Exploring the motivational trap in product teams, discussing the lack of motivation, the importance of purpose, mastery, and autonomy as intrinsic motivators, and strategies for overcoming cognitive load. It emphasizes the significance of these factors in promoting team motivation and unlocking the potential of product teams.
Talk transcript of Peter Lindberg – recorded on 19 Apr 2023 Agile
Peter Lindberg is a product coach working with the company called Syndicate, an agile product consultancy based in Denmark. Over the years, our team has grown to about 40 talented individuals, and our expertise lies in coaching and training teams within various companies. My focus areas include product development, product leadership, and related aspects such as facilitation, coaching, mentoring, training, and public speaking. With a background rooted in agile methodologies, I bring a pragmatic approach to my work, incorporating the Scrummish notion and other agile frameworks into my coaching and consulting practices.
In the world of product development, we often find ourselves caught in a web of traditional practices that hinder our ability to implement innovative ideas and build exceptional products. It is crucial to understand why we struggle to succeed in bringing these brilliant ideas to life. This article explores the concept of a motivational trap that exists within product teams and organizations, shedding light on the challenges faced by individuals in such contexts.
In my experience working with different organizations, including renowned companies such as LEGO and Bestest, I have observed a common pattern of teams facing difficulties when adopting new approaches to building products. Despite the abundance of resources, ideas, and advice available, these teams struggle to reap the expected benefits. As I delve into the topic of the motivational trap, it becomes apparent that a lack of motivation plays a significant role in impeding progress. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind this lack of motivation and how it obstructs the implementation of innovative ideas.
Within product teams, especially those in traditional organizations, the motivation to embrace new ideas and change is often lacking. Despite the abundance of content, books, and expert advice, teams fail to find the drive to embark on a new path. The prevailing sentiment can be described as “agile fatigue,” a weariness resulting from past attempts at adopting different methodologies and ways of working. The promised benefits of these approaches, such as improved product quality, customer satisfaction, and job satisfaction, have not materialized as expected. Consequently, teams and organizations struggle to cultivate the necessary motivation to explore and implement new ideas effectively.
To understand the underlying factors contributing to the lack of motivation, we turn to Daniel Pink’s book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” Pink highlights three intrinsic motivators that enable individuals to thrive in their jobs: purpose, mastery, and autonomy. These motivators transcend the typical external factors like money and status, shaping our drive and satisfaction within the workplace. Exploring each of these motivators offers insights into how we can foster motivation within teams and organizations, especially when adopting new approaches to product development.
Purpose revolves around the desire to contribute to something greater than oneself. We yearn to create products that have a meaningful impact, products that make a difference and are cherished by users. Establishing a clear product mission is essential for providing teams with a sense of purpose. However, it is not enough to create a mission statement or fill in a canvas. The true value lies in continuous communication and using the mission as a guiding force, aligning team members’ efforts and instilling empathy for customers. Regrettably, in many cases, the product mission remains an afterthought, created after the product’s inception and seldom revisited.
To build exceptional products, organizations must strive for transformational mastery. This entails efficient execution and scalability, employing frameworks like SAFe or LESS to handle dependencies and organizational dynamics. Additionally, technical mastery plays a crucial role, involving the adoption of DevOps, continuous integration, and deployment. And now, the latest addition to the mix is business mastery, which emphasizes building the right products through product discovery, product trios, metrics-driven decision-making, and effective mission and strategy alignment.
Autonomy entails the freedom to determine how one works, what tasks to prioritize, and what order to follow. These motivators are essential for individuals and teams to thrive and excel.
In many cases, there is a disconnect between the product team and the business decision-makers. The product manager often takes on the responsibility of communicating the purpose, but the message doesn’t always reach the key decision-makers. To bridge this gap, clear and compelling communication is necessary. The product vision must resonate with everyone involved, regardless of their role—developers, designers, or UX specialists. Aligning the team’s purpose with the broader business objectives ensures a unified and motivated approach.
In the pursuit of motivation and purpose, it is essential to go beyond creating a static product mission. Instead, foster an ongoing dialogue and communication that emphasizes the “why” behind the product. By doing so, teams can unlock intrinsic motivation and propel themselves towards building exceptional products that align with their purpose.
Purpose serves as a vital component of motivation, and it is essential that we have a clear sense of why we are building the products we are working on. However, it is crucial to understand that autonomy alone does not guarantee motivation. To truly experience autonomy, we must align our actions with the purpose we have set out to achieve. Merely having the freedom to choose tasks from a backlog without a coherent mission or common future for the product fails to provide the motivation and direction necessary for autonomy to thrive. Therefore, we must prioritize aligning our purpose and vision with our autonomy, working deliberately and intelligently to develop a sound product strategy.
To foster autonomy, we must establish a robust product strategy that guides our decision-making and provides a framework for our actions. Richard Rumelt’s book, “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy,” offers valuable insights into crafting a strong strategy, even if it is not solely focused on product development. Additionally, exploring the works of thought leaders like Tim Perfect can shed further light on effective strategies. It is crucial to identify the challenges ahead and define our guardrails for success. This includes specifying the customer segments we are targeting, enabling us to make clear decisions and say no to distractions. Unfortunately, many teams overlook this aspect, making it difficult to pursue coherent actions and achieve our goals.
To reinforce mastery, we must adopt outcome-based goals and practices, as mentioned by David. Merely implementing OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) is not enough; we must actively practice using them and refine our skills. It is a challenge to incorporate new ways of working into our teams, requiring us to restructure our approach and adapt to these methodologies. Mastery comes with time and experience, as we consistently strive to optimize our utilization of OKRs and reap the full benefits they offer.
As we introduce these new ideas and approaches to our teams, it is crucial to navigate the intricate relationship between purpose, autonomy, and mastery. By understanding the importance of aligning our purpose with autonomy, and by honing our skills through deliberate practice, we can cultivate the motivation necessary to overcome the traps that hinder our progress. Only then can we truly unleash our potential and build remarkable products that make a meaningful difference.
In the pursuit of implementing new ideas and approaches to product development, teams often face a common hurdle: the limitations of cognitive capacity.
People feel overwhelmed and strapped for time and mental energy, making it challenging to learn something new or adopt new technologies and methodologies. It’s not just about introducing OKRs or metrics; even understanding how to utilize them effectively requires a deep level of knowledge. This lack of knowledge can hinder motivation and progress.
The book “Team Topologies” sheds light on cognitive capacity and its impact on teams. Cognitive load refers to the mental effort required to complete a task, and every individual and team has limits to their cognitive capacity. It’s not only about domain-specific knowledge, such as coding or design skills, but also encompasses the broader organizational context, collaboration methods, and communication practices. When the cognitive load reaches its limit, teams experience a slowdown, impeding their ability to adopt new ways of working in product development.
Cognitive load can be divided into three categories: intrinsic, extraneous, and germane. Intrinsic load relates to the fundamental knowledge and skills specific to the problem space. For example, developers need to be proficient in programming languages and mathematical concepts. Extraneous load pertains to the environmental factors, including tools, processes, group dynamics, and task switching. Introducing new tools and processes can add to the existing load. Lastly, germane load refers to the value-creation aspect, involving problem-solving and domain learning.
To address cognitive overload, teams should consider simplifying their work and limiting the load imposed on individuals. Just as we remove unnecessary items from a product backlog, we need to remove unnecessary complexities and streamline processes. By reducing both intrinsic and extraneous load, we create space for learning and adopting new approaches. When teams have a clearer vision, well-defined goals, and strategic frameworks, they become more motivated and capable of mastering new topics.
To succeed in implementing new ideas and approaches, teams must cultivate motivation through purpose, autonomy, and mastery. Clear visions and goals provide a sense of purpose and direction, aligning the team’s efforts. Autonomy thrives when teams have the freedom to determine how they achieve the set goals. Finally, mastery comes from continuous learning and improvement, feeling confident in one’s abilities.
By understanding the limitations of cognitive capacity and actively managing it, teams can create an environment conducive to learning, motivation, and success. Balancing intrinsic and extraneous load, simplifying processes, and fostering purpose, autonomy, and mastery are key to unlocking the full potential of product teams. With these insights, teams can overcome obstacles and embrace new ideas, leading to remarkable outcomes in their product development journey.
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