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Interview with Nate Walkingshaw, Chief Experience Officer, Pluralsight: Directed Discovery a Paradigm Shift from Agile and Scrum

During the recent PluralsightLIVE conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, I had the opportunity to speak with Nate Walkingshaw, Chief Experience Officer (CXO), Pluralsight. Nate shared with me the Directed Discovery model which is used in Pluralsight Inc to develop their products.

What is Directed Discovery?

“Directed discovery is a human-centered, product development methodology. It’s a qualitative and a quantitative methodology that’s used to develop software products for scale. It has five-mile markers.”

The process …

1. Mission and Vision:
The first stage of the process is to discover the mission and the vision of the company, customer and product.

2. Voice of the Customer (VOC):
During this stage the aim is to capture the voice of the customer. This is done through ethnographic qualitative research before building the product.

3. Customer Preference Testing (CPT):
This is the prototype observation stage which shows the customer what has been created based on the collective qualitative assessment. It is customer focused and gathers their raw and authentic feedback.

4. Customer Confirmation Testing (CCT):

Stage four measures qualitative and quantitative customer data. A deep layer of analytics is embedded into every experience of the product that’s going to be built and shipped.

5. Launch Full Product Development:

The final stage of product development is when the Alpha and beta versions are released. Customer data continues to be reviewed. The product and its features are continuously adapted. Ongoing discovery and delivery creates dual tracking and product development. This replaces the waterfall method which is dictated from the top down.

Nate believes:

“Using the Directed Discovery method builds a phenomenal product.”

Can you explain more about Pluralsight’s qualitative and qualitative methods?

“Part of Directed Discovery is that every team, over the last three and a half to four years has carried out over 9,000 qualitative interviews. When you think about our product experience and you look at all the affordances, all the different design elements that sit on that page, they’re amassed through qualitative feedback and then verified through quantitative analysis.”

The Team …

It’s very clear that the customer is at the center of this process. Who are the members of the product team that support him/her and implement Directed Discovery?

“When we build teams at Pluralsight, they’re cross-functional. They’re co-located. We cancel customer interviews if an engineer can’t make the call. The reason is that when an engineer is in the room and they look at a problem that a learner or maybe a B to B customer is facing, they probably could find a technical solution much faster than a product manager or a user experience designer.

When you’re looking at a problem through a content lens, from a data-centric lens or from an engineering lens, that level of thinking is the upgrade. I mean that’s when you’re getting 100% out of your software developers. If they’re not involved at the very beginning, at the very inception of building and crafting the idea, you’re probably only getting 50% out of the use out of your software development and engineering.”

Cross-functional teams consist of Product Managers, User Experience Designers, and Developers all of whom come from very different disciplines and mindsets. How does this collaboration work?

“I mean, you’ve got to be really intentional. We knew what silos did:

1. Waterfall and Matrix didn’t foster a very collaborative environment.

2. They didn’t really put the customer at the center of everything that was done.

3. The super-power here is they didn’t leverage the diversity of thought to build a product. If I look at Pluralsight’s product, it’s in 150 different countries. I can’t get enough people in the room from different diverse backgrounds to think about how to build a learning product.”

What are the benefits for cross-functional team members working so closely together and with the customer?

“When they’ve worked together on something, built and delivered it they get to see the elation that happens with the customer. They connect the entire interstate. They have ownership. Also, when you see a software developer look at the logic of their code married to the design, matched with customer elation, it’s adding an accelerant.”

Nate sums up Directed Discovery:

“We are creators. You can build and ship a product, but to ship an experience that has deep, long-lasting impact requires massive creative thought on all the teams’ behalf.”

(Source: Agile Died While You Were Doing Your Standup)

The Analysis …

Just as digital transformation has disrupted many industries, I believe that we must examine and update the current software development and design processes involved in the creation of technology products. It makes sense that the customer’s voice is heard at the beginning, throughout the process and beyond.

A more collaborative approach which includes the customer and all members of the production and design team is vital. In order to create an exceptional product, all decisions and outputs must be driven by quantitative and qualitative customer data. The current methods such as agile, scrum/scrumfall and matrix are missing these vital components. Directed Discovery is a welcome paradigm shift in the right direction and it’s time to embrace it.

About Pluralsight

Pluralsight is an enterprise technology learning platform that delivers a unified, end-to-end learning experience for businesses across the globe. Through a subscription service, companies are empowered to move at the speed of technology, increasing proficiency, innovation and efficiency. Founded in 2004 and trusted by Fortune 500 companies, Pluralsight provides members with on-demand access to a digital ecosystem of learning tools, including Pluralsight IQ, directed learning paths, expert-authored courses, interactive labs and live mentoring. For more information, visit





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