Often, we build new products or features because they are “cool” or popular in the market. The reality is these products or features will fail if they don’t solve a problem that the customer base or market is struggling to tackle. To mitigate the risk of a product or feature from flopping Product Managers(PMs) conduct Product Discovery sessions with customers and potential users. In a discovery session product, stakeholders gather feedback and input on their proposed features, products, and planned changes.
Product discovery sessions enable organizations to navigate the creation of a solution and the best ways to deliver that solution in the form of a product to the market. This post will discuss how to enable continuous product discovery and delivery.
What is Product Discovery?
The purpose of product discovery is to separate the good ideas from the bad quickly. In his book titled “Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love,” Marty Cagan describes this process as the means for getting the answers to four critical questions:
- Will the user buy this (or choose to use it)?
- Can the user figure out how to use this?
- Can our engineers build this?
- Can our stakeholders support this?
In discovery, we are tackling the various risks before we write even one line of production software. Therefore the output of product discovery is a validated product backlog. Product discovery sessions present an excellent opportunity to test your product ideas to validate your opportunity hypothesis.
Product and feature discovery doesn’t just come from the project management team, different business units work together as an organization to source improvements, observations, and other forms of feedback.
Product Discovery as an Organization
Discovery is very much about the intense collaboration of product management, user experience design, and engineering. Having multiple streams of product discovery is extremely helpful when delivering better software. It enables you to get feedback and use cases from various channels and different personas.
Take for example your Customer Success(CS) organization. CS engages with customers on a more regular basis and can file and pass feature requests onto the Product team! These requests can be prioritized and fielded based on priority and engineering capacity. The CS organization also makes it easier for Product Managers to facilitate Product Discovery sessions to get a better understanding of the pain points of a product.
The Sales organization can also capture product and feature requests. During a Proof of Value(POV) or sales cycle, customers identify gaps in the existing product producing requests for specific functionality or enhancements needed for potential users of your product. These requests are also added to the product’s backlog of work. Prioritized, this backlog allows product teams to build and deliver on scoped, tracked, and impactful solutions. Your Marketing team also is an excellent resource to help discover products. While they pitch your current product to the field, they can gauge what the competitors are doing, what their strengths or and what their weaknesses are. If they are doing something well that your product doesn’t do today, consider reviewing it with your product lead.
Metrics and telemetry also provide additional insight during discovery. As your customer base grows your product organization loses granular capacity to engage and follow every customers’ needs. This is why Data-Driven Product Discovery is an important discipline for discovering new products or features based on the behavior of your users’ interactions with your product. If users are experiencing difficulty when using the product PMs identify that as a point of improvement.
Product and feature discovery doesn’t just come from internal ideas. Product managers are responsible for managing streams of product-related feedback to help manage the success of a product or solution.
Validation with Customers
Product Discovery Sessions
For organizations that are highly in touch with their customers, teams often get the opportunity to meet with users in person to discuss and gauge the benefits of future work. Through these customer meetings, the team gathers feedback and validates their ideas before committing engineering resources to prototype and build these ideas.
Tremendous preparation is required to get the desired outcome from these sessions. Marty Cagan shares that products teams should aim to evaluate the following questions going into a product discovery session:
- Are your customers who you think they are?
- Do your customers really have the problems you think they have?
- How does the customer solve the problem today?
- What would require them to switch to your product?
In order to understand these crucial 4 questions, we have to ask the customer questions around the product or feature we wish to provide them. It’s good to keep our language neutral and open to avoid introducing bias. It’s more beneficial for the discovery session if customers share their pain and their story as they see and experience it.
In product management roles, our opinion shouldn’t taint or impact the discovery session. We are there to facilitate, listen, and see if the information falls in line with the product or feature we are pitching. We may show mocks or prototypes to validate our designs before writing any code or investing heavy engineering power behind it.
Discovery sessions provide an excellent source of information in regards to customer satisfaction, customer pain, and product validation.
For low touch organizations, this process might be a little less hands-on. A common approach is to gather product feedback through surveys. Twitter uses surveys in the form of tweets to generate ideas for potential work in the engineering backlog. Facebook also sends out surveys to the users that experience experiment features through feature flags. These surveys are formatted to gather feedback in regards to a user’s experience. This approach to gathering user experience feedback drives product or feature changes such that it can reach the remaining customer base. SurveyMonkey and Google Forms are both tools that help facilitate surveys.
Once feedback is collected, the team begins to triage and analyze the feedback and bucket them into specific categories, common features and tie them to backlog items that the Product team is focusing on. This feedback validates the current backlog and can validate the priority on the backlog.
Let’s say we don’t have an actual feature or product that we want to interview a customer about. As a PM, we can pose the question, “If you had a magic wand, what would you wish to see in the current product?” This will allow you to gauge the customer’s wants and pain.
By gathering customer pain points we can start conceptualizing products or features to address that pain. Customers validate the success of our product.
A Team Effort: Asking the Right Questions
The various perspectives can help shape the scope of the problem and help draw out the real customer pain points. It’s good to have a product designer and lead engineer join customer meetings or discovery sessions as a stakeholder of the product they ask questions that you as a PM may not have thought about.
The PM is not the only individual who will be attending and driving these sessions. The designer asks questions as they’re thinking along the lines of user experience and how the feature or product should feel to the user. The engineering lead may think about the problem from a technical standpoint. Thinking of how the customer does things today and how there may be other use cases they may want to address with this product or feature.
As a guiding principle for questions think of the Five Whys? As a team, you should be able to answer these questions.
By asking “why?” we get to the core of the customer’s pain and process. Gathering the right information from potential customers, users, and current customers is a team effort. With the help of the Design team and the Engineering team, you can increase the value of your product discovery sessions.
By continuously leveraging product discovery, you enable your engineering organization the opportunity to continuously deliver better solutions. This post shares key concepts to ensure that product execution aligns with customer needs. If you would like to learn more about other product management concepts check out other content written for PMs at Deliver Better.
Marty Cagan. “Inspired.” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/inspired/id1400567600
Josh Anon. “The Product Book”. Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/audiobook/product-book-how-to-become-great-product-manager-unabridged/id1451084448