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Building the right product – taking control through product discovery

Building the right product – taking control through product discovery

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Mahdi Shariff, VP of Digital Transformation at Ciklum, shares his top tips on how to navigate common product discovery pitfalls and improve the chances of creating a custom product or service that will redefine an industry.

Digital Transformation is everywhere and everyone is talking about it. Businesses are continuing to change the way they operate, leveraging the power of data and automating processes to enhance their productivity, efficiency and value offerings.

Yet the best companies go further. These are the ones who are redefining their industries.

Take Uber as an example. The concept of a marketplace for taxis is not new. But a platform that seamlessly connects drivers and passengers is. Or eToro democratising the traditionally privileged trading opportunities. Or JustEat bringing regional restaurant-quality food to the masses in times of lockdown.

These are just a few examples of start-ups that have successfully transformed their industries. But how have they been able to do so? Where did they start?

This is where product discovery comes in – working out if your product really delivers market value.

Why do we need product discovery?

In a nutshell, product discovery is about understanding the needs of the market and how a product, service or feature can be developed to validate this proposition and meet customer needs.

The first step in the process is establishing that there truly is a need for this product, service or feature in the market as no piece of technology is going to solve a fundamentally flawed value proposition.

By identifying challenges that customers are facing, a product development team can begin to consider ways of creating solutions to said problems.

In essence, it informs the development process. Without understanding what the user wants, companies often fall foul of increased scope creep, delivering endless features that don’t fulfil the users needs, leading to gaps in expectations and the end delivery.

This process is easier said than done. Mahdi Sharrif, VP of Digital Transformation at Ciklum, shares his top tips on how to navigate common product discovery pitfalls and improve the chances of creating a custom product or service that will redefine an industry.

Tip 1: Domain expertise is not the same as product expertise

A common mistake that is often made is appointing domain experts to lead new strategic products, including the product discovery process. This can be particularly true in large organisations. However, the skills of a domain expert and product expert are very different.

Often domain experts’ product experience is based on configuring and customising existing products that already exist in the market. This means they are often prone to particular habits and old ways of thinking that can create bias and hamper the product discovery process.

Therefore it is vital to bring in product experts who have a proven track record in building custom products from scratch, ideally in your given industry.

Tip 2: Focus on an effective MVP

Companies will often unknowingly prioritise efficiency over business value – an error that can easily result in an ineffective business outcome. Rather than just building technology products efficiently, the focus should be on building an effective MVP.
The MVP is an early iteration of a product that can be used by prospective customers, who can then provide feedback to inform, enhance and direct additional product development. This allows for further validation of the purpose of the product using genuine feedback from those who are intended to use it.

In this sense, using MVP, initial product pilots can be launched to accelerate time to market and gain board approval in the first instance, while additional needs can be addressed thereafter with frequent, incremental updates guided by informed customer feedback.

To implement this successfully, companies should move away from a traditional project mindset that tends to focus on strict criteria such as time to completion, and instead shift their thinking towards a product-orientated mindset.

Products can often take a long time before they are delivered in a full dancing, full singing version, and require high costs for completion, making it hard to get board approval. In such instances, companies need to work in a more agile manner and consider ‘If we only had a fixed development capacity, what should we prioritise next?’

There is no one size fits all approach to this. Dropbox, for example, started out with the launch of a simple video that explained their idea, gaining the valuable feedback from those who watched it that they needed to validate and improve their product.

Meanwhile, early versions of the now automated Google Ads (a company which generates relevant advertising copy for its customers) had its back end powered by students that were quick at typing ad copy. By originally taking this approach, the company was able to prove and refine its concept before making the heavier investments into automation.

Tip 3: Innovation should never stand still

Product innovation and product discovery is a continual, perpetual process.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught companies how quickly consumer demands, and in turn entire markets, can change depending on the needs of the here and now. As the landscape continues to move, products and services must transition in tandem to enhance the user experience.

Therefore, product discovery should not be a process with a beginning and an end. Rather, it should continue well beyond delivery as opportunities for improvement present themselves. Let’s take Facebook or LinkedIn as examples. Do they look the same way as they did three or five years ago? No, they don’t even look the same as they did a few months ago. They never, ever stop innovating.

Every day, product teams are making decisions that impact the products they are working on. And unless these companies are in contact with their customers every day, they can unknowingly begin to gradually drift further and further away from being customer-centric, hampering their competitive advantage.

Instead, there needs to be a mechanism whereby the discovery process can continue, even during the delivery phase – often referred to as continuous discovery.
Through analysing how your product or features are performing using live data you’re able to see how customers are behaving – for example usage peaks at different times, alternative customer journeys or higher/lower basket spend. This allows for improvements to be made in real-time to understand what works, and what does not.

Innovation is an on-going, perpetual process – so should discovery.

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