Inspired Introspection

Product Development, Retrospectives.

Jul 03, 2019  ·  Tony O'Halloran

Product Development

When you picture a truly amazing team in your head, what does it look like?

Now consider your teammates. Do they have the same picture? Really - all of them? The things people have experienced and read massively shape what ‘great’ looks like for them. The differences can lead to frustrations or people pulling in different directions. Let’s join those dots...

Who’s this for?

I recently ran this exercise with a Product Team* who had vastly differing views of where they needed to be. Taking part in this workshop helped them form a shared picture of where they wanted to be, and visualise where they had some gaps. You could try using it as part of a retrospective, or even a focused longer format workshop.

Let's do it!

The format is simple; gather the team around a wall or board, with enough space for them all to see both the content and each other. Then, call out prompts for “Good” or “Bad” statements, and place them on the wall (I use extra large post-its).

Each participant should then silently rate their team on where they stand on a spectrum for each prompt by voting between 1 and 5 on a post-it. When everyone has voted individually, put your votes up on the wall at the same time (to discourage groupthink) and discuss!

Prompts? What prompts?

The material for this exercise comes from a blogpost by Marty Cagan called “Good Product Team, Bad Product Team”. It’s a great challenge to all product teams, a nudge to keep our focus on where we could be and not settle for ok.

An example of some of the more powerful prompts from the chapter are:

  • Good teams are skilled in the many techniques to rapidly try out product ideas to determine which ones are truly worth building. Bad teams hold meetings to generate prioritised roadmaps.
  • Good teams engage directly with end-users and customers every week, to better understand their customers, and to see the customer’s response to their latest ideas. Bad teams think they are the customer.
  • Good teams know that many of their favourite ideas won’t end up working for customers, and even the ones that could will need several iterations to get to the point where they provide the desired outcome. Bad teams just build what’s on the roadmap and are satisfied with meeting dates and ensuring quality.

For a full list of the prompts, read the article at SVPG. It's also a chapter in the book Inspired by Marty Cagan. The whole book is amazing, but this chapter alone makes the price of the book worth it.

Workshop wall

Avoid the terms “Good” and “Bad”

While discussing the content during the workshop I deliberately don’t refer to the title of the chapter, or the terms “Good” or “Bad”. Although they are powerful triggers for the reader when reading the book they won’t probably help to establish safety and set up the right environment for a workshop. I want participants to be able to challenge themselves and each other in a constructive way so the team is stronger and more focused after the workshop, not in tatters!

Make it actionable!

Timebox the discussion, each prompt should generate a lot of information. If possible, get someone to assist you in taking notes and adding them to the wall.

  • Is there a difference in opinions? Why?
  • Where are the opportunities for improvement?
  • How would we know if we were successful here? What would the effect be?
  • What support (if any) do we need to improve this?

To get to some tangible improvements, you could easily prioritise the prompts by dot voting, and discuss some improvements using lean coffee.

Other uses

I’ve also used this at an organisational level with representatives from leadership and teams to improve the environment being created for teams by asking - “what are our teams fluent at?”.

If you haven’t already, do yourself a favour and buy a copy of Inspired, and subscribe to SVPG’s newsletter.

* In this post I refer to a cross-functional group consisting of engineers, designers and business people who are building customer-facing features and products as a “Product Team”