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  • November 2020 - Racing for the bronze: how to redefine goals for agile teams

November 2020 - Racing for the bronze: how to redefine goals for agile teams

Racing for the bronze: how to redefine goals for agile teams

Racing for the bronze: how to redefine goals for agile teams

I'm delighted to announce the launch of the Becoming Forever Employable 10-week online course. In this hands-on course you will spend direct time with me and your small cohort of motivated professionals learning how to plant your flag, build a content platform, grow a network and audience and start to drive a steady stream of inbound work, speaking and other opportunities to you. If getting started on building your professional reputation has always been one of those "I'll get to it sometime" things, now is that time. Take a look at the program and then apply directly. November 20, 2020 is the application deadline and the first cohort is halfway filled up already.

Hey folks -

Over a decade ago, while I was managing the UX team at TheLadders in NYC during the company's transition to agile ways of working, the creative director on the team at the time said something to me during one of our regular one-on-one meetings that's stuck with me ever since. "All this agile stuff has got me frustrated. It feels to me like we're always racing for the bronze medal," he said. It took me aback and I had to clarify what he meant.

He elaborated, "The way we used to work, there was a clear sense of what done meant. We had a deadline. We had a design to implement and we had to build the best version of that we could in the time we had. In that world we were always racing for the gold medal. We pushed ourselves to build the best thing we could in the time that we had. Now, with endless 2 week sprints, we do just enough work to keep the developers writing code, never going back to actually improve those designs. We're comfortable with third place and we never truly try to make a gold medal product design and experience."

He was right. And that brilliant analogy, the one that's stuck with me now for nearly 13 years, made clear to me that if we were going to build truly cross-functional, customer-centric agile teams we would have to redefine success. I also wanted to answer his question: how do we build gold-medal products with agile? 

What this conversation exposed was how we (and many teams still to this day) change their ways of working, their vocabulary, their team structures but never rethink how success is measured. They don't change their definition of done. For most teams, as long as the feature does what the it's supposed to do -- i.e., works as designed -- then it's done. In that world, agile teams, especially truly cross-functional ones with designers dedicated to them, do bronze medal work. There's simply no way to design gold medal work in a two-week sprint. At best you can get a decent pass at a set of design and user experience assumptions into production. But then, you have to see how well they worked in the market, with actual users at scale. That learning provides the team direction on how to improve and optimize the user experience. It gives the team direction on how to reach a gold medal experience.

But the team (and the organization) has to be willing to go back and do the improvement work. We call this iteration and it's the key to agility and gold medal user experience. To build iteration into our ways of working (you'd be surprised how explicit you have to be about it despite it being a core tenet of scrum) we have to redefine what "done" actually means. It can no longer mean "works as designed." The new definition of done, the goal the team is striving for, is meaningful, positive changes in the behavior of our users and customers. As Josh Seiden brilliantly lays out in his book Outcomes over Output, redefining done as a user behavior exponentially increases the amount of iteration a team does, amplifies the learning it's taking in from the market and inspires greater org-wide agility.

If you find yourself working to feed the software engineers "dev work" simply so they can "stay busy" ask yourself how the quality of the work being shipped to market is being affected. Are you truly delivering gold medal work or are you racing for the bronze? If it's the latter, it's time to rethink how you define "done."



What I'm up to:Lean UX & Product Discovery for Agile Teams - January 2021 cohort is on sale now . In addition, we regularly offer this class in-house, in a private version to companies. We can focus specifically on your teams' needs and challenges in your unique context. Ask me anything about that.I'm also co-teaching a live online Professional Scrum with UX certification course with scrum.org in December. 


What I'm liking at the moment: 

-- I'm always looking for new playlists to work to and man did I find a goldmine here. This is just one playlist on Youtube of underground 90's hip hop (which I love) but as Youtube is prone to do, you can dig deeper and deeper into even more rare archives. Enjoy!

-- I've loved this show since Season 1. Season 3 is now out and is starting, admittedly, a little slow but I'm excited for the rest of the season.

-- Again, one of these random finds that turns into a goldmine. Genius musician and producer Rick Beato is now up to nearly 2MM subscribers on his channel where he breaks down songs (What makes this song great?), imagines different musical realities (What if Peter Frampton played the solo on Stairway To Heaven?) and just dishes about all things music and music industry. It can get nerdy but I watch at least one video a day now.

As always, if you want me to work directly with your company on training, coaching or workshops on the topics of organizational agility, digital transformation, product discovery and agile leadership, don’t hesitate to reach out.Like this newsletter? Forward it to a friend.

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