Product Discovery at Different Company Stages

May 17, 2017


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Describing what product discovery looks like at different stages of a company’s development is a challenging task, because product discovery and agile development processes differ from company to company, as well as between different  stages of a company’s growth.

However, I will attempt to tackle the subject in this article, and hope that by the end you will have a general overall idea of some of the elements of the discovery process.

The term product discovery encompasses  all the research and decisions on the product that you and your team are working on, whether that’s planning your next deliverable or testing your latest prototype.  The term product delivery describes the activities needed  to build and ship your product. You can’t build a product without deciding what that product is in the first place. You can only make good decisions about what you should be building if you first dedicate some time and effort to  product discovery.

Early-stage startup companies

In the early stages of a startup company, the  team will work with interchangeable roles, with many people involved in discovery and research around the new product. activities will include things such as Market Research, Benchmarking, User Journey maps, and User Persona development.

Market Research and benchmarking are used to identify what is available on the market for potential users of your product, as these could be things you would like to emulate with your product.

  •      What can be learnt from competitors’ products and market leading products in related industries?
  •      What are the key trends in design or functionality that are shared by the market leading apps and products in your sector?

Use your market research and benchmarking activities to create aspirational goals that your team  can work towards

Personas are a way to model typical target users,  based on observation and research. A persona depicts as a specific individual but is not a real person, it is a summary of your  observations about many people.

The persona exercise enables the team to focus on a manageable and memorable group of target users, instead of trying to focus on thousands of individuals.

User Journey mapping is way to understand a customer’s journey to achieve a goal by interacting with a product, for example, when they’re buying an item on an ecommerce website. The user journey map should detail the steps which customers follow to  achieve their goals, and should highlight any potential obstacles they may find.

Often, these planning activities are take place inside the company’s offices but if it’s at all possible you should go out and meet directly with your potential customers to get a real understanding of your target group. You can conduct  interviews and observations or invite them into your working environment. Your customers are the best experts about your customers,  and their input is vital as part of a good product discovery phase.

Furthermore, spending time meeting your potential customers or undertaking user research will increase the chance of your product being a success. It’s possible to condense a lot of these product discovery and customer research activities into an intense workshop known as a design sprint.

Post launch companies

As a company matures, the division of work will be clearer and you will start to have individuals with roles dedicated to product discovery, with job titles such as Business Analyst, or User Experience Specialist. .

The ideal way to treat discovery at this stage of a company’s development  is through continuous discovery. This means not only  continuing all the product discovery activities you undertook before product launch, but also additional activities such as A/B Testing and data analysis.

Continuous product discovery gives you  multiple data points for making product decisions along the way, during the development and delivery process.

Continuous data analysis, once your product is in the marketplace, is a way of tracking activity and usage trends. This is done through regular data analysis using whichever event monitoring and traffic tracking tools you have available.

A/B Testing involves comparing two versions of a feature in your product, to find out which performs better. This is a way to test the impact of a new feature or changes to a feature on a live product. An example of a simple A/B test would be, does a red button perform better than a green one? Conducting regular A/B tests will help you optimize the product and could improve a product’s UX.

Mature companies

As the company grows and reaches maturity, there will be dedicated teams for user research and data insights. At this stage it is vitally important to make sure that the knowledge that is gained in those teams is shared across the whole company, not just between your research experts.

By sharing the understanding,grounded in use research, across the company, everyone  can learn from your customers and can contribute to a shared understanding.

You can also make use of these product discovery activities to look for innovation beyond what is currently available in the market. For example, looking at future trends in retail technology you might consider the usefulness of developing virtual shop assistants.


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