How to develop continuous discovery habits

One strategy to keep a pulse on what customers want is to create continuous discovery habits and stay connected to consumers regularly.

“Over the course of my career, one of the things that I saw was that most teams just aren’t spending enough time with their customers,” said Teresa Torres, author of the best-selling book “Continuous Discovery Habits.” “They are not testing their ideas. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of ‘oh, we know our industry; we know our space. Let’s figure out what to build and go build it.'”

What is continuous discovery?

Continuous discovery is, at a minimum weekly touch bases with customers by the team building the product, Teresa said.

“So, you are not relying on somebody else’s research, but the team that is building the product is able to engage with customers directly,” she said. “And then they are conducting small research activities that are helping them pursue an outcome.”

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What does it mean to develop continuous discovery habits?

Continuous discovery is specifically crucial for product teams and includes a quick cadence of customer communications.

“They are really looking to ship something of value week over week,” Teresa said. “That’s a cadence that’s a lot faster turnaround time than most of the rest of the company. So they need really fast feedback loops to get answers to really their daily questions.”

In practice, that means product teams conduct weekly interviews with customers to get feedback, ask questions and gather ideas.

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That’s a different speed from teams that work on longer-term projects – like centralized research teams, which often do more foundational research.

“The centralized teams are trying to understand market trends, trying to understand maybe an Ideal Customer Profile,” she said. “And those are great research projects that we should be doing. For product teams, part of what’s driving the weekly cadence is that we usually have these very aggressive goals or outcomes that we are trying to move.”

"There's that increased pressure to get answers a lot more quickly and it's very uncomfortable."

Using continuous discovery in the day-to-day

Teresa said it starts with the desired outcome and the goal the product team is tasked with.

“Here’s the impact we need your work to have, and from there, there are two core discovery activities,” Teresa said.

1. Discover customers’ unmet needs and desires

“The key activity for that is interviewing,” Teresa said. “You want to see a team interviewing week over week to find wants and desires.”

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2. Discovering solutions

The second step needs to include how the team comes up with solutions and evaluates them. That can include rapid testing of ideas, Teresa said.

"At a high level, a good continuous discovery team is interviewing week over week to discover opportunities and assumption testing to evaluate solutions." - Teresa Torres

Voxpopme’s Chief Revenue Officer Jenn Vogel added that this approach is about the consumer first, unlike some questionnaires that try to fill in the business’s unmet needs.

“Hey, we have some great ideas; we are wondering if you will buy them,” said Jenn. “But actually, it’s better to find out how can we solve problems for you  – the consumer – in a better way.”

Why product teams need continuous discovery

It comes back to correct forward movement. Questions come up, and customer answers can determine what should be done next.

“I want to empower a team that has a teeny tiny question today, to get an answer to that question by tomorrow,” Teresa said. “And when we rely on an outside team to help us with that, that team can become a bottleneck and slow us down.”

Now, the research that product teams are doing is not the same centralized research teams are doing, Teresa said.

“Is it a waste of time? No, because some feedback is better than no feedback,” she said. “The first thing to recognize is that research is a spectrum. And I don’t mean that to take away anything from professional researchers. The reality is we need both.”

Any connection with the customer will help product teams do their jobs better.

Product teams doing some of their research through continuous discovery can view the results as more believable. After all, they participated in the process and knew what they heard, Teresa said.

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“We see this when a centralized research team hands off a research report to a product team, they read it and say, ‘this does not jive with my experience talking to our customers,'” Teresa said. “And they ignore it.”

But that doesn’t mean the centralized research is unnecessary, Teresa said, adding that the additional research those teams provide also offers value.

“So product teams are also hearing it first-hand from the customers,” Teresa said. “And that makes the foundational research much more believable and actionable and allows those product teams to get feedback on every little, teeny, tiny decision they make. We know that’s where products succeed and fail – on those little decisions.”

Habits to succeed with continuous discovery

Of course, some habits and mindsets are necessary to be successful with continuous discovery.

“It starts with an outcomes mindset,” Teresa said. “You really need to retrain your brain not to jump to a solution. First, what’s the value we can create for our business? Then, we are going to measure that with an outcome.”

Secondly, build a consumer-first culture.

“How do we take the time to really explore the opportunities space and make sure that we really understand our customer’s needs, pain points, and desires before we jump into solutioning,” Teresa said.

Thirdly, make it a habit to interview and talk to customers.

“Interviews help us discover the opportunity space,” she said. “And assumption testing helps us evaluate solutions.”

Other habits that support the process include:

  • Visualizing what teams already know, for example, through customer journey mapping
  • Show the assumptions visually to make it easier to review
  • Good note-taking or even summarizing the conversation helps. Just keeping it in our heads can cause us to misremember

And, Teresa said, using continuing discovery habits in your workflow doesn’t add a lot of extra work besides the weekly or monthly interview with the customer.

“Everything else just becomes the way we build products,” she said.

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