Product Discovery is the process of learning what to build.
It’s about making sure that what gets into the product backlog is validated in advance, and that you do it as part of your normal operation.
Product Discovery is not something that happens once in a while; it is a continuous process that high-performance product teams do as part of their normal activity.
However, it is not just a process, above all it is a new mindset. Your organization must be prepared to really benefit from Product Discovery.
Are You Really Agile?
Thanks to Agile and DevOps companies have been able develop the capability of continuously deliver quality software to production.
However, success rates of products and innovations are still depressing. Apparently, we learnt how to do things right, but we still didn’t learn how to do the right things.
The reason lies in how many companies still operate in a siloed and waterfall way regardless of how agile they say they are.
Modern product organizations must learn to integrate product discovery and product delivery to build the right thing and to build it right.
The real business agility comes from enabling continuous discovery all the way down from strategy to operations: strategy, business model, goal setting, product roadmaps, product discovery and product delivery.
Product Discovery is the learning process which connects company’s strategy with product delivery.
Product Discovery vs Product Delivery
Creating products entails basically two processes: deciding what to build and building it.
- Product Discovery = figuring out what to build
- Product Delivery = building it
However, traditionally, companies have put all the effort just into building.
Product Discovery is the process of figuring out what to build. In order words, to progressively reduce uncertainty around a business idea or product that ends up with validated backlog items in your product backlog.
Depending on your stage of the product life cycle there is going to be a different balance between product discovery and product delivery.
As you can imagine, it is not the same starting from scratch with a new business idea than to target a new customer segment or to launch a Black Friday campaign that you have done several times before.
Every effort will require different amounts of product discovery.
Modern product companies enable continuous product discovery and emergent strategy in their product teams.
Product Discovery vs Business Discovery
I like to differentiate between two different concepts that are deeply interrelated but are not exactly the same: product and business.
A product (or service) is the thing you buy as a customer. But, surrounding the product there is a business model.
Actually, the difference between success or failure of a great product is often times the business model.
If you are starting a new company or creating a new product you must also perform business discovery. Which is the process of coming up with a sustainable and scalable business model. That’s what Lean Startup movement taught us.
Imagine you are starting a shoe business. As a shoe maker your product are the shoes, but as a business model you must also discover many other building blocks, such as:
- price tag
- how big is the market opportunity
- which are the best channels to acquire and to deliver the shoes to customers
- partnerships required to implement the whole value stream
Obviously product seats right in the middle of the business model.
When we think about Product Discovery we are thinking mainly in the product-related risks. We are making sure that we build the right product for the right audience. So, we are finding out answers for the following questions:
- Is this product desirable (does it solve a problem?) – DESIRABILITY
- Is it usable (does it solve the problem in a nice way?) – USABILITY
- Is it feasible (can we build it?) – TECHNICAL FEASIBILITY
However, when we think about Business Discovery we are thinking on the surrounding business model and strategy. So, we are finding out answers for the following questions:
- Is there a market opportunity? (market risk) – MARKET OPPORTUNITY
- Is this business feasible (partnerships, required activities and resources) – BUSINESS FEASIBILITY
- Are we going to make money out of it?, how fast?, what are the revenue models?, what channels are best for our model and pricing? – BUSINESS VIABILITY
As a Product Manager you must care about both. Obviously, at the beginning you should work on the whole business model but as you advance into Product-Market Fit and later phases your teams should engage in continuous product discovery to enable growth and to fix product performance issues whenever they occur.
To summarize, business discovery is about building a business and product discovery is about building a product.
Product Discovery Framework
Product Discovery is not a linear one-way process, as you can imagine. It is often messy and unpredictable.
You will need a framework and a set of practices and techniques to bring some structure to this messy process.
Product Discovery is not something that should happen once in a while but a continuous process that high-performance product teams do as part of their normal activity.
However, when it comes to organizing product discovery and integrating it with delivery most teams get stuck. They have a hard time knowing exactly what they should do. They understand the high-level concepts, but they don’t know how to apply them.
Some other teams just go to the opposite extreme and suffer from paralysis per analysis. They spend so much time in discovery that they forget about delivery.
You must learn to keep an effective dynamic balance between product discovery and product delivery, and to achieve that it is key to have a product discovery framework.
You can build your own, but if you don’t know where to start from, we recommend starting with our product discovery framework.
With this framework you can align team efforts, provide visibility to stakeholders and make sure that you are on track towards achieving your businesses goals.
Begin With the End in Mind
The starting point is always a goal (or a challenge). The end point is always the decision to build a product or feature. In between, lies the product discovery double-loop of Exploration and Validation.
However, in the middle of this double-loop that connects exploration and validation, there is a decision point:
- Can we move straight ahead to building from the goal?
- Do we need to explore the problem space?
- Can we just build after exploring the problem space?
- Do we need further exploration?
- Do we need to validate with customers after exploration?
- Can we build already after validation or do we need further exploration because we learnt something?
- Do we need further validation?
- Should we cancel or pivot?
Everything starts with a goal. This goal can be a business objective, a problem with your product growth or perhaps a theme in the roadmap.
This step is the initial kick-off and it is fundamental for the success of the Product Discovery process.
Once the goal and success criteria is clear we must do the following:
- Design the Team
- Create a Supportive Environment
- Build Alignment
The outcome of the Exploration loop are ideas worth pursuing. They are solutions to customers problems, expected outcomes while performing jobs or growth ideas for the product.
In the exploration loop you shape and reshape ideas for achieving a business goal and/or creating an impact to your customers.
The first iterations might be based on your intuition but as soon as possible you should do some research to discover what your customers really need.
As many ideas cross towards the Validation loop some will come back as new insigths to be explored or new ideas to be validated.
The purpose of the Validation loop is to design experiments to validate ideas before going into delivery.
To achieve this we build different prototypes with different levels of fidelity based on the strength of the evidence we need to gather and also based on the type of thing we want to validate: Desirability, Usability or Feasibility.
You have come a long way. Now, it is time to decide what to ship to the customer.
Here it is when you can use some effective techniques to translate your product insights into successful features like Lean Inception or Story Mapping
Summary of Product Discovery
Modern product organizations are characterized by adopting a continuous learning approach at all levels: from strategy down to delivery.
Product Teams must combine both discovery and delivery in their normal routine. Continuously researching the market, involving customers and experimenting in fast and short cycles to make sure that what they build is likely to have an impact.
Product Discovery is the continuous process of reducing uncertainty around an idea. Companies must move away from the one-off big design upfront approach to enabling and empowering their product teams to continuously evolve their product in pursue of a business goal.