While I’ve driven all of my adult life in the US, I’ve not had a UK driver’s license for the five or so years I’ve lived here. This year I decided to change all that and enrolled on an intensive driving course so I could knock it out in two weeks. Sadly after a couple of lessons, it was clear that something wasn’t clicking. I was making a lot of failing-level mistakes. (You may wonder what this has to do with product, but bear with me.)
After a few lessons, my (wonderful) instructor pulled me over and said: “I’m going to show you how you’re driving.” He then parodied how I was cartoonishly going through the motions of checking mirrors. He showed me that I was too concerned with passing the test, and not with driving safely. I was concerned with the OUTPUT of checking mirrors, rather than the OUTCOME of not injuring anyone with my vehicle. This clicked strongly with me, and from that point forward I made safety my first priority, rather than passing the test. (I passed, by the way.)
Fast forward a few weeks to Mind the Product Singapore’s conference, and Jeff Gothelf’s brilliant keynote speech titled Lean, Agile, & Design Thinking: Principles over Process. Jeff simply and eloquently breaks down how these frameworks have become a crutch for organizations that want to look innovative, but are too scared to lean into true continuous inquiry and actually allow data and evidence into their decision-making processes. Like me with my fake mirror checks when I couldn’t have told you the color the car behind me, many product managers “perform” agile. They do stand-ups, retrospectives, and look at analytics data, but still can’t articulate their customers’ primary challenge, or describe how customer value aligns with business goals.
Simple Values of Agile and Lean
Agile and Lean were first created as a suite of very simple, very vague values that stated teams should always question the facts at hand and check whether their processes are working. The pageants of stand-up, the elaborate Kanban boards, and the lovingly crafted Post-It note walls don’t matter if no one listens to what people at stand-up are saying, or if the Kanban board doesn’t reflect reality, and your team is still only focused on cranking out features as fast as possible, regardless of whether or not you’re confident in solving customer problems.
Don’t check mirrors and miss the fact that a bike is riding next to your car, (I didn’t do that, I swear.) Ask yourself what you need to know about your customers and your team, and what you need to do to collect that info, then learn as much as you can to lower risk. That’s what Agile and Lean actually mean to teams.
Mind the Product Training has just developed a new module, only available to our corporate clients, that spells out how teams can effectively “be agile” rather than “perform agile”. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an assessment call to learn more.
(I’m also happy to refer my driving instructor if anyone needs a good one.)