From Intuitive to Instructive in 3 Steps

Hey, Richard here…

Ever tried to teach someone else a thing that you’re good at? Maybe it’s a physical skill like hitting a tennis ball. Maybe it’s an everyday task like cooking a particular food. Perhaps it’s a mental skill like decomposing work into small slices of value.

You probably discovered the same thing I have many times in my life…being good at a thing is very different than being good at teaching a thing.

But whether you’re a coach, a manager, or a senior team member, getting skills out of your head and into a form others can learn from is an essential part of the job.

Of course, teaching and coaching are whole disciplines of their own. They’re way too big for a newsletter!

But I want to share with you my go-to 3-step method for quickly turning a skill I have into a skill I can teach…

Step 1: Get It Out of Your Head

Visualize what you do when you execute the skill. It could be the questions you ask yourself or the steps you go through, often both.

Starting from the end and working backwards usually produces the most honest reflection of what you actually do. What do I do last? What do I do right before that? Etc. It’s easy to make up stories about what we do, but it’s hard to make up stories backwards.

Do this as a workflow or some other visual so you can see it. Don’t worry about making it pretty yet. Just get the concepts on paper or screen somehow.

Step 2: Test Your Model

Try running examples through your visualization. Test the common cases. But look particularly for examples that break the model—the cases where your visual doesn’t accurately explain what you do. Adjust the visual to accommodate those.

Step 3: Put It To Work (And Test It With Others)

At this point, you almost certainly haven’t perfectly captured how do the thing you want to teach. However, it’s easy to get paralyzed trying to make it perfect before you share it. It’s time to start using and testing it with others.

Clean up the visual if you need to so others can use it. Again, resist the temptation to try to make it perfect.

Find a safe-to-fail context in which you can test your model with someone else. Pay attention to where they get stuck, what’s not clear, and what examples they come up with that don’t fit. Resist the temptation to explain why your model is actually right. Instead, take the feedback and use it to make your model better. After several iterations, it’ll stabilize, and you can have confidence you’ve created a useful tool for other people to learn the skill.

This approach, by the way, is how I originally created our wildly popular “How to Split a User Story” flowchart. I took the thing that had become fluent for me and my team, put it in a visual, tested it on my own, and then put it to work with others.

Later this month, I’m going to offer a deep dive into how I coach others to make story splitting their own. If you’re a coach, join me!

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