In my last article on Discovery Sprints I mentioned the concept of Discovery Coaches and several people asked me about that, so I thought I’d describe more about what this role is and when it’s helpful.

For many years, as teams move to Agile methods (they usually start with Scrum), many companies decide to contract with or hire an Agile Coach. These people are there to help the broader team – especially engineers, QA, product managers and product designers – to learn the methods and mindset involved in moving to Agile.

This sounds straightforward enough, but a while ago I wrote about the problems that arise because the vast majority of these Agile Coaches do not have experience with tech product companies, so their experience is limited to delivery, and they would more accurately be considered Agile Delivery Coaches.  They understand the engineering and release side of things, but not the discovery side of things.  This articles speaks to how to select an Agile Coach that understands the needs of modern product organizations.

So many product companies have experienced this issue that it created the need for coaches that do have deep experience with product companies and the key product roles, especially product management and user experience design, and these people are often called Discovery Coaches.

Discovery Coaches are typically former product managers or product designers (or former leaders of these areas) and they have usually worked for, or with, leading product companies.  So they are able to work side-by-side with actual product managers and designers, and not just recite Agile platitudes, but actually show the team how to work effectively.

Every Discovery Coach has their preferred way of engaging with a team, but usually they are with you for a week or so at a time, with one or a small number of product teams, and they help you through one or more discovery cycles of ideation, creating an MVP experiment (usually a form of prototype), validating that prototype with customers to gauge their reactions; engineers to evaluate feasibility; and stakeholders to assess whether this solution would work for your business.

It’s hard for me to imagine an effective Discovery Coach that didn’t have first-hand experience as a product manager or designer at a modern product company.  That’s likely one of the main reasons there’s a shortage of these Discovery Coaches.  It’s also important that the Discovery Coach understand how to include engineering in the mix, being sensitive to their time, but understanding the essential role they play in innovation.

Discovery Coaches are not unlike Lean Startup Coaches.  The main difference is that Lean Startup Coaches often focus on helping a team to discover not only their product, but also their business model, and their sales and marketing strategy.  Once the new business has some traction, the discovery is usually more about continuously improving an existing product in substantial ways rather than creating an all new business.  Because of this difference, many Lean Startup Coaches don’t actually have the necessary product experience.  Although my view is that product discovery is the most important competency of a new startup, so to me an effective Lean Startup Coaches must also be very strong at product (see www.svpg.com/the-biggest-risk).

I know several very strong Discovery Coaches and I’m happy to provide introductions.  Unfortunately, they are usually booked up, so I am continuously seeking out more of them.  If you have strong product and/or design experience from a strong product company using modern practices, and are helping product teams as a Discovery Coach, feel free to reach out to me to let me know who you are, where you’re based, and what types of companies you prefer to work with.

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