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Julie Springer

Julie Springer

Business Agility Strategist at EmpoweredAgility.com

Busting myths with rapid solution discovery

Agile Transformation Can Be Hard

If you have been involved in an Agile Transformation (and you probably have), you know that culture change is hard.  Really hard!  Introducing new ideas, principles and practices; like Solution Discovery and Lean Product Management, takes a lot of effort and focus.  For those efforts to pay off, the changes need to stick.  We need to change the culture.  Introducing disruptive practices can make a big impact on breaking through long-held beliefs.

One of our recent clients was working through a transformation effort to lean out their product development practices.  The transformation team looked to Lean Start-up practices for ways to significantly increase customer input into solution design while reducing the time to market.  That search led us to try out a new process that was not only effective, it helped us bust some very big myths.

We introduced the concept of a discovery sprint to define and validate key parts of the solution.  To set a framework for our discovery sprint, we followed the process outlined in the book “Sprint, How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just 5 Days” by Jake Knapp.  The book was an excellent resource; it was a true enablement book giving us everything we needed accomplish our task in one work week.

The Design Sprint is a five-day process for solving problems and testing new ideas.

The powerful idea behind Jake’s 5-day process is that you identify your key customer and the key points in the customer’s journey on Monday, explore and sketch out solutions on Tuesday, evaluate and select the best solution on Wednesday, build a prototype on Thursday and then test the prototype with customers on Friday.  We put together our team, scheduled out the week and went through each day’s exercises.  To everyone’s delight (and amazement), we tested a prototype with customers on Friday and learned a lot.

Putting this practice in place challenged three deeply help cultural beliefs in the organization:

  1. Multi-tasking is required; that is the way we are most effective
  2. It takes a long time to get solutions designed
  3. It is hard and time consuming to involve the customer early so Product Managers can be relied on as the experts for what the customer wants

Multi-tasking Gets It Done

Everyone involved had to clear their calendars for the week.  No other work during the core hours.  No electronics in the room.  Total focus on the tasks at hand.  This myth almost prevented us from proceeding; to them this was a nearly impossible requirement to satisfy.   With some education, patient discussion and persistence, we got the buy-in to give it a try.  Everyone involved, along with their stakeholders, was amazed at the quality of what the team produced and how quickly it was all accomplished.  The team loved the experience and found the focused time invaluable.

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It Takes a Long Time to Design and Validate

The thought that we could get a solution design into a prototype and tested with real customers in one work week seemed fantastic.  Everyone was excited, but nervous that we could really get everything done.  Day by day, the team collaborated and completed the assignments.  The facilitators kept everyone on the path and the decider made sure that decisions were made quickly.  The process worked well and they interviewed 5 customers on Friday, right on schedule.  The team validated critical assumptions and answered several big questions.  Everyone was happily surprised that it was all done so quickly.

Product Manager Knows Best

The process kept the team focused on the customer while maintaining an attitude of experimentation.  The Product Manager and the team were certain they had winning solution for the customer’s challenge.  They were open to going through the exercises.  They were sure they would learn something, but were confident they were on a good track.  It turned out to be straight forward and easy to find several customers and set up the customer interview lab.  During the customer interviews, the team learned that they were not as on target as they thought.  The Product Manager and the team gained valuable insights from the interviews and realized that they needed to relook at their solution.  In just 5 days, they saved themselves from spending several sprints and thousands of dollars building a solution that didn’t provide the customer the value they hoped.  This was a very powerful experience and lesson that involving the customer early to validate solutions added important insights to the ideas and experience from the Product Manager.

Give it a Try

If your organization or client is working to transform the way they perform product management, introduce some Lean Start-up best practices.  They may just be the disruptive practices you need to bust some myths and deliver a rapid break-through.  We have found that integrating discovery sprints into our client’s product development value stream has helped them think differently and deliver winning solutions to their customers.  To give Jake Knapp’s Sprint process a try, get the book and visit their website https://www.thesprintbook.com.

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