A deep dive into product discovery – Lily and Randy on The Product Experience "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs August 08 2022 False Podcasts, Product Discovery, The Product Experience, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 6168 A deep dive into product discovery Product Management 24.672

A deep dive into product discovery – Lily and Randy on The Product Experience

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This week on The Product Experience the topic of choice was product discovery. However, with both of our hosts having worked extensively in this subject area before, they decided to hijack this episode and take on the topic all to themselves…

For this special episode, Randy Silver and Lily Smith share their best tips on customer interaction and product discovery from their combined product knowledge, years of working in discovery, and being involved in over 170 episodes interviewing product experts around the globe.


 

 

Featured links

Featured Links: Follow Randy on LinkedIn and Twitter | Out of Owls | Follow Lily on LinkedIn and Twitter | Bower Collective | Product Discovery page at Mind The Product

Episode transcript

Randy Silver: 

So Lily, I was thinking,

Lily Smith: 

Oh, no. Oh, no. Well, last time you came to me with a line like that was when you asked me to do the podcast with you. So I don’t know what you’ve got in store for me now.

Randy Silver: 

It’s not that bad. I promise. I was just, I was thinking we might want to change things up a bit. Maybe we should just have some time together this week, you know, just to talk to one another. Maybe we should just not have a guest.

Lily Smith: 

Ah, that’s very sweet. But I felt like that means one of two things. Either our guests fell three for the week, or you’re just jealous of my chat with Jason Knight a while back. And now. I think I know which one it is.

Randy Silver: 

course it’s not that, you know, I just wanted to get your thoughts on how to do discovery better.

Lily Smith: 

Okay. Yeah, sure you do, Randy. All right. Let’s do this, because I love talking about discovery, but you have to share some tips of your own as well

Randy Silver: 

feel. But first, is that our theme so

Lily Smith: 

the product experience is brought to you by mind the product.

Randy Silver: 

Every week, we talk to the best product people from around the globe about how we can improve our practice, and build products that people love.

Lily Smith: 

Because it mind the product.com to catch up on past episodes, and to discover an extensive library of great content and videos,

Randy Silver: 

browse for free, or become a minor product member to unlock premium articles, unseen videos, AMA’s roundtables, discounts to our conferences around the world training opportunities

Lily Smith: 

for mining products also offers free product tank meetups in more than 200 cities. And there’s probably one near you. So Randy, this is weird. But normally, we are so weird Oh, guests for a really quick intro into how they got into product. So and kind of what they’re up to today. So why don’t you give our listeners a quick intro into you and how you did that?

Randy Silver: 

Sure, as long as you go after. So I used to be a music journalist a long time ago, and I started Amazon’s music store in the US and UK. And then I decided to get out of music journalism and I became an interactive producer. And it turns out, that’s almost exactly the same type of thing as product management, except without any kind of tribe or discipline. I was just winging it for years. And then I interviewed for a job and someone said, Great, we’re gonna make you a product manager. And I asked them what that was. And they told me about Lean. And they told me about agile. And they taught me about sprints, and lots of other things. And I just, I haven’t turned back that was, I don’t want to say how many years ago. So these days, I’m a consultant and coach and author and podcaster. What about you, Willie? How did you get into this mess?

Lily Smith: 

So well, I did cover this, I think in brief in my interview with Jason, earlier in the year, but I will do a really quick synopsis. So I actually started in the film industry, not in the music industry, and dabbled around with production and producing and that kind of thing. And then ended up in a project management role in a publishing company, for the tech team. And similarly had some excellent technical people teach me all about Scrum, and sprints, and all that kind of stuff. And then subsequently, in other roles learned all about product management. And yeah, it kind of grew from there. And these days, I’m head of product and growth at power collective, which is an online store selling refills for personal care and household products.

Randy Silver: 

Here in the UK, right here in

Lily Smith: 

the UK. Yeah. So we’re going to talk about discovery, this is going to be really weird. Keep saying that. But you have done loads of discovery work. And I have done loads of discovery work. So we thought this would be a really nice topic to share some of our experiences and top tips. And let’s kick off with your first top tip like what are the basics that you start with when you’re planning some discovery?

Randy Silver: 

The first thing I like to do is to actually do some mapping and lay out the groundwork for the discovery. You know, you can discover on anything but you kind of want have a you should have a hypothesis or a question or something that you’re starting from, you may find out that it’s completely wrong. But you want to start out with some assumption and map those out, we assume these things are going to be true, let’s find out whether they are or not. I’ve got a little method I like to use, there’s tonnes of other things that people do that are called assumptions, mapping and things like that. I’ve got something I’ve, I’ve invented, which is really just in idiots way of doing things like, like Teresa Torres is opportunity solutions tree, I call it dragon mapping. And it just says for this to be true, what has to happen, or conversely, for this to happen, what has to be true, and it doesn’t have all of the same layers, but you can just go through, it doesn’t have all the same formal layers, I should say. But you just start with something that you believe is the output or the outcome. And you just start mapping backwards asking questions and saying which of these things do we know to be facts? Which of these things are assumptions? And anything that’s an assumption, you then need to test and that can be discovery? Or it can be you know, actual experimentation, depending on what you want to do with it.

Lily Smith: 

I love this. But I have a I have a question on this. So how do you avoid getting stuck in the discovery to prove a point like that kind of confirmation bias, sort of, we believe this to be true. So now we’re gonna go and do some discovery to prove that it’s true.

Randy Silver: 

I think it’s a problem has to be big enough or fundamental enough for you to really do it. But sometimes doing the experiment is good enough. And I mean, we could be stuck in in a discovery phase without going into a build phase forever. You know, when we say, Build, learn, and measure, and it doesn’t matter where you start, the point is, you don’t stay in one of those phases forever, you can start in any one of those phases. But the important part is that you continue moving through it and probably be doing them all simultaneously for slightly different things at any time. But yeah, you don’t always have to spend a lot of time and discovery on something, you just want to continually learn new things as you go along. What about you?

Lily Smith: 

So I love this idea of mapping things out. And and even if you’re not kind of creating a map, actually just writing it down, writing down what you want to learn, and then kind of figuring out how you’re going to learn that thing. So if it’s a why question, like, why do people churn and then you’re probably going to want to do some interviews and have some coil type of research and your discovery. But if it’s like, how many people do this, or like a how many type of question, then that’s probably more of a quick survey, or like diving into your analytics. But yeah, definitely writing it down, like, what is it you want to know? And then figuring out what are the different discovery tools and techniques that you’re going to use? Because I think also a lot of people, including myself, when we talk about discovery, I always just think about interviews, and user research. But there’s actually so many different things that come under the umbrella of discovery, and we shouldn’t forget about all of the different ways in which we can learn about our customers.

Randy Silver: 

Yeah, just figuring out how can we learn the answer to this, it doesn’t matter which way you do it. I did want to touch on one thing you just said there, because we say it all the time. And you said it quickly this time as well. For anyone who doesn’t already know the difference between qual or qualitative and quant or quantitative. So quantitative is an easy one. It’s the numbers. It’s counting. It’s anything you can specifically measure objectively. But qualitative is much more subjective. It’s feelings, it’s thoughts. It’s interpreting the answers you get from people. Is that how you put it?

Lily Smith: 

Yeah, yeah, that sounds really good. And thank you for making sure that everyone was following what I’m saying.

Randy Silver: 

Now, I just remember when I first heard those terms, and somebody went really quickly past them, and it took me a little while to catch up. So I like to make sure that if I didn’t know it, then I assume some other people might not. But your next point actually goes right into that this you were talking about data analysis and and quant analysis. So

Lily Smith: 

yeah, I mean, so Okay, so my next point that I was gonna mention was like data analysis. And user research, in general, actually, is hard. And so if you do have an analytics team or a research team, definitely use them well and bring them into the fold, bring them into the like the planning that you’re doing. And if you don’t have a data analysis team, or a customer research team, then just try and absorb as much information as you can about those two different areas of discovery. Because it’s really, really It’s important to do discovery in your business. Like that’s why we all talk about it so much. But it is really, really hard as well. So if you don’t have the support of experts, then yeah, just try and kind of read lots about it, read the tours, as books are amazing. And there’s loads of really good resources out there. I’ll try and think of a few more and put them into our show notes.

Randy Silver: 

Oh, good points. I like to tell people to follow the money, which is kind of a shorthand for just saying, what is the most important thing? What is the objective that we’re trying to hit? And then trace things back to that to what are the leading indicators for if, if we’re going to reduce churn? What are the turn points? And what is the value of it? How much do we want to spend on it? How much value are we going to get from it? What are the ways that we might want to reduce churn? If it’s increased basket size, you know, or margin or anything like that, just figure out what are the things that are actually the key levers. And when you’re talking to people, we’re looking at the numbers, just trace your way back through that, always keep in mind how the numbers add up in the end, because ultimately, that is going to be the spine of your strategy.

Lily Smith: 

And then, now it’s my turn to explain something about what you said, this leading and lagging indicators, we often bring this up in our conversations with people on the podcast. And I’m going to attempt to explain to people what it means, but I probably won’t explain it very well. So Randy, please do don’t

Randy Silver: 

see.

Lily Smith: 

Please do correct me if I’m wrong. So with a lagging indicator, this is things like churn or quarterly growth, like quarterly revenue growth, any numbers that is going to take a while for you to be able to actually see the difference in whether those numbers are being impacted. And then leading indicators might be things like your average order value on the website, or if it’s an E commerce site, I’m all in the E commerce space at the moment. So that’s what I’m thinking about. Or the number of visits that you get website are the kind of engagement on the website, the number of times that people do certain actions. And the kind of frequency of that might be an indicator then that they’re not going to churn. So you can kind of measure their engagement and how that might then impact churn, which is your lagging indicator later on.

Randy Silver: 

So the lagging indicators, kind of the outcome from everything that comes before it, the leading indicator, the things that happen earlier on that are potentially predictors of that outcome. So if you don’t have lots of visits, you’re not going to have lots of customers, that doesn’t mean you’re going to convert them all or have great basket size or anything else. But you need the visits as a leading indicator to help you with everything else.

Lily Smith: 

Exactly. And then the other thing that I was thinking on this topic, actually around following the money was, it’s really, really important, I think, to make sure that you have a connection with your C suite or your department heads, and really finding out what’s important to the business right now. Is it growth? Is it efficiency, is it churn? What are they talking about? What are they worrying about? Where do they need to see movement and kind of positive progress? I mean, generally, it’s all of those things, but there’s usually some, yeah, it’s like all the things. But there’s usually something that’s particularly bothering people right now. And then making sure that when you’re doing discovery, you’re bearing that kind of priority in mind.

Randy Silver: 

Yeah, it’s incredibly important. If you’re able to come back to your C suite with answers, or indicators of things that are is already on their mind, you’re just going to have a better relationship and better conversations with them, and it’ll help you push everything else through.

Lily Smith: 

Nice. Okay, Randy, what’s your next tip?

Randy Silver: 

I don’t know if we said at the top that we’re doing five tips each. So this is tip number three. I think this goes with the idea that we should set out our intentions at the beginning. We did a bad job of that. Okay, so tip number three. I can’t remember where I first heard this one, and it’s another pop culture reference. It’s be like Columbo. Now, unfortunately, I’m old and that reference is probably very old, but Colombo’s legendary 70s or early 80s TV detective who seemed bumbling and shambolic and would have gone interesting conversations with people and make them feel really comfortable. And at the end, he turned around and say, Oh, just one more thing and the point Hear is always asked the extra question. Because people are really the people you’re talking to. They are trying to be helpful. If you inadvertently read them in a certain way, they will go with you, they will try and help you out on what you’re trying to discover. But ask them a really general question at the end, ask them if there’s anything else that they’d like to talk about, you know, do some open ended follow ups and see where it goes, you might get the best answer, you might find something that completely invalidates everything that they said before that, it may be the best question you asked the entire day. And it’s always worth it. I’ve gotten some amazing answers from people by asking that that odd extra question. What about you, Lily?

Lily Smith: 

Um, so I have something similar and actually, but on that kind of extra question thing. Certainly on the podcast, you know, when we’re doing interviews with people, we quite often will stop the recording, and then be like, Oh, actually, there was another thing I was gonna ask you about this. And then we get this like, amazing nugget of information post recording. So I’m really sorry, guys, you for all missed out on those. But we tend to us, we need to do this as well on the podcast, like, just keep recording and be like, Okay, we finished? Oh, well, I just had one more question. So, on a similar vein, my third tip was to iterate on your methods. So if you have done a survey, and you found out some information, but you’ve realised that you’ve kind of asked a question slightly wrong, or maybe missed a question, then just do do the same survey, again, audit and don’t do the same survey again, but improve the survey, and then do it again. And I’ve got a really good example of this, where we were doing some pricing research with our customers. And I was asking them about delivery pricing. And I was just like, thinking that I only needed a quant survey. So a numbers survey, and gave them multiple choice and gave like three different answers for late delivery pricing. And then the fourth answer was a bit of a red herring, I put like this red herring in which was everybody pays 199 for delivery. And there was no free options at all. And I just, I don’t know, I can’t even remember why I put it in there. I just thought it was like going to be funny. Everyone voted for the everybody should pay for delivery, instead of all of the other free options that I put in there. But because I hadn’t followed up with a Why did you choose that option? I then had to do the survey again, to find out why. And it was really, really interesting finding out all of the ways behind that. But yeah, I just think if you, you know, if you’re not getting to the crux as the information, you know, if you’re doing a bit of data analysis and looking at your analytics, and it’s giving you some indication, but you’re not getting to the nugget, then you do a survey or, you know, you kind of keep iterating on your question or your theme that you’re trying to get to, and hopefully you will find the answers that help guide you on your next steps. When you start out as a product leader, it can be really tricky to fully understand what your responsibilities are, figure out how to build an empowered team and how to create that all important product culture, which we’re all inevitably striving for, not to mention navigating a new dynamic working with leadership across the business.

Randy Silver: 

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Lily Smith: 

It’s very interactive, really engaging and just the ticket for new and established product leaders looking to level up their product strategy skills and understand how to work with their senior leadership team to achieve exceptional product and business outcomes.

Randy Silver: 

Tickets have just gone on sale for the second and final cohort of 2022 which kicks off in November. with very limited seating, you’re going to want to move quickly to snap up a place

Lily Smith: 

and all tickets come with one year of exclusive MTP leader membership, both to support the work you do during the four week course. And so you can continue the learning for a full year after your course ends.

Randy Silver: 

You can find out more and book your place for the November cohort at mind the product.com/leadership course that’s mine the product.com/leadership course all one word I think a little bit later on, we’re going to talk about the definition of done for discovery. But I want to kind of make a different point about it now, which is, yeah, if you don’t have the answer that you thought or if you learn something new and you want to follow up on it, that’s completely fine. You may be time boxed and some things you may need to make some decisions now, based on on what, what you’ve learned so far. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep learning, absolutely schedule more discovery if you can. And if you can do it quickly, even better, if you can do it before a critical decision point even better, but don’t stop learning just because a date has happened. It’s always worth learning more. Nice. So what is your fourth tip? Okay, so

Lily Smith: 

I’ve talked about this a little bit in tip number two. But my fourth tip is really about getting people involved. And what I mean by that is getting the rest of your team involved and the rest of the business involved in your discovery, in some way, shape or form. My view is that if you have a kind of expert research team, that’s amazing. And you should definitely use them. But don’t let that stop you from doing discovery yourself. And also bringing your team into that process as well as much as you can. Because even if someone just says like, you know, a developer or a designer, they just do like one user interview a quarter, that’s better than no user interviews at all. Or if you get a developer to help you with some kind of data analysis, or like building some reports in your analytics tool, or whatever it is, bringing people on the journey to understand the behaviour of your customers and helping and getting them to help you or like work with you, or even work independently, actually, on certain discovery topics and processes, it will help them have an appreciation for how much we don’t know about our customers. And also how, like difficult discovery is and how difficult it is to get right, and how many assumptions we’re making. So there’s like so many things in that. And definitely, if you can bring your founders or your CTOs or sorry, CEOs or like, you know,

Randy Silver: 

other studios are good to use a good two years, it’s I don’t leave them

Lily Smith: 

out. So yeah, bring people in, get people involved. And then if you can’t get them involved in actually doing the discovery bit itself, then get them involved when you’re sharing the insights that you’ve learned by putting together a deck or a presentation, and inviting everyone along to it, or posting it in Slack in a channel that everyone has access to. And then what I tend to do as well, when I’m sharing is, I’ll do like, a quick like, teaser, almost of like sharing like a little bit of video or like some key quotes that I have found really interesting. And then it’s like, draws them in to hopefully listen or read more. So that yeah, though, that’s how I tried to get people involved. What’s your kind of tip number for Andy, because I know yours is kind of similar as well.

Randy Silver: 

Yeah, very similar. Mine is more directed at the actual interviews themselves. And it was just the idea that solo researches and doing interviews solo is a bad idea whenever possible, find a partner, anytime that you can. And there’s a number of reasons for this. I know we had a great chat a long while back with Anna Leanda. That where we covered some of these things and some of the some of his just safety depending on where you’re, you know, now that we do all the interviews remote, maybe it’s not as much of or many of our interviews remote, maybe it’s not as much of a concern, but it’s something that’s come up in the past. But just the basic idea that if you’re trying to interview someone, and take notes at the same time, even if you’re just trying to mark down some key things to follow up on, you’re not fully present in the interview. And even if it’s you’ve got a partner there, or other people that are gonna be watching the video afterwards. It’s not the same people will catch on to things that you didn’t catch on to they’ll have different perspectives, they’ll have different context for things. And the idea that someone else can just, you know, give you a little tap or a note notification. Say, I need to follow up on this. This is really interesting. Let’s see where it goes. You might have thought that the person you’re talking to said something very innocuous, but to someone else, it might be the start of a thread that unravels something really interesting. So and then discussing it immediately afterwards, how it went. What you learned from it, what was surprising and it what it confirmed or invalid David is just, it’s incredibly valuable to spend the time with somebody else. And then similarly, as, as Willie was saying, the idea that you can then use that to tease the information out to other people, you know, having an ally on this. So it’s not just using something, it’s what we learned, rather than what I learned. And we is much more powerful than I,

Lily Smith: 

I think that’s so true. And the number of times that I’ve done an interview with someone else, and then we’ve walked away with like, not different interpretations, but different key takeaways of things that I’ve completely missed. Because I was thinking about what to ask next, or, you know, like just pondering something else. And then similarly, like, in the reverse, and I’ve got another nugget with this as well, which is, so when I was working at gocompare, we experimented with doing customer research with pairs. So we would recruit the first person, and then we would ask them to invite someone else to the interview. So it was someone that they knew, like a friend or a colleague, or sibling, or whatever. And then we interviewed the two people together. And that was really, really interesting. I mean, in some ways, it didn’t work. But in other ways, it worked really, really well, because the two people kind of rift off of each other. And, you know, if someone said, oh, yeah, this is the way I behave, and then the other person would be like, you don’t really do that D. Like would call her out on things that they didn’t really believe or, yeah, it was really, really interesting. So yeah, you could experiment with that as well. And also, it means that you get to do double the amount of research in the same amount of time.

Randy Silver: 

I have to ask, did that idea come from an interview we did a long time ago with Mona Patel.

Lily Smith: 

Maybe? I’ve completely forgotten that. That’s where I got the inspiration from so. Yeah, it was definitely for him. Oh, no, no way, remember?

Randy Silver: 

Yeah, it’s a fun technique. It goes really, really well. Okay. We’re in the homestretch now. So Billy, what is your fifth and final tip for today?

Lily Smith: 

Okay, so my fifth and final tip is, we always talk about being outcome focused as product people. And I think it is, as we mentioned earlier, it’s really important to kind of lay the foundations of what it is you want to learn, and what question you’re trying to answer, and what you’re trying to achieve with your discovery work. But it’s also really important not to be blinkered when you’re doing it. So if, for example, you’re researching churn behaviours, make sure that you don’t ignore signals for improving conversion. And also kind of aligned with this, I’m just gonna sneak it in is like a five A or something like that, oh, five and a half. Don’t fret about recording every single insight. So when I first started doing discovery, I was just so confused about how I was going to capture all of the stuff that I was learning, and make sure it was recorded in a way that I could revisit it if I needed to. And then I read some really good advice from somewhere. But as my memory is so bad, I can’t remember where I read it. That basically said, when you’re doing discovery, like, don’t worry about recording it, that you know, your insights to accurately because actually, if you’re late, keep on doing with discovery, those insights or that that kind of information will come back again and again and again. And it’ll be a theme that kind of continues. And so that’s the way I do discovery. I’ll record like the key takeaways, but I don’t worry about recording sort of like absolutely everything because I know that if I keep talking to customers, it will keep coming back if it’s so an important point later on.

Randy Silver: 

So on that really is saying, if you’re researching churn don’t ignore certain signals for improving conversion. How much do you do with that you fundamentally changed the direction of what you’re going to be doing if some great conversion tips or problems come up. Are you still going to focus on churn? How do you ensure that you keep your backlog and your your focus? Strong if you’re, if you’re trying to do all of this?

Lily Smith: 

Yeah. So okay, so the way that I make sure that I’m not blinkered is by ensuring that I have some kind of standard generic questions, which is what you kind of mentioned earlier brandy and And I say that at the kind of the top and the tail of the interview is like open the interview interview quite broadly and close it quite broadly as well. And then if I do get some really key insights into conversion, like improving conversion, and I’m actually meant to be just focusing on churn, then obviously, depending on how kind of quicker when it is, I might go and address it straight away. Or I’ll just like make sure that it’s on my roadmap, like all collected, like in documented in my kind of backlog somewhere so that I know, when we’re next focusing on conversion, like that there is a potential opportunity.

Randy Silver: 

So some notes on conversion for later. Yeah, it’s not something you’re dealing with now. So if anybody else yeah, yeah, we’ve got it. It’s, it’s somewhere. It’s, it’s ready for us?

Lily Smith: 

Definitely. Yeah. How about you, Randy, what’s your tip number five?

Randy Silver: 

Well being that’s the last one. And I think I teased it earlier, it’s about the definition of done for discovery. Because everyone likes doing the early parts. We like coming up with our surveys, we like asking questions, we like talking to people. But afterwards, there’s a lot of work that still has to be done. And you haven’t actually finished your discovery, or that discovery, project or objective or task. It unless you do these things, you have to do the synthesis. Because we get really biassed from the interviews themselves are looking at the data until you pull it all together, and really study it. And make sure that you’re validating what you thought you got out of the discovery activities. You’re not 100%. Sure. So the synthesis is incredibly important. But even more important, is if you don’t do the synthesis, you don’t have a good way of sharing the outcomes of the discovery with anybody where it was the outcomes, the outputs a little longer be a little weedy about outcomes outputs on this one, because you can say the output is the report or what you share with people and then the decision is the outcome or the outcome can be the telling people about it. But either way, until they have learned what you have learned until they have had the opportunity to hear directly from people or to see the numbers and understand why some decisions are being made and to have a conversation with you about it. Until that point, they’re just taking orders from you. They are not active participants, they’re not active partners with you on this. So back to Lily’s earlier point, if you can get people actively involved in the discovery process even better, but if you can’t, sharing the outcomes of the everything with them, and getting them to fully understand and emotionally commit to it in the same way that you might have, is incredibly important.

Lily Smith: 

Okay, so Randy, if its definition of done for discovery, then should you also be including whatever kind of changes or additions you’re making to your product, as part of that discovery process? And then the outcomes that they have achieved? Or does discovery? Yeah. I only thought of it when you were talking about it just then.

Randy Silver: 

I think I think it’s interesting. It’s whether you’re talking about discovery as a discrete phase or continuous thing. So if it’s a discrete phase that you’re doing, then yes, absolutely. You should record what are the decisions that you made, and the hypotheses that come from it. And then on your scrum board, for example, when you’ve put the epics in, there should always be the bit of we believe this is what’s going to happen. And you should be able to track it all back and look at that in retros. If you’re doing it as more of a continuous discovery thing, then certainly it would be good to say we’ve learned this, therefore, we made this decision. And that’s useful. But I think that’s just becomes more of a regular best practice and not as much of a formal stage.

Lily Smith: 

Yeah, yeah, that makes sense.

Randy Silver: 

Wow. This was weird.

Lily Smith: 

This was weird, but it was so much fun. I really enjoyed it. And thanks so much for sharing your insights. I hope people and I

Randy Silver: 

discovered a lot by listening to you.

Lily Smith: 

Yeah, I hope people find it useful. And we’d love to, we’d love to hear about it.

Randy Silver: 

And if you want us to do more deep dives in the future on different topics, just let us know. We’re going to be back most weeks with guests as we normally do. But if you want to hear this once in a while, just let us know.

Lily Smith: 

Thanks. Thanks so much, Randy.

Randy Silver: 

Thanks Lily See you next week

Lily Smith: 

the product experience is the first and the best podcast from mine the product. Our hosts are me, Lily Smith and me Randy silver. Louron Pratt is our producer and Luke Smith is our editor.

Randy Silver: 

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Lily Smith: 

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This week on The Product Experience the topic of choice was product discovery. However, with both of our hosts having worked extensively in this subject area before, they decided to hijack this episode and take on the topic all to themselves... For this special episode, Randy Silver and Lily Smith share their best tips on customer interaction and product discovery from their combined product knowledge, years of working in discovery, and being involved in over 170 episodes interviewing product experts around the globe.
   

Featured links

Featured Links: Follow Randy on LinkedIn and Twitter | Out of Owls | Follow Lily on LinkedIn and Twitter | Bower Collective | Product Discovery page at Mind The Product

Episode transcript

Randy Silver:  So Lily, I was thinking, Lily Smith:  Oh, no. Oh, no. Well, last time you came to me with a line like that was when you asked me to do the podcast with you. So I don't know what you've got in store for me now. Randy Silver:  It's not that bad. I promise. I was just, I was thinking we might want to change things up a bit. Maybe we should just have some time together this week, you know, just to talk to one another. Maybe we should just not have a guest. Lily Smith:  Ah, that's very sweet. But I felt like that means one of two things. Either our guests fell three for the week, or you're just jealous of my chat with Jason Knight a while back. And now. I think I know which one it is. Randy Silver:  course it's not that, you know, I just wanted to get your thoughts on how to do discovery better. Lily Smith:  Okay. Yeah, sure you do, Randy. All right. Let's do this, because I love talking about discovery, but you have to share some tips of your own as well Randy Silver:  feel. But first, is that our theme so Lily Smith:  the product experience is brought to you by mind the product. Randy Silver:  Every week, we talk to the best product people from around the globe about how we can improve our practice, and build products that people love. Lily Smith:  Because it mind the product.com to catch up on past episodes, and to discover an extensive library of great content and videos, Randy Silver:  browse for free, or become a minor product member to unlock premium articles, unseen videos, AMA's roundtables, discounts to our conferences around the world training opportunities Lily Smith:  for mining products also offers free product tank meetups in more than 200 cities. And there's probably one near you. So Randy, this is weird. But normally, we are so weird Oh, guests for a really quick intro into how they got into product. So and kind of what they're up to today. So why don't you give our listeners a quick intro into you and how you did that? Randy Silver:  Sure, as long as you go after. So I used to be a music journalist a long time ago, and I started Amazon's music store in the US and UK. And then I decided to get out of music journalism and I became an interactive producer. And it turns out, that's almost exactly the same type of thing as product management, except without any kind of tribe or discipline. I was just winging it for years. And then I interviewed for a job and someone said, Great, we're gonna make you a product manager. And I asked them what that was. And they told me about Lean. And they told me about agile. And they taught me about sprints, and lots of other things. And I just, I haven't turned back that was, I don't want to say how many years ago. So these days, I'm a consultant and coach and author and podcaster. What about you, Willie? How did you get into this mess? Lily Smith:  So well, I did cover this, I think in brief in my interview with Jason, earlier in the year, but I will do a really quick synopsis. So I actually started in the film industry, not in the music industry, and dabbled around with production and producing and that kind of thing. And then ended up in a project management role in a publishing company, for the tech team. And similarly had some excellent technical people teach me all about Scrum, and sprints, and all that kind of stuff. And then subsequently, in other roles learned all about product management. And yeah, it kind of grew from there. And these days, I'm head of product and growth at power collective, which is an online store selling refills for personal care and household products. Randy Silver:  Here in the UK, right here in Lily Smith:  the UK. Yeah. So we're going to talk about discovery, this is going to be really weird. Keep saying that. But you have done loads of discovery work. And I have done loads of discovery work. So we thought this would be a really nice topic to share some of our experiences and top tips. And let's kick off with your first top tip like what are the basics that you start with when you're planning some discovery? Randy Silver:  The first thing I like to do is to actually do some mapping and lay out the groundwork for the discovery. You know, you can discover on anything but you kind of want have a you should have a hypothesis or a question or something that you're starting from, you may find out that it's completely wrong. But you want to start out with some assumption and map those out, we assume these things are going to be true, let's find out whether they are or not. I've got a little method I like to use, there's tonnes of other things that people do that are called assumptions, mapping and things like that. I've got something I've, I've invented, which is really just in idiots way of doing things like, like Teresa Torres is opportunity solutions tree, I call it dragon mapping. And it just says for this to be true, what has to happen, or conversely, for this to happen, what has to be true, and it doesn't have all of the same layers, but you can just go through, it doesn't have all the same formal layers, I should say. But you just start with something that you believe is the output or the outcome. And you just start mapping backwards asking questions and saying which of these things do we know to be facts? Which of these things are assumptions? And anything that's an assumption, you then need to test and that can be discovery? Or it can be you know, actual experimentation, depending on what you want to do with it. Lily Smith:  I love this. But I have a I have a question on this. So how do you avoid getting stuck in the discovery to prove a point like that kind of confirmation bias, sort of, we believe this to be true. So now we're gonna go and do some discovery to prove that it's true. Randy Silver:  I think it's a problem has to be big enough or fundamental enough for you to really do it. But sometimes doing the experiment is good enough. And I mean, we could be stuck in in a discovery phase without going into a build phase forever. You know, when we say, Build, learn, and measure, and it doesn't matter where you start, the point is, you don't stay in one of those phases forever, you can start in any one of those phases. But the important part is that you continue moving through it and probably be doing them all simultaneously for slightly different things at any time. But yeah, you don't always have to spend a lot of time and discovery on something, you just want to continually learn new things as you go along. What about you? Lily Smith:  So I love this idea of mapping things out. And and even if you're not kind of creating a map, actually just writing it down, writing down what you want to learn, and then kind of figuring out how you're going to learn that thing. So if it's a why question, like, why do people churn and then you're probably going to want to do some interviews and have some coil type of research and your discovery. But if it's like, how many people do this, or like a how many type of question, then that's probably more of a quick survey, or like diving into your analytics. But yeah, definitely writing it down, like, what is it you want to know? And then figuring out what are the different discovery tools and techniques that you're going to use? Because I think also a lot of people, including myself, when we talk about discovery, I always just think about interviews, and user research. But there's actually so many different things that come under the umbrella of discovery, and we shouldn't forget about all of the different ways in which we can learn about our customers. Randy Silver:  Yeah, just figuring out how can we learn the answer to this, it doesn't matter which way you do it. I did want to touch on one thing you just said there, because we say it all the time. And you said it quickly this time as well. For anyone who doesn't already know the difference between qual or qualitative and quant or quantitative. So quantitative is an easy one. It's the numbers. It's counting. It's anything you can specifically measure objectively. But qualitative is much more subjective. It's feelings, it's thoughts. It's interpreting the answers you get from people. Is that how you put it? Lily Smith:  Yeah, yeah, that sounds really good. And thank you for making sure that everyone was following what I'm saying. Randy Silver:  Now, I just remember when I first heard those terms, and somebody went really quickly past them, and it took me a little while to catch up. So I like to make sure that if I didn't know it, then I assume some other people might not. But your next point actually goes right into that this you were talking about data analysis and and quant analysis. So Lily Smith:  yeah, I mean, so Okay, so my next point that I was gonna mention was like data analysis. And user research, in general, actually, is hard. And so if you do have an analytics team or a research team, definitely use them well and bring them into the fold, bring them into the like the planning that you're doing. And if you don't have a data analysis team, or a customer research team, then just try and absorb as much information as you can about those two different areas of discovery. Because it's really, really It's important to do discovery in your business. Like that's why we all talk about it so much. But it is really, really hard as well. So if you don't have the support of experts, then yeah, just try and kind of read lots about it, read the tours, as books are amazing. And there's loads of really good resources out there. I'll try and think of a few more and put them into our show notes. Randy Silver:  Oh, good points. I like to tell people to follow the money, which is kind of a shorthand for just saying, what is the most important thing? What is the objective that we're trying to hit? And then trace things back to that to what are the leading indicators for if, if we're going to reduce churn? What are the turn points? And what is the value of it? How much do we want to spend on it? How much value are we going to get from it? What are the ways that we might want to reduce churn? If it's increased basket size, you know, or margin or anything like that, just figure out what are the things that are actually the key levers. And when you're talking to people, we're looking at the numbers, just trace your way back through that, always keep in mind how the numbers add up in the end, because ultimately, that is going to be the spine of your strategy. Lily Smith:  And then, now it's my turn to explain something about what you said, this leading and lagging indicators, we often bring this up in our conversations with people on the podcast. And I'm going to attempt to explain to people what it means, but I probably won't explain it very well. So Randy, please do don't Randy Silver:  see. Lily Smith:  Please do correct me if I'm wrong. So with a lagging indicator, this is things like churn or quarterly growth, like quarterly revenue growth, any numbers that is going to take a while for you to be able to actually see the difference in whether those numbers are being impacted. And then leading indicators might be things like your average order value on the website, or if it's an E commerce site, I'm all in the E commerce space at the moment. So that's what I'm thinking about. Or the number of visits that you get website are the kind of engagement on the website, the number of times that people do certain actions. And the kind of frequency of that might be an indicator then that they're not going to churn. So you can kind of measure their engagement and how that might then impact churn, which is your lagging indicator later on. Randy Silver:  So the lagging indicators, kind of the outcome from everything that comes before it, the leading indicator, the things that happen earlier on that are potentially predictors of that outcome. So if you don't have lots of visits, you're not going to have lots of customers, that doesn't mean you're going to convert them all or have great basket size or anything else. But you need the visits as a leading indicator to help you with everything else. Lily Smith:  Exactly. And then the other thing that I was thinking on this topic, actually around following the money was, it's really, really important, I think, to make sure that you have a connection with your C suite or your department heads, and really finding out what's important to the business right now. Is it growth? Is it efficiency, is it churn? What are they talking about? What are they worrying about? Where do they need to see movement and kind of positive progress? I mean, generally, it's all of those things, but there's usually some, yeah, it's like all the things. But there's usually something that's particularly bothering people right now. And then making sure that when you're doing discovery, you're bearing that kind of priority in mind. Randy Silver:  Yeah, it's incredibly important. If you're able to come back to your C suite with answers, or indicators of things that are is already on their mind, you're just going to have a better relationship and better conversations with them, and it'll help you push everything else through. Lily Smith:  Nice. Okay, Randy, what's your next tip? Randy Silver:  I don't know if we said at the top that we're doing five tips each. So this is tip number three. I think this goes with the idea that we should set out our intentions at the beginning. We did a bad job of that. Okay, so tip number three. I can't remember where I first heard this one, and it's another pop culture reference. It's be like Columbo. Now, unfortunately, I'm old and that reference is probably very old, but Colombo's legendary 70s or early 80s TV detective who seemed bumbling and shambolic and would have gone interesting conversations with people and make them feel really comfortable. And at the end, he turned around and say, Oh, just one more thing and the point Hear is always asked the extra question. Because people are really the people you're talking to. They are trying to be helpful. If you inadvertently read them in a certain way, they will go with you, they will try and help you out on what you're trying to discover. But ask them a really general question at the end, ask them if there's anything else that they'd like to talk about, you know, do some open ended follow ups and see where it goes, you might get the best answer, you might find something that completely invalidates everything that they said before that, it may be the best question you asked the entire day. And it's always worth it. I've gotten some amazing answers from people by asking that that odd extra question. What about you, Lily? Lily Smith:  Um, so I have something similar and actually, but on that kind of extra question thing. Certainly on the podcast, you know, when we're doing interviews with people, we quite often will stop the recording, and then be like, Oh, actually, there was another thing I was gonna ask you about this. And then we get this like, amazing nugget of information post recording. So I'm really sorry, guys, you for all missed out on those. But we tend to us, we need to do this as well on the podcast, like, just keep recording and be like, Okay, we finished? Oh, well, I just had one more question. So, on a similar vein, my third tip was to iterate on your methods. So if you have done a survey, and you found out some information, but you've realised that you've kind of asked a question slightly wrong, or maybe missed a question, then just do do the same survey, again, audit and don't do the same survey again, but improve the survey, and then do it again. And I've got a really good example of this, where we were doing some pricing research with our customers. And I was asking them about delivery pricing. And I was just like, thinking that I only needed a quant survey. So a numbers survey, and gave them multiple choice and gave like three different answers for late delivery pricing. And then the fourth answer was a bit of a red herring, I put like this red herring in which was everybody pays 199 for delivery. And there was no free options at all. And I just, I don't know, I can't even remember why I put it in there. I just thought it was like going to be funny. Everyone voted for the everybody should pay for delivery, instead of all of the other free options that I put in there. But because I hadn't followed up with a Why did you choose that option? I then had to do the survey again, to find out why. And it was really, really interesting finding out all of the ways behind that. But yeah, I just think if you, you know, if you're not getting to the crux as the information, you know, if you're doing a bit of data analysis and looking at your analytics, and it's giving you some indication, but you're not getting to the nugget, then you do a survey or, you know, you kind of keep iterating on your question or your theme that you're trying to get to, and hopefully you will find the answers that help guide you on your next steps. When you start out as a product leader, it can be really tricky to fully understand what your responsibilities are, figure out how to build an empowered team and how to create that all important product culture, which we're all inevitably striving for, not to mention navigating a new dynamic working with leadership across the business. Randy Silver:  And if this sounds all too familiar, then don't worry. Because mine the product is back with a four week intensive product leadership course it launched earlier this year. It's a mix of weekly remote classroom sessions, self paced learning, dedicated triage time, out of class activities, and more. Lily Smith:  It's very interactive, really engaging and just the ticket for new and established product leaders looking to level up their product strategy skills and understand how to work with their senior leadership team to achieve exceptional product and business outcomes. Randy Silver:  Tickets have just gone on sale for the second and final cohort of 2022 which kicks off in November. with very limited seating, you're going to want to move quickly to snap up a place Lily Smith:  and all tickets come with one year of exclusive MTP leader membership, both to support the work you do during the four week course. And so you can continue the learning for a full year after your course ends. Randy Silver:  You can find out more and book your place for the November cohort at mind the product.com/leadership course that's mine the product.com/leadership course all one word I think a little bit later on, we're going to talk about the definition of done for discovery. But I want to kind of make a different point about it now, which is, yeah, if you don't have the answer that you thought or if you learn something new and you want to follow up on it, that's completely fine. You may be time boxed and some things you may need to make some decisions now, based on on what, what you've learned so far. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep learning, absolutely schedule more discovery if you can. And if you can do it quickly, even better, if you can do it before a critical decision point even better, but don't stop learning just because a date has happened. It's always worth learning more. Nice. So what is your fourth tip? Okay, so Lily Smith:  I've talked about this a little bit in tip number two. But my fourth tip is really about getting people involved. And what I mean by that is getting the rest of your team involved and the rest of the business involved in your discovery, in some way, shape or form. My view is that if you have a kind of expert research team, that's amazing. And you should definitely use them. But don't let that stop you from doing discovery yourself. And also bringing your team into that process as well as much as you can. Because even if someone just says like, you know, a developer or a designer, they just do like one user interview a quarter, that's better than no user interviews at all. Or if you get a developer to help you with some kind of data analysis, or like building some reports in your analytics tool, or whatever it is, bringing people on the journey to understand the behaviour of your customers and helping and getting them to help you or like work with you, or even work independently, actually, on certain discovery topics and processes, it will help them have an appreciation for how much we don't know about our customers. And also how, like difficult discovery is and how difficult it is to get right, and how many assumptions we're making. So there's like so many things in that. And definitely, if you can bring your founders or your CTOs or sorry, CEOs or like, you know, Randy Silver:  other studios are good to use a good two years, it's I don't leave them Lily Smith:  out. So yeah, bring people in, get people involved. And then if you can't get them involved in actually doing the discovery bit itself, then get them involved when you're sharing the insights that you've learned by putting together a deck or a presentation, and inviting everyone along to it, or posting it in Slack in a channel that everyone has access to. And then what I tend to do as well, when I'm sharing is, I'll do like, a quick like, teaser, almost of like sharing like a little bit of video or like some key quotes that I have found really interesting. And then it's like, draws them in to hopefully listen or read more. So that yeah, though, that's how I tried to get people involved. What's your kind of tip number for Andy, because I know yours is kind of similar as well. Randy Silver:  Yeah, very similar. Mine is more directed at the actual interviews themselves. And it was just the idea that solo researches and doing interviews solo is a bad idea whenever possible, find a partner, anytime that you can. And there's a number of reasons for this. I know we had a great chat a long while back with Anna Leanda. That where we covered some of these things and some of the some of his just safety depending on where you're, you know, now that we do all the interviews remote, maybe it's not as much of or many of our interviews remote, maybe it's not as much of a concern, but it's something that's come up in the past. But just the basic idea that if you're trying to interview someone, and take notes at the same time, even if you're just trying to mark down some key things to follow up on, you're not fully present in the interview. And even if it's you've got a partner there, or other people that are gonna be watching the video afterwards. It's not the same people will catch on to things that you didn't catch on to they'll have different perspectives, they'll have different context for things. And the idea that someone else can just, you know, give you a little tap or a note notification. Say, I need to follow up on this. This is really interesting. Let's see where it goes. You might have thought that the person you're talking to said something very innocuous, but to someone else, it might be the start of a thread that unravels something really interesting. So and then discussing it immediately afterwards, how it went. What you learned from it, what was surprising and it what it confirmed or invalid David is just, it's incredibly valuable to spend the time with somebody else. And then similarly, as, as Willie was saying, the idea that you can then use that to tease the information out to other people, you know, having an ally on this. So it's not just using something, it's what we learned, rather than what I learned. And we is much more powerful than I, Lily Smith:  I think that's so true. And the number of times that I've done an interview with someone else, and then we've walked away with like, not different interpretations, but different key takeaways of things that I've completely missed. Because I was thinking about what to ask next, or, you know, like just pondering something else. And then similarly, like, in the reverse, and I've got another nugget with this as well, which is, so when I was working at gocompare, we experimented with doing customer research with pairs. So we would recruit the first person, and then we would ask them to invite someone else to the interview. So it was someone that they knew, like a friend or a colleague, or sibling, or whatever. And then we interviewed the two people together. And that was really, really interesting. I mean, in some ways, it didn't work. But in other ways, it worked really, really well, because the two people kind of rift off of each other. And, you know, if someone said, oh, yeah, this is the way I behave, and then the other person would be like, you don't really do that D. Like would call her out on things that they didn't really believe or, yeah, it was really, really interesting. So yeah, you could experiment with that as well. And also, it means that you get to do double the amount of research in the same amount of time. Randy Silver:  I have to ask, did that idea come from an interview we did a long time ago with Mona Patel. Lily Smith:  Maybe? I've completely forgotten that. That's where I got the inspiration from so. Yeah, it was definitely for him. Oh, no, no way, remember? Randy Silver:  Yeah, it's a fun technique. It goes really, really well. Okay. We're in the homestretch now. So Billy, what is your fifth and final tip for today? Lily Smith:  Okay, so my fifth and final tip is, we always talk about being outcome focused as product people. And I think it is, as we mentioned earlier, it's really important to kind of lay the foundations of what it is you want to learn, and what question you're trying to answer, and what you're trying to achieve with your discovery work. But it's also really important not to be blinkered when you're doing it. So if, for example, you're researching churn behaviours, make sure that you don't ignore signals for improving conversion. And also kind of aligned with this, I'm just gonna sneak it in is like a five A or something like that, oh, five and a half. Don't fret about recording every single insight. So when I first started doing discovery, I was just so confused about how I was going to capture all of the stuff that I was learning, and make sure it was recorded in a way that I could revisit it if I needed to. And then I read some really good advice from somewhere. But as my memory is so bad, I can't remember where I read it. That basically said, when you're doing discovery, like, don't worry about recording it, that you know, your insights to accurately because actually, if you're late, keep on doing with discovery, those insights or that that kind of information will come back again and again and again. And it'll be a theme that kind of continues. And so that's the way I do discovery. I'll record like the key takeaways, but I don't worry about recording sort of like absolutely everything because I know that if I keep talking to customers, it will keep coming back if it's so an important point later on. Randy Silver:  So on that really is saying, if you're researching churn don't ignore certain signals for improving conversion. How much do you do with that you fundamentally changed the direction of what you're going to be doing if some great conversion tips or problems come up. Are you still going to focus on churn? How do you ensure that you keep your backlog and your your focus? Strong if you're, if you're trying to do all of this? Lily Smith:  Yeah. So okay, so the way that I make sure that I'm not blinkered is by ensuring that I have some kind of standard generic questions, which is what you kind of mentioned earlier brandy and And I say that at the kind of the top and the tail of the interview is like open the interview interview quite broadly and close it quite broadly as well. And then if I do get some really key insights into conversion, like improving conversion, and I'm actually meant to be just focusing on churn, then obviously, depending on how kind of quicker when it is, I might go and address it straight away. Or I'll just like make sure that it's on my roadmap, like all collected, like in documented in my kind of backlog somewhere so that I know, when we're next focusing on conversion, like that there is a potential opportunity. Randy Silver:  So some notes on conversion for later. Yeah, it's not something you're dealing with now. So if anybody else yeah, yeah, we've got it. It's, it's somewhere. It's, it's ready for us? Lily Smith:  Definitely. Yeah. How about you, Randy, what's your tip number five? Randy Silver:  Well being that's the last one. And I think I teased it earlier, it's about the definition of done for discovery. Because everyone likes doing the early parts. We like coming up with our surveys, we like asking questions, we like talking to people. But afterwards, there's a lot of work that still has to be done. And you haven't actually finished your discovery, or that discovery, project or objective or task. It unless you do these things, you have to do the synthesis. Because we get really biassed from the interviews themselves are looking at the data until you pull it all together, and really study it. And make sure that you're validating what you thought you got out of the discovery activities. You're not 100%. Sure. So the synthesis is incredibly important. But even more important, is if you don't do the synthesis, you don't have a good way of sharing the outcomes of the discovery with anybody where it was the outcomes, the outputs a little longer be a little weedy about outcomes outputs on this one, because you can say the output is the report or what you share with people and then the decision is the outcome or the outcome can be the telling people about it. But either way, until they have learned what you have learned until they have had the opportunity to hear directly from people or to see the numbers and understand why some decisions are being made and to have a conversation with you about it. Until that point, they're just taking orders from you. They are not active participants, they're not active partners with you on this. So back to Lily's earlier point, if you can get people actively involved in the discovery process even better, but if you can't, sharing the outcomes of the everything with them, and getting them to fully understand and emotionally commit to it in the same way that you might have, is incredibly important. Lily Smith:  Okay, so Randy, if its definition of done for discovery, then should you also be including whatever kind of changes or additions you're making to your product, as part of that discovery process? And then the outcomes that they have achieved? Or does discovery? Yeah. I only thought of it when you were talking about it just then. Randy Silver:  I think I think it's interesting. It's whether you're talking about discovery as a discrete phase or continuous thing. So if it's a discrete phase that you're doing, then yes, absolutely. You should record what are the decisions that you made, and the hypotheses that come from it. And then on your scrum board, for example, when you've put the epics in, there should always be the bit of we believe this is what's going to happen. And you should be able to track it all back and look at that in retros. If you're doing it as more of a continuous discovery thing, then certainly it would be good to say we've learned this, therefore, we made this decision. And that's useful. But I think that's just becomes more of a regular best practice and not as much of a formal stage. Lily Smith:  Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. Randy Silver:  Wow. This was weird. Lily Smith:  This was weird, but it was so much fun. I really enjoyed it. And thanks so much for sharing your insights. I hope people and I Randy Silver:  discovered a lot by listening to you. Lily Smith:  Yeah, I hope people find it useful. And we'd love to, we'd love to hear about it. Randy Silver:  And if you want us to do more deep dives in the future on different topics, just let us know. We're going to be back most weeks with guests as we normally do. But if you want to hear this once in a while, just let us know. Lily Smith:  Thanks. Thanks so much, Randy. Randy Silver:  Thanks Lily See you next week Lily Smith:  the product experience is the first and the best podcast from mine the product. Our hosts are me, Lily Smith and me Randy silver. Louron Pratt is our producer and Luke Smith is our editor. Randy Silver:  Our theme music is from humbard baseband pow. That's P AU. Thanks to Arnie killer who curates both product tank and MTP engage in Hamburg and who also plays bass in the band for letting us use their music. You can connect with your local product community via product tank, regular free meetups in over 200 cities worldwide. Lily Smith:  If there's not one near you, maybe you should think about starting one. To find out more go to mine the product.com forward slash product tank