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Coming Up to Speed Part 5: Product and Market Positioning

New employees on an agile team must absorb much more information than those working in a traditional command-and-control organization. I am upping the ante in part 5 of my 8-part series: Coming Up to Speed. Until now, we’ve been discussing the basic blocking and tackling of functioning on any product development team. Now, we’re talking about high-stakes onboarding for agile teams in particular.

Every agile team member is responsible for understanding (at least to some degree) the market and product positioning for what they are building. The reason for this is simple: collaboration demands every team member must understand the “why” behind what they are doing.

There is no better person to impart this knowledge than the team’s product manager/owner. Product managers (PMs) are the CEO of the products they own. This means they understand the markets and its users better than anyone. They are also adept and describing said markets and users better than anyone.

The best way for PMs to share this knowledge is in interactive sessions. Good PMs will have an outline for these sessions, which they continually update to reflect the current thinking. PMs must encourage new employees to be curious and ask questions anytime they are unsure. New employees are often reluctant to ask too many questions for fear of slowing down the team.

Slowing down the team is the price we pay for new employees, and pay it we must! Rework and loss of creativity are the costs we pay when new employees don’t understand the “why” behind what they are building. The interactive session is just a starter kit. Asking questions as you go is essential.

Another excellent opportunity to learn about users happens during discovery interviews. If you have researchers conducting interviews with users, make sure team members are listening in. New team members will find this exercise particularly beneficial, but all team members must participate regularly.

Another way team members can get close to users is by sitting with the user support team. They work directly with users all day. What better way to learn about the challenges users are currently facing?

The marketing and sales teams offer another avenue for new team members to learn about the products they build. Hopefully, the PM knows what they are doing well enough to impart this knowledge. Sometimes, direct interaction with these teams can be helpful.

It is imperative to make time for new team members to have as many of these experiences as possible. The quicker they can build the context around their work, the more likely they are to contribute better ideas and produce quality output. As mentioned in a previous article, you must mitigate the firehose effect by checking in with your new teammate. Keep the pace brisk but manageable.

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