Continuous Discovery Habits community works have changed, but the broad strokes are still correct.
Overview of the Continuous Discovery Habits Community: What Is It and Who Participates?
Petra Wille: Teresa, what does the term “Community of Practice” mean to you?
Teresa: Creating a space for people to come together, share, learn, and talk about what’s working and what’s not working. It’s a group of people that want to learn around a shared topic. I think it can be that broad.
To me, a community of practice means creating a space for people to come together, share, learn, and talk about what’s working and what’s not working. – Tweet This
Petra: Why did you decide to start your Community of Practice?
Teresa: I had two reasons for starting a Community of Practice: One was scaling impact. If you can get people helping each other, you can help a lot more people than when one person helps people. I’ve started to embrace the fact that we really do learn in community. It’s really rare that someone can read something on their own and just put it into practice. We learn by discussing ideas with each other, by hearing about what other people are doing, and by seeing lots and lots of examples. I wanted to see if there was a way to create a space where people could do that for each other.
We learn by discussing ideas with each other, by hearing about what other people are doing, and by seeing lots and lots of examples. I wanted to create a space where people could do that for each other. – Tweet This
And two, I’m sort of done being the “expert.” That’s not the role I want to play. When I show up as an expert—whatever that means—people don’t interact with me like I’m a person anymore and I don’t really like that. So I want to move towards creating things that facilitate support rather than me giving support.
Petra: Can you give us an overview of the Continuous Discovery Habits (CDH) community: Who participates and where do you “gather”?
Teresa: Product managers, designers, software engineers, user researchers… feel free to add your favorite title. We primarily gather in Slack. We also do two community calls a month on Zoom.
Regular Meetings and Rituals in the CDH Community
Petra: What are the meetings, rituals, or anything you do on a regular basis?
Teresa: There’s a lot! We do monthly challenges, a book club, community calls, and a new member call. Let me explain each one in a little more detail.
The challenges are designed to help people invest in a discovery skill. Sometimes they’re really concrete, like I recorded a real discovery interview with a member, posted it, and asked people to identify opportunities. So sometimes it’s really tangible, concrete, let’s practice a skill together. And sometimes it’s more support oriented.
We’re still trying to figure out what works, what gets people to engage, and what’s helpful, so every month is a wild experiment, but there is a monthly cadence. We anoint a “challenge champion” every month for the most engaged member and they get a free month of membership if they win.
We used to do a quarterly book club, but we just switched to monthly to increase the likelihood that someone would participate at some point since the book club takes place on a rolling basis. The way that works is we read a book one month while discussing the one we read the previous month. Members basically have a month to read and the subsequent month to apply.
We’re not a typical book club—we don’t have a call and just sit around and discuss what we liked or didn’t like about the book. Instead we design weekly activities to help people apply what they read in the book to their own work. So it’s more of: Read this for inspiration and then we’re going to give you activities to do each week to help you apply them.
We do these twice a month. I host the calls, but it’s not a Q&A format. The first half of the call, we do small group discussions, so it’s an opportunity for people to connect with others in the community. I come up with a discussion prompt each month, which is often tied to the book club or the monthly challenge, and we put people into breakout rooms in Zoom and they discuss.
Halfway through the call, they come back into the big group and share some of the highlights from their small group discussions. Then we also solicit topics, challenges, tough situations at work that people just want to talk through. The way we do that is we use the chat channel as a backlog and everybody just puts in their topics. That’s really fun and we get really different people in the calls than those who are the most active in Slack.
New member calls
Every two weeks, I get on a call with everyone who joined in the last two weeks. The purpose of those calls is just to help people get to know a handful of people so when they’re in Slack they already know some of the other members.
Petra: Have you always used the same format or have things changed over time?
Teresa: I have tried LOTS of things that didn’t work. Probably one out of three of our monthly challenges works. We try a ton of things that get no engagement. But I don’t need people to be engaged. I feel like the product world has this sickness with engagement. You have a job to do—you don’t need to hang out in my community all day every day.
My goal is to create really small ways you can chip away at investing in your discovery habits. As you’re inspired and as you have time, you can jump in and participate in something. So maybe that means that we read 12 books a year—I will be shocked if anybody reads all 12. That’s not the intent. The intent is: Maybe one book really resonated with you and it happened to be at a time where you had time to read. Maybe you meet two people that make a difference to your discovery. Or maybe one challenge in a year happened to be really relevant to what you were working on in that moment in time.
My goal is to create really small ways you can chip away at investing in your discovery habits. As you’re inspired and as you have time, you can jump in and participate in something. – Tweet This
Promoting Interest and Participation Within the CDH Community
Petra: How do you promote interest and participation within the community?
Teresa: We created a new member journey and an onboarding process. I make it really clear in our new member calls that when you hear from our community manager, it’s not because she’s trying to convince you to do things. She’s just trying to make you aware of what things exist. We started with her sending a message like, “Hey, it looks like you haven’t come to a community call. You should come to the next one.” And I didn’t really like that—it felt a little too pushy. Am I doing something wrong? Do I not belong here? That’s my reaction to that. So we’ve reframed all the messages to be more like, “Hey, it looks like you haven’t joined one of our community calls. That’s perfectly fine. But I did want to let you know they exist and this is what happens on them.”
We really are trying to frame everything in the community as: Get out of the community what you want. But we are running this awareness campaign. For a lot of people, onboarding is all about engagement, but for us it’s all about awareness.
We basically outlined all the things we’d want a new member to do. They’re things like: introduce yourself, reply to somebody else’s post… Because we’re in Slack and we have no analytics from Slack, we do a bunch of emoji polls. My community manager also does a lot of analytics, making note of when somebody posts for the first time, when somebody reacts for the first time.
The thing we’ve noticed that has the highest impact by far is that people who come to new member calls stick around. People who don’t, don’t. I’m learning that this onboarding experience is really critical and that when people come to the new member call and they meet a few other people, they’re much more likely to stick around.
The other thing I’m recognizing is that Slack is a really good tool for some people and a really terrible tool for other people. So we do have churn because there are people who say, “Oh yeah, I just can’t get Slack to work for my daily life.”
Bringing in External Speakers and Resources
Petra: What’s your approach for bringing in external stimulus?
Teresa: I started by thinking, oh, I know all these product thought leaders. I’ll invite them. In fact, Petra, you were our first one. And people loved that. But here’s the thing: If I want to hear about Petra’s book, there are probably 100 places I can go, because Petra promoted her book. That’s not something that’s unique to the community.
So what I’ve started to focus on is for the community to be a place where I can highlight the work of the community members. So instead of inviting product thought leaders to come speak, I’m going to say, “Look, Chris is one of our community members. Look at the awesome work he’s doing.” And I think that’s actually truer to the community and in a lot of ways it’s more helpful.
I see a lot on Twitter about the fact that “the ideal way to do product management” doesn’t help anybody. There’s a lot of truth to that and a lot of not truth to that. But we’ll focus on the truth. What do people want? They want real-world examples. What does this actually look like in practice? Which is why we do the Product in Practice series on the Product Talk blog. This is what it looks like in practice. That’s the community. That’s what people are getting out of the community.
What do people want? They want real-world examples. What does this actually look like in practice? That’s the CDH community. That’s what people are getting out of the community. – Tweet This
I’ve had to learn that when people ask questions, they don’t always want me to answer. They want to hear the 20 other ways other people are doing it. So we don’t do a lot of external stuff that way anymore. We do share a Worthy Read every day and that’s to stimulate conversation and the same with the book club. I know people read or listen or watch a ton of stuff, but it’s edutainment. They’re not doing anything with it. Our goal with all our external stuff is: How do we get them to actually apply it?
A Few Final Thoughts on Running the CDH Community
Petra: What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of having an external CoP like yours as opposed to one that’s only for employees at one company?
Teresa: I think there’s two parts to this. It’s really important to see how other people work. Organizations develop their way of doing things and it can start to feel really rigid and you lose a lot of innovation, whereas when you get exposed to lots of different ways of doing things, you see that it could be possible in your organization. And more importantly, you see how important it is to find the right fit for your team. There’s not one way to do this, and when you get lots of examples you can see that way that I read about in the blog post isn’t going to work for me, but this other way is similar and can work for me. That’s really important.
And the other part—getting to that Twitter criticism of “everybody writes about the ideal way but nobody ever really works that way”—it’s actually really important for people to see the real messiness of this. And when you’re in a community with a lot of other companies and teams and industries, you get to see some of that mess. And it helps with this feeling of you’re doing it wrong.
When you’re in a community with a lot of other companies and teams and industries, you get to see some of the messiness of their work. And it helps with this feeling of you’re doing it wrong. – Tweet This
Petra: What has surprised you about your CoP?
Teresa: We’re making a pretty big shift right now. We’re co-creating community guidelines and it’s inspired a lot of good conversation about what value people get out of the community, what kind of place they want it to be, where they currently see gaps. And if you go to the sales page for my community, the number one value proposition is it’s a place where you can get questions answered. And that felt like what I wanted to create. It’s a little bit like coaching, having a sounding board, having somebody reflect back your thinking, getting help when you’re stuck.
What has surprised me is that some of our most valuable posts are people just sharing what they’re doing. They don’t have a question, they’re not stuck, they don’t need help. Maybe it’s a success story and they’re just sharing what worked, but sometimes it’s just, “Here’s what’s going on in my world.” And people love it. So now in our new member calls, I’m telling people it’s a place where you can get your questions answered, but it’s also a place where you can share what you’re doing. And you’ll be amazed with how people connect with that.
Petra: What are the things you would like to see your community do more of? Any plans on how to improve it in the coming year?
Teresa: I would like to see people share their daily work more often. That’s been a big insight for us, so we’re looking at how to encourage that more. It could be anything from weekly wins to pictures of a whiteboard.
Our book club last month was about Essentialism, which is all about finding your core work that you do best and spending most of your time there. So the activity we did for week one was to share a picture of their calendar and talk about what meeting they were going to stop going to, how they were going to free up space. And this week they’re going to identify two areas where they most shine. And then next week they’re going to answer how they are going to create space to do more of those things. That’s an example of how we get them to apply the book; not just read and discuss the book, but I also think we’re using it to help people show what they’re doing. Show a screenshot of your calendar—don’t just tell us which meeting you’re going to stop going to. Start to share more of your daily life.
Don’t stop at reading. Commit to taking action in a supportive space where you can share your work and stay accountable to your goals. Come join us in the CDH community!