The day has come! The project that you’ve been so fiercely pitching to your manager got the green light. You have a team, all the information required, and the company even gave you a budget. From here, nothing can go wrong… right?

Everything can go wrong! The product could be so complex that your clients cannot use it, making impossible to meet the sales goal. So, is there any way to prevent such problems? How to reduce the risk of failure and guarantee your product meets the client requirements?

If you are a product owner or a product marketeer, you must know that it’s imperative to speak to your customer, so you know what to build or if what you are creating is, in fact, what they need. This is called Product discovery, where you get data from your client in order to guarantee that you’re working on the right solution to address the problem they are experiencing every day.

Often, we have the preconceived idea about what can be the best solution but when it hits the market, the acceptance rate is so low that sales are even worse than predicted. It’s easier, cheaper and less time consuming to change something that is still in the initial phase, so you should be sure about what you want to build.

There is no blueprint on how to do a product discovery. The main objective of these phase is to get more knowledge over time, so you can understand better what is the best solution to invest in. A good approach can be summarized by these three activities:

  • Interviews: talk with your target and\or investors. Understand what their problems are and get feedback on proof of concepts, prototypes or minimal viable products.
  • Prototypes or proof of concept: get basic examples of the functionalities that work; they might not be integrated or even fully working but they will allow you to have a better understanding of the product and get feedback before spending time on developing and refining the product;
  • Minimal viable product: have an MVP release with a basic infrastructure to have everything prepared like in the production phase and customers can test your product and give feedback on the released features.

These are basic activities that can be used with any product; you can always add more or choose the ones that better serve you project, as long as these activities help you learn something about your customer by getting information and feedback.

Product discovery is not something that you do only when starting a project, but something you should do as much as possible. Every time you talk to your customer more problems, ideas and solutions will appear. And every time all need to be validated and converted into future features of the product.

However, during the Product discovery phase you can face some problems that can be easily identified, such as:

Not being able to embrace the discovery mentality. You do not need to make complex questions to have an idea, either of the problem or the product itself. Just be smart; people with a discovery mentality will not settle for the first idea or make pre-assumptions. Do more questions and test the ones that matter, be curious about the context of the product, and more important, have an open mind.

Not concluding the discovery cycle. You got all the relevant information from your clients, tested the possible solutions, gathered a team to design and build the product, and finally it was tested and approved; well done! But it’s not yet time to start the next project because, in reality, your work is just starting. After the product launch you need to setup solid milestones to evaluate the product success, as well as create and\or adapt the channels from where you collected feedback on the latest changes, and inject that information back to the discovery cycle to help you make future decisions.

Do it yourself, not a third party. The main purpose of a product discovery is for you to learn as much and as fast as you can about your client problems. If you get a third party to do that work, you will never learn it just be reading interviews and reports; same will apply to a department in you company. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and take an active role in the process, innovation emerges from collaboration!

Your team should be multi-disciplinary. Product discovery requires many skills like design, marketing, development, just to name a few, which means that you should assemble a multi-disciplinary team that aggregates everyone that is involved in developing the product. Usually what happens is having many intervenient in the process, making it prone to consume unnecessary time and resources.

Ideas or features coming from other people besides the client. Many companies work based on everyone’s ideas about the client or on market knowledge, but there’s only way of knowing what your client wants and that is talking to them and see what problems are worth to pursue.

So now you know what it takes to build a strategy based in Product Discovery. But use it wisely to create and not to validate an existing solution, this is a waste of money and it will only bring new problems. Keep in mind that the discovery phase is a continuous process that will allow you to learn more about your client over time, focusing on building what adds value to them and finding the right market positioning.

Tiago Simões
Polarising Consultant

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