Continuous Discovery IRL – June Wrap

More companies are realising that the path to success includes knowing their customers better. As they commence their journeys towards continuous discovery to deeply understand their customer and their problems, there can be some lofty expectations. However, the reality is often very different, and can be fragmented, chaotic and full of barriers. 

In June, we caught up with Ben Ryan who shared 3 lessons from his experiences at FatSecret.

Lesson 1: Challenging the Status Quo

How well do we really know our customers? Just a little, ie. at a surface level? Perhaps it’s as little as reading the feedback or complaints that actually make their way to us. Or possibly even less than that. 

Recognising this as a problem and the need for change is only the first step. However, making the case can be another story. 

Resistance can coming in various forms:

  • Sacred cows – firmly held beliefs that are rarely questioned and/or exempt from criticism or opposition, even in the face of contradictory evidence;
  • Brittle foundations – legacy systems which are too hard to change;
  • Sunk cost fallacy – ‘we’ve already invested so much in this direction/system/platform, so it’s too late to change now’;
  • Or just being comfortable – changes require effort and moving towards the unknown.

Teresa Torres talks about having weekly conversations with your customers.

However, FatSecret was far from that. They had convoluted pathways for customers to make contact, and a small team (of 3 people) already inundated with 200-300 emails per week. This drove a fear of scaling, and not being able to handle additional volumes if the floodgates were opened. Furthermore, a dispersed customer base, with less than 1% within Australia, introduced additional geographical, cultural and linguistic challenges.

As an app, the other option for your customers is to leave public (1 star) reviews on the app store for others to read. Not a great alternative.

Even though there was no clear line to customers, they got scrappy and improvised. They also kicked off a longer process of a qualitative and quantitative research project with an external agency. Its brief was to gather insights, and begin co-designing the future vision. Once they started to build things that customers were vocalising as their pain points, retention started to improve, and there was an increase in active usage and engagement.

Lesson 2: Revisit old ideas with fresh eyes

There will always be some ideas that don’t work out. But it is also good practice to revisit those ideas later. What was wrong with those ideas, and what were the conditions the first time around? Are those conditions still in play, or has the environment changed? Do you have new lessons or understand things differently now? With a different perspective, you may find elements worth pursuing or that can be repurposed. And other times, they may turn out to still be bad ideas.

To try and place customer experience at the forefront of decisions, FatSecret introduced a discovery phase at the start of projects. Surely doing discovery about a business objective would help them identify customer needs earlier, to ensure they were solving customer problems?

Unfortunately not. 

In reality, Project Discovery was unsuccessful as:

  • Discovery didn’t begin until the project had been incepted around a business goal;
  • Having a big deliverable at the start of the project, required time to do the customer discovery;
  • There was high overhead (and difficulty) finding target users with the problems that aligned with the business goal;
  • Discovery became a reflection of the customer experience, producing only a limited and blinkered view of the customer problems, and not going deep enough into the wider customer journey to understand the context of the problems.

Lesson 3: Continuous Improvement

Invest in the time for reflection.

Similar to re-evaluating past ideas, it can also be beneficial to circle back to past decisions and assumptions, and challenge your original thinking. Were the assumptions correct? Would the potential outcome be different from what you know now? Are you pursuing the best options, or are there better opportunities available?

Four years on, FatSecret has started moving towards Continuous Discovery to generate insights. Customers are interviewed on a regular basis, and then mapped to overarching archetypes, to understand their various drivers and how they will respond to different types of obstacles.

There’s still a long way to go, but FatSecret have progressively put distance between what used to be their status quo, and where they are now.

Resources and further reading

Some of the resources mentioned during this session (and a few bonus ones too):

Thank you

Thank you to Ben Ryan (Head of Product at FatSecret) for sharing, our volunteers Gwen and Nosh, and to our generous host and Zoom sponsor, A Cloud Guru – they’re on a mission to teach the world to cloud.

Slides and video

Continuous Discovery – June wrap-up

Caitlin Blackwell is the acting Head of Product for the candidate experience at SEEK. Caitlin joined us last Thursday to talk about continuous discovery and how SEEK is using this framework.

Caitlin talked to how you can generalise the product manager role into 2 areas – deciding what to build and then building it. Teresa Torres talks to how we have gotten really good at shipping quickly via Agile, Lean Startup and other frameworks. We haven’t had the same emphasis on deciding what to build – ie continuous discovery.

We risk wasted effort when we rush to building and don’t do the work to understand what is needed. We can build an MVP quickly but you might have to wait a while until you have a good enough sample size or feedback to keep moving forward or realise you don’t have the right solution.

Caitlin believes discovery is all about being able to make better decisions through the product process. There’s several reasons we make bad decisions (aka the villains) including lack of clarity on the problem, being overconfident, etc.

A part of Teresa Torres’ framework they use is opportunity maps. This visual mapping lets you clearly state the outcome you want (linked back to your OKRs of course!), show the customer needs and show several solutions that may help you reach the goal.

Speaking to customers is key. Caitlin said their teams (ux & product combined) do 5 customer interviews every fortnight with a standup at end of day to share insights with the rest of the team. It’s important to talk to customers to learn about them, not only test out ideas.

The map helps to visualise the situation though you still have work to do in order to decide which customer opportunity and solution to move forward with. After sizing the opportunity to decide which to explore, you should ideate & validate assumptions through experiments.

Caitlin walked through one example where the OKR was to increase the SAT score of a particular customer segment. She shared some of the tools and ways SEEK walks through continuous discovery. (See the slides at the end this article)

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Once you’ve decided which opportunity to go after, it’s time to ideate & validate. There are different tools you can use to experiment and test your ideas (slide 21 has a list).

A few tips:

  • Spend 5 minutes a day to brainstorm. Frequently spending a short time is less cognitively draining than an hour brainstorm!
  • Do what you can to learn quickly in order to move forward. Talking with 2 customers is better than no customers. You can still learn something from those 2 (sample size is important but you can learn and be smart about what you’re hearing from small numbers)
  • Map your assumptions! Decide how you validate/disprove each of them.

During the talk, Caitlin gave us a few examples of how using continuous discovery can help create better products.

First up a product fail. When launching a new product which employers did not have access to, they came up with an ‘access code’ solution process to assist. The team ran an experiment to test the process but didn’t test their assumptions enough before launching – particularly really questioning the desirability and usability of a long process. The sales team’s feedback from employers was it is difficult to change behaviour without showing the value of doing so.

A win… SEEK wanted to introduce the ability to search for jobs by commuting distance. They listed their assumptions, what data they needed to assess risk and how they’d get that quickly. Testing made them realise it’s not just distance in km that’s relevant to job seekers as 10k on a tram vs a highway trip is very different time wise. Experimenting allowed them to dig deeper into understanding the candidate need.

How can you get started with continuous discovery?

  • Talk to users frequently. Ask them how they use your product.
  • Decide what metric you want to shift. This could be your OKR.
  • When ideating, go broad. Go for quantity. You can narrow later.
  • Do some sort of assumption mapping before you start building. Even if it’s listing out assumptions without a framework.

To Learn More

Caitlin recommends the following:

Thank you!

A big thank you to Caitlin for sharing, for RMIT Online for hosting, the fantastic ProdAnon volunteers and all attendees!

Join us for our next events in July – The life and times of an entrepreneur and then our special event for Leading the Product – Pitchfest. See you there!

June event: Continuous Discovery – Worth the effort?

Most teams have gotten really good at delivering quickly, and measuring our results. However sometimes we can get a bit addicted to shipping fast rather than right, listen to our assumptions too much, and relying on A/B testing to validate if we’ve delivered value.

Hear about the struggle and joy of a journey of continuous discovery, and some examples of validating ideas before building anything.

Our presenter:
Caitlin Blackwell is Acting Head of Product – Candidate Experience at SEEK. She’s previously been in Product Manager roles across many parts of SEEK over the past 7 years, and is currently focused on driving the candidate vision for all of SEEK’s jobseeking products.

Continuous Discovery

Teresa Torres defines Continuous Discovery as weekly touch points with customers, by the team building the product, where they conduct small research activities, in pursuit of a desired product outcome.

That sounds easy but it is a lot of work to adopt if not already a habit. Some of the mindsets needed to do this well are:

  • A collaborative mindset: Do you have the right people involved in each decision?
  • A continuous mindset: Are you continuously discovering opportunities and solutions?
  • An experimental mindset: Are you prepared to be wrong?

Teresa Torres has another great video explaining the value of continuous discovery and where it fits in with the many other methods we may be using already. Join us this month to hear more about what it takes to implement and the benefits to be gained for you and your team. RSVP now

Thanks to our wonderful hosts RMIT Online.

Launching Australia’s first University program in Product Management on the 1st of June to help fulfil the emerging skills gap in product management! It’s a Graduate Certificate – Masters level, 4 subjects, and can be completed in 6-12 months.