Man attempting to navigate terrain with a map

At MojoTech, we care about building great products, but more importantly, we care about building the right products.

And building the right product is hard. Because we can only build products based on the best information available to us, discovering better information is required if we want to build a better product.

This is why we always try to start off new development projects with a Discovery Phase, in which we take all of the ideas about the product; analyze, research, and test our assumptions; and ruthlessly cut everything that doesn’t apply to our vision.

This ensures we start our development process with precision and mitigate the very real risk of building the wrong product.

Answering the questions below as early as possible will put you on a clear path to product learning.

State of the World

Before getting into the details, it’s important to understand the current state of the product concept. The right product meets at least two criteria:

  1. It will solve a problem for a user
  2. It can be turned into a business

The problems in the current process can be used to sift through the product ideas, leaving only those that trace back to the problem at hand. Some questions you might ask in this vein include:

  • What problem are you trying to solve with this concept?
  • What does the current process look like? The ideal?
  • What does a solved problem look like in this context? Describe the elements of the solution at a high-level.

The Business

Once you’ve established a firm understanding of the problem, examine the business landscape.

This is critical to validating the viability of an idea. It forces thoughtfulness about whether an idea makes strategic sense, both within the context of the business’ current capabilities and the competitive landscape outside the business.

This surfaces the unknowns and risks to pursue in Discovery. Questions that will help you gain business context include:

  • What does the business currently look like?
  • What is the business model?
  • Are there other products in the portfolio?
  • What does the competitive landscape for this product look like? What other products are out there that compete with the value proposition of your concept?

Users

User-centered design insists that centering users at the heart of the creative process produces more useful, intuitive, and appealing products.

That’s why it is so important to talk about (and to) users early and keep them at the forefront of every production decision. From a tactical standpoint, an early conversation about users also enables the Discovery Team to begin sourcing research and survey participants early on. These kinds of questions help with this activity:

  • Who are the people in the process today? What are their responsibilities?
  • What do you know about your users/customers as people — job titles, work habits, level of technical comfort? How do you know what you know about them?
  • What do they need? Do you know what their pain points are?

Assumptions/Unknowns/Risks

A living log of assumptions, unknowns, and risks is the well from which Discovery experiments are drawn.

Begin this list of risks — business, technical, or human in nature — on the first day of the Discovery. Prioritize the items by the level of impact to the concept, and use them to form the basis for your product learning. To start discovery on the right foot, you definitely need to know the answers to these questions:

  • What assumptions are you making today?
  • What level of risk do these assumptions pose to the concept if proven false?

Constraints

Constraints are practical limitations that will enforce the boundaries of what, if anything, gets built.

Calling them out early helps shape a product and project that meets neatly with what the business is prepared to do and how much they want to spend doing it. These questions can help you establish the perimeter of the product and project:

  • Are there technical constraints? (Is there work already done on the product that new work would need to conform to? Will integrations with other tools be needed, if known? Are we building a specific offering, like an iOS app?)
  • What time or cost constraints do we need to work around?

Housekeeping

Collaboration and conversation are the lifeblood of a team’s product learning.

If they are not done well, it is much more difficult to build a strong product under a shared vision. It’s easy to forget them because they don’t represent the meat of the discussion, but setting some parameters for these activities ahead of time helps keep them from going unaddressed, so try to get these questions answered as early as possible:

  • How will we communicate with you?
  • How will we manage the tasks and capture information in our team?
  • How, when, and how often should we conduct team meetings?

Conclusion

These questions should help you get started, but they are really intended to serve as guidelines to help you understand that a Discovery is simply about building products in a smarter way.

At its heart, the kickoff to a Discovery should tell the team: what problem they’re solving and why; who the problem belongs to; and what they know they need to know.