The Discovery Guild is driving culture change at the FT

Jono Milnes
Dec 8, 2020 · 4 min read
Discovery Guild emoji image

In the six months since its creation, the Guild has helped us share more often, elevate our level of conversation and pull together, even when 2020 has done its best to keep us apart.

This time last year there was a feeling in Product that we could be more ambitious and make bigger bets. We felt that too often the problems we chose to solve and the ways we set out to solve them meant our ideas were too limited and our solutions were too safe.

A whole other blog post could be written about the FT’s Discovery process that was reviewed and renewed as a result of this. But process alone does not make an organisation more ambitious, innovative or comfortable in placing bigger bets. It requires a change in culture. The FT Discovery Guild has sparked that change.

What is the Discovery Guild?

The Guild is for anyone interested in product discovery.

We trade tips on how to discover valuable problems to solve, exchange methods that help teams generate bold ideas and, crucially, share learnings from when things haven’t quite gone as planned. It’s a safe space where people interested in Product can learn from each other.

In practical terms, it’s a bi-monthly hour-long get together, combined with a Slack channel — #discovery-guild — where the conversation continues in between meets.

How has it changed our culture?

The Guild has been running for over 6 months, and while we are still finding our feet, there are positive signs of culture change:

We’re sharing more (and not just the good stuff)

Before the Guild came along, there weren't really many opportunities for us to share and learn from each other. Sure, we’d present our successes to our department, but we rarely talked about what we’d learned or what had gone wrong. The Guild has started a shift in our culture to one that embraces the fact that things don’t always go as planned and recognises that it's in these moments where often we learn the most.

We’ve elevated our level of conversation

Naturally, at the FT we spend a lot of time talking about the details of our projects. But the Guild has helped us take a step back and talk about our craft and purpose too. We now have a space to ask bigger questions like ‘how should User Research and Product Design work together?’ ‘How might we organise ourselves to be more effective?’ and ‘What is 'just enough' user research?’.

We’re learning new ways of doing things

An inevitable product of this kind of conversation is that we learn and develop new ways of doing things. The FT Product team is full of talented people and the Discovery Guild has become a place where our knowledge and experience can be exchanged. From Micheal Hoole’s tips on how to get user feedback faster to Carmen Brion’s introduction to the Cynefin framework, the Guild is encouraging us to experiment more with the ways we work.

There’s a greater sense of community

Working from home this year has meant we no longer hang out together. On top of that, our product team is split between London and Sofia and is spread across different missions and departments. Meeting every 2 weeks at Discovery Guild has pulled us closer together, even when 2020 has done its best to keep us apart.

The Future

As our approach to product discovery matures, so must the guild.

This week’s theme is on ‘creative workshops’ and we’re planning a future one on ‘how to know what to work on next’.

Talks from Alan Klement, Jobs to be Done expert, and Frances McNamara, Spotify’s Group Product Manager for podcasts and talk formats, have proved popular and useful.

The Guild should be a place where teams that are stuck can come and get help and perspective from people who have been there before.

An appetite for innovation and placing bigger bets mustn’t only be present in our department. It needs to permeate the whole business. We think the Discovery Guild can make the FT more hungry for change.

Get involved

So, if you work at the FT and have not yet attended a Guild meeting, add the event to the calendar and make sure you’re at the next one. In the meantime, join #discovery-guild on slack and revisit recordings from previous Guild meetings.

If you don’t work at the FT but know a thing or two about product discovery, the Guild would love to hear from you. Get in touch and let's arrange it.

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