Product Discovery, Be a Giver, not a Taker

The product design and discovery process is messy, involves many people, and is linked to social and organizational dynamics of the team.  To determine what to build, what problems to solve, how to solve them, whether it makes sense to solve them, you need a team of people with many different skills.  For example, the product discovery teams I have worked on contained:

  • Architects
  • Senior Developers
  • Product Managers
  • UX Designers
  • Marketing

Each group has a different skillset and comes to the product discovery process with a different base of knowledge.  You then layer in the personal and organizational dynamics, and the product development process becomes a battle of egos.  Ideas are thwarted; innovation stifled and ultimately the team makes poor product decisions.

Adam Grant has two words which strike a chord with me for product teams, givers and takers.  According to Adam Grant,

“Every day, employees make decisions about whether to act like givers or like takers. When they act like givers, they contribute to others without seeking anything in return. They might offer assistance, share knowledge, or make valuable introductions. When they act like takers, they try to get other people to serve their ends while carefully guarding their own expertise and time.”

Technology organizations must see the benefit of having a team of givers. According to Grant, “A willingness to help others achieve their goals lies at the heart of effective collaboration, innovation, quality improvement, and service excellence.” As product teams, a taker can damage to the process of product discovery and development.

  • They can take over conversations
  • They may consider their opinion as the only opinion
  • They may not be able to build rapport with the team, which negatively impacts participation
  • They may miss out on good ideas since others are too intimidated to collaborate with them
  • They may step on others egos to make themselves feel good

When I think of a taker, I think of a former VP I used to work for.  This VP drove every conversation.  He never listened to input unless it agreed with his point of view, and created an environment of fear within the product management team.  When he walked through the cubes and did not say hello to anyone, there was an immediate dip in the morale of the team.  Needless to say, this organization continues to struggle to innovate.

Now let’s talk about givers in the organization.  What does a giver look like in a product development organization?

  • They are the ones who ensure that everyone has a voice at a meeting
  • They are the people who are always available for questions
  • They are the idea generators
  • They use the words ‘we’ more than the word ‘I’
  • They insist on team rewards versus personal rewards
  • They listen when others are talking

When you have givers on your product teams you’ll more effectively figure out how to solve your customers business challenges in an innovative way that also makes business sense.

The givers may not be the loudest in the room. They may not be the most political.  They may not have the visibility that some of the takers have to upper management.  But they are the key to the success of your product discovery team.  They are the ones who invite collaboration, who push to bring out the best ideas, who ensure everyone has a voice, and who listens more than he/she speaks.