If you’re interested in what product discovery coaching entails, this article will explore this very current profession and the aspects to consider when hiring a coach or developing your internal practice.
Product Discovery is the core discipline of product coaching. Product discovery is all about moving away from the old way of working where we were creating products by delivering stuff. It’s now more important to figure out what problem a product will solve.
A coach will help teams move from an output-based approach to an outcome-based product development approach. Moving from building features to discover solutions to problems worth solving.
There are currently many opportunities to work as a product coach, and more specifically as a product discovery coach, because many product teams need help setting up a product discovery process to nurture ideas and initiatives.
Product discovery coaches are very rare as they require a lot of experience in business and product. Typically the best coaches are former product managers, heads of product, product designers, head of engineering, entrepreneurs or business owners.
The coach’s job is to help organizations implement a seamless product discovery process and accompany teams in exploring and validating ideas for their construction.
In my opinion, ‘hard skills’ are not as important as background and product mindset. That’s the reason why business owners and startup founders make great product discovery coaches.
Overall, the product discovery coach is a coach, not a consultant, and that’s what makes this discipline specifically difficult.
Product Discovery Coach Functions
The main work of the product discovery coach revolves around the discovery cycles: exploration and validation.
The coach accompanies teams in the process and also in the preparation and design of the research, ideation sessions, prototyping, testing and inception.
A good coach, even if her background is not design or research, must be able to get into the mud in all the product discovery phases.
As you well know, product discovery is not an isolated process but rather forms an integral part of the normal operations of a healthy product organization. Therefore, the coach must be able to perfectly integrate the discovery process within the team’s operations and with the rest of the organization through the connection with the product roadmap.
To be able to effectively perform these functions the coach requires the following skills.
Product Discovery Coach Capabilities
In order to hire the right coach, you need to find someone who is experienced in coaching, has a deep understanding of product discovery, can motivate people and can be flexible in their approach. Once you’ve made that decision, then your next step is to find out who would be the best fit with the company and culture.
In the table given below, you will find what we have concluded are the necessary capabilities and the nice to have. The necessary are divided between general and core for better understanding.
As you can see great product discovery coaches are professionals with huge experience and diverse background.
However, industry experience is not always a given when you’re looking for somebody in this developing field. In my own experience as a product coach I have been able to successfully work with product teams and mentor startups in all sorts of industries.
So, although industry acumen is key for a product manager or product leader, I don’t think that’s a required skill of a great product coach.
Internal vs External Coaches
In general, and this case is no exception, I don’t think an enabling function should have a permanent or everlasting role in an organization.
Neither Agile Coaches, nor Scrum Masters, nor Team Coaches, nor Technical Coaches should have a permanent position in an organization. Something is wrong when an excessive dependency has been created with an external consultant or coach.
Except for rare cases where the company has rapid growth, it’s best to have more experienced members of the team or leaders provide coaching.
That said, if you are wondering whether to create a coaching practice in your organization, you should rather consider creating a community of practice, such as may exist among front-end engineers, backend engineers, QA or product managers.
If you do not know where to start from and the practice of product discovery in your organization is still very incipient, or non-existent, you should bring an external product coach to accompany you in this process until you have your teams trained and the external coach goes away.