Jeff Gothelf co-authored Sense and Respond: How Successful Organizations Listen to Customers and Create New Products Continuously with Josh Seiden (Harvard Business Review Press: 2017). This article originally appeared on Jeff’s blog.
There’s an unforgettable scene in my favorite movie, Goodfellas, where Joe Pesci, Robert DeNiro and Ray Liotta pay a late night visit to Pesci’s mom. Despite their best efforts to leave quickly she invites them to eat something.
During the late-night meal, they discuss a painting in her kitchen. The painting is of a man with two dogs.
After passing the painting around, Pesci utters one of the most memorable lines of the movie as he remarks about the painting: “One dog’s going one way. One dog’s going the other way. And this guy’s saying, ‘Hey, what do you want from me?’”
I recently had a similar – albeit less Goodfellas – experience with a client of mine. In a conversation prepping for an upcoming workshop, they said to me: “Our tech teams are learning Agile, our product teams are learning Lean and our design teams are learning Design Thinking. Which one is right?”
The question of which one is ‘right’ came about because the seemingly competing trainings put the various disciplines on different cadences, with different practices targeting different objectives. The collaboration, shared understanding and increased productivity they were all promised was nowhere to be found.
This is not the first company where I’ve come across this challenge and it’s not surprising. The productisation of Agile adoption along with increased interest in Lean Startup in the enterprise and design thinking has led various coaches and trainers to focus narrowly on one of these ideas and then market their services to the audience they believed was most likely to buy. Well-meaning managers trained their teams within their discipline and never thought to look beyond because their new coaches never suggested it.
The net result? Confusion at best. Chaos at worst. Teams that were supposed to start building trust through cross-functional collaboration were now at odds about how to start, who does what and what their ultimate goal was. Tech teams were focused on increasing velocity. Product teams focused on reducing waste. Design teams wanted lengthy, up-front research and design phases to help discover what the teams should work on. Very quickly they found themselves pulling away from each other, as opposed to collaborating more effectively.
Their managers were left like the Goodfellas painting — one team going one way, one team going another way, and the manager in the middle saying, “Hey, what do you want from me? (I trained them in modern methods).”
There are valuable components of each of the various processes teams are trying out these days. As an organisation, seeking to leverage the benefits of continuous improvement and a software-based service offering your job is to pick and choose the elements that work well for your teams and the brand values you’re trying to convey. In my practice I’ve found that a few core practices are a good place to start. I recommend:
- Working in short cycles — take small steps, try something new and see how it works. If it fails, you’ve invested very little. If it succeeds, keep doing it and improving on it.
- Hold regular retrospectives — at the end of each cycle, review what went well, what didn’t go well and vow to improve one or two key things.
- Put the customer at the centre of everything — if you’re struggling to get alignment as a team, focus on customer value. How do we know we’re shipping something users care about? How do we find out? How does that affect what we prioritise? These are good questions to ask on a regular basis.
- Go and see — regularly walk around, talk to your teams, ask them what’s working and where they’re struggling. Bring those learnings back to your management meetings and share with your colleagues. Patterns that yield good outcomes should be amplified. Those that are causing problems should be remedied.
At the end of the day, your customers don’t care whether you’re Agile, Lean or practice design thinking. They care about great products and services that solve meaningful problems for them in effective ways. The more you can focus your teams on these, things the better their process will be.
Like what you read? Come along and hear Jeff speaks at AgileAus18 this June in Melbourne. He will also run a workshop, Lean UX in the enterprise in Melbourne and Sydney. More info: agileaustralia.com.au