Discovery Part IV: Execution

selective focus photography cement

Like so many parts of product management (and life in general!), there is no single recipe for success with doing discovery work. But here are some guidelines and a basic approach. Within each step, experiment with alternate ideas and your intuition about which technique to use in the future will develop. This basic framework though will give guide rails to get started and avoid the pitfall of doing nothing at all.

  1. Start with a Journey/Experience Map – Have product team members draw what they believe a client goes through on a topic of interest. Then meet to compare notes and find similar steps. This understanding sets the basis for the questions you’ll ask but don’t assume the map is accurate or complete. As you build your map, don’t think about your product, think about your client. What are they doing and how are they feeling should be top of mind.
  2. Conduct Interviews – Henry Ford is often quoted for saying “If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses”. That’s true, but if you ask people to tell you a story they might say things like “I wish I could get there faster” or “My horse is sick and not reliable”. Getting them to tell stories reveals latent opportunities.
  3. Synthesize the Interviews – Marinating on what you’ve heard then allows you to summarize the findings. In your summary, include the person’s name, a memorable quote or something that will later allow you to recall the meeting. Focus on documenting needs discussed and not solutions.
  4. Opportunity/Solution Mapping – Innovations often solve ill-structured problems. Opportunity-Solution Maps give structure to these problems. Start with a desired outcome and then branch into opportunities. Each opportunity should be unique and not overlap. Before adding an opportunity, make sure that is expressed as a need, will drive the outcome you started with and isn’t unique to one client. From each opportunity you can create multiple solutions. The solutions should be small and discrete. From there you have the basis of a product roadmap and you’ve already broken it into small pieces that allow for agile, quick development. Don’t worry about prioritizing at this point but it’s worth noting that this process will lead you there or very close.

Lastly, here are a few items to watch out for or be aware of:

  1. This isn’t “one-and-done” – Your understanding of your clients will evolve and so to should your opportunity tree. One of the challenges with roadmaps is they give a false sense of certainty about the future but they should be fluid.
  2. Sunk-Cost Effect – No matter how far into the process you are or how much evangelizing you’ve done, be open minded to an idea no longer being the best one. This escalation of commitment bias can be difficult to overcome but the best products/teams/organizations pivot quickly. Netflix started out as a company that was going to sell shampoo subscriptions! You’d don’t have to pivot that far necessarily but fight the urge to fall in love with an idea – that emotion makes it harder to see even better solutions.
  3. Lost Focus – Remember through all of this process, you’re looking to create ideas that will withstand the assumption testing underpinning all product work. The idea must be (DUPV) Desirable (solves a problem people care about), Usable (delightful and intuitive to work with), Possible (the technology to build it exists, today) and Viable (compliant, legal, business needs are met).

This series on Continuous Discovery is inspired by Teresa Tores’s book on the subject. I can’t recommend it strongly enough for anyone with an interest in product and innovation. These posts were an attempt to summarize things I got out of it and add some of my own experience. Hopefully this helped and piqued your interest. If you do check it out, let me know what you think!

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