Making this Process Continuous


How do we continue to iterate moving forward? How can we accelerate?

If you’ve gotten through this entire process and are hoping for a break from it, we have some bad news for you: This process is your business. You will do this over and over again with each successive market opportunity that you uncover.

But there's also some very good news: Now you know how to do this! You know that customer discovery and idea validation is a process that can be learned, and you know that invalidating one idea doesn’t mean your entire business is a failure.

The only remaining question is how to fit the new tools you’ve learned into the rest of your business. When does it make sense to pull out these exercises vs. which ones are continuous?

The answers depend on the situation, so later in this chapter we will run through some scenarios. First, however, there are some non-negotiable things you need to keep doing no matter what else is going on.

Talk to Customers

The skills you learned in our chapter on Market-Message Fit for getting to know your customer and your market need to become an on-going, everyday practice for as many people at your company as possible.

Engaging in regular conversations with customers helps you understand product usage, identify strengths and weaknesses, and gather anecdotes about novel use cases. It also gives you an opportunity to ask about adjacent products your customer is using. For example, maybe there’s a new CSV exporting utility that your product could ingest. Or maybe your customer really likes emoji support, but would never have asked for it otherwise.

Ongoing interviews and user testing are how your company and your product is going to stay in sync with what your customers want, but it has an even more important benefit than that: It’s going to do the hard work of keeping your team aligned. If everyone at your company is regularly hearing about the same pain points and feature requests, it’s going to be easier to come to consensus on what to build next.

Hopefully we’ve convinced you to keep talking to customers every single week! If you’re taking that suggestion seriously, you might be wondering how to actually make it happen, because it can be difficult to find people to talk to and to get them into the calendar.

Luckily Continuous Discovery Habits author Teresa Torres has some tips on how to operationalize customer discovery.

Stay Aligned With Your Team

Having as much of the team as possible conducting customer interviews regularly is going to help with alignment, but that alone is not sufficient. Imagine a team doing a ton of customer discovery, but with different types of customers. That will drive misalignment! It’s important to regularly revisit the exercises in the Customer Focus chapter to make sure that you're still focused on the same customer you were before. Early on, it’s great to do this monthly at least, but as your business grows, you’ll find yourself only needing to do a segmentation exercise at key times – quarterly, yearly, or when you are explicitly entering a new market.

It’s also important to regularly revisit the Assumptions Table and Customer Critical Path we covered in the chapter on Initial Alignment. As you talk to more people, and as time goes on, you will prove and disprove old assumptions and develop entirely new ones. That’s to be expected! What you don’t want to have happen is that each of your team members is walking around with a different list of riskiest assumptions to be tested – it will start to seem to each of you like your coworkers are wasting time or even moving backwards. Much as with the Customer Focus exercises, it’s good to revisit your assumptions and critical paths frequently early on – ideally weekly. These conversations will then shift downward into individual teams based on the initiatives they’re focused on.

Look for Ways to Leverage Analytics Tooling

In the beginning stages of product discovery, you’re defining what success looks like for your customer and your product. It’s important for these early metrics to be specific to your context. While Daily Active Users (DAUs) might make sense for a growth-stage social media platform like Facebook, it’s unlikely to mean much for your B2B proof-of-concept web app with five users on it.

During early research, your efforts are largely qualitative. But it’s still important to have quantitative metrics and goals as well – e.g. how many customers you’re interviewing a week, how many of them become design partners, etc. Those are easy things to keep track of manually.

As you begin to build and as you begin onboarding more users, it will be harder to track what you need to manually. You'll need to weave analytics tools into the product in order to learn the things from usage that you need to know to continuously improve the experience for users.

Every time you build a feature, ask yourself:

  • How does usage of this feature relate to my business goals and metrics?
  • What new usage metrics do I therefore need to be tracking for this feature?
  • If I can’t track those usage metrics today, what will it take for me to be able to?

Now that we’ve got the non-negotiables out of the way, it’s time for scenarios!

Scenario: Team of co-founders working towards pre-seed funding

Knowing that fundraising is your next step creates a concrete list of near-term action items. Using the same tools you learned about when identifying an early (or next) adopter market in the chapter on Customer Focus, you will now research and create a list of potential investors who are a good fit for your company.

Don’t be afraid to get specific! For the example of the dog walking app we’ve been using through this playbook, you’ll want to find investors focused on B2C apps, two-sided marketplaces, or even pet-related companies. Bonus points if the investor is a dog owner themselves! They’ll be more likely to understand the value proposition.

Once you have that list, use the same tactics we discussed in the Message-Market Fit chapter to test outreach channels and messaging. Start with the people you know already, or the people who are only one degree of separation away from you. Then expand outward from there.

In general, the same principles that product managers use to ship products can apply to breaking down fundraising into small steps with tangible milestones:

Scenario: New customer persona for existing products

This shouldn’t be much of a mental leap now because you have already done this for your early adopter! You’ll run the Initial Alignment => Customer Focus => Message-Market Fit playbook again, but this time asking:

  • What markets are adjacent to our earlier adopters? Make a list!
  • Which pieces of our early adopter playbook will apply to each of these adjacent markets?
  • What pieces of the product we already have in-market will apply to each of these adjacent markets?
  • Who will our competitors be if we enter this market? How well-positioned are they?

You’re looking for maximum overlap with the product and processes you already have in place, with minimal competition.

Scenario: Minimizing customer drop off

Any time your customer is exhibiting a behavior that confuses you, it’s time to reach for your Customer Focus & Product Focus toolkits.

Once you’ve got many different types of users in your system, it can become challenging to stay focused on delivering value by segment. It’s tempting to believe you’ve hit on a universal experience that applies to all humans the exact same way at all times, but that’s almost never true. Our Customer Focus tools can help you focus on a particular part of your user base in order to improve their experience, while balancing those improvements against the needs of other users in your system.

So, to address the question of customer drop off, it’s important to first ask: Who is dropping off?

If it’s everyone, equally, then that’s likely a result of a bug in the system or something that has happened outside of your platform to change how people interact with it. In either case, there is no substitute here for getting users on the phone to ask them about their experience and have them walk you through the process to see how it is or isn’t working for them.

Most of the time, you’ll find that a drop in retention (or a failure to activate in the first place!) is happening to a specific group of users for a reason that is idiosyncratic to them. Once you have a sense of the different types of users in your system, running the market segmentation exercises in Customer Focus can help you understand and confront the dynamics that determine retention.

You may well find that the folks you are losing were not your ideal customer anyway, and doing the things it would take to retain them would erode the experience of the people you most want to retain. It’s always a great outcome when research results in the confidence to do nothing!

Conversely, if you find that the fall-off is happening specifically to your ideal customer, it will help the team prioritize the work (e.g. a Product Design Sprint!) needed to retain them better in the product.

Talk to one of our product experts about building success into your process.