Practical education as a backbone of company progress

Chit-chat with: Predrag Rajković

Q1: Hi Pedja. First of all, let’s find out something about you. what should someone inevitably know about you?


In a few words, I’m a product and Agile coach with over 15 years of experience working with products at different stages of their lifecycle, and over 10 years of doing so in an Agile environment.

If I’d make a list it would be really long, but I like to mention leading product from zero to one million monthly active users, leading creation of most innovative infotainment portal in the region at that time, leading teams delivering really superior global, multimillion users entertaining solution, facilitating creation of an innovative car tracking solution… I’ve also led product teams ranging from 4 to over 20 people. I have been working in the telco and IT industry.

Then I moved to freelance waters which gave me the opportunity to work in various industries encompassing banking, education, more IT, FMCG. This allowed me to work with several start-ups in different phases, from just a vague idea of the product, to already having product on the market and looking for a way to improve it. What I also like to mention is that through the years I’ve been leading not only digital, software products, but also physical products. Although underlying principles used for any product are the same, the delivery and distribution parts have significant differences and specificities. Often clients coming from FMCG or other industries dealing with physical products can be sceptic, even distrustful when it comes to techniques of product discovery. However, thanks to this diverse experience I can easily reassure them that techniques I’m showing are equally applicable for any type of product, service or a process.

The experience working with those companies showed me that although each company is specific and has its peculiarities, still in essence, problems keep repeating.

Q2: So, can you share with us some of those repeating issues that companies face based on your great experience?


Very common challenge that the companies are facing is the issue of inconsistent and uncontrollable delivery.

The issue here is that teams working on a project, feature, or product, are doing their best to deliver things as expected. However, it seems that despite everyone’s best wishes things go astray and timelines are being challenged.

This, of course, causes tension throughout the organization. Product people can’t meet users’ needs, and on the other hand, business goals are not met. Project managers, or delivery managers, don’t hit their milestones, pushing projects and resources to their limits. Management is dissatisfied, thinking that money invested in the delivery team is spent wrongly.

Finally, delivery teams are disengaged, and disappointed, not willing to give any further estimates or commitment on when the next project will be finished.  A situation so tense that the organization is on the verge of breakdown.

Q3: Nasty! That’s one on the delivery side. Are there any similar repeating patterns on the discovery side, when a company has its product?


Naturally. Discovery has its own ghosts. One of the quite common is low feature usage. Now, this is an insidious one. You don’t know about it until it’s too late.

Q4: How so?


Well, the interesting thing is that a lot of product companies that either I had direct contact with, or that I’ve talked to other product colleagues about, actually don’t set any expectations toward feature usage. This is such a common practice that companies that do set expectations are very few. That’s where the problem lies.

You work as a feature factory, feature ideas are pushed – top-down toward product managers and dev teams. They take it for granted, after all, the supreme leader asked for it, and he must have a good reason for that. No-one asks if and how much it will be used, no one sets any expectations.

The feature is delivered and pushed to end users, and we move on to producing and delivering another one. Before you know it your product is burdened with features and gets easily challenged by a competing one with significantly fewer features, but where users get on easily and which does the job for them.  Obviously, the problem is that we haven’t set expectations.

As a result, even if someone has observed the feature’s usage, there’s nothing to measure it against, so we don’t know if we produced something useful for users or not. Consequently, our product gets cluttered with features that don’t have a purpose, and we have invested so much effort in useless things.

Q5: Why are these problems important and why are they so common?


Each of these problems has a severe impact on the business. As said, cluttered product costs effort and investment, and doesn’t bring a value back, because it doesn’t provide it to users. Volatile delivery makes planning and estimations impossible, meaning we cannot decide which feature to give priority to. Churning customers are like holes in the bucket, money is simply slipping through our hands with every user lost. So each of these problems is essential for maintaining a healthy business.

Q6: What can be done to address those challenges?


Sadly, companies become aware of the problems only when they are deeply stuck and when severe cuts are needed, and they can be painful. That’s why properly setting the system as early as possible is essential!

Start doing things as they should be done from the beginning!

Sometimes management might feel uneasy inviting someone to educate their people instead of them being the mentors. That is natural but consider if mentoring others is the best use of your time. Time is our most precious resource and if management is spending it on education, then, who is running the company? Usually, it comes as in the example we mentioned, management can’t have time to mentor the people, instead, they go into the mode – this is what should be delivered (a feature factory) which, as we saw, ends in cluttered product, disengaged people and teams and churning customers.

A better way to spend resources is to engage experts in the field to kick-start your team through education and mentoring. This speeds up the whole company and leaves space to management to do what they are best in, to run the company.

Q7: How are courses designed, and how do you make sure there is a value for the attendees and the company?


My diverse experience has been built into every course that I give. Hands-on involvement in different industries and in companies varying in size and culture gives me the possibility to have a helicopter view and extract commonalities which are applicable for all.

At the same time, in-house courses, meaning those that are organized for one client only and happen on their premises, provide enough local flavor and the possibility to discuss concrete problems of that client and their setup. This is why, in each course, special dedication is given to discussions about concrete problems, I see the biggest value there. When people start discussing, asking, and getting passionate, I see that this has a real value. Quite often I let the discussion last. I keep track of time, but since everybody sees the value, I’m not inclined to shorten or cancel it.

Q8: Is one course enough? Do they know how to implement it later on?


The topics that we are talking about are complex and have significant impact to business overall. Therefore, our courses are focused on a particular problem. Furthermore, they are designed in a way to provide maximal level of practical knowledge to the attendees. Still, in this kind of topics you cannot teach everything there is, for someone to know in one day.

What you can give is a sound basis so that they are capable of solving problems and start getting experience by themselves. Hands-on experience is the most important part of anyone’s knowledge and expertise. That’s why we insist on having a lot of practical exercises in our courses, and the second thing is to push them to try using the knowledge that they’ve obtained in courses immediately. The best results are achieved if they start implementing things that they’ve learned as soon as the course is finished, at the first project that they are working on.

Q9: What happens after a course is finished?


After each course I tend to stay in touch with people who have attended it. I’m open to all practical questions they might have, or just a simple thought exchange.

Of course, I strongly encourage companies that take care of the usefulness of people’s learning and development to schedule mentoring or coaching for their employees. The best results in the application of knowledge are achieved with this. It is because of mechanics and inertia that people who attended a course might be reluctant to start implementing new techniques. This is why it is great to have someone by your side to help you overcome this obstacle.

Q10: What would be your final conclusion on this topic?


The most efficient way to kick-start your organization and set its processes properly is to engage in an in-house training session. This helps organizations not to spend necessary resources inefficiently, it enables management to have focus on business, and it has a positive impact on the development of your people.

When education is enriched with a practical approach, it’s a recipe for success.

Finally, in combination with mentoring, this gives enormous value both to the company and to its employees.

I understand that for a large number of companies, all this may sound complicated, intimidating, and even unnecessary for some. That’s why we are preparing a series of case studies with the desire to help those interested, but also to show that all these problems we mention can be solved with the right guidance.

Q11: Great Predrag, that sounds great, we can’t wait. Thank you very much for your time and conversation.


You’re welcome, it was my pleasure.

You can explore our page Inhouse education for companies, but also feel free to contact us for consultation.