“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions” – Albert Einstein
It’s a fairly established fact that if you aren’t constantly innovating your company, your product, and your brand that your venture will die. Constantly innovating and pushing the boundary of what has been done is quintessential to what it means to be entrepreneurial.
However, one of the problems that many entrepreneurs face is that they focus far too much on the solution before focusing on the problem. That is, they don’t focus enough on product discovery.
Product discovery is, in essence, a process by which to better understand a problem so that you can come up with incredibly eloquent and effective solutions. Following Einstein’s quote, the process emphasizes a heavy focus on accurately framing the problem and empathizing with the end users.
During Product Discovery you are exploring markets, empathizing and interviewing end-users, and framing the problem in as accurate a light as possible.
The next stage involves ideating many solutions – this is where you take on the role of a divergent thinker: now that the problem has been very narrowly defined, what are all of the possible ways in which we can solve it from this point?
Lastly, you take on the role of the convergent thinker: You begin to narrow down the solutions, prioritizing and planning a means of execution.
When going through the stages of Product Discovery, it’s important to keep the process as organic as possible – if halfway through the stage of narrowing down solutions, you discover a newer and more accurate description of the problem, it’s great to start at the beginning.
In this way, you will produce better products and solutions for accurately defined problems and targeted niches.
There are many different processes you can use to do discovery. Enterprise companies hire outside consultants and spend a year researching a market, potentially missing their window of opportunity and locking themselves into a waterfall-style plan. Startups jump straight to building with little to no discovery whatsover and risk investing time, effort, and capital into a company with no product-market fit. An approach that invests too much or too little can be dangerous. So let's get down to the nitty gritty: what's a meaningful discovery process you can do in a reasonable period of time?
This guide won't teach you how to hire a consulting firm to do a year of research, or what to do if you want to skip discovery altogether. Instead, we'll focus on discovery processes that can infrom your product development in a meanginful way on the order of days and weeks, not months or years.
Product Design Sprints
Learn everything you can about Product Design Sprints by Google Ventures. This process can be applied to a product or individual feature, no matter how large or small. The prescribed period of time for a Product Design Sprint is 1 week but shorter and longer sprints are possible, though we don't recommend running a sprint longer than 2 weeks if you can avoid it.
Product Design sprints are the ultimate discovery tool because they are intensive enough to get high fidelity information but short enough that you won't miss the boat or overplan for your product. And, unlike traditional discovery, they involve real user research input and all stakeholders – all too often organizations mistakenly avoid talking to their users or think stakeholders are too busy to involve themselves in a discovery process.
The Design Sprint process is broken up into 5 phases:
- Unpack: Collaboratively learn everything you can about your idea, it's history, market forces, and competitors
- Sketch: Independently concept solutions with a focus on variety and diversity
- Decide: Collaboratively discuss and vote/rank solutions to get input from all stakeholders – decide what solution to test
- Prototype: A designer prototypes the solution being tested in prepartion for user research
- Test: Perform real 1-on-1 user interviews and observe input from stakeholders
This day has the most in common with what is traditionally considered a "discovery" exercise; your team will "unpack" everything they know. Expertise, knowledge, and perspective will vary among team members and each contribution maybe yield further exploration. Your goal should be to create a simple user/jobs story, set the scope for the week, and create useful notes. For a new product or feature you should go through these steps on the unpack day:
- Review competing products or features (don't hesistate to sign up for another product to learn more!)
- Look at google keyword analytzer and do google searches to see how people will find your product and who competition is
- Use tools like Alexa and ispionage to understand how your competitors are marketing themselves, if it's working, and who's leading
- Discuss with your team how a user will find your product and what the context will be and go through that process yourself
- Define jobs stories with high contextual information
- Agree who your product is *not* for so you don't dilute your value proposition and have a unified understanding of your goals
- Review your existing cutsomers and their demographics, define the demographic you are going after
Unlike "Unpack," sketching is not a collaborative activity. You'll sketch independently and you'll need to think critically about how to address tough problems you run into. Sketching isn't limited to designers, etiher, all stakeholders should participate. Working separately ensures maximum detail and depth. If you are new to sketching or are a seasoned designer and want to try and new process Google recommends following these steps:
- Mind Map
- Crazy 8s
The outcome of the sketch day should be dozens of solutions sketched out. This is a wealth of information to have, but ultimately you won't implement all of the solutions. Instead, you'll use a structured critique and weighted voting system to select the best ideas to bring to the next phase.