On Discovery Of Product Discovery

What A Difference A Year Can Make!

About this time each year, I don my scrum master cap and visit the University of Sussex to deliver a lecture to under graduates and MSc students on Scrum. And each year I find myself having to modify my lecture to take into account the ever-changing state of the framework and the experiences I’ve picked up during my agile travels.

Some lecturers might find this constant evolution a pain in the ass (after all, rewriting a lecture isn’t exactly fun), but I think it’s testament to how awesome practices like Scrum are.

What A Difference Three Months Can Make!

Earlier this year I quit my relatively secure scrum master job in Brighton to go freelance. It was a daunting move with, typical of so many big decisions, the procrastination being more painful than the execution. I walked into a scrum coaching role expecting to use my well-practiced skills on a new scrum team. You know the stuff: mess with the rituals, add some vigour where it’s needed, help the team find their happy place. All great stuff and indeed the bread and butter of scrum mastery (yes, I know there’s way more to it than that, but I need to keep this post relatively short and most of you know this stuff already, right?).

If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done. – Bruce Lee

The team’s product owner is a really bright star, eager to take the product to another dimension. I recall having a chat with him over coffee about roadmaps. We were talking about Roman Pichler, goals, MVPs and all that well-documented awesomeness and I dropped into the conversation that I particularly loved Jeff Patton’s work on User Story Mapping and Gojko Adzic’s Impact Mapping techniques. I’d been aching to use these techniques more and now I had an opportunity to introduce them to a team that hadn’t dipped their collective toe into such waters. I eventually ran a User Story Mapping workshop with the product team. I ran five Impact Mapping sessions with “the business”. Both techniques were received positively.
But I found myself questioning the validity of it being me doing this work. “Is this a normal scrum master duty?” I asked myself. “Am I abandoning my teachings?” I postulated as I rubbed my stubbly chin.

Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death. – Albert Einstein



Fast forward to today. I’m now no longer my client’s scrum master. Instead, I’m their newly appointed product coach, helping the product management team adopt discovery and delivery techniques, otherwise known as dual-tracking. The work I’m doing now is upstream of the typical Scrum team. We’re focussed on creating experiments, challenging assumptions, hypothesis testing, rapid learning, and user development. Of course, all of these artifacts and rituals can be considered to be under the general agile and Lean umbrella, therefore my experience as a scrum master is still relevant and applicable. But am I a traditional scrum master? I don’t think I am any more. My eyes have been opened to the value of product discovery, and I’m hooked.
I wonder how many of you reading this have found yourselves on a similar path. Please share your experiences in your comments.

3 thoughts on “On Discovery Of Product Discovery

  1. Hey there.

    While I don’t have experience with this, I feel myself in need for techniques to build up fast and reliable ways to challenge assumptions, prove hypothesis, etc. to help product management and myself as a product owner base their product vision and strategy on.

    We have regular disagreements regarding the importance of stories between UX, product management, system architect and devs that I’d like to settle based on objective evidence from I users.

    Do you have any recommendations for me?


    1. Daniel,
      1. Don’t give up!
      2. I can’t recommend highly enough the work of Teresa Torres. She runs a blog called Product Talk. The following links may prove useful to you:

      Basically, read up on Torres’ work, as well as that of Jeff Patton and Marty Cagan (of Silicon Valley Product Group and Netscape & eBay fame).

      It’s hard to resist the urge to build. But teaching a team to resist, and instead discover WHY, is well worth the effort.

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