As an accomplished author and speaker, Ellen Gottesdiener is sharing an industry leading perspective on many different techniques for bringing joy to the Agile workplace. You can find her as a keynote speaker at The Path to Agility, and a guest of honor at After the Path.    
Ellen Gottesdiener: The Joy of Delivery
By Terreece Clarke, May 2nd, 2016

When IT Martini last interviewed Ellen Gottesdiener, one of this year’s Path to Agility keynote speakers, it was a little under four years ago and she was in the final phase of writing her new book, Discover to Delivery, with Mary Gorman. The book was well-received and she’s been using the techniques and practices contained therein throughout the global Agile community. These techniques and practices are what she’s bringing to her first day keynote speech at the sold out Path to Agility Conference on May 25 and 26th.

Discovery is as Important as Delivery

Gottesdiener looks forward not only to making the case that discovery is as important as delivery but to showing how the Agile community is now focusing on the discovery aspect of the Agile process.

“Teams are discovering that we have gotten very successful in delivery, but not discovery,” she said. “The Agile community started with engineers and developers and the focus was on delivery and delivering quickly. Between the rise of product management as a discipline and the rise of lean startup, we are at the cusp of interest and awareness where you don’t want deliver the wrong stuff faster, you want to deliver the right thing.”

“Attention is turning [to] ‘how do we use those Agile principles in Agile management, collaborate in really effective ways that bring value to teamwork collaboration and do joyful work?’”

Gottesdiener said she will discuss how to really dig into product discovery, exploring, evaluating and confirming, so teams have a shared understanding of the product before they go into the delivery cycle.

"Using visual data is so powerful. Most of the information that comes into our brain comes in a visual way. Our brains need activity - we need to be standing moving and touching, not just chatting."

Partners, Not Stakeholders and Prioritizing

The discovery process also means getting the product people and technology team on the same page so they can become partners - not stakeholders - which, Gottesdiener said, is one of her banned words. Helping each team member collaborate quickly and effectively and set priorities, she said, is key.

“Value is in the eye of the beholder,” she said. “Knowing who those partners are, what they value at one point in time can change. We have to be truthful - not all partner value can be prioritized.”

In understanding the priorities, Gottesdiener said there are three realms Agilists have to understand - business, the customer and the technology.

“Too many Agile teams overemphasize one or two of those to the detriment of the others,” she said. “The product owner/product champion has to decide which value is the higher priority for the upcoming delivery cycle.”

Gottesdiener said one thing teams can do to boost their discovery practices is to incorporate visual and tactile auditory techniques to do discovery.

“It’s not just talking about it,” she said. “It’s seeing pictures… here’s a scenario and some steps, or here’s how data is structured. Using visual data is so powerful. Most of the information that comes into our brain comes in a visual way. Our brains need activity - we need to be standing moving and touching, not just chatting.”

The Age of Product

Gottesdiener believes we have entered the age of the product in Agile practices.

“It doesn’t mean we don’t need engineers - we need to keep eyes on the prize,” she said. “It’s a natural progression in the movement, but part of it is because the discipline of product management is being realized, now there are more conferences and discussion around project management.”

“Google really elevated the role of product management. Now, there is actually a body of knowledge of product management. There is a non profit in Europe that focuses on product management as well.”

“If you look at SCRUM with the three roles, we’ve gotten far along with the other two, but not with the product one,” she said. “Not all product management is focused on Agile, but they are very interested.”

The wonderful thing is, Gottesdiener isn’t seeing the normal resistance to the shift in focus in Agile.

“The delivery teams are thrilled,” she said. “The one thing that is really hard for them [product owners], what makes their job doubly difficult is they have to straddle the tactical with the strategic. If you can imagine a Venn diagram, they are in the middle, communicating constantly with the team and at the same time, keeping their eyes on the road map/big picture - and both of these are almost full time jobs.”

She said, in large companies, people with really good analytical skills and analysts are tied at the hip with product owners to help with the tactical. That collaboration is great - but, Gottesdiener cautions, the product manager has to be clear on the decision making model and realize the ultimate decision rests with them.

Getting the Most Out of Path to Agility

Gottesdiener said, while Agilists should definitely concentrate on getting better and deeper in their particular disciplines, they should also strive to have a good understanding of other disciplines.

“Work on being a “T person,” Gottesdiener said. “There’s a vertical line going up and down, that represents deep knowledge and skills in that discipline and you want people on the team to have an understanding of the other roles - the horizontal line. That way, they can appreciate, understand and empathize with what those disciplines need.”

With thoughts on becoming a “T person,” Gottesdiener said Path to Agility attendees should break out of their own tracks and look into one that covers a discipline with which they are less less familiar. “Based on my bias, look for ones focused on what it’s really about - delivering value, the product itself, not the process, principle or procedures, but the product. We are now entering the age of the product, not the project.”

As for her future, Gottesdiener said she’s most excited to be working on ways to help people become good at facilitating discovery workshops and developing ways to accredit people to become proficient at planning, designing and facilitating discovery workshops.

“We want these practices to spread because they work, they are also fun and they help people have joy in work and that’s a driver for us. Joy in work doesn’t have to be an oxymoron.”