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Remote product discovery phase: best practices for seamless product exploration

Remote product discovery phase: best practices for seamless product exploration

John Ferreira
Product Design Lead

In an era of user-friendly remote communications technology, it's easier than ever to conduct important business processes without in-person meetings. This includes discovery phases for your company's products.

You can engage with an expert third party to perform all the essential tasks of product discovery, with the added benefits of working with a wide selection of stakeholders and users around the world, all on a flexible schedule. This process runs entirely through collaborative software and video conferencing for convenient accessibility. Essential tasks encompass:

A remote discovery phase has a different overall feel from a traditional session with in-person meetings, but it's a highly effective approach in its own right when handled with best practices. Technology-infused collaboration can bring your discovery phase to a tangible outcome and set your product up for success.

Why invest in remote discovery for your products?

The discovery phase is an essential step on the road to a product launch or pivot. This is part of the design process when you determine whether your product has a strong use case and audience. By testing your hypotheses and measuring market demand, you can make sure there is a path to a positive return on investment.

Investing in discovery is a way to prevent disappointing, wasteful outcomes. The desk research and user interviews of the discovery phase are designed to prove that your company's design efforts are on the right track, and to reveal valuable gaps in the market to target with your new product.

Discovery validates your investment in a project. To make sure you're committing time, funding and effort to a worthwhile project, you should make time for a full discovery process. This typically means setting aside four or more weeks for research and iteration on prototypes.

All these outcomes and more are available through a remote approach to discovery. Rather than being a second choice relative to in-person discovery, a remote process is preferable in some cases. These include situations in which key stakeholders are spread around the globe or don't have the time to commit to all-day in-person sessions. The flexibility of digitally run remote discovery lets organizations shape the process to meet their needs.

Willingness to change course: essential for discovery

Sometimes, the results of a discovery phase run directly counter to your initial expectations and hypotheses. Research could reveal that there is no demand for a specific new type of application, or that users don't respond well to your chosen technology platform.

If your company can embrace these types of results and pivot in response, it's well-positioned to produce effective products that drive positive ROI. It's better to go back to the drawing board than to release an application with no market or ability to generate profit.

What are the best practices of remote discovery?

Once you've committed to running a discovery phase, you should find a partner organization that will take a best-practices approach, delivering high-quality insights and guidance. A strong partnership is important, with the outside experts using their autonomy to provide a nuanced perspective to guide the direction of your product design.

A remote product discovery phase is similar to an in-person engagement but with an extra focus on the collaborative technology that will bring stakeholders together. By abandoning face-to-face meetings, you can become flexible in your approach to timelines and geographic reach while still hitting all the milestones of product discovery.

Specific best practices include:

Embracing objective-based thinking

An effective product design process starts with a business goal. What does your company want to accomplish? Are you most interested in increasing your market share, expanding to a new audience or addressing engagement issues among your current users?

From this starting point, you can identify a problem among the prospective user base which, if solved, would help you achieve your business objective. Matching a problem with a solution may change your product significantly from its initial concept. Still, embracing such a pivot is much better than creating a solution that doesn't meet user needs.

Using effective collaborative tools

The technologies used to coordinate a remote discovery phase extend from general-purpose productivity tools like Google Documents to more specific platforms, including whiteboard planning applications. A new generation of cloud-based software has allowed dispersed teams to unite around a single set of information and form coherent plans despite not meeting in person.

The connecting thread between today's best remote teamwork software is that it enables visibility into edits, changes and file history. With these features, users won't lose track of the current state of a project as they iterate new versions of a product and collect information about design decisions.

Over-explaining rather than under-explaining

How much communication is the correct amount? An ideal remote discovery phase should include plenty of contact between third-party experts and internal stakeholders. Everyone with a connection to the product should be able to learn the current state of the process, so they're never disconnected from the current state of research, interviews and design revisions.

In digital, remote discovery, it's slightly more challenging to implement this level of communication than in an in-person setting. Ways to compensate for this disconnect include the use of automated notifications to alert personnel of important changes. These messages can come through Slack or a similar platform at the company's discretion.

Emerging with a clear direction

An effective remote discovery process, given enough time to reach a satisfactory outcome, should involve numerous iterations of the proposed product design. Performing user testing with each of these versions can make the resulting software more effective at solving the most relevant problem identified early in the phase.

With enough time and access to a wide audience sample, discovery can involve A/B testing, and comparing multiple versions of a user interface to further refine the resulting product. No matter how long or short the discovery phase is, its combination of user interviews, desk research and collaborative discussion can lead to a highly developed product ready to assist its audience.

How has remote technology changed the overall discovery process?

It's worth asking just how different remote discovery is from methods involving face-to-face collaboration. While a first assumption might be that going remote has decreased connection or teamwork, the resulting infusion of digital technology has given teams new ways to work together.

Running a remote digital product discovery phase enables more contributions in a few important ways:

Perhaps the truest sign that digital collaboration can be a positive development has come from the rise of productivity software. Cloud-based whiteboard applications offer a level of clarity and ease of use that outmatches physical note-taking on post-it notes. It's now normal for designers to plan collaboratively via software tools even when they're working from the same conference room.

How does an expert partner organization run remote digital product discovery?

Your company's software products are an integral part of your overall operations, and core to your business model. So why does it make sense to have an outside company like Transcenda perform essential discovery functions around these products?

In truth, third-party experts are ideally positioned to perform the necessary tasks that make up a fully featured remote discovery phase. The right partner organization can offer:

No matter what industry you operate in, the size of your company or the specific stakeholders involved in product decisions, the goal of working with a third party is consistent: The collaboration is meant to put your product on an ideal path to value, even if that means implementing significant changes from your initial hypotheses.

Ready for an expert-led approach to discovery?

Transceda has been an expert in remote discovery for years, helping organizations around the world through digital collaboration. During the era of COVID lockdowns, we followed the needs of our customers by designing a fully remote version of our expert-led discovery offerings and building a tech infrastructure to match.

When you're creating a new product or performing heavy revisions on existing software, the pressure is on to deliver real value and return on investment. A remote engagement with Transcenda's experts will help you ensure you're on the right path,

To find out what a remote discovery process could mean for you, read our case studies or contact us directly.

John is a Product Design Lead at Transcenda. With over 15 years of experience in the field, John has a proven track record of success in researching, designing, and building high-quality systems and services.

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