Does experimentation really matter?

Answer Me This—Episode 02

This week’s question comes from Anne and she asked:

It seems like people are very focused on experimentation as a core skill for product management and innovation today. So how much does it matter? And how should I go about learning it?

Here’s my thoughts in a snack-sized 7 minute audio bite.

Full Transcript

All right. So I think it’s important to be creative in the way that you think about how you experiment. People focus a lot on experimentation for product innovation and sometimes I think a little bit too much on how to run experiments. And I think for a lot of aspiring product managers, this can sometimes give the wrong impression. People think that product management is a giant design sprint where you’re always running an experiment and capturing the result and figuring out what that means and then deciding what you’re going to learn next and taking that to the next experiment and so on. And in a way that’s true. But it’s, I think it’s a lot more than just the motions of how you run the experiments. Um, it’s not that we run experiments and then something something and then profit. It just isn’t that simple. And so for sure we can learn a ton from bringing rigour to the way that we experiment to the way that we run experiments and learn. And if you want to do that to raise the tories on continuous discovery and David bland on testing business ideas. The only two books you really need to improve the process and how you think I’ve worked with a lot of teams to help them learn this stuff and sometimes we’ll keep that type of cadence up for a period of time, maybe it’s a couple of weeks, maybe a few months. Um and it’s usually really effective at building momentum quickly and showing how to learn something by do it by doing it. Um but it’s not like that all the time, I think that some of the best experiments, the ones that I’ve learned the most from, often the ones that nobody knows about. And so for me right now, I’m learning about, I’m learning about the culture of a new team and I mean, you know, I’m eight weeks in and I know I know from my past experiences that understanding the people and progressing with the team, from forming and arming through to high performing is one of the most important things to me. I know that it makes it possible for us to succeed together, and it also just makes stuff more fun and so it’s something that I’m always trying to work out early on. Um So I want to understand, like what’s important to people in the team, what do they care about? How do they work, what are they good at what they need from me, what do they need from other people so that we can work together in an effective way, but everything’s really different. I’m working in a globally distributed team and working the demand, I don’t have that much experience with, I’ve got no history working with these people were in a peculiar environment and our work environments pretty different to, you know, we’re all working from home. And so I have this set of assumptions about what I think is going to work and what might not work. And that’s mostly based on, you know, some of it’s just tacit knowledge and self awareness. Some of it is based on observations and some of it, it’s just hunches and I’m testing my thinking so I can understand how to work in this team, but nobody knows I’m doing that. There’s no backlog, there’s no problem assumption matrix and there’s no sprints, it’s just, I’m trying things and learning from it. So let me give you a couple of examples. I went harder than I normally would when I joined the team to promote my achievements and capabilities during onboarding and as a meek Aussie, this was incredibly uncomfortable for me to do, but I was committed to the experiment because I’ve observed in an adjacent team that that was the norm. And so I wanted to see how that played out expecting that it would be similar or the same in other parts of the organisation. And although it was pretty uncomfortable for me, it wasn’t as uncomfortable as the facial expressions on the faces of the people that I was meeting for the first time. And so I cut that out pretty quick and what I learned was that, uh, you know, at this scale, there are subcultures within within organisations and it was actually quite different assumption was wrong. And so I needed to adjust, amended to adjust based on that, here’s another one. So over over the years I’ve become fairly skilled, but leaving space for others to own and and supporting less experienced folks to do the work and believe me, that wasn’t an easy thing for me to learn. But it’s another exercise we can talk about later uh for this to work people, it relies on people being intrinsically motivated to learn and also being enabled to do that. And because of my past experiences, I’ve assumed that this would be no different here and that those things would be true and absolutely people are motivated to learn new things. But what I did was instead of following my instinct which would be to just get in there and do everything instead of sat back and I wanted to observe who steps in for what aspects and I wanted to understand how might I be able to delegate future work in a way that creates mutual benefit and yeah, that didn’t work out either, what I learned was that actually it’s a really strong individual contributor culture and most people are just really busy with their own workloads and their own focus areas, although of course motivated to learn, there’s just other things to do and what they needed most from me wasn’t support and coaching, like, like other people I’ve worked with may have once actually what they wanted was just direction, clarity and answers and so I needed to adjust to, I needed to adjust to that and and change the way that I was working with the team. So for me this is the same practice that we use as product managers. And the important thing is not the tools that you’re using. It’s how you make learning work for you and how you bring that to the job. And I think that the best training that you can do if you want to learn that is to just practice it and actually to practice something you don’t have to be working on a new a new digital product to be able to flex that muscle. So try to integrate it into everything that everything that you’re doing and start to build that that that familiarity and capability for yourself about how to think and how to move through, testing your ideas so that you can so that you can move through and arrive at the place you want to get to. All right, I hope that helps and thank you very much. We’ll be back with another episode in a couple of weeks. Bye bye.

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