empowered_agility_challenge_of_continuous_exploration
Ryan Fullmer

Ryan Fullmer

Business Agility Strategist at EmpoweredAgility.com

Putting Continuous Exploration In Action

The Challenge of Continuous Exploration

Product Managers have a passion and talent for delivering innovative solutions.  However, many struggle to keep pace with the demands of the market.  They struggle to move quickly.  They rely on processes that are lengthy and time consuming.  Product Managers are too bogged down for continuous exploration.  Due to this, organizations aren’t getting the full benefit of their passions and talents.

When the exploration process is not continuous, it tends to happen in bursts of activity.  Product Managers focus on exploration when it is driven by a project, a customer experience initiative, or a push to gain parity in the marketplace.  Once the Product Managers gain the customer insights they need, they shift efforts back to day-to-day product development.

When exploration is ad hoc instead of continuous:

  • Development efforts are wasted on solutions that don’t meet real needs
  • Market opportunities are missed
  • Customer feedback comes too late
  • Product teams fail to become skilled at exploration
  • Agile teams work on lower priority items while they wait for higher value work to be defined

Continuous Exploration at Scale

Maintaining a healthy continuous exploration process is challenging.  This is especially true for organizations adopting and scaling Agile.  Agile Teams are more productive and get through the product backlog at a faster rate.  As a result, Product Managers are stressed to keep enough high-value work in the program backlog.

In order to address this situation, Scaled Agile introduced the Continuous Exploration process in SAFe® 4.5.  The Continuous Exploration process embraces principles and practices that have come from Lean Startup and Lean Product Management.  These activities provide Product Managers with the means to quickly identify and define innovative work for the teams.

Create a Healthy Program Backlog using SAFe Continuous Exploration

ContinuousExplorationSAFe4-5-1
Source: https://www.scaledagileframework.com/continuous-delivery-pipeline

Collaborate Effectively

Continuous exploration and discovery cannot happen within the confines of the Product Management team.  Product Management must reach out and work closely with customers, business owners, product owners, architects, teams and stakeholders.  Through collaboration, Product Managers ensure they are building valuable solutions that solve real customer needs.  Product Managers need to understand and apply the fundamentals of effective collaboration and facilitation.  Continuous Exploration requires Product Managers to frequently initiate,  prepare and facilitate group sessions.  They need to actively listen, ask powerful questions and help people discover innovative ideas to solve customer problems.

Research and Experiment

Product Managers must do their homework to develop a program backlog with viable product solutions.  Research activities include:

  • Customer interviews
  • Customer surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Customer visits
  • Mining customer data for insights
  • Reviewing competitive analysis and market studies

As Product Managers gather information, they need to validate their assumptions and test their hypothesis through experimentation.  In order to keep the research and experimentation activities light-weight, focused and timely, Product Managers can employ practices from Lean Startup and Lean UX.

For example, we coach Product Management teams to use Customer Journey Maps, User Personas, Lean Canvas and 5 Day Sprints to better understand their customers, generate ideas, and gather feedback from customers through rapid experiments.

Synthesize and Communicate

Finally, Product Managers needs to pull everything together and make it meaningful.  They need to tell a compelling story about the solution.  Therefore, it isn’t just integrating the information.  Product Managers need to help their teams understand what they are trying to achieve.  Teams need to know who the solution is for, why it is valuable and how success will be measured.

Product Managers can create this clarity through deliverables like:

  • Program Vision
  • Product Roadmap
  • User Personas and Customer Journey Maps
  • Program Backlog
  • User Story Maps
  • Business Outcomes
  • Hypothesis Statements

Putting Continuous Exploration Into Action

Use Continuous Exploration to begin to realize the full talent of your Product managers.  Look at your current exploration process and identify areas where people get bogged down.  Identify ways to remove the impediments in the process.  Look to Lean Startup and Lean UX for new, lightweight practices.  Consider the demands of Product Management.  Product Management is too big a job for the Product Manager to accomplish alone.  If you haven’t already done so, form a cross-functional Product Management team.  Use this team to handle the collaboration, research and synthesize activities of continuous exploration.

If you are ready to learn more and begin experimenting with Continuous Exploration, contact Empowered Agility and let us help you on your agile transformation today!

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