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ITX Product Momentum Podcast – Episode 16: Developing Organizational Agility

Posted by Peter Sullivan on September 13, 2019 4 min read

Imagine a world in which we drop the labels that segregate us as Lean. As Agile. As waterfall. As design thinkers. Imagine a world where instead we build the kinds of organizations and cultures that encourage and reward learning and customer centricity, that incentivize teams to deeply understand their customers and to ensure that we're always delivering value on their behalf. Let that sink in.

In this episode, hosts Sean and Joe chat with Jeff Gothelf, author, coach, consultant, and a featured keynote speaker at ITX’s 2nd annual ITX UX 2019: Beyond the Pixels design conference. The world Jeff hopes for is not necessarily the one he predicts, but it is a world that allows us to freely pick and choose the components and methodologies that work best within our respective domains.

Promoting a Best Result

The coolest takeaway from listening to Jeff is that, even as the author of Lean UX and Lean vs. Agile vs. Design Thinking, he seems less concerned about defending a particular belief than about promoting a best result. As you listen to the podcast, it’s clear that Jeff is focused more on helping teams build healthy collaborations that deliver products and services that customers love, than about holding fast to a philosophy that may yield less-than-optimal results.

Modern Agile

Jeff leads with a discussion of Agile – more specifically, “modern Agile,” which he describes as a “cross-functional, collaborative, customer-centric, and evidence-driven” approach that he says was the original intent for Agile. He quickly and seamlessly transitions to Agile’s growth in popularity since its inception nearly 2 decades ago and the challenges that have arisen throughout its evolution.

Not surprisingly, as more teams within an organization have adopted (and continue to adopt) Agile as an underlying construct, scalability has surfaced as a key obstacle. With Agile teams popping up like daisies within their respective organizations, ensuring that these teams are not working at cross-purposes  becomes an obvious challenge.

When leaders communicate an outcome, they provide a measure of success that empowers teams to experiment. To take risk. To iterate. And to learn. In essence, you’ve empowered them to be agile. — Jeff Gothelf

As organizations embrace the very popular objectives and key results concept (OKRs, by the way, is a topic presented by 2019 Product Momentum: Beyond the Features conference guest speaker Christina Wodtke), they need to be mindful of the risk that one team's efforts may conflict with another's. As teams manage to their own desired outcomes, the organization needs to coordinate their efforts to ensure the progress of all teams.

Balanced, Autonomous Teams

Autonomy combined with a proactive communication loop mitigates these challenges, Jeff states. But it all begins with an understanding of how to assign work to teams, and how leaders structure their work. Jeff’s advice is simple: Frame the work as a challenge to be solved, not a solution to implement.

In his keynote address at last year's ITXUX2018: Beyond the Pixels design conference, Jared Spool explored ways to resist the temptation of choosing feature-based solutions over problem-based ones. Similarly, during his own 2019 Product Momentum: Beyond the Features workshop, Dan Olsen explained the critical distinction between working in the problem space versus the solution space.

Jeff explains it this way: “Customers and end users know exactly what they need to get done. They work in the problem space. Our job [as product builders] is to meet them there. Understand their specific challenges. Embrace the problem to be solved, the job to be done.”

Customers and end users know exactly what they need to get done. They work in the problem space. Our job [as product builders] is to meet them there. Understand their specific challenges. Embrace the problem to be solved, the job to be done. — Jeff Gothelf

Working in the problem space also allows balanced, autonomous teams to embrace an outcome as opposed to having a roadmap prescribed for them, Jeff adds. “When leaders communicate an outcome, they provide a measure of success that empowers teams to experiment. To take risk. To iterate. And to learn. In essence, you’ve empowered them to be agile."

Sense & Respond

One of the other (many) compelling points Jeff makes is that, even though it was conceived by 17 software engineers and may be guided within that frame of reference, Agile is an inclusive framework. Despite the fact that the majority of Agile’s implementations have launched from the IT department, Jeff says, “The reality is that today we can't deliver successful digital products and services without product management. Without design. Without copywriting. And without content strategy. We need those disciplines to build great customer experiences….”

The reality is that today we can't deliver successful digital products and services without product management. Without design. Without copywriting. And without content strategy. We need those disciplines to build great customer experiences….” — Jeff Gothelf

Is this where Agile finds its greatest value, in its "discipline inclusivity"? An acknowledgement of the need for a comprehensive, well-rounded approach to product development?

I don’t claim to know the answer. But one thing I learned from listening to Jeff is that, even team members who work in a part of an organization that doesn’t specifically work on product, their work is truly impactful. Their work effects positive organizational change in significant ways, mostly by influencing customer behavior.

“This realization of impact and of value-add increases the agility of the entire organization, employee by employee and department by department,” he says. “And it helps workers and teams in non-product disciplines to learn and adapt. They develop an improved sense of their impact and are equipped to respond by better supporting inter-related product disciplines.”

Sense and respond. The teams capable of this are the ones most comfortable in the problem space, delivering valued results on behalf of their customers.

Want More Jeff?

When you listen to our entire podcast conversation, you’ll get to hear Jeff’s answers to these and other questions:

  • What’s the biggest obstacle to overcome when speaking with clients about making additional investments in user research?
  • What does “less research done more often” mean, and how does it fit the continuous feedback loop that Agile requires?
  • What’s the “one metric” that matters? Is it the same for every organization?
  • What does Jeff think about Steve Jobs’ comment, “Customers don’t know what they want until we tell them.”? His response might surprise you!

Can’t get enough? We don’t blame you! Meet Jeff in person by registering for ITX UX 2019: Beyond the Pixels, October 3-5 in Rochester, NY.




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