This is a step-by-step report on how I conduct Product Discovery. I highlight what tools I use, how to structure findings and where I could have done better.
Here's the agenda:
- Three critical questions (Who, What, How)
- How to get insights about an ICP quickly
Over the last six weeks, I've been trying to understand the problem space of "Product Discovery". If we're being honest, I've been trying to understand it for years.
Why? Because I've struggled and failed to validate and discover consistently myself. I've struggled to get teams to do so. I've also managed to get good discovery processes going but failed to understand how to reach escape velocity.
Three critical questions (Who, What, How)
I always start with three questions.
- Who is doing the thing?
- What are their problems?
- How are these problems underserved?
You can hardly call these questions a framework. What you might call it is a 'framing'.
Who is doing the thing?
The "thing" here being the mystical practice of "Product Discovery".
The answer: UX Researchers, PMs, UX Designers, Founders and many more.
So I go find people like that. Mostly on LinkedIn and in my existing professional network.
I schedule 5 interviews per weeks, several weeks in advance. I have no idea what I'm going to ask yet, and that scares me. But I also know that creating accountability and momentum is the only thing that keeps my discovery rolling.
Tactical Tip: I create a 'user pool' where I keep track of what I discovered with each interviewee. Additionally I label the interviews if I showed a specific prototype under 'test done'.
You can read whole books on how to define personas and ICPs, I keep it pragmatic and messy at this stage. We are trying to move fast after and over all.
We are going to sharpen our understanding of our ICP over the discover period. So no need for overthinking here.
There is a slightly offensive German saying:
"Das Denken soll man den Pferden überlassen, sie haben größere Köpfe" - 🐴
Which literally means:
Thinking should be left to the horses, they have got bigger heads.
And I just love that. Of course I am a friend of thoughtfulness. Yet, we tend to overdo it, especially during Product Discovery.
What are their problems?
As I've been doing discovery for years and have worked with many different teams - I have a hunch here.
I write down where I've seen teams struggle, where I have struggled myself. I'm making the assumption that others have the same issues. That is what I'm here to (in)validate.
Here are the main findings after dozens of interviews:
- Recruiting users for interviews is really hard. Especially the right users. Especially in B2B.
- Lone Wolf Phenomenon: Often PMs single handedly try to do continuous discovery and are just unable to handle the workload without support.
- Buy-in from up-high. If there is a lack of strategic importance put on Discovery it never gets it attention it deserves.
How are these problems underserved?
By asking non-leading questions and focusing on past behaviour I try to shed light on how these interviewees deal with the problems I've uncovered. More on asking good questions here.
So, what were the results?
Building a great relationship with a pool of existing users is a great way to deal with the recruiting problem. Paying external services like User Interviews for recruiting is another.
Lone Wolf Phenomenon
People (often PMs) doing Discovery all by themselves are finding their effort unsustainable. Getting team member involved incrementally is the best way to help. Also tools that make the administrative part of the process easier can help.
Buy-in from up-high
Probably the biggest show stopper. So many people are working in organisations where Product Discovery (or user-centricity) is only preached and not practiced. If (product) leadership does not expect teams to spend significant time on Discovery, or worse, sees it as a waste of time, Product Discovery will not happen.
And how about dealing with this problem? Some are trying their best within their constraints, some are turning cynical and others are changing company.
So that were the who (is the user), what (are their problems) and how (do they deal with them) questions.
How to get insights about an ICP quickly
Okay, here's the nitty, gritty, boots-on-the-ground, getting-your-hands-dirty part.
The main intention for me on the tactical side is: Don't get in my own way. Or let me come up with a wittier quote for this:
Perfection is the enemy of Product Discovery.
We've established that there are three basic questions (who, what and how) to get answers to. How do I do that, like step-by-step?
Disclaimer: In this (self-suported) effort, I don't have pricey tools. I use my private, free accounts for everything.
Here's a 2min demo on how we stitch together our existing tools to streamline the Discovery process.
- Recruiting: Friends, family and LinkedIn/Twitter.
- Scheduling: Cal.com or Calendly
- Interviewing: Zoom. It is the only call software that allows recordings in the free tier.
- Calendar and User Pool: Use Airtable and/or Coda to keep track of upcoming interviews and to manage a user pool. This is the secret ingredient to get discovery to become continuous.
- Insights: I use Coda (Notion competitor). A table with tags allows me to search for specific kind of feedback (e.g. problem, delight) or steps in a user flow (e.g. recruiting, note-taking)
I aim to keep all knowledge in one place. And with a budget of 0$ this place surely isn't solutions like dovetail.
Here's my rough structure in Coda for a project like this. I don't spend much time on it up-front, it evolved as I learn.
This research was very meta.
Doing Product Discovery on Product Discovery makes my head spin every now and then.
While the vast majority of PMs/UXRs and Product Designers would love to do more Product Discovery and qualitative user interviews in particular, there are significant hurdles, namely:
- Buy-in from leadership
- Struggling to manage all the tools and admin work involved
- Recruiting the right users to talk to
I've learned a lot. And while running the research I've constantly worked on how to improve my own setup.
The more general insight came to me:
Stringing together 4-7 tools is possible but not what we deserve. It's a lot of work and can break at any time.
So, we need better tooling. And luckily I have two talented friends joining me in that effort. That's why we are launching Juttu. To address exactly the problems I've discovered over the last months and years.
If you are interested, check out our landing page.