Coaching is an ongoing, quality, one-on-one formal conversation to help someone reach their full professional potential. It involves at least two parties: the coach and the coachee.
During coaching, the coach focuses more on asking questions versus giving the answers straight away. Excellent coaches ask the right questions at the right time—that's their superpower.
Effective coaching is iterative, based on regular feedback, and driven by a genuine curiosity to understand and empower. It's about fostering a mindset of continuous growth and discovery, both for the coach and the coachee.
A coach stands apart, unbiased and detached from the company and emotions, providing structured and objective guidance. As the value of product coaching continues to gain recognition, Marty Cagan is on a mission to inspire others through his upcoming book on the subject.
Today's fast-paced and ever-changing tech landscape has made product coaching increasingly relevant. This is evident not only by its growing adoption among organizations but also by the fact that industry expert Marty Cagan, with his vast experience and previous foundational texts on product management, is now dedicating an entire book to this subject. This signifies a broader shift towards building strong product leaders and teams, introducing new frameworks, and raising the bar for excellence in the field.
Over the past couple of years, I have been more vocal about the industry's need for more skilled product coaches. Partly this is due to the sheer volume of companies that today realise they need to adopt the practices of the best companies.
Product coaching vs. traditional learning methods
Traditional learning methods include books, online courses, YouTube videos, and blog articles. These methods are referred to as single-loop learning. Consider the traditional learning methods as the foundation, introducing you to core concepts. It is essential, and every person starts with that. But suppose you only stay in this area. You may struggle to apply the knowledge to your unique situation.
Coaching is classified as a double loop learning. It delves deeper. It's about more than just understanding theory but also how to apply it in your organisation.
With a coach's guidance, feedback, and support, you transition from mere knowledge absorption to practical application tailored to your unique organisation. It's the evolution from a singular learning loop to a double loop learning.
"Of course, you can learn from the books, and podcasts, and etc, but the new knowledge doesn't immediately become a part of you, and you don't apply it straight away, whereas with coaching, it integrated the way you work quickly".
Benefits of a product coach
A coach gives more than just generic guidance. They invest time to understand your unique challenges, strengths, and aspirations. By referencing real-world scenarios from their experience, they provide tailored advice and help you solve a specific problem.
In fast-evolving companies, many find themselves thrust into leadership roles in product, design, or engineering, recognising the need for guidance.
Successful product leadership coaches often have previously held significant roles as heads of product or technology. They've navigated these vast topics and are eager to share their insights.
It's about nurturing the right mindset and behaviours, not just skills.
Enhanced skill development
In the vibrant world of product management, every organisation has its nuances. A coach focuses on pivotal skills like stakeholder management, product strategy, user research, and more. Beyond just theory, they guide you in navigating the complexities of your organisation, ensuring you're not just knowledgeable but also effective.
A coach provides that external, unbiased viewpoint, helping you determine patterns and behaviours that might hold you back. They challenge your assumptions, push you to think critically, and guide you in making decisions that align with your personal and organisational goals.
In product management, where ambiguity is a constant, a coach is a pillar of support. A coach helps you embrace uncertainty, validate hypotheses, and navigate complex stakeholder landscapes. They're not just there to provide answers but to strengthen your confidence in finding them yourself.
Deliver Better Quality
Timoté Geimer, CEO @ dualoop, frequently emphasises the importance of outcome over output. With a coach's guidance, you're not just focused on doing a lot of things but doing what actually matters. A coach's perspective, combined with best practices from the industry, ensures you elevate the quality of your decisions.
Different types of product coaches
"Let me say up front that these different types of coaching I'm about to describe are not mutually exclusive. I know more than a few coaches that are very capable of coaching at multiple levels. But I think it's also true that even with those people, they have a strong preference for where they like to spend their time."
Product discovery coaching
Product discovery coaching is at the core of product coaching. This approach is critical due to its great importance. Just as product teams aiming to refine their delivery skills might engage an Agile coach to enhance delivery, teams venturing into product discovery often find value in discovery coaching. Transitioning from a feature team to an empowered product team is fundamentally about mastering the art of discovering a solution worth building – the essence of product discovery.
Most accomplished discovery coaches have backgrounds as product managers, product designers, or tech leads. They've honed the art of effective product discovery and are passionate about imparting their expertise to others.
Product leadership coaching
Product leadership is undeniably tricky. The journey from a feature-team-centric organisation to empowered product teams introduces pivotal topics like product vision, team topology, product strategy, team objectives, and staffing and coaching skills development.
The ones who need leadership coaching usually find themselves leading product, design or engineering, and they know they need help. As Cagan highlights, the client is usually the CPO/VP Product and/or the CTO/VP Engineering.
Former heads of product or technology who have figured out how to tackle complex topics become successful coaches to share their knowledge.
Another principal coaching type focuses on assisting senior leadership in transitioning from a feature-team-based organisation to empowered product teams, essentially shifting from a project to a product-centric culture. This coaching type is particularly demanding because most CEOs seek a product coach with substantial senior leadership experience in large, intricate companies.
These coaches must be experienced in engaging with a company's CFO, explaining necessary changes to the head of sales, and directly interacting with engineers, designers, and product managers. An example of a transformational coaching case occurred through the collaboration between dualoop and Nodalview. Nodalview needed help building and scaling the product organisation to sustain its growth ambition. Like every quickly growing startup, Nodalview has faced some organisational challenges. Those were inevitable due to the company's speedy growth.
Other types of coaches
Beyond the commonly known Agile/Delivery Coaches, several speciality coaches include OKR Coaches, CEO Coaches, Growth and/or Retention Coaches, Marketing Coaches, and Sales Coaches.
Get a coachee perspective
Are you keen to delve deeper into the intricacies of coaching, and understand its benefits directly from a fellow product manager's viewpoint?
Explore Joran Liessens' insights, a senior product manager at Loop Earplugs, as he reflects on his coaching journey and the advantages he's gleaned. As he transitioned into a dedicated product management role at Loop Earplugs, Joran faced challenges with stakeholder communication, product discovery, market fit, and defining the very essence of the product management role within the company.
How did coaching help him? What lessons did he learn? Discover the full story here!
A coach isn't just a guide; they're a catalyst for transformation.
-Joran Liessens, product manager @ Loop Earplugs