Book summary: “ Inspired: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love” — Part 4

Part 4 : The Right Process

Product Discovery

  • Most of us are working on solving the hard problems and it usually ends taking some fairly complex system to power these solutions.
  • Finding in detail what the customer solutions should have been. Additionally, make sure we come up with a single solution that works for many customers and not a series of specials.
  • Ensure we deliver a robust and scalable implementation that our customers can depend on for consistently reliable value.

Purpose of product discovery is to address these critical risks:

  • Will the customer buy this, or choose to use it? (Value risk)
  • Can the user figure out how to use it? (Usability risk)
  • Can we build it? (Feasibility risk)
  • Does this solution work for our business? (Business viability risk)

Principles of Product discovery:

  1. Customers don’t know what’s possible, and with technology products, none of us know what we want until we see it.
  2. Establish a compelling value.
  3. Concoct a very good user experience.
  4. Functionality, design, and technology are inherently intertwined.
  5. We expect that many of our ideas won’t work and the ones that do will require several iterations. We need to be open to solve underlying problems in different ways.
  6. We must validate our idea on our real customers and users.
  7. The goal of product discovery is to validate our ideas fastest and cheapest way possible.
  8. Validate the feasibility during the discovery, not after that.
  9. Validate the business viability during the discovery, not after that.
  10. It’s all about shared learning.

Discovery techniques overview:

  1. Discovery framing techniques — framing techniques help us to quickly identify the underlying issues that must be tackled during product discovery.
  2. Discovery Planning techniques — Useful throughout the product discovery effort and help with identifying the bigger challenges and planning how you’ll attack this work.
  3. Discovery Ideation Techniques — Ideation techniques are designed to provide the product team with a wealth of promising solutions aimed at the problems we’re focused on now.
  4. Discovery Prototyping Techniques — Our go-to tool for product discovery is typically a prototype.
  5. Discovery Testing Techniques — Product discovery is mostly about quickly trying out an idea. We are essentially trying to separate the good ideas from the bad. Here we are defining a good idea as one that solves the underlying problem in a way that customers will buy, they can figure out how to use, we have the time and skills and technology on the team to build, and that works for the various aspects of our business.
  6. Testing feasibility — These techniques are designed for the engineers to address areas where they identify concerns. It could be the technology that the team is not familiar with, performance challenges or some third-party components need to be evaluated.
  7. Testing usability — These techniques are designed for the product designers to address areas where they have identified concerns.
  8. Testing value — Most of our time in product discovery is spent validating value or working to increase the perceived value. If it’s a new product, we need to ensure that customers will buy it, at the price we need to charge, and that they’ll switch from whatever they’re using today. If it’s an existing product, and we are improving that product (such as with a new feature or a new design), where the customer has already bought the product, we need to ensure the customers will choose to use the new feature or new design.
  9. Testing Business Viability — These techniques are about validating the type of risks. Sadly, it’s not enough to create a product or solution that our customers love, that is usable, and that our engineers can deliver. The product also must work for business. This means we can afford the cost of building and provisioning the products and costs to market and sell the product.

Discovery Framing Techniques:

  1. Ensure that the team is all on the same page in terms of clarity of the purpose and alignment. Focus on objective and specific problems we are trying to solve.
  2. To identify the big risks that will need to be tackled during the discovery work. Few examples
  • Financial risk — Can we afford to build this solution?
  • Business development risk — Does this solution work for our partners
  • Marketing risk — Is this solution consistent with our brand?
  • Sales risk — Is this solution something our sales staff is equipped to sell?
  • Legal risk — Is this something we can do from a legal or compliance perspective?
  • Ethical risk — Is this solution something we should do?
  1. An opportunity assessment is designed for the vast majority of product work which ranges from simple optimization to a feature to a medium-sized project.
  2. Customer letters are designed for larger projects or initiatives that often have multiple goals and a more complicated desired outcome. (example — redesign)
  3. Startup Canvas for those times you’re creating an entirely new product line or a new business.
  • Idea is to answer four key questions about the discovery work you are about to undertake:
  1. What business objective is this work intended to address (Objective)
  2. How will you know if you’ve succeeded? (Key results)
  3. What problem will this solve for our customers? (Customer problem)
  4. What type of customer are we focused on? (Target market)
  1. Working backward process — Where you start the effort with the pretend press release. It’s so tempting to the product teams to immediately slip into an enumeration of all the features they plan to build. This will help the team focus on the outcomes, not the output.
  2. It’s a terrific evangelism technique — if people don’t see the value after reading the press release then the PM has more work to do, perhaps should reconsider the effort.
  3. Customer letter — The idea is that rather than communicate the benefits in a press release format, you describe them in the format of a customer letter written from the hypothetical perspective of one of your product’s well-defined user or customer persona.
  4. This includes how the customer describes how it has changed or improved his/her life, and imagined congratulatory responses from the CEO to the product team explaining how this has helped the business.
  1. You’re not being asked to improve the existing product, you’re being asked to invent an entirely new product.
  2. Startup canvas, it’s close cousins to business model canvas and lean canvas are intended to be lightweight tools to call out these risks early and encourage the team to tackle them upfront.
  3. Startup canvas helps to quickly highlight the key assumptions and major risks facing a startup or a significant new product in an existing business. The idea is to tackle the big risks first.

Discovery Planning techniques:

  • They are essentially framing and planning techniques, but they are just as useful for ideation.
  • Also used a design technique when building prototypes and works great for communication to the team and the stakeholders.
  • Many teams consider a high fidelity user prototype and a story map as their go-to techniques.
  • What is a reference customer? — A real customer (not friends or family) who is running your product in production, who has paid real money for the product, and most importantly, who is willing to tell others how much they love your product.
  • “We are discovering and developing a set of reference customers in parallel with discovering and developing the actual product”
  • This technique takes substantial effort and primarily on the part of PM. But this is the single best leading indicator of future product success.
  • Four main variations of this technique for four different situations:
  1. Building products for businesses.
  • We are looking to develop six reference customers in our specific target market or segment, so the idea is to find six similar customers.
  • If you end up targeting two or three customers in two or three different markets, this program will not give you the focus you want and need.
  • Example -First develop six references for the financial service industry, then six from the manufacturing industry OR six from the US and the UK.
  • The ideology behind this technique is to focus on developing this set of reference customers for a specific target market which then makes it was easy for sales to go after those specific types of customers.

Product Ideation techniques

  1. Customer Interview: One of the most powerful and important skills for any product manager and very often the source or inspiration for any breakthrough product ideas,
  1. Are your customers who you think they are?
  2. Do they have the problems you think they have?
  3. How does the customer solve this problem today?
  4. What would be required for them to switch?
  1. Frequency: Establish a regular cadence of customer interviews. This is not a once in a while thingy. 2- 3 hours per week, every week.
  2. Purpose: You’re just trying to understand and learn quickly. This mindset is critical and needs to be sincere.
  3. Recruiting users and customers: Be sure to talk primarily to people in your intended target market. You’re looking for about an hour of their time.
  4. Location: It’s always amazing to see customers in their native habitat. There’s so much to learn just by observing their environment. But it’s also fine to meet them somewhere convenient or have them come to your office.
  5. Preparation: Be clear beforehand what problem it is you think they have, and think about how you’ll either confirm or contradict that.
  6. Who should attend: My favorite is to bring three people to these interviews: the product manager, the product designer, and one of the engineers from the team (we normally rotate among those that want to attend). Usually, the designer drives (because they’ve usually been trained how to do this well), the product manager takes notes, and the developer observes.
  7. Interview: Work to keep things natural and informal, ask open-ended questions, and try to learn what they’re doing today (not so much what they wish they were doing, although that’s also interesting).
  8. Afterward: Debrief with your colleagues to see if you’ve all heard the same things and had the same learnings. If you made any promises to the customer during that session, be sure you keep them.
  • In an undirected hack day, people can explore whatever product ideas they like, so long as it’s at least loosely related to the mission of the company.
  • In direct hack day, In a directed hack day, there is a customer problem (for example, something is really difficult to learn and use, or it takes too long to do) or business objective we’ve been assigned (for example, “Reduce the customer churn rate” or “Increase customer lifetime value”), and we ask people from the product teams to self-organize and work on any ideas they like that might address this objective.

Discovery prototyping techniques — To be continued.

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