Building products quickly to meet customer needs is more important than ever. According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, there are over 30,000 new products introduced every year, and 95 percent fail. Delivering products is about high-performing teams building the right things and building them in the right way. To do that, the discovery phase—the phase that comes before design and development—is a critical part of bringing a new product or feature to market.
The discovery phase is about identifying the right problem to solve, understanding who has that problem, and validating that it’s worth solving. This phase is essential as the success of the product depends on there being an underlying user problem to solve. It will be difficult to attract and retain users without it.
Think of a successful discovery phase as the strong foundation for a house. For a house to withstand the test of time and elements, you need to have a strong foundation. That’s not to say that the parts of the house above ground are not important—they are! But it all starts with a solid foundation. When building a product or feature, the foundation must be strong and that starts with a successful discovery phase.
Read on for three tips on making the discovery phase a success.
Keep an open mind
When working with your potential customer-base to build something new, it can be daunting to make sure you’re solving the right problem. It can lead to problems later on and wasted time if a product team comes in thinking they already have the answers. Instead, it’s important to listen to your customers’ needs and concerns when you embark on building a new solution for them.
It’s a mistake to enter the early stages of the discovery phase believing you know the customers’ problem better than they do. If you go in with too many preconceived notions about the end result, you can miss what the customer is really looking for. Instead, come prepared with a few hypotheses of what the problem could be in order to help you prepare and focus your research. It’s important to do this so that the results of the research will be actionable while remaining open to pivoting if you find out that the problem to solve is actually different.
If you remain flexible and open-minded to changes or roadblocks that might occur, a better product or feature will ultimately be built. Validating why it is needed and being willing to explore different ways of doing things will go a long way in building a strong product.
Bring the team together and focus on being ambitious and achievable
The more critical team members that can be involved in the early stages of development, the better. Of course, you don’t want so many people in the room that it’s impossible to truly discover what the problem is, but there are key players that should be in the room. When possible, ensure that the product manager, the product designer, and the development lead are all part of the discovery phase. This way, there are no surprises if a certain member of the team does not think a solution is feasible.
This group should focus on being ambitious but achievable. By having these important voices in the room, you will have a much better idea of whether the solution you want to build is feasible. You’ll also have an indication of the potential timeframe for completion sooner in the process. Ultimately, your ambitious goal is about developing a solution that will deliver real value to customers and have a strong positive impact on the success of your product. But you also want to make sure it’s achievable for your team within a reasonable timeframe. Given enough time and resources, almost anything is feasible. By keeping increments small enough to deliver in 90 days or less, you can get value to the customer earlier, reduce risk, and start reaping the benefits as a business sooner.
Be a detective and then a champion
Much of the discovery phase is about being a detective. Part of being a detective means you need to make use of all the evidence available to you. Gain an idea of what problems might exist by exploring your product analytics, survey results, and any secondary research available to you. Use this to formulate hypotheses about what problems might exist. Don’t take your customers’ words at face value. Instead, dig deep with them to ensure you’re solving the right problems.
Oftentimes, customers are unsure of the product they need, so it can be helpful to come prepared with prompts such as mock-ups, prototypes, or even competitor’s products to spark the conversation and explore different potential solutions to ultimately build the right product. You may find that the problem that’s being communicated to you is really hiding another deeper problem that would be more valuable to solve. Consider using the “5 Whys Rule” where you keep asking ‘Why?’ until you get to the root cause and therefore uncover what really matters to your customers.
As you begin ideating around possible solutions and elaborating experiences and designs, it’s critical to share those back with your customers to close the feedback loop and ensure that you haven’t just identified the right problem, you’ve identified the right solution too.
And then, champion your product! It’s a rewarding feeling to build something useful, productive, and innovative. When you deliver a standout solution, you will start to attract users. But the journey doesn’t stop there. You’ll need to keep building and iterating on your product to keep your existing customers engaged, gain new customers, and thus build a healthy, growing business around your product.