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Product discovery playbook


Every aspiring product team wants to do discovery, but still, shamefully few do. Why? Often people don't know where to start. Here's a quick guide to starting product discovery practice in your org.

You'll find tons of product discovery frameworks on the Internet, in books and at conferences. Most of them work, however, to make them work for you it's essential to adapt the framework to the particular context of your organisation. That's the hard part.

Often people get distracted by the tools. They think if only they had some magic tool - product discovery would just work. Years of experience proved to me that's never the case. The success of your product discovery effort is never about tools, it's about people. It's your peers who need to understand why discovery is important and how to do it right. And then they need to get on board and support you.

The framework below is tool-agnostic. I try to capture the essential things you need to do to kick-start a proper product discovery effort in your company. You will need to adapt this playbook for your context. You will need to decide what every step means for you and who you need to achieve it.

Identify all existing sources of customer feedback

All companies collect customer feedback in one way or another. Yes, even your company. As a PM you need to find all the places where knowledge about your customers lives in your org. Start with talking to different departments: sales, marketing, support, data...etc. What you might find could be fragmented and of dubious quality but it's still a start.

Often bits of customer knowledge are getting locked in tools people use. For example: you can analyse your CS ticketing system to find out the most common complaints, and you can use a CRM system to check if salespeople put win-loss and churn data there. Odds are - if you can't find anything, you didn't search hard enough.

Centralise all the feedback in one, shared repository

Before actually moving any data around - create a map. Note down all the sources of customer feedback/knowledge you were able to find, how to access them, what kind of information is available there and how often it gets refreshed.

Having the map you can plan to centralise all the vital information in one place that will be the single source of truth for you going forward. Don't rush into automation, experiment instead. Move data manually at first, test how it works, and are you able to get the insights you want? If yes, then move to automating time-consuming bits.

Identify gaps

Often, almost always, you'll find some gaps in the information you collect as an organisation. When this happens, you'll need to assess if the missing information is required for you to make better product decisions. If the answer is yes - you'll need to figure out how to fill the gaps and start collecting data.

Make insights searchable

Having all the data in one place is great, but the real value is to be able to find it quickly and easily. Here's where you need some clever tools to help. The main requirements for such a tool would be:
  • A powerful search
  • A robust tagging system
  • Some AI magic would be nice to identify automatically themes, sentiments, categories and so on.

Don't forget to provide read-only access as widely as possible in your org. Data democratisation and a learning mindset start with no barriers to data access.

Create a research database

To optimise your discovery efforts you need to keep track of your research projects, their audience and the outcomes. Practically, this means you need to keep track of
  • Customers you interviewed and those you want to interview next
  • Respondents to your surveys
  • Any customer segments you've analysed from the data perspective
  • and so on

As a rule, you want to understand all your existing and desired customers (not only the noisy minority that wants to speak to you but also the quiet majority that could be harder to reach).

Visualise the research process

Product discovery is a collaborative endeavour. Usually, you do it with your design and engineering partners. To make sure the process goes smoothly you need to visualise it with clear ownership on every step.

You can use any sort of process visualisation tools such as Kanban boards, tasks, project plans and even spreadsheets (please don't use spreadsheets).

Make your insights database known and easy to access

To successfully power product discovery your colleagues need to know where your insights live and how to access them. Make sure all PMs, designers, UX people, and engineers have access to the insights. Provide adequate training and onboarding so your colleagues can fully embrace and adapt your product discovery playbook.

Bonus: Share the cool insights often

Even though product discovery is mainly the responsibility of PMs, designers and engineers, the entire organisation improves if everyone is informed about the relevant insights regularly.

As a PM, internal evangelisation is also your job. Share the cool insights you're having in your database often and widely inside your company. Excite people with the things you're learning and inspire them to follow suit.

Bonus: share your process to promote the learning org

It's no longer a secret - organisations that continuously learn about their customers are outperforming those that don't. You can chip into building a learning culture by sharing your product discovery process with your company so everyone can use it to amplify their learning efforts.

Get learning

The most important step on the way to a learning organisation is the first one. Which one exactly? The one you can make. Don't try and take a huge leap right away, don't try and change everything immediately. Be realistic and favour incremental improvements over grand endeavours. Don't get frustrated if things won't work right away, they won't, guaranteed. Fix one thing, then fix another and another and so on until you are much further than you ever hoped to be.

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