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Book Summary: Continuous Discovery Habits – Discover Products that Create Customer Value and Business Value

Continuous Discovery Habits (2021) explores how product managers and designers can keep making a positive impact on their customers’ lives. It explores an optimal decision-making process for product teams, so that they can continue to improve their offerings.

Book Summary: Continuous Discovery Habits - Discover Products that Create Customer Value and Business Value

Content Summary

Genres
Who is it for?
What’s in it for me? Uncover your customers’ changing needs.
Focusing on outcomes over outputs will help you create the right products for your customers.
Choose the right outcome, and dedicate enough time to achieving it.
The best product teams carefully map their opportunities.
Useful market research is all about asking the right questions.
Product teams need to generate lots of ideas – from their customers and from themselves.
Final summary
About the author
Table of Contents
Overview
Read an Excerpt
Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award
Video and Podcast

Genres

Business, Money, Marketing, Sales, User Experience, Website Usability, Market Research Business, Business Research and Development, Design, Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Management, Science, Technology, Computer Science, Programming, Self Help

Who is it for?

  • Product managers looking for a new way of working
  • Entrepreneurs seeking a fresh perspective on creativity
  • Product designers

What’s in it for me? Uncover your customers’ changing needs.

The most successful companies are adept at giving their customers what they want. But in a fast-changing world, what the customer wants is constantly evolving. That’s where this summary comes in. You’ll discover a new way to approach product development, so that you can stay on top of your customers’ shifting needs.

You’ll explore methods of conceptualizing opportunities, and reveal the differences between your business outputs and your customer outcomes. From brainstorming, to market research, to teamwork, this is your go-to guide for creating better products that set you apart from your competitors.

In these summaries, you’ll learn

  • why you should always brainstorm alone;
  • the one question you should ask your customer; and
  • how to map your opportunity space.

Focusing on outcomes over outputs will help you create the right products for your customers.

What’s the difference between an output and an outcome? Knowing the answer might make all the difference to your business.

Let’s start by taking a look at what an output is. An output is a thing. This thing might be a product, or it might just be a feature of a product. If you ask your product team what their outputs are, they will point to all the great products that are sitting on your business’s shelves, or those products’ features, which they have designed.

Now let’s look at what an outcome is. A business outcome is not a thing; it’s a change. Maybe it’s a change in your business’s bottom line, or it might be a change in your customers’ behavior, or a change in customer-satisfaction levels. Outcomes are about the impacts that your company’s products have on your customers, or on your business itself.

Now that we’re clear on the difference between an output and an outcome, let’s ask another question: What should your company be focusing on, outputs or outcomes?

The answer is always outcomes. When you focus on outcomes over outputs, you put your customer at the heart of your business. Your product team starts by looking at what outcome they would want to achieve for your customers, and then thinks about what products to build or tweak, in order to make those outcomes a reality. This is the way to do things.

When the focus is on outputs, the product team comes up with a concept for a product first and only later thinks about what customer need or desire that product might serve. This is not the way to do things.

Let’s take a look at this difference in action.

Product consultant Teresa Torres worked with a custom-made dog-food company’s product team. This team started by thinking about what outcome they wanted for their customers. They decided that they wanted to improve their customers’ understanding of just how healthy their custom-made dog food was. If more customers realized how good their food was for their dogs, the product team figured that they would keep buying the food, month after month. With this outcome in mind, the product team set about experimenting with methods of improving their customers’ knowledge of their food. They made changes to the way they explained their product to customers, and then measured whether these changes had any impact on how many customers continued to subscribe to their dog-food service. This focus on outcomes, rather than outputs, allowed them to keep their customers’ needs at the heart of their operations.

Choose the right outcome, and dedicate enough time to achieving it.

When your product team starts focusing on outcomes over outputs, you can expect to see a boost in your business’s overall performance. But only if you manage to sidestep common pitfalls along the way. So let’s take a look at some typical mistakes product teams make.

First, many teams make the mistake of focusing on too many outcomes at once. Of course, this drive to achieve lots of outcomes in a short period of time is understandable. Many teams are under pressure to get more done in less time and are handed down different priorities by their bosses. However, focusing on a lot of outcomes at once is counterproductive. Why? Because your team will likely make some impact on all of them, but won’t make a major impact on any of them. Ultimately, this will mean that overall business performance will remain static, instead of improving. With this in mind, pick just a few outcomes to concentrate on.

Second, don’t make the mistake of jumping from one outcome to the next, every few months. In a lot of companies, firefighting is the order of the day; crises seem to arise every other week, and bosses encourage their teams to drop all their current priorities in favor of managing the latest crisis. But constant firefighting means that product teams will never make progress on any of their outcomes. That’s because, when it comes to continuous discovery, patience is key.

Continuous Discovery

It’s unlikely that your team will be able to move the needle on any given outcome during the first three months of working on it. Instead, it’s usually only around the six- to nine-month mark that any real impact will start to emerge. So if you’re chopping and changing your outcomes every few months, nothing your team does will have a chance to make a difference to the business. What’s more, the steep learning curve during the first few months of discovery will be wasted. Your team will have done all of the tough learning about an outcome, but they won’t have enough time to apply that learning. Instead, they’ll be hurried on to the next outcome.

Finally, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’re focusing on outcomes, when really you’re still focusing on outputs. This mistake happens all too often when teams get confused about the difference between the two.

For instance, the author worked with a student-recruitment team at a university, a team that assured her they were outcome-focused. When she asked them what outcomes they were focusing on, they replied that their goal was to increase the number of student reviews of courses the university had on its website. Can you see the problem here? Online reviews are a thing; they don’t necessarily represent a change for the target customer. Instead of focusing on the number of online reviews, the team should have been focused on increasing the number of website views that included a review. Focusing on page views would have put the focus on outcomes rather than outputs. After all, a page view is something that the customer does, and so changing what this view included would have had a direct impact on the customer. If you want to make sure your team keeps their focus on outcomes over outputs, then keep asking them one simple question: What impact will this change have?

Continuous Discovery from a product squad's perspective

The best product teams carefully map their opportunities.

If you’re in the business of creating new products, then you might have been told that it’s your job to solve your customers’ problems. But, in reality, you’re not in the problem-solving business; you’re in the business of opportunity. So let’s start to explore the myriad opportunities for creating products that your customers will love.

Opportunity Solution Tree

Why should product teams focus on opportunities rather than on solving problems? Well, imagine that you’re in the ice-cream business, and your job is to create an ice cream that people will really want to buy. By creating this ice cream, you’re not really solving a problem that your customers have. After all, they could be getting their nutrition from a bowl of spinach. Instead, you’re responding to a customer’s desire. Your delicious ice cream represents an opportunity to make a positive impact on your customers’ lives, by giving them something they’ll love. With this in mind, try to conceptualize all of your customers’ needs, desires, and pain points as opportunities for your business – opportunities to make your customers’ lives better in some way.

Your product team’s first task should be to identify which outcome they want to focus on. Once this outcome has been identified, their second task is to map out which opportunities exist to make this outcome a reality. Let’s look at a real-life example.

The Product Team

The author once worked with a product team who had been asked to look at an aspect of customer experience. If customers wanted to buy products from the company, they had to fill in and submit a lengthy application form before they could make a purchase. Somewhere along the way, many potential customers abandoned this application process, and this meant that fewer products were being sold. So the product team’s task was to increase the number of completed and submitted application forms.

In order to achieve this outcome, the product team began to explore the opportunity space surrounding it. What opportunities existed to make a positive intervention in the application process? What would help customers have a better experience? What would help them stay the course and purchase the company’s products?

The product team started by mapping this opportunity space individually. All three people in the team did different jobs, and so each of them had a different take on what might be going wrong in the application process. After they had each individually mapped out the opportunities, they shared their ideas with one another, and realized that other members of the team had come at the outcome from a unique perspective. These diverse approaches were eventually fused together to create innovative ideas about how this outcome might be achieved.

When your product team starts to map out the opportunity space surrounding a desired outcome, it’s important to include a wide range of ideas. If you focus only on a narrow area of shared knowledge within the team, then you’ll only come up with a narrow range of solutions.

Once you’ve gotten a good idea of all the opportunities that exist within the space you’re working in, you can start to test these opportunities. This is where market research comes in, including customer interviews and focus groups. You’ll start to explore these opportunities with customers to see how they might work in real life. Next up, we’ll take a look at how you can get the most out of market research, and make sure you’re asking customers the right questions.

Useful market research is all about asking the right questions.

What do your customers really want from your products? You might think the best way to find out is to ask them . . . but beware. When it comes to continuous discovery, customers aren’t always reliable information sources.

That’s because customers often don’t know what they want until you put it in front of them. For instance, Henry Ford, the car manufacturer, famously quipped that if he’d asked his customers, they would have said they wanted faster horses. This pithy quote illustrates that product designers need to be careful when they conduct market research, because customers often don’t know what the best solution is to their own desires or needs.

Another problem you’re likely to encounter when you conduct market research is this: people often aren’t very good at understanding their own behavior. Here’s an example.

Product consultant Teresa Torres was conducting research with corporate recruiters. She wanted to find out more about the type of candidates these recruiters wanted to hire. The corporate recruiters were clear about the sort of person they were after: they wanted to hire people who already had jobs (passive candidates) rather than people who didn’t have jobs and who were actively seeking work (active candidates). The recruiters explained that passive candidates tended to be of a higher caliber than active candidates. So Teresa went away and worked on a recruitment product that would supply the corporate recruiters with plenty of passive job candidates. But guess what? The recruiters didn’t actually want this product at all. In fact, they mostly kept hiring active candidates into their job vacancies. When they were asked why they were doing this, they replied that they were under pressure to fill job openings quickly, and that active candidates were usually able to start work much sooner than passive candidates.

So why did the corporate recruiters say they wanted one thing when they actually wanted another? The answer all comes down to basic human psychology, and the gap between our ideal selves and our actual selves. In an ideal world, the recruiters would always have hired the best person for the job, even if it took a bit longer. But, in the real world, they had targets to meet, and instead of the best person, they needed the most available person. Unfortunately, when we talk about our lives, we often put more emphasis on our ideal selves rather than our actual selves. For product managers who are asking customers what they want, this can be risky. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up building the wrong product.

Luckily, there is a way to stop this from happening, and it all has to do with asking your customers the right questions. Instead of directly asking them “What do you want from a product like this?” try asking them to tell you about the last time they bought a product like yours, and the reasons why they bought this particular product. By getting them to think back to an actual experience, you’ll encourage them to ground their answers in the real world, rather than the ideal world.

Product teams need to generate lots of ideas – from their customers and from themselves.

When you start to conduct customer interviews, you might encounter an unexpected problem. It may feel like your interviewees just don’t have a lot to say. They may well give you short answers to your questions and leave you feeling as if they haven’t given you the in-depth answers you were looking for. Let’s explore this challenge, as well as its polar opposite: what to do when your interviewees have too much to say.

Let’s start by looking at why the customers that you interview may give you brief answers. It all has to do with social norms. When we have a normal, everyday conversation with someone, there is an unwritten social rule that the two participants should each do 50 percent of the talking. This means that when an interviewer asks them a question that is only one- or two-sentences long, the interviewee unconsciously assumes that they should only give two-sentence answers in response.

How can you counteract this? The best way is to explicitly tell the interviewee, right at the beginning of the interview, that you would like them to do a lot more talking than you, and that you’re interested in hearing everything they have to say on the matter at hand.

Now let’s look at the opposite problem: What to do when your interviewee gives you more information than you can possibly make use of?

When you are in the process of market research, you and your product team might find yourselves mapping vast numbers of opportunities. This is especially the case when you are working with digital-consumer products, because the opportunities to improve upon digital products are almost endless.

With this in mind, the question becomes: How can you identify the right opportunities to take forward and build on? Perhaps, for instance, you’ve been conducting interviews with customers of a streaming service, similar to Netflix. These customers present you with a robust list of their desires and pain points when it comes to streaming TV programs and movies over the internet. You and your team are now wondering which opportunity to take forward. Should you focus on your customers’ pain point of running out of episodes of their favorite TV show, or should you instead concentrate on fulfilling their desire to know the name of the actor that they’re watching on their screen?

The best way to decide which opportunity to focus on is to assess the impact that this opportunity would have on your outcome goals. So, if your desired outcome is to increase the number of subscribers to your streaming service, you would need to explore which opportunity would make the biggest difference to whether or not your customers were motivated to sign up for your service.

Once you’ve made a decision about which opportunity to take forward and work on, then it’s time to decide how you’re going to make an impact on it. For instance, say you decide to tackle the customer pain point of running out episodes of a favorite television show. How can your product team take this pain away? Of course, there are many different ways to achieve this goal, and the first step is to think about what all of these different ways are. This is the brainstorming phase of discovery.

It may seem as if your team only needs one good idea to make an impact on this opportunity and solve this particular pain point. But, really, the most effective way to reach an optimal solution is to generate as many ideas as possible. In the brainstorming phase, these ideas don’t need to be any good. Instead, you just need to come up with a lot of them. The number of ideas you can come up with for solving any given problem is known as fluency; if your team has a high level of fluency, then they are capable of generating many different ideas. Research shows that idea fluency is directly related to idea quality and originality. In other words, the teams that come up with the most ideas are also the teams that come up with the best and most creative ideas.

To come up with the most original and promising ideas, your product team should initially brainstorm alone. Evidence suggests that, when we’re asked to generate ideas in a group setting, we tend to self-censor our suggestions. We do this instinctively because we don’t want to say anything that might strike the wrong note. However, it’s exactly these unconventional, slightly wacky ideas that often end up sparking innovative solutions that will set your products apart from your competitors. So, with this in mind, encourage your team to split up and work on potential game plans alone for a while, before bringing everyone back together to share their ideas with the group.

If the process of continuous discovery sounds like a lot of effort, that’s because it is. Continuously improving the lives of your customers, through improving the products you offer them, isn’t easy. But the rewards, for both your business and the people it serves, will make it all worthwhile.

Final Summary

Your customers’ needs, pain points, and desires are constantly changing. In response, the products you offer them must change too. When you’re trying to improve your products, it’s tempting to simply ask your customers what they want, and act accordingly. But your customers may not know what they want, and that’s where a sensitive process of discovery comes in. It’s your product team’s job to carefully map the opportunities to serve your customers better, and come to an informed decision about which opportunities to exploit.

About the author

Teresa Torres is a product and consultant and speaker. She has helped companies around the world to hone their decisions around product discovery and design, and she is also the author of the blog Product Talk.

Teresa Torres launched book Continuous Discovery Habits

Teresa Torres is an internationally acclaimed author, speaker, and coach. She teaches a structured and sustainable approach to continuous discovery that helps product teams infuse their daily product decisions with customer input. She’s coached hundreds of teams at companies of all sizes, from early-stage start-ups to global enterprises, in a variety of industries. She has taught over 8,500 product people discovery skills through the Product Talk Academy.

Table of Contents

Foreword: Chris Mercuri
Foreword: Marty Cagan
Introduction
PART 1: WHAT IS CONTINUOUS DISCOVERY?
Chapter One: The What and Why of Continuous Discovery
Chapter Two: A Common Framework for Continuous Discovery

PART 2: THE CONTINUOUS DISCOVERY HABITS
Chapter Three: Focusing on Outcomes Over Outputs
Discovering Opportunities
Chapter Four: Visualizing What You Know
Chapter Five: Continuous Interviewing
Chapter Six: Mapping the Opportunity Space
Chapter Seven: Prioritizing Opportunities, Not Solutions
Discovering Solutions
Chapter Eight: Supercharged Ideation
Chapter Nine: Identifying Hidden Assumptions
Chapter Ten: Testing Assumptions, Not Ideas
Chapter Eleven: Measuring Impact
Chapter Twelve: Managing the Cycles
Chapter Thirteen: Show Your Work

PART 3: DEVELOPING YOUR CONTINUOUS DISCOVERY HABITS
Chapter Fourteen: Start Small, and Iterate
Chapter Fifteen: What’s Next?
Acknowledgments

Overview

How do you know that you are making a product or service that your customers want? How do you ensure that you are improving it over time? How do you guarantee that your team is creating value for your customers in a way that creates value for your business?

In this book, you’ll learn a structured and sustainable approach to continuous discovery that will help you answer each of these questions, giving you the confidence to act while also preparing you to be wrong. You’ll learn to balance action with doubt so that you can get started without being blindsided by what you don’t get right.

If you want to discover products that customers love-that also deliver business results-this book is for you.

Read an Excerpt

The hardest part about continuous interviews is finding people to talk to. In order to make continuous interviewing sustainable, we need to automate the recruiting process. Your goal is to wake up Monday morning with a weekly interview scheduled without you having to do anything.

How do you know if you're making a product that your customer want?

Some teams have no problem recruiting interview participants, and they skip over this step. However, every team has weeks in which something goes wrong—a release went awry, a significant prospect is at risk, a key team member is unexpectedly sick. It’s during these weeks (that happen far more often than we like to admit) that you’ll want to fall back on your recruitment automation to help you sustain your weekly interviewing habit.

When a customer interview is automatically added to your calendar each week, it becomes easier to interview than not to interview. This is your goal.

Recruit Participants While They Are Using Your Product or Service

The most common and easiest way to find interview participants is to recruit them while they are using your product or service. You can integrate a single question into the flow of your product: “Do you have 20 minutes to talk with us about your experience in exchange for $20?” Be sure to customize the copy to reflect the ask-and-offer that works best for your audience. If the visitor answers “Yes,” ask for their phone number.

This strategy works best for high-traffic sites where you can turn the survey on for a few minutes and get a response right away. If you don’t have a high-traffic service, it may take hours or even days to get your first response. In this case, instead of asking for a phone number, ask the visitor to schedule an interview. Use scheduling software to reduce the back-and-forth required to find an available time.

For new products or services with few or no customers, you can still implement this strategy. Instead of recruiting people while they use your product (as it may not exist yet), you can use ads to drive traffic to a landing page. You can recruit people directly from the landing page.

Ask Your Customer-Facing Colleagues to Recruit

Most companies have teams who are on the phone with customers day in and day out. This includes sales teams, account managers, customer-success teams, and customer-support teams.

You can work with these teams to help you recruit interview participants.

The easiest place to start is to ask a customer-facing colleague if you can join one of their existing meetings. Start by asking for five minutes at the end of a call. You want to make it as easy as possible for both your colleague and your customer to say “Yes.” Use the last few minutes of an existing call to collect a specific story about the customer.

Story maps help us see out assumptions.

Once your customer-facing teams are comfortable with you joining their meetings, ask your customer-facing colleagues to help you schedule an interview with one of their customers. To make this work, you’ll want to define triggers to help your customer-facing colleagues identify who to reach out to. Triggers might include:

  • If a customer calls to cancel their subscription, schedule an interview.
  • If a customer has a question about feature x, schedule an interview.
  • If a customer requests a customization, schedule an interview.

Triggers can change week over week. The key is to clearly communicate to your customer-facing team who you would like to interview and to make it easy for them to schedule the interview. Give them a script to follow. It might be as simple as this: If the customer trigger occurs, then say: “I’d love for you to share your feedback with our product team. Can we schedule 20 minutes for you to talk with them?” If they say “Yes,” have your colleague schedule the interview.

Interview Your Customer Advisory Board

If your customers are particularly hard to reach (e.g., doctors, CEOs), or if you have a small market (e.g., Canadian business schools, movie studios), the recruiting strategies we’ve covered will be challenging. Your customer’s time is either too valuable, or you’ll have concerns about reaching out to the same customers over and over again.

While most product teams worry their customers are too busy to talk with them, for most teams, this won’t be true. We dramatically underestimate how much our customers want to help. If you are solving a real need and your product plays an important role in your customers’ lives, they will be eager to help make it better. However, there are some audiences that are extremely hard to reach. In these instances, setting up a customer-advisory board will help.

Most companies use their customer-advisory boards to host focus groups. That may be valuable, but it’s not a replacement for interviews. You can also use your customer-advisory board as interview participants.

Invite your advisory-board members to participate in a monthly one-on-one interview. Offer an ongoing incentive as a reward for their participation.

You can scale the size of your customer-advisory board to reflect the number of interviews that your product teams need each month. If you have three product teams that each want to do one interview per week, you would invite 12 customers to participate on your advisory board.

One advantage of interviewing the same customers month over month is that you get to learn about their context in-depth and see how it changes over time. The risk is that you’ll design your product for a small subset of customers that might not reflect the broader market. You can pair this recruiting method with one or two of the other methods to avoid this fate.

Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award

“If you haven’t had the good fortune to be coached by a strong leader or product coach, this book can help fill that gap and set you on the path to success.”
– Marty Cagan

“Teresa Torres shows how to truly – and continuously – include customers. This is a must read for every CEO and product team out there.” – Phil Terry, Founder, Collaborative Gain; co-author, Customers Included

“Teresa’s work in product discovery is a constant and critical reminder that job number one for a product team is to understand who you are building for and what value you can create for them. Her methods inspire rigor similar to a workout coach – product discovery is a regular, consistent practice, that’s measurable and impactful.” – Jocelyn Mangan, CEO, HimForHer

“It’s no secret that regularly engaging with customers helps you discover better opportunities to serve them – yet we all struggle to do it well. This book is an indispensable guide to making this critical activity a continuous habit.” – Martin Eriksson, Co-Founder & Chairman, Mind the Product

“Teresa has helped our product teams shift from a focus on outputs to delivering outcomes by helping us understand our customers better. We are building better solutions that get used more often and provide more value for our customers.” – Mike Herrick, SVP Technology, Airship

“Teresa has mastered the art of helping product teams adopt a continuous cadence to their discovery work. Reading this book is like having her by your side, guiding your work, helping you find success, while developing your expertise.” – Hope Gurion, Product Leader & Team Coach, Fearless Product

Video and Podcast

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