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Generating value by learning quickly and testing assumptions with Design Thinking

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“The Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team.” The role is also often referred to in other terms as the Value Maximizer (nice LinkedIn job title).

Just how do you find out what generates value or not? Scrum focuses on empirical learning: converting ideas into pieces of working product and testing it with users. The risk in this is that we spend too much time making things only to find out later that they need to be modified or provide little value. We want to find out sooner, so that we spend less time testing ideas and more time delivering value.

To do this, we need to actually spend more time testing ideas. Sound like a contradiction? “The most expensive way to test your idea is to build a high-quality product.” If we start well with Discovery activities (finding out what keeps our customer awake at night, what is valuable to them, testing it with prototypes) the more time that saves us during Delivery (the actual creation of the products and services). From an Agile perspective, this is of course a parallel process. If we distinguish between Discovery and Delivery teams, we will get all the risks of silo thinking again.

So how do you make Discovery part of your way of working? Because initially Scrum seems to be mainly focused on the development and Delivery side. Scrum Guide: “Scrum is a lightweight framework that helps teams generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems.” As a Product Owner, filling the Product Backlog with the right things and prioritizing it by value is one of your most important tasks.

One way to do this, which is also increasingly used by companies that already work longer in an Agile way, is Design Thinking. “Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test.” At first sight there are many similarities with the Scrum definition. And that’s right, the mindset and many underlying principles of Design Thinking are complementary to Agile working. One of the nuances is a difference in process.

Scrum: Learning by turning ideas into something working, testing it with users, receiving feedback and adjusting where necessary.

Design Thinking: Learning by empathizing with customers, turning ideas into prototypes, testing it with users, receiving feedback, and then creating something that works.

By testing ideas faster and learning from them, without building too much, we better identify customer needs, enabling us to develop better products. Many companies do this by purchasing reports from research institutes, outsourcing customer research, or hiring user researchers. The risk is often that these people are not part of the Scrum team, and as a result there is again a gap between the insight that is generated that the Scrum team continues with in the development phase. That is why you also want to do these Discovery activities with (part of the) Scrum team.

In future blogs we will delve deeper into Design Thinking and the 5 stages of the process: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. And how you can practically apply this in your daily work.

How are you currently working on filling your Product Backlog properly? What tips do you have for other Product Owners when it comes to Discovery? Do you already use elements of Design Thinking in your Scrum team?

Comment below and share your valuable insights with other Product Owners.

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