The Product Coach
8 February 2023
This is the second episode of a series of articles aimed to reflect on the very role of Agile Coach and to propose some different angles on the role.
Other episodes: Beyond Agile Coaches, The Organisational Coach, The Team Coach
For those who prefer listening over reading, the same concepts have been tackled in a short video with Susanna Ferrario, our Product Coach.
The Product Coach
Who’s the Product Coach and what they do
The Product Coach is a professional who helps the company achieve its product and business objectives, leveraging their experience and extensive knowledge of product management issues, agile frameworks and lean practices. He/she provides training, mentoring and support to development teams building products or services and works with the management team and product leaders to align priorities with overall business goals and product strategies.
The Product Coach supports companies along the path towards business agility and – above all – in the cultural transition from a project mindset to a product mindset. Switching from project to product mindset is about switching:
- from output focussed to outcome focussed
- from time, cost and scope management to value for customers and the business
- from development to discovery and validation
Who’s the Product Coach useful to?
Individuals, teams, product function and management team. The Product Coach can work on different levels within a company and is hardly relegated to just one of these.
Depending on the level of maturity of the product culture, the coach will mainly find himself doing training and evangelization, facilitating existing best practices or working on a more strategic level when teams are already mature.
People who recently landed their first product job can get help navigating the first months in the role. One-to-one personal development can be focused on assessing skill gaps, learning, filling those gaps with skills and knowledge or exploring solutions to a particular business problem.
Thanks to the expertise accumulated over the years, he/she can work at tactical or strategic level. But the coach doesn’t define the product strategy himself or herself, he/she can offer canvas, tools, best practices and facilitation techniques to help the PO/PM lay it out. The difference is important ‘cause the goal is to accompany them to do it.
Development teams can get help in effectively coping with discovery and delivery tracks, creating a product vision, managing roadmap and priorities, and optimizing end-to-end value flow.
The product team is facilitated in the adoption and dissemination of common best practices.
Product leaders and management are supported in creating transparency on objectives and outcome-based initiatives as well as alignment between strategic objectives and product roadmaps. The very concept of a Product Team might lead to confusion: whenever working with Scrum Teams we are used to think about a single Product Owner. We are perfectly aware of the anti patterns in product ownership.
However, in scale-ups and corporates POs are part of a Product division independent from Technology, Marketing, etc. That’s what we refer to. Tipically you’ll have a CPO, Head of Products, PMs and POs and may be Associates. Or big POs and small POs.
What problems do they address?
A product coach is usually brought in an organization to help teams deliver on critical business goals such as finding product-market fit, addressing customer adoption or retention, decreasing time to market, improving sales, etc.
Another common situation is when the organization recognizes needs in the product area that cannot be satisfied internally. This is the case with people who are new to product management, who have no senior product person to manage them or experienced product people looking to level up.
In both scenarios, the value of a product coach is in helping teams and individuals achieve their outcomes faster and more effectively.
The Product Coach in our three-levels approach
Our approach is shifting in order to provide more specialized roles, fit for the market needs and the job that needs to be done. We see a client through 3 levels of focus, derived from Leopold’s three levels. The Product Coach is mainly focussed on level Ground and Helicopter. You might find them working on delivery, roadmaps and product management activities.
Depending on the nature of the client, a Product Coach could easily jump up to the Airplane level.
The Product Coach measurement of success
A coach’s success is often measured based on the performance of those they coached rather than by specific metrics. Being part of the system, it’s the system itself that improves and it’s the system that should be measured. In the case of a Product Coach whose goal is to enable better outcomes, solutions, and products the main success metrics are the delivery of outcomes (that can be monitored by KPIs), customer satisfaction with the service being provided and teams’ satisfaction.
Coaching activity can also be measured at the performance level focusing on “changes in behavior” and progression; this can be done using 360-degree feedback programs and employee engagement/satisfaction surveys linked back to coaching.
A qualitative litmus test for a Product Coach is a mindset shift in product and tech people. When they start talking about outcomes, impacts, experiments, opportunities, end-to-end experience and so on you know the change is happening. When language changes the culture changes.
The product mindset is now part of the culture and teams can sustain their product journey on their own. At this point the Product Coach has succeeded.
How’s a Product Coach different from other coaches’ profiles
Product coaches support clients with a broad range of product-related challenges, and sometimes they overlap with other coaches (Agile, transformation, start-up, leadership, etc.).
They work to create the conditions for teams and products success, leveraging agile and lean practices as means to this end. The main difference compared to an Agile Coach can be seen especially in the initial phase of inception, concept and validation of the product idea, in the focus on strategic and operational objectives as well as on the discovery process.
Once the delivery phase has started, the differences compared to an Agile Coach tend to diminish. This is also the reason why the coexistence of the two roles on the product development teams is successful.
Expertise and skills
A Product Coach is someone who has previously held the role of Head of Product, VP of Product, CPO or Product Leader. A professional with significant seniority (years of experience) in teams and product management who works with PMs and teams to help them achieve their goals.
To say it out loud and clear: you must have been in the product trenches and got your hands dirty to take up this role. Or – if you prefer – you must have failed and learned many times. Beyond technical skills, the Product Coach – as any real coach – must be genuinely interested in challenging people so they can evolve, make the right decisions, build careers and fulfilling lives and create growth.
A mix of hard skills – extensive product management experience, knowledge of the market and business models – and soft skills – active listening, communication, leadership and empathy – build up the role description.
Stay tuned for the next one: the Organisational Coach