Best practices in continuous product discovery

12 min read
May 8, 2023

Understanding and satisfying your users’ needs is key to any successful product.

Keeping your finger on the pulse of your users’ needs and wants is essential to ensuring that success is enduring.

Adopting continuous product discovery will help you do just that.

We’ve already spoken about the benefits of continuous product discovery and identified that not making discovery continuous is one of the worst mistakes you can make in product discovery.

Now let’s discuss some best practices in continuous discovery that will help you make it as successful as possible.

Create a feedback loop

User feedback is at the heart of continuous product discovery.

Finding out what your users’ needs are is impossible without collecting and analyzing feedback.

Like product discovery, feedback collection should also be a continuous activity.

Creating a feedback loop is the easiest way of making that happen.

customer feedback loop

The feedback loop will usually have 4 distinct stages:

  • Gathering feedback from customers
  • Analyzing and prioritizing the gathered feedback
  • Deciding which feedback to address and implementing changes
  • Following up with customers and closing the loop

Don’t think that closing the loop means that the feedback gathering process is over – on the contrary, it continues with the feedback related to the changes you’ve made.

The feedback you collect can help you address your customers’ pain points, highlight potential business opportunities and help you with feature prioritization.

Collecting feedback continuously will also help you promptly respond to any issues with your product.

Addressing issues quickly will help you with customer retention and will increase customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Some of the most common feedback collection methods are:

  • Surveys
  • Customer reviews
  • Feedback forms
  • Social media listening
  • Website analytics
  • Customer interviews
  • Focus groups

You should ideally use all of these methods and more to have a representative sample as well as to have enough feedback to know what you need to change about your product.

Some specific surveys will provide you with useful metrics you can use to inform your product strategy going forward:

  • Customer satisfaction score (CSAT)
  • Net promoter score (NPS)
  • Customer effort score (CES)

CSAT measures how happy your customers are with your product and it’s one of the most frequently used survey types in feedback collection.

The NPS will tell you how many of your customers are willing to recommend your product to their friends and colleagues.

CES measures how easy it is for your customers to use your product, to find relevant information or resolve an issue.

All of these metrics are easily quantifiable and trackable.

You can track and compare an individual customer’s answers, you can group several customers in a cluster or you can track and compare your overall scores.

After gathering the feedback it’s necessary to analyze it and prioritize the most urgent feedback to figure out your next move.

While positive feedback is great, solving issues that your customers have identified should be your top priority.

After solving the most pressing issues, you then use the rest of the feedback to inform the next steps in your continuous product discovery process.

For example, if a number of your customers want to add the same feature, it would be wise to prioritize adding that feature next.

Focus on outcomes rather than outputs

Outcomes and outputs are too often used interchangeably.

Though in some specific cases outputs and outcomes are the same, as a general rule they denote different things.

Defining outcomes and then realizing them is one of the key aims of the continuous product discovery process.

During continuous product discovery, your goal is to set particular desirable outcomes as goals and use the tools, processes, and outputs at your disposal to achieve them.

But let’s set the stage first and exactly define outcomes and outputs.

Outputs are the deliverables and features we create for our product.

Outcomes are the differences we’ve made as a result of the outputs we’ve created – these can be user pain points we’ve solved, new opportunities and possibilities for further development of our product and changing customer behaviors.

outcomes vs. outputs

source: Crisp.

As illustrated in the image above, well-defined outcomes also have a positive impact on your bottom line.

It has to be said, though, that business outcomes should be driven primarily by your strategy and continuous product discovery is only a single piece of your overall business strategy.

In continuous product discovery, our focus is on product outcomes i.e. the user value we can create with our outputs.

In the simplest terms, our outcomes are the “what” and outputs are the “how”.

Let’s illustrate that with some examples.

Say you want to make your app more user-friendly by adding new features enabling social media logins, making sharing easier and collecting feedback from your users directly in your app.

The outputs in this case are:

  • Login options for social media platforms (e.g. Facebook and Twitter)
  • A prominently placed share button
  • An in-app feedback form

The outcomes are:

  • Expanding your customer base with Facebook and Twitter users who might not want to create a dedicated account for your app
  • Increasing your reach and adding new users by allowing your users to share content from your app more easily with non-users
  • Collecting actionable feedback to solve bugs/problems your users are facing and to prioritize the features you’ll add next

The outputs you create should always be guided by the outcomes you’ve set.

A feature that’s well executed but doesn’t solve your users’ problems or meet their needs is functionally useless.

Continuous product discovery, at its core, is about meeting your customer’s evolving needs.

Focusing on outcomes that both meet your users’ needs and provide business value is key to a successful continuous discovery process.

Involve engineers in the discovery process

Engineers can provide invaluable insight and potentially save you a lot of time and money if they’re involved in your product discovery process.

Yet, too many companies only make use of their engineers’ talents during product delivery and neglect to include them in product discovery.

Including them in the discovery process will improve the results of your product discovery as well as minimize the risk of designing infeasible features.

Their participation in the continuous discovery process will help you deliver feasible and valuable features for your product more efficiently and effectively.

Marty Cagan illustrated how important engineers are in product management in Inspired:

“We say if you’re just using your engineers to code, you’re only getting about half their value.

The little secret in product is that engineers are typically the best single source of innovation; yet, they are not even invited to the party in this process.”

Thinking that your engineers should be left alone to code is a reasonable assumption on the face of it.

Most of your engineers are likely to agree with it, too.

However, encouraging their participation in continuous discovery yields benefits for both your engineers and your product discovery team.

product discovery

Learn more about our discovery process →

App development starts with product discovery…

In simple terms, engineers usually deal with the question “how can we make this product/feature”? while discovery teams ask “why should we make this product/feature?”

The formula for a successful product is a technically feasible product that meets your customers’ needs.

Engineers often generate the best solutions during ideation because of their depth of technological knowledge.

But to fully leverage that knowledge they need to understand the “why” as well as the “how”.

That’s why it’s important they participate in continuous discovery.

So, how can you overcome the initial resistance to their participation in discovery?

One simple way is to present discovery as one track of dual-track agile.

dual-track agile

Your engineers are bound to be intimately familiar with agile methodologies and illustrating how discovery ties into their usual work will make convincing them to participate in the discovery process much easier.

Engineers who have a comprehensive understanding of why they’re building specific features will not only be valuable during discovery but will also create features that better meet your users’ needs.

Have a co-creation mindset

At first glance, co-creation might sound like just another in a long line of corporate buzzwords without much substance behind them.

But the opposite is true – co-creation is one of the most important drivers of innovation and it helps you create products that customers actually want.

This is why it’s so important to have a co-creation mindset in your continuous discovery process.

But first, let’s define co-creation.

Co-creation is the practice of collaborating with third parties and stakeholders in ideation and development to add value to your product.

It’s commonly used to denote collaboration with customers but it can include other groups:

  • Potential new customers
  • Employees
  • Industry influencers
  • Suppliers
  • Competitors

Co-creation allows you to get fresh ideas, novel solutions and a new perspective on your product.

co-creation

Having a fresh set of eyes and an outsider’s perspective is often very helpful in moving your continuous product discovery forward.

As great as your product team might be, no one is immune to tunnel vision and co-creating with other stakeholders can help solve problems they might be stuck on.

While it’s natural to be protective of your product’s development and wish to keep outsiders out of the development process, the benefits of co-creation should outweigh your reticence.

In a survey, businesses that adopted co-creation saw benefits in a number of ways:

  • 52% said co-creation reduced the cost of development
  • 51% said co-creation improved their financial performance
  • 61% said co-creation has created new commercial opportunities
  • 61% said co-creation enabled them to produce more successful new products and services

One particularly interesting example of co-creation with customers comes from Lego.

Lego invites customers to submit their own product designs on their Ideas platform.

Designs that receive over 10,000 votes from other customers are then considered for production and, if produced, the customer who submitted it gets a 1% net sales royalty fee for that product.

Lego’s approach incentivizes customer participation with a monetary reward as well as giving even non-participating customers a voice by allowing them to vote on the designs.

Even if they choose not to produce a particular design that received over 10,000 votes, they still gain valuable insight into their customers’ needs and wants.

Product discovery, in general, is about fulfilling your users’ needs, and having a repository of potential product ideas made by the customers themselves is invaluable for future product planning.

Examples like this are a prime example of not just co-creation but of a well-executed continuous product discovery process, too.

Make research a continuous activity

Research, specifically user research, is of paramount importance to the success of your product discovery process.

Just like how the discovery process should be continuous, so should user research.

Yet, 58% of companies report that they do research on a quarterly or less frequent basis.

Doing research so infrequently will leave you falling behind your competitors and increase the risk of your product or feature flopping with your users.

Teresa Torres, product discovery coach and continuous discovery pioneer, had this to say on the frequency of research:

“At a minimum, weekly touchpoints with customers by the team building the product, where they’re conducting small research activities in pursuit of a desired product outcome.”

project-based research & continuous research

source: producttalk.org

While this tempo of user research might sound overwhelming, it’s a key habit that’s essential for a successful continuous product discovery process.

Keeping to this pace of research will ensure you’re always on top of your users’ needs and will make any adjustments you need to make to your product easier to implement.

Let’s say there are two competitor companies making a product in the same niche – company X which does quarterly research and company Y which does research continuously and both wish to implement a very similar new feature.

And let’s imagine that those features they have in mind don’t actually meet their users’ needs and won’t be used by the vast majority of users.

Company X will go through with designing, prototyping, developing, and launching that feature and it will flop resulting in wasted time, effort, and money.

Company Y will recognize that the feature they had planned doesn’t meet their users’ needs during the course of their weekly touchpoints with customers and will pivot to another idea.

Continuous research minimizes the risk of creating a product or features that users don’t want.

Continuous discovery and continuous research are increasingly being adopted by more product teams.

Maze, a continuous discovery platform, identified three key trends in their 2023 research trends report:

  • Continuous research is becoming a well-established practice
  • The increasing democratization of research 
  • Continuous research is enabling more effective decision-making

Of particular interest is the contrast between the two figures in the report – while 83% of respondents said research should be conducted at every stage of the product development cycle, only 39% reported having weekly touchpoints with their customers.

So, while product teams recognize the importance of continuous user research, its adoption as an industry standard is still quite a ways off.

Adopting continuous research and sticking to a regular weekly cadence of customer touchpoints will help keep you ahead of the curve.

Conclusion

So, let’s quickly summarize the best practices to ensure the success of your continuous product discovery we’ve discussed:

  • Creating a feedback loop
  • Focusing on outcomes rather than outputs
  • Involving your engineers and developers in the discovery process
  • Nurturing a co-creation mindset
  • Making your research continuous

All of the above are essential elements of an effective continuous product discovery process.

Adopting these best practices will not only improve your continuous discovery but you will also reap the benefits in other areas, too.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out our product discovery process or read our in-depth product discovery guide.

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Written by

Ivan Kardum

Lead product manager

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