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Mastering the product discovery phase for tangible outcomes

Mastering the product discovery phase for tangible outcomes

When designing a new digital product — or making significant revisions — a discovery phase is an essential part of the process. During this stage, you'll learn about the market landscape and your current and prospective users. This helps you justify your investment and determine that your product has a direct path to value. Ascertaining this information is essential for planning purposes in an environment where according to research 95% of new products fail.

Following best practices such as design thinking and agile and lean principles through the discovery phase allows you to get the answers that will help you feel comfortable in your choices to invest. You should be open to change based on your findings, as the path to strong ROI and value is not always direct. This path will bring you closer to achieving your business objectives, even if you have to move away from your early assumptions.

How do you set outcomes for your discovery phase?

Discovery starts with a need. Rather than releasing a product simply to put something on the market, or to make use of a specific technology, you should make sure your product is delivering some utility users will want.

It's often wise to start your discovery phase with a question, one that will shape the direction of the project as a whole. Some examples include:

Starting the digital product discovery process: keep your options open

The early idea behind a product should be simple and expressed in terms of business outcome rather than more concrete terms that will force the project into a certain shape. For instance, you can set out to win more market share or solve the problems of a certain audience.

Thinking in terms of what you want the product to achieve, rather than how it will accomplish that goal, helps you take an ideal path informed by your research findings. Without this freedom to pivot, the product discovery process can't live up to its potential.

Technologies are enablers, rather than reasons for a product to exist. Different systems and processes will help your product reach the business objectives you've laid out and should be chosen based on their ability to achieve those goals.

What does an ideal product design discovery phase look like?

You should set aside time for the discovery phase of a project. This investment represents the importance of getting discovery right. But how long does the discovery process take? In most cases, it's worth budgeting four to six weeks for discovery. This length allows you to perform more interviews and go through more iterations of your proposed product.

In some cases, discovery will only take one or two weeks. This accelerated schedule should only be used if the objectives under consideration are straightforward. More complicated, nuanced research requires the extra weeks.

User interviews: the heart of discovery

Getting information directly from the proposed users of your new product is the most important part of the discovery phase. If your product isn't in line with what users want, it will struggle to catch on, even if it's technically sound and impressively designed.

Three general types of user interviews make up this part of the discovery phase:

It's valuable to work with a large sample of subjects when querying your users. Having a bigger group allows you to perform high-volume interviews and make sure your results are highly representative of your target audience. You can also try A/B testing, where separate groups of users give their advice on separate prototypes, allowing you to pick the more promising option.

B2B vs. B2C: what's the difference?

If you're designing a business-to-business (B2B) product, either for your own company's users or a specific industry audience, finding users to interview may be challenging. A business-to-consumer (B2C) product can target a very wide audience — for instance, a driver-assistance app could be relevant to anyone with a car. This lets you cast a large net when finding interview subjects.

B2B products tend to be more niche by design, targeting the pain points within one type of company, or even one specific company. Business leaders may provide the key here, granting you access to their teams as interview subjects and sample user bases.

While audience selection will differ, the objective of discovery is the same in B2B and B2C contexts. Your goal is still to make sure your intended product addresses a real need for your proposed audience and does so in a way that aligns with their preferences.

How should discovery results affect your product design?

Flexibility is the keyword when you begin the design phase. If you're ready and willing to change your product drastically from initial assumptions and projections, you're free to create software that addresses a real problem.

Your new product's success or failure will come from its ability to address users' pain points. These issues, as well as the best ways to solve them, will become apparent during a well-run discovery phase and will shape the rest of the design and development processes.

Cases in which designers are pressured to use specific technologies or create products that follow a certain template can lead to failure. When there are details that can't change, there is a risk that the resulting technology may not produce positive ROI because it isn't what the market needs, or what users want.

What happens when plans change completely?

When your organization is free to follow the results of the research, your designers may end up working on a totally different product than you first envisioned. If user interviews reveal a new and unexpected problem is dominating users' thinking, there is clear possible value in pursuing that issue.

Changing direction isn't a problem in software design, as long as the direction the team settles on can truly lead to value. Discovering an unanticipated need among users can lead to an impactful new product, released into the market at just the right time.

What's the role of an expert partner in your discovery phase?

An organization made up of experts like Transcenda can take the lead on the product discovery process, providing best practices and keeping the whole process on track. Bringing in a third-party voice during the discovery phase can also help your business embrace change and follow the research — if there's internal pressure to pursue a specific direction, an outside perspective may be able to sway leaders.

During a discovery engagement, Transcenda owns all the necessary processes but works closely with your stakeholders at every step of the up-to-six-week operation. The kickoff, where the teams align on priorities and methods, is typically a workshop held over one or two days of eight-hour sessions. This initial meeting ensures the company's goals are clear.

No two companies have the same discovery experience

Discovery is tuned to your individual company's needs. This means while Transcenda experts take the lead on activities like user interviews and overall market research, the goals and priorities that guide them come directly from your stakeholders.

When it's time for user interviews, your user base becomes the sample, ensuring the results reflect the concerns and preferences of the people who will actually use the resulting product. Whether you're developing a highly specific piece of B2B technology or a B2C app with an enormous potential user base, you can be sure the testing users will match your audience.

Ready to start your next product discovery phase?

If you're beginning work on a new project design process — or you want to radically retool a current offering to deliver maximum market share and ROI — it's worth starting up a discovery process spearheaded by Transcenda. Discovery is also a valuable tool for answering questions about a current product's place in the market, even if you don't plan major changes.

The value of an expert-led discovery phase comes from its ability to clarify what's happening among potential users of a product. You don't have to rely on risky guesswork when designing features and user interfaces, because you already know whether your decisions are leading you in the right direction. The reduction in wasted time, money and energy can be immense.

To get started on pursuing your business objectives, whatever form the resulting app takes, you can reach out to Transcenda team now. Contact us to see how we can help you guide your product design toward the finish line.

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