Improving Communication Between Discovery and Delivery
Some tips and benefits of bringing your discovery and delivery functions closer together
Unfortunately we can’t all work in clean-cut Agile environments. We don’t all work in small teams or start ups, and therefore implementing perfect product practice is not always easy. Juggling discovery and delivery can be one of these challenges, and finding the right balance is part of the art of product management.
In a continuous discovery setup, it’s common that your discovery team will know everything that the delivery team is working on; however, the reverse is not always guaranteed.
There are a tonne of metaphors we could use to describe the delivery and discovery processes, but the heart of it will remain the same: discovery is what’s on the horizon, while delivery is the here and now. When these priorities are split amongst the team, it’s natural that a divide in priorities might occur.
This should not lead to ‘us vs them’ divides or West Side Story factions occurring; more that the teams will naturally start to silo and focus on their own tasks at hand. So, as product people, we have to do what we can to unite and encourage collaboration across the functions.
Some Steps You Can Take
Keeping, and Sharing, a Discovery Board
Stand ups can often be dominated by the here and now. What’s the focus of the day, what tickets can be moved, what can be shifted into the Done pile, how are we coping against sprint goals etc.
While this is crucial in a stand up, it doesn’t have to be the only outcome. Giving time to run through the discovery board and looking at daily tasks allows it to feel equally weighted alongside delivery.
If you’re struggling for time, extending your stand ups by five minutes and strictly timeboxing will give credence to the discovery slot. While the nature of discovery work will mean that daily updates are few and far between, it will still do wonders in elevating the importance of the work alongside delivery.
Promotion of Discovery Milestones
While delivery teams often have clear milestones and objectives that are celebrated, the same isn’t necessarily true for discovery. Discovery is often (rightly!) continuous, with no clear handover to delivery. Therefore it’s rare that the end is celebrated.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t pick up on milestones and achievements and communicate them to the rest of the team. Things like user research being completed and prototypes being finalised are possible examples. It might seem basic, but making everyone aware of these achievements is crucial. With the nature of daily team-wide meetings tending to focus on delivery, sometimes the incredible work done in discovery can go unnoticed by others.
For anyone who has worked in a siloed discovery function, it’s easy to feel like you’re cast adrift from the rest of the team. Promotion of the work you’re doing can provide a real morale boost and a reminder that what you’re doing is crucial to the success of the product and smooth development further down the line.
It’s not always enough to praise this work yourself as a PM - make everyone in the team is aware of what’s going on in the discovery world.
Optional Meeting Forwarding
With the nature of delivery and discovery focusing on different goals, it doesn’t always feel like it’s pertinent for your delivery team to join discovery sessions. Ensuring open communication between the functions on your project team is crucial.
This can be a tricky one to manage, though. The word optional is key. You want to ensure people feel welcomed, but not pressured, to join. You also want to avoid meeting fatigue and overkill. You may be inclined to look at your delivery team and assume they wouldn’t take you up on the offer to join certain discovery sessions, but sometimes just having the option can open a previously blocked door. By offering an invite, but keeping your expectations of participation low, you might just be surprised by their input.
As well as helping guide the discovery work and offering fresh perspectives (similar to a 3 Amigos session), it also helps to ensure alignment and allows those that aren’t involved in daily discovery sessions to get on board with the work being done.
One of the main benefits of improved communication is improved morale. Not only for your discovery team, but also for the delivery.
For the discovery team, it can help make them feel less siloed. It’s common to feel slightly removed if your focus is mostly on user research and creating prototypes. You’re less involved in the conversations around delivery, and your work is less likely to have the input of multiple developers and QA people compared to the delivery tickets. Promotion of the discovery function and inclusion in sessions will help bridge this gap.
On the delivery side, it’s easy to get your head down and only focus on the here and now. This can lead to disillusionment with the wider project scope and the roadmap. It may also leave you feeling like you work on a production line. Getting out of delivery mode and into discovery for a while might awaken some creativity, and also give more frequent reminders of the roadmap and goals than scheduled sessions.
Improved discovery with tech and QA input
Having more input from those that are going to be building and implementing what is going through the discovery process will naturally help. It allows your discovery team to understand technical limitations, explore new possibilities and take on board perspectives that they might not have in their own team.
It also allows QA to get an even further head start on what is coming down the pipeline and prepare what is required. The earlier the team can get an outlook means the earlier they can lay the groundwork for test plans and how to tackle the work.
Not only does this communication improve discovery, it also improves delivery. ‘Little and often’ updates help prepare the team for what’s to come, and also helps them understand what is being put together. Inclusion in the sessions also means they have their input heard before it reaches the delivery stage. You can avoid any nasty surprises and provide visibility more regularly.
Even if your delivery team doesn’t have a direct input in the discovery work, at least they’re kept abreast of what to expect.
How you choose to try and improve the communication between delivery and discovery functions will depend entirely on the makeup of the project team. It may be that more meetings doesn’t work for your culture, or that there’s a healthy divide and conquer dynamic, but improvement in communications and visibility can only improve project health.
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