In the IT world, you often come across digital and software development companies with product departments. But what exactly is the value a good product team brings to customers? In other words, what do product managers and business analysts actually do?
At Devōt, the product department functions as the nucleus of creative thinking, ingenuity, and innovation. Our responsibility lies in conceptualizing, designing, and developing digital solutions that tackle real-world issues for our clients. Our primary goal is to provide value to both our clients and end-users, ensuring that our solutions are not only functional but also intuitive and user-friendly.
The product team remains involved throughout the entire lifecycle of a project, from the initial idea to the creation of a market-ready product. As in everything, the first steps hold the most importance. For us, this critical step is the product discovery phase.
Importance of product discovery - the compass on a development journey
Imagine a scenario where you set off on an adventure - a road trip, without Google Maps or a specific destination in mind. I know, I know, it might sound impossible, considering our heavy reliance on mobile phones. Without a doubt, there’s a significant chance you’ll find yourself lost and directionless. Similarly, embarking on the process of software development without a proper product discovery phase can lead to chaos and confusion down the line.
In other words, product discovery acts as the compass that guides our development journey. It’s the process of understanding the problem space, identifying user needs, and outlining the project’s scope before any actual coding takes place. This phase involves in-depth research, brainstorming sessions, and collaboration with stakeholders to gather insights that shape the product's direction. It’s the first of many steps in the product life cycle.
The product discovery process
Let’s go through the steps of every product discovery process.
Write problem statements
Create solutions for problem statements
If you think about it, most processes begin with research as the initial step. It’s not there without reason; no matter how experienced you are in a particular industry, each project possesses its own story and characteristics. Research is much needed to better grasp the problem we are trying to solve. Problem statements stand at the heart of the product discovery process because when you look at it, it is evident you can’t reach a good solution if you don’t understand the actual problems. Problem statement solutions are exactly what one would expect - solutions for your problem. Once you’ve compiled a comprehensive list of potential solutions, the next step involves prototyping. You do this as soon as possible; this practice is the best way to validate your ideas. The goal lies in ensuring that the prototype aligns with the intended goals and requirements before progressing further into the development cycle
You repeat the process from 1 to 5 until you have a solution you can present to your stakeholders.
Problem statements - the heart of the product discovery process
Let’s revisit the concept of problem statements. To keep up with the geographical terminology used throughout this blog, one of the crucial elements of the product discovery journey revolves around formulating precise problem statements. These statements act as the blue line within Google Maps, guiding us through the complex landscape of development.
A problem statement is here to define the core issue that our solution aims to solve. It’s not only a description of symptoms but a detailed analysis of the problem we are trying to solve. Crafting an effective problem statement requires a blend of analytical thinking, empathy, and domain expertise.
Maybe an example could offer better clarification:
Imagine a client has contacted you to request a brand-new product: a digital hardware product - specifically, digitalized glasses. They want it to have the following conditions:
An integrated camera
A fashionable design
OK, that sounds intriguing. However, when we start to develop a product, it takes years and millions of dollars to finish the product. When it’s finally out, we await the customer's response and hope for good selling results.
The initial report highlights user privacy concerns as an issue. Some people are concerned about the potential privacy implications, as the device could potentially be used to record people without their knowledge. The next problem is with usability. The device is not always easy to use; the small display is difficult to read, and the voice commands are sometimes difficult to understand. Finally, the sales reports are bad because of the high price tag. The product is too expensive, which made it out of reach for many people.
As you can see in the example above, many things should have been found during the product discovery phase. Developing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) as soon as possible and testing your product on the market is important. That way, we can save a lot of time and money.
And yes, this example is Google Glasses from 2013!
How to improve the product discovery phase in your company
This is a million-dollar question, yet it is hard to answer, as each project requires a distinct approach. Luckily, there are tons of frameworks and techniques available to help you. I’ll list my favorites as those are the ones we use the most at Devōt.
When there are uncertainties regarding end-users, their needs, and motivations, we use user personas. User personas are fictional representations of your target users. We construct these personas by combining data about our actual users with our own insights and assumptions. This practice helps us make better and more informed decisions about our product.
Sometimes, we need to find a way to improve existing products and find customers' needs and pains. For this, we employ the value proposition canvas, a visual framework that aids in mapping customers’ needs and leading us toward possible solutions.
Once a solution takes shape in our minds, we proceed to create MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and subsequently subject it to A/B testing alongside an existing product. This combination is, for sure, the most effective approach for creating a cost-efficient solution. An MVP involves building a basic product with minimal features, primarily for idea testing purposes. A/B tests provide real-time insights into the potential success of your product, showing you how great it could be. The best part about the A/B test is its flexibility. You can turn it off any time you want; for example, if you notice that the numbers are dropping, you can easily switch back to the previous version.
The risks of not having product discovery
If you still doubt the significance of product discovery, allow me to reassure you by explaining what might happen if you neglect the product discovery phase.
The first risk and potentially the most substantial issue that can arise is misaligned objectives. Without proper product discovery, your project could veer off the track right from the start. It’s similar to unknowingly taking a wrong turn, which could result in considerable time and money loss.
Another problem that can emerge is unclear scope. This can cause confusion among team members and potentially lead to scope creep, where the project consistently expands beyond its initially defined boundaries.
While you might successfully build a beautiful, fast, reliable product, its value would be non-existent without anyone actually using it. In the end, it will have a poor user experience and be classified as a failure. That’s why you need to validate the problem statement with actual users during the early stages of product development. This ensures that the user experience remains intuitive and user-friendly.
Success is where preparation and opportunity meet
There is a saying within my department, “If you want your product to rely on more than just luck, do proper product discovery.”
While it’s true that many successful products have been developed without undergoing thorough discovery, it’s important to recognize that even behind seemingly “proper” products, there is another side of the coin. The real number behind product development will tell you a different story.ith our own insights and assumptions. This practice helps us make better and more informed decisions about our product.
According to Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, nearly 30,000 new products are introduced each year, and 95% of them end up failing. Those odds are hardly favorable for companies, are they? Upon closer inspection, it becomes evident that a significant portion of those 30,000 products shouldn’t even progress to the production stage. If adequate decisions are made on time, this would save considerable time and money, adding value to the customer. This puts focus on being adequately prepared and having a range of scenarios ready before you even start working on the product itself.
By being prepared and having multiple scenarios at your disposal before the product development begins, you will gain a level of control over the product’s trajectory. It shows you the importance of a good product team and the product discovery phase.
Keeping up with this blog's geographical theme and vocabulary, if you struggle with finding the direction of your project, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Perhaps we possess the solutions to steer you in the right direction.
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