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Lean, Agile, & Design Thinking by Jeff Gothelf "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs 21 May 2020 True Agile, Design Thinking, Lean, Premium Content, Product Management, Product Management Skills, Video, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 864 Product Management 3.456
· 4 minute read

Lean, Agile, & Design Thinking by Jeff Gothelf

Good product development practices are supposed to be built upon alignment and shared understanding, Jeff Gothelf, Author of Sense & Respond tells us at #mtpcon Singapore. But often, organisations end up looking a lot like that painting in the classic scene from the movie Goodfellas:

One dog’s going one way, the other dog’s going the other way, and this guy is saying ‘Hey, what do you want from me?’ Joe Pesci, Goodfellas

When you have one team learning Agile, another learning Lean, and yet another learning Design Thinking, how are you supposed to get to alignment? Everyone speaks a different language, works at a different pace, aims for different goals, and leadership is in the middle trying to understand how best to help.

There are so many frameworks and tools to choose from, so how do you make them work in the real world? Jeff takes us through the basics of the three main frameworks – Agile, Lean, and Design Thinking – and then gives us a set of principles that can help us effectively meld them together.

What is Agile Really About?

The concept of Agile came out of frustration at the way software was delivered. A group of engineers who were looking for a better way of working came together to create the Agile Manifesto. At its core, the Agile Manifesto is not about process – it doesn’t dictate how to work. It is a philosophy of working.

The Agile Manifesto philosophy is, “If you’re working on a team that changes priorities based on learning, then you’re being agile.”  As you discover new ways of doing something and change course, you’re “responding to change over following a plan”. But rather than understanding the philosophy, companies have used Agile, not for learning, but for the efficient delivery of high-quality code. The goal is creating more software, faster.

More code does not equal more value. So to recapture the spirit of agility, we look to Lean.

What is Lean?

Lean says we have to rethink how we deliver goods. Rather than pushing inventory – building a number of things, pushing to the market, and hoping people will buy it – Lean encourages a pull model – looking for signals from the market about what and how much should be built, and then only building that amount. In order to do this, Lean empowers the people closest to the work to make the most critical decisions.

Lean relies on two important principles:

  • You can’t predict the future, so you are always moving from doubt to certainty
  • To reduce the risk of moving too far the wrong path, we work in small batches, then pause and learn

When applied to tech, Lean looks at businesses as “Grand Experiments”, focusing on answering the question: “Should we build this?”. But people don’t want to buy experiments, they want to buy products. So we turn to Design Thinking.

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking takes the designer’s toolbox, and applies it to solving business problems. It focuses on empathizing with the people whose problems you are trying to solve, understanding the landscape, ideating solutions, prototyping, and testing to see if you are moving in the right direction. When done well, Design Thinking fits nicely into the Lean Startup “Build – Measure – Learn” loop. These can then flow into Agile.

10 Principles for Agile, Lean, and Design Thinking

In an ideal world, we should be able to take the outputs of Design Thinking and Lean, and mash them up with Agile processes. But in reality, the way all three of these frameworks are applied today leads to messed-up processes that don’t work for anyone. Fundamentally, we have to move away from “integrating processes”, and break Agile, Lean, and Design Thinking down into underlying principles that we can apply to the way we work. Jeff provides 10 principles that can help us change the way we work.

  1. Customer value and business value are the same thing – manage to outcomes.
  2. Work in short cycles – make evidence-based decisions, investing more in ideas as you learn.
  3. Hold regular retrospectives – practise continuous learning and continuous improvement.
  4. Go and see – watch what is happening in your team, and amplify those patterns, regardless of where they come from.
  5. Test your high-risk hypotheses – we can’t test everything, so focus on the high-risk and high-value hypotheses.
  6. Do less, more often – do the least amount of work you can, to learn the next most important thing.
  7. Work in balanced teams – build small, dedicated, self-sufficient teams that are empowered to make decisions based on short cycles.
  8. Radical transparency – transparency builds trust, and is key to building the shared understanding we need.
  9. Reviewing incentives and performance management – your digital transformation will fail if you don’t adjust what you pay people to do accordingly.
  10. Make learning a first-class citizen of your backlog – manage all of your work in one spot.

These 10 principles work with any methodology your team may choose to use. Focusing on these will let you bring all of the frameworks together, and work more effectively to build better products.

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