In this talk to the MTP Engage Hamburg audience my colleague Natalie Moschner and I share some of our experiences and learnings from implementing product discovery in daily work routines, and we look at how we integrated product discovery in a firm with over 400 employees like AutoScout24.
Product Discovery Basics
Firstly, you should keep in mind that there are three conditions for a successful product discovery process: the desire for a new solution, an open-minded company, and overall technical feasibility.
All set? Let’s start. It does not matter if you want to discover a new product, a feature, or simply want to improve your existing product – all innovation starts with product discovery.
We’ve had good experiences using the four-phase model we presented at MTP Engage. The key is to go forward iteratively and go back whenever you face a dead end. Either way, it is better to fail early than after the product launch.
These are the four phases:
1. EXPLORATION > 2. IDEATION > 3. PROTOTYPING > 4. VALIDATION
The exploration phase is all about getting to know the problems and issues that people face when fulfilling a job. In this phase, we conduct a number of qualitative interviews to understand people’s challenges and feelings.
Having discovered the challenges, we continue by creating as many solution approaches as possible – ideation. We believe that the first idea that comes into our minds usually is not the best one. Therefore, we need to trigger creativity and build a number of approaches. However, at the end of this phase, we need to assess and prioritize the ideas.
Then we start prototyping the most promising solutions. The prototype depends on the initial solution approach and might be anything from a paper prototype to a high fidelity one.
Having created something feasible, we concentrate further on validating the solution. Alongside qualitative interviews to keep validating the product idea, we assess the market potential quantitatively e.g. by making use of landing page tests.
Product Discovery in Action
Every product manager will agree that product discovery is not as easy as it sounds. Challenges pop up quickly. Resources are limited – team members are needed in daily business. Further, product innovation is an ongoing race between competitors. This fast pace leads to many rejected ideas, which hurts.
Example 1: Product Discovery for Small Business
Let’s dive into an example: At DieProduktMacher, we build our own products and we found a way how to integrate the discovery process into our weekly routine. Our company has 30 employees, four fields (product management, UX, tech, data),and open space for innovation. Theoretically, these are perfect conditions for product innovation and discovery.
As we love creating new products alongside our regular work, we attempted to integrate product discovery into our week – and came up with a solution. This is the version that we found works perfectly for us:
● Exploration: Ideas are not found within a second. We take our time on Crazy Friday once a month to do whatever we want, gather ideas, and ask the target group about their opinion.
● Ideation: Another Friday each month is named Product Friday. When enough of us are convinced they’ve a valid user problem and form a team, the idea gets more and more concrete. We use Product Fridays to create as many (fancy) solution approaches as possible. However, in the end, we need to prioritize our ideas and pick the most promising ones.
● Prototyping: A first round of research should be done by then, which means that most uncertainties are reduced and a product gets more concrete. It’s time for a sprint! We take a couple of days off from our daily business to work on a first prototype.
● Validation: The prototype can be validated now. So we also invest time to get the product validated. Twice a year we must fight for it within a product pitch and give a status update every other month. This way we assure the whole company is committed to proceed with the product idea.
Key Learnings From This Process
Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? However, every system has a gap. These are three learnings we discovered from the process:
A good team is a key for success. Best, find an interdisciplinary team of Product Management, UX, Tech and Marketing people.
Secondly, every decision must be justified by customer feedback. In every interview, a product manager should be present and every team member needs to do interviews (also developers!).
Finally, time is very valuable. Scheduled meetings and product discovery days are recommended.
Just have the courage to do it!
Example 2: Product Discovery at Larger Companies
Of course larger companies also discover new products and additional features. We’ll dive into an example of AutoScout24. The company has about 400 employees, different product fields, different stakeholders.
The management team gave us the opportunity to inspect problems in their user journey by using product discovery. We chose the first user problem to be “I do not know which vehicle to buy.”
As mentioned, an interdisciplinary team is important (UX, product managers, developers, etc.) as is expertise (stakeholders, analysts). Furthermore, it’s important to keep an open mind.
To address this, we looked for information from different sources. For example, reports from previous user tests in the UX research lab, analytic reports in the data team, and asking internal experts.
Resources were scarce, so we developed a rotating system – two of the eight developers on the mobile team, one product manager, and one UX expert at a time. Together with four cross-platform team members, they formed a team for us to work with.
We chose an innovation cycle of three weeks. Week 1 is for the product managers to gather information. Week 2 is for innovation, and the team works on ideation, conception, prototyping, and user testing and closes with learnings and demos. Week 3 is again product manager only, who plans the next iterations and implementation.
Key Learnings From This Process
First, don’t get too enthusiastic and try to burn the candle at both ends. The team wanted to optimize the whole customer journey and started with the first problem. It is worth prioritizing and starting with the most urgent problem. This makes easier to get support for later implementations and means your work does not disappear in a drawer.
Second, do take time for a break. Innovation is exhausting – it requires passion, creativity, and discipline. A couple of months between innovation cycles is appropriate.