Continuous discovery: The complete guide for 2023

By
Jack Wolstenholm
October 4, 2023
Continuous discovery: The complete guide for 2023

Staying in tune with your users' desires is a relentless pursuit. That means making decisions powered by a nonstop influx of fresh user insights. This is the essence of continuous discovery.

Continuous discovery is a framework that requires your product team to engage in customer research on an ongoing basis. The goal is to gather insights, validate ideas, and ensure that what you're building aligns with users' needs and desires.

It’s better than the traditional product discovery methods that only offer a fleeting glimpse into the user's world. If you’re a product manager, UX designer, or anyone invested in product evolution, it's time to dive deep into the transformative power of continuous product discovery. Dive in with us and discover how it can redefine your product journey.

TL;DR

Continuous discovery is a transformative approach in product development, prioritizing regular touchpoints with customers to grasp their evolving needs. This method offers numerous advantages, such as clearer backlog prioritization, alignment of customer and business goals, and an enhanced user experience. When setting up a continuous discovery program, key considerations include defining the desired outcome and effectively planning customer interviews.

Visualization tools like experience maps and opportunity solution trees can help organize insights. However, you should be aware of risks such as stakeholder pushback, customer unresponsiveness, and biases from limited customer segmentation. For a seamless continuous discovery experience, try Great Question, an all-in-one UX research platform for efficient participant recruitment, research execution, and data analysis.

What is continuous discovery?

Teresa Torres, an internationally acclaimed coach, speaker, and author of Continuous Discovery Habits, defines continuous discovery as follows:

“At a minimum, weekly touchpoints with customers by the team building the product where they conduct small research activities in pursuit of a desired outcome.”

This definition is rooted in the understanding that digital products are never truly 'finished'; they must evolve to stay relevant and meet changing customer needs.

Let’s break down this definition of continuous discovery:

"At a minimum, weekly touchpoints with customers"

This part of the definition emphasizes frequency and regularity in customer interactions, recommending at least weekly engagements. It's about direct touchpoints, meaning firsthand customer interactions or engagements. Weekly communication ensures a real-time understanding of user needs, preferences, and issues.

The goal is to ensure the product team infuses these decisions with customers’ insights as much as possible. This regular engagement minimizes the gap between product direction and customer expectations, leading to more tailored and successful product iterations.

"By the team building the product"

This part implies that the onus of customer engagement lies with the product development team itself. This direct interaction with customers removes layers of miscommunication, fosters empathy, and equips the team with firsthand insights.

"Where they conduct small research activities"

The focus is on iterative, lightweight research activities. These could include usability testing, A/B testing, and customer interviews conducted regularly to generate insights on an ongoing basis. The term "small" suggests that these aren't exhaustive, months-long research projects but concise, focused endeavors that can quickly influence the product.

"In pursuit of a desired outcome"

All these activities are outcome-oriented, meaning that it’s not discovery for the sake of discovery but to achieve specific objectives or outcomes. The goal could be to validate a feature, understand user behavior, identify pain points, or discover opportunities for innovation.

Why do you need a continuous discovery program?

Here is why continuous discovery is so crucial in UX research:

Stay in sync with evolving customer needs

Customers' preferences and needs aren't stagnant. With a continuous discovery program, you're actively engaging with your customers, understanding their shifting desires, and staying ahead of the curve.

Continuous discovery ensures that you're building for today and tomorrow.

This is possible because you consider customers’ evolving requirements and use the feedback to future-proof your product. It helps you ensure the product remains relevant and that you're addressing genuine pain points, not just perceived ones.

Combat the curse of knowledge

As experts in your domain, it's easy to fall victim to the curse of knowledge due to a natural inclination to think from a place of deep firsthand experience. You might assume that what's obvious to you is clear to everyone, leading to the development of features or products that may not resonate with a less informed audience.

Continuous discovery acts as a reality check, consistently grounding you in your customers' perspectives and ensuring that your product remains accessible and relevant to all.

Regularly tapping into fresh perspectives ensures you see your product through diverse lenses, eliminating assumptions and biases that might lead you astray.

Foster innovation and stay competitive

Continuous discovery propels you ahead of the competition by serving as your innovation catalyst. By continuously feeding fresh insights into your innovation pipeline, you ensure every product decision and feature enhancement is rooted in real, current user needs.

You're also better positioned to spot industry trends, allowing you to pivot or adapt quicker than competitors who might still be relying on traditional, intermittent feedback cycles.

Reduce wastage of resources

With continuous discovery, you're refining ideas based on real-time feedback. This iterative approach ensures you're always on the right track, maximizing resource efficiency and minimizing the chances of costly, off-track endeavors.

Build stronger customer relationships

Regular customer engagement provides valuable insights and strengthens trust and loyalty, positioning your brand as one that genuinely cares about its user base. When customers see their feedback being acted upon and witness products evolving based on their inputs, it fosters trust and loyalty. It transforms them from passive users to engaged stakeholders, amplifying your brand's value in their eyes.

Harmonizing customer and business objectives

Here's the tightrope every product team walks on: aligning what customers crave with what drives business value. In a perfect world, these would always be in sync. However, the real world tends to throw in a curveball or two.

Continuous discovery offers a solution to this conundrum. You increase your chances of hitting that sweet spot by fostering ongoing dialogues with users and juxtaposing those insights against business objectives. You can reach a spot where your customers are elated and your business thrives.

Crystal-clear backlog prioritization

Every time you've got a successful release, a new challenge awaits: "What's next?"

Instead of getting lost in the maze of potential features and fixes, continuous discovery serves as your guiding light.

Regular conversations with customers offer invaluable insights, helping streamline and sharpen your backlog prioritization. By understanding what truly matters to your users now, you can refine your product roadmap to capture current relevance and future promise.

Elevated user experience

Consider this: 88% of online customers say they wouldn’t return to a website after having a bad user experience. Continuous discovery is the key to ensuring your user experience is top-tier

When you consistently engage with your users, you can tap into their unspoken needs, challenges, and desires. This continual feedback loop means you're always in tune with what makes them tick, what frustrates them, and what delights them. As you iterate based on these insights, you craft a user-friendly experience.

Things to consider in setting up a continuous discovery program

As promising as a continuous discovery program sounds, its success hinges on careful planning and consideration. Let's dive into the critical factors to consider:

Define your desired outcome

A well-defined product outcome serves as the North Star for your product team. This guiding beacon offers the product team a concrete vision to rally around, ensuring that every step taken aligns with this overarching goal. When the waters get murky and numerous feedback streams flow in, this defined outcome helps filter out the noise.

It enables the team to pinpoint initiatives that align with the endgame, ensuring that efforts are laser-focused. Moreover, establishing this desired outcome also cultivates a sense of purpose and direction among team members. It becomes easier to discern which feedback holds significance and which might be a distraction.

Identify your stakeholders

Your program is a collaborative tapestry that involves various stakeholders.

Impactful research is a team sport, and for the best results, the researcher has to build good interpersonal relationships with other team members. These include product managers, designers, developers, and even sales and marketing teams, as each brings a unique perspective.

Recognize and involve them from the start. Facilitate cross-functional workshops or brainstorming sessions to capitalize on diverse insights, ensuring the program is both holistic and grounded in various aspects of your business.

Plan for customer interviews

One of the cornerstones of setting up a successful continuous discovery program is integrating regular customer interviews. Interviews are treasure troves of insights, bringing you face-to-face with your users’ genuine needs, aspirations, and challenges.

But how do you integrate weekly customer touchpoints into a schedule that's already brimming with tasks? The solution is to make the interviews a non-negotiable fixture by carving out a dedicated slot in your weekly agenda for discovery. Begin by earmarking just 30 minutes; this ensures that discovery isn't an occasional event but a rhythmic part of your workflow.

Tap into users while they're actively engaging with your product. Simple interventions, such as a subtle, timely pop-up asking if they'd spare some minutes to discuss their experience, can work wonders. 

Remember to leverage the sales and account teams. These champions interface daily with potential and existing users, making them invaluable allies in your quest. 

Collaborate with them to identify users who might be interested in short usability discussions. You should also automate the interview setup to ensure your product team has enough time to engage, inquire, and gain insights.

Visualize insights from customer interviews

Diving deep into continuous discovery, especially through user interviews, often results in a treasure trove of information. But without proper organization, this wealth of knowledge can become overwhelming. This is where the magic of visualization steps in, turning abstract concepts into tangible, digestible visuals.

Teresa Torres emphasizes the importance of frameworks like the Opportunity Solution Tree (OST) and experience maps. The OST, for instance, offers a bird's-eye view of your journey toward the desired outcome. It branches from the central goal, sprawling into various opportunities and potential solutions like a tree.

On the other hand, experience maps paint a comprehensive picture of customers' interactions and the opportunities that arise therein. Consider creating succinct interview snapshots summarizing key takeaways from each session for an even more granular approach.

Harness visual tools — be it Miro, FigJam, or a good old fashioned whiteboard — to anchor, organize, and collaboratively leverage what you learn.

Prioritize and act on feedback

You should sift through the data, prioritize actionable insights, and incorporate them into your development cycle. Develop a system to rank feedback based on factors like feasibility, impact, alignment with business goals, and urgency. This structured approach ensures you act on insights that offer maximum value.

Track and measure outcomes

Integrate metrics to gauge the success of your continuous discovery efforts. These could range from quantitative metrics like the Net Promoter Score (NPS) or user retention rates to qualitative measures like customer satisfaction levels or the richness of feedback. Regularly review these metrics to identify areas for improvement, making your program more potent over time.

Maintain transparency and communication

Keep the lines of communication open. Regularly update stakeholders about insights gathered, actions taken, and outcomes achieved.

This transparency builds trust and fosters a sense of collective ownership, where every stakeholder feels invested in the program's success.

Risks to consider when developing a continuous discovery program

Like every initiative, continuous discovery has its set of potential pitfalls, and understanding these can help you create a robust and effective program. The key risks you should be aware of include:

Overwhelm from information overload

Continuous customer interactions mean consistent insights, feedback, and data flow. While this can be beneficial, there's a significant risk of information overload.

Without proper organization and analysis tools, teams might become overwhelmed, leading to missed insights, fatigue, and even decision paralysis. The solution lies in streamlining the data collection process, incorporating robust analysis tools, and ensuring periodic reviews.

Lack of support from stakeholders

Key stakeholders might sometimes view continuous discovery as a disruption to the set workflow, leading to reservations or outright pushbacks. This can hamper the adoption and effectiveness of the program. Regular stakeholder communication, transparent sharing of insights, and showcasing early wins can help get their buy-in.

Resistance to change within teams

Continuous discovery often implies frequent changes based on evolving insights. Teams might resist constant changes, leading to friction. Establishing a culture of adaptability and ensuring teams understand the value of continuous discovery can mitigate this risk.

Customer unresponsiveness

While you might be geared up for regular interactions, there's always a risk of customers being unresponsive or unwilling to participate frequently. This can be due to survey fatigue, a perceived lack of incentives, or simply time constraints. Strategies like varied engagement methods, offering incentives, or spacing out interactions can alleviate this.

Bias from limited customer segmentation

If your continuous discovery primarily taps into a specific segment of your customer base, it might introduce a bias in the insights. For instance, if the team frequently communicates with power users or early adopters, their views and needs could become overrepresented in your product decisions. These users might have unique preferences or tech savviness that isn't reflective of your broader audience.

As such, when setting up a continuous discovery program, ensure your customer touchpoints are diverse and representative of your entire user base.

This might involve intentionally reaching out to different customer segments and employing stratified sampling methods to ensure each customer group gets a voice in your product decisions.

Resource drain without tangible ROI

Continuous discovery requires commitment in terms of time and resources. Without a clear strategy, there's a risk of investing heavily without seeing a clear return on investment. Establishing clear objectives and periodically reviewing them can help keep the process efficient and effective.

Over-reliance on user feedback

While user feedback is invaluable, there's a danger in making decisions based solely on what users say they want.

Sometimes, there's a gap between what users say and what they actually need. Balancing feedback with objective data analysis is crucial.

Neglecting broader market dynamics

Focusing too intently on individual user feedback might make teams lose sight of broader market trends and shifts. It's essential to complement user insights with a thorough market analysis to ensure the product remains competitive and relevant.

Start building a continuous discovery program

Implementing a continuous discovery program can revolutionize product development by maintaining a healthy dialogue with your customers. While this methodology requires investment in time and resources, its benefits, which range from aligning customer and business goals to improving user experience, are invaluable.

As you set your sights on building a continuous discovery program, it's crucial to leverage the right UX research tool to streamline your journey. With Great Question, you can send out study invites from your own email and calendar for higher response rates and batch-send invites to maintain a constant pulse on your customers. By streamlining your scheduling process with continuous invites and availability, Great Question allows you to talk to your customers as frequently as you wish.

You can control the number of participants and set incentives, helping you manage your process and budget effectively. Plus, you can customize your calendar and automate scheduling to suit your team's needs.

Sign up today to unleash the power of regular, insightful customer interactions with Great Question.

If you would like to learn more about continuous discovery, you can get a free copy of Teresa Torres' book here.

Jack is the Senior Content Lead at Great Question, the end-to-end research platform for customer-centric teams. Previously, he led content marketing and strategy as the first hire at two insurtech startups, Breeze and LeverageRx. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska.

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