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  • Writer's pictureChrissy Fleming

Implementing Continuous Discovery in 5 Easy Steps

With all our talk about customer-centricity, many teams are still operating without regular customer insights powering their decision-making. Product managers are overwhelmed, and talking to customers feels like a large investment that they don't have time, bandwidth, or budget for. Or worse, they fear that any research they do will be ignored when the higher-ups have "a new idea."


But it doesn't have to be this way!


It's actually surprisingly easy to get a solid loop of feedback going for you and your team.


Ready? Let's go!


What Discovery Will You Do?

Customer interviews are one of the most popular forms of discovery, but the process is the same regardless of whether you're conducting interviews, usability tests, site visits, customer service ride-alongs, statistics deep-dives, or any other form of discovery that suits your team's needs.


In fact, you should think of all of these as a buffet at your disposal, and occasionally mix it up to keep your insights fresh over time. Different types of discovery set you up for certain kinds of insights and may block you from others. The important thing is to KEEP LEARNING.





The 5 Steps of Continuous Discovery


As you start on your continuous discovery journey, the trick is to make small, incremental steps towards learning. Don't fall into the trap of setting up a massive learning endeavor, only to get overwhelmed and never start--or worse, start but leave your learnings in a pile that's never looked at again.



Step 1: Set up

As you set out to learn, you need to start with two questions:

  1. What do we need to learn?

  2. How do we want to learn it?

Let's say you need to learn if your customers really have a problem your team wants to solve. The best way to get that sort of context is through a customer interview.


Now that you've decided the what and how, set up a single user interview. I'm even going to make step one RIDICULOUSLY easy for you by saying, if this is your first time, don't talk to a customer. Talk to a friend, family member, someone else on your team...anyone who will be very generous with their feedback and availability but is close enough to your customer type to "count."


Step 2: Discover

This is where you actually do the discovery work and start practicing how you'll capture the discovery in the moment. In our example, you're going to perform the customer interview, and you may record the zoom meeting or use a transcript software to help you take notes.


Ideally, a few members of your team will take part in this process, they might help you come up with questions, take notes, and be observers of the interview. Discovery is a team sport!


Step 3: Process

This is the most important step. The impact of your discovery will be limited if you don't have a way to extract the learnings you're getting. Designate a place to collect learnings your team can reference later and make your first entry.


I like to see how trends emerge over time, and I like spreadsheets, so I've developed what I call "The Overview Spread" to capture all the key information I'll need. It looks something like this:

If spreadsheets aren't your style, I recommend Teresa Torres' interview snapshot.


Step 4: Share

Now it's time to share your learnings with the team so that they can have an impact on what you do. Take what you've learned and share it in a regular meeting--sprint planning, a backlog refinement session, a weekly team gathering--anything that will create a relevant space to discuss your learnings and have an impact on what you do next. I also recommend sharing out via Slack or whatever tool you use to keep everyone in the loop, especially if you have stakeholders that will have a say in your roadmap.


"But Chrissy, I just interviewed my friend, I don't think that's very exciting.


Yes, it is! You've already gotten your entire process set up! You can share what the process looks like, where the insights will land, and what you learned from your first interview.



Step 5: Repeat

Now for the hard, but fun part: go through this again. Make each step just a little bit better, and this time, talk to ONE customer. Establish a manageable pace for your team that doesn't feel overwhelming and that fits into how often you're assessing what work to do next.


Parting thoughts

If you take nothing away but this, remember that small steps lead to big changes over time. You do not have to overhaul your planning process or your CX team to get customer input into your roadmap. Start small, iterate, and a few months from now, you'll be amazed by how much closer to your customers your team--and your product--feels.

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