What does a developer do during a product discovery sprint?

You’ve joined a startup at the very beginning and the next two months are going to be spent figuring out who your customer is and what to build. Deciding on “The Right It”.

You’ve looked at the list of brainstorming excercises and discovery tasks:

  • opportunity trees
  • assumption boards
  • market segmentation matrices
  • pitch decks
  • critical paths
  • customer interviews

You’re dismayed that none of those seem to involve writing actual code.

You’re thinking “are my programming skills going to be underutilized? Why does this team need me?”

Relax. You’re exactly where you should be. Here’s what you’re going to do:

  • talk to users. As a developer you should be doing this anyway. That’s a whole other blog post
  • tackle any task thats even a bit technical, even if it’s not in your normal skillset. As a developer you probably feel more comfortable about this kind of thing than your teammates do. This is the startup version of “fixing your parent’s wifi router”. Some examples:
    • setting up a Google Ads account
    • figuring out what technology competitors use, and guessing at what processes are going on behind the scenes
    • learning about the FHIR healthcare standard
    • fixing Trello permissions
    • checking if your competitor has an API
    • buying a domain name
  • share your advice and ideas based on all your previous experience working on products. You probably know more than you think you do.
  • code proof-of-concept programs (yay you finally get to write code!). But stay focused - make a hypothesis and build the smallest possible thing to validate it. Your code should remain ugly and unscalable
  • pump the brakes on complicated or difficult ideas you hear
    • a custom auth flow? 🙅
    • day-1 Android and iOS apps? 🙅
    • using the new JavaScript framework that was released yesterday? 🙅
    • a Facebook clone? 🙅
    • checking whether a photo is of a bird? 🙅
  • pair with your team’s designer
  • use your organizing skills to organize things (the Trello board, the interview notes, the list of assumptions)
  • share your unique programmer perspective with your team
  • help with WHATEVER needs to be done. You don’t need dev skills for this. You need teamwork skills

You are a technical spirit guide for your team. But you’re also right there in the trenches with them. Go build a great product.