Unlocking the massive value of a well-focused squad with Discovery Teams

Focus on Doing the Right Things, not Doing Things Right

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things — Peter Drucker

At its simplest, excellent product development is the high-quality execution of well-chosen opportunities. But I believe you unlock the most value from choosing the right thing to build, rather than executing a poor choice flawlessly.

Prioritisation is the most value-creating activity in any company. Generating ideas and executing things is, of course, also important! But what I’ve seen to set apart great teams from good is a brutal focus on prioritisation.

In 2019 we were not discovering enough to prioritise well. This lack of robust discovery work was in part due to a scarcity of design, analytics and insights resources. But it was also because we did not choose to spend more time validating our instincts.

Unlocking Opportunity Discovery

In growth, we had much to learn about our new domain. We were the first in Gousto to approach onboarding and engagement systematically, but our product manager Nico was the bottleneck on research. He didn’t have enough time to explore new opportunities, and while product time was a constraint, commercial stakeholder time wasn’t. I had a team of six highly motivated and skilled growth managers who had time to devote to discovery alongside their other work.

GM = growth manager, but might be any other commercial stakeholder

The Three Critical Components of Discovery Teams

1. Tightly-aligned discovery groups

We compose DTs with the minimum number of people required to investigate an opportunity properly. However, we always include engineers from squads that will deliver the work, as well as a product manager and a designer. Different individuals may be more or less involved at various stages of the DT’s lifecycle, but each person needs to be aligned and aware of direction at all times.

Two examples of teams we created
  • Fully-aligned stakeholders. Each relevant stakeholder is close to the research and decisions of the group.
  • Better developer engagement. Engineers can see work from initial opportunity validation to final build, and contribute to the process.

2. Structured ceremonies

We expect each discovery team to run a structured fortnightly meeting, covering:

  • Updates from workstreams in DT remit
  • Timeline review (more on this later)
  • Decisions or discussion points
  • Actions and next steps
  • Rigorous action-setting and completion cadence. Clear actions and timelines from each meeting ensure we are always on track to achieve our goals. Teams get addicted to the momentum that these forums provide.
  • Forums provide concise updates to others. Key stakeholders, including product and commercial tribes leads, are kept up to date with actions and summaries of these meetings. Anyone else can drop in to get updates too.

3. Agile discovery roadmaps with clear targets

We give each discovery team clear targets for their work. These targets either outline what they need to learn in a quarter (learning OKRs) or recognise that they will need to discover value for teams to deliver in future quarters (delivery OKRs). Teams use agile roadmaps to work back from these goals and ensure their work is ready for prioritisation at the right time. These roadmaps also make it clear when the team expects to involve insights, design or tech. Once these expectations are clear, we can plan to ensure every team gets the support they need.

Benefits of agile discovery roadmaps
  • We effectively manage insights and design resourcing. Discovery teams present plans of what insights, analytics, or user testing they might need to achieve their goals. Once we know these plans across all teams, we can unblock resource bottlenecks by shifting timings around or making sensible prioritisation decisions.

Saying “no” With Gousto

Discovery teams have surfaced and validated so many great opportunities that our product teams cannot prioritise each one, even though they are all supported by meaningful data. We think this is great. We want to make these hard decisions, and give a well-rationalised “no” to a lot of opportunities to focus on the best ones.

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.

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