The quality of your product discovery sessions strongly correlates with the quality of your final software product.
A good product discovery session makes it more likely you’ll create a good end product. A poor product discovery session can put you on the path to failure.
Failing to fully understand the project, its goals and risks significantly increases the four types of product risks described by Marty Cagan, partner at SVPG, in his book “Inspired.” Those risks are:
- Value risks, or whether a customer will use the product.
- Usability risks, or whether someone can use the product.
- Feasibility risks, or whether engineers can build it.
- Business viability risks, or whether the software contributes effectively to the business.
“Whether you work with an external agency or not, a solid product discovery session can mitigate most of the risks associated with software development,” says Denise Beachley, CIO and partner at Kingsmen Software.
A good product discovery session doesn’t happen by accident. Preparation is key, and enterprises should follow the following three steps to get as prepared as possible.
Have a Clear Idea of Your Goals
“You need a problem or goal to guide your product discovery session,” says Frank Wanicka, CTO and partner at Kingsmen Software. That could be a legacy solution that needs modernization or a new product that will meet growing consumer demand.
The longer you spend defining your problems and goals, the better, says Paul Adams, chief product officer at Intercom. Adams’ team spends 40 percent of their time on these tasks before building anything.
“We obsess about problem prioritization and problem definition,” he writes. “I mean obsess. I drive our people crazy sometimes interrogating whether we really truly deeply understand the problem we’re attempting to solve.” The reason for his obsession? Because software can only be as good as your understanding of the initial problem.
Assemble the Right Team
Preparing for a product discovery session means having the right people available to your internal or external developers.
The right people include a product-focused person, someone from the development team and key stakeholders, among others, says Roman Pichler, a leading project management expert. Including stakeholders in product discovery discussions ensures you account for their thoughts early and increases the chances they’ll support the project going forward.
Including the products’ developers now gives you the chance to leverage their domain knowledge, and it helps them understand why the product is being created.
Don’t merely have those respective people available for product discovery discussions. Arrange interviews with respective team members. Doing so will guarantee they’ll be available to talk to your development partner while demonstrating the value they can add to a project.
Set Aside Enough Time
Thorough product discovery sessions take time. Often, it’s a case of weeks or months.
Tim Herbig, a product management coach and consultant, recommends starting with a period of six weeks. This time frame works well, he says, because there isn’t enough time to game out how everything will unfold, but it does leave everyone enough room to course-correct if necessary.
Just be careful if you divide product discovery into multiple stages, Herbig writes. “When you can take the time to split a Discovery up into different phases, it’s important not to lose sight of the timeline you’ve committed to,” he says. “Even when your project has more of an exploratory character, you shouldn’t just go along without considering how much time is reasonably spent on each phase.”
Cut product discovery short at your own risk, writes Humberto Farias, chairman at Concepta. Limited product discovery sessions can result in misaligned goals, incomplete requirements and unrealistic estimates.
Worse still, you could create a product that fails to meet user and business needs, that isn’t adopted, and that doesn’t contribute to the ongoing success of a business.
The better prepared you are for product discovery, the more thorough your development partner can be. This leads to a more detailed product roadmap and a more accurate work breakdown schedule. So, get clear on your goals, identify the right team members and set aside the time you need to succeed.