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Agile for Specialists

Watch Alex Cowan to learn about agile for specialists.
We’ve talked about the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and what that may mean in practice. So in the last video, we talked about managers. Here we’ll talk about the specialists that work on product implementation and support. Starting with, we’ll call her Elena the engineer. The thing that Elena hates the most is when the business people come late in the game of a product release cycle and they change around what they need, because then she’s gotta bolt on a bunch of stuff that is hard to do and messy.
And she knows that in the next release they’re going to be complaining to her that the release is late, there’s a lot of bugs, and it’s because she had to create things at the last minute that just weren’t thoughtful and weren’t stitched together the way she would normally approach it.
And this is a bad outcome for Elena, and obviously, when there are bugs out there, when the users don’t like the product, that makes her feel like she’s not making a difference in her job and that saps her motivation. So we’re going to help Elena ask the right questions of the product management people, of the project managers. Instead of just getting arbitrary requirements, Elena is going to learn how to create narrative around what the user wants to achieve so that she gets the right kind of inputs from her collaborators. And when they finish a release, they ask the right kind of questions about, did the user like this? Did they not like it?
And if they didn’t like it, why didn’t they like it? How do we resolve that in a sensible way? And we’ll look next at sales and support, we’ll call him Sam. Sam’s hobbies are swimming and preparing for possible asteroid collision with Earth. Sam is in front of the customer all the time. It’s his job to make the product work in real life for customers. And he feels like he doesn’t always get the whole picture from the product team of why does the product work the way it does. And he has trouble mapping the things that he observes from the customer, and tying those back to the approach with the product, and that really frustrates him.
And he’s brought forward ideas that he thinks could make the product and the product’s infrastructure so much better for the customer, but he’s usually ignored. Well we’re going to help Sam learn how to talk to the rest of the product team and give his input in a way that’s probably going to be more actionable, and equally importantly we’re going to help the rest of the team, the managers, his other collaborators. We’re going to help them use Sam for the valuable body of information that he has about what customers actually do and what they want. So we’re going to show them how to decrease their design research budget by using the people internally that already know what the customer does.
Unlocking a lot of sources of what could be valuable. And we’ll close with the designer, we’ll call her Dana. Well, you know I just had Don Norman, who wrote this seminal design book, The Design of Everyday Things, speak to my class at UVA Darden. It was an incredible opportunity. It was great. And one of the students asked him about managing designers, and how he mentors designers, and he said, one thing they come to me a lot with is they say, well the management at the company, the business people are keeping me from building the product that I think would be really awesome.
And I’m sure these people have valid issues and complaints, but what he told them is hey, part of being a designer is learning how to is learning how to empathize and deliver creative solutions to your audience, and your audience is not just the end customer, but it’s the people inside your company as well. Because the life of a product is complicated. It has to be marketed, it has to be sold, it has to be supported, it has to be serviced, it has to be maintained. It has to fit in to varying degrees with what the rest of the things the company is doing. It’s a lot of different people’s job to understand that and make it successful.
So we’re going to help Dana bring the tools of her trade to bear not just on very localized product things but on everything the company does. We’re going to help her teach the engineering folks, the product people, the project managers how to think and use design tools in a practical way to solve problems. And that’s going to make her more effective, and it is going to make her product team that she works with geometrically more successful.

Alex discusses in this video what agile means to the role of a specialist that works on product implementation and support.

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