Teresa Torres: Continuous Discovery Habits

Continuous discovery separates great product companies from the rest. It’s a constant focus on meeting your customer’s desired outcomes throughout the product life-cycle.

It seems obvious, but while many product teams have adopted discovery best practices, many companies are stuck in a project world. Teresa has already discussed a piece of the puzzle — Managing By Outcomes — at BoS 2019 and her book Continuous Discovery Habits is the operating manual for product discovery teams to work effectively.

But many companies however find their management structure and culture are challenged by a different approach.

In this session Teresa challenges you to think about your own organization and how you can address the six mindset changes you need to make continuous discovery a core part of your company, not just your product teams.

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All right. So yeah, as Mark said, I did write a book on continuous discovery called continuous discovery habits. Today, I’m gonna broaden the scope a little bit and talk about how we can apply continuous discovery across our organisation.

So regardless of your role, I’m going to talk about how we can take some of these same product thinking ideas, and apply them to general problem solving. And I’m gonna spend maybe 15, or 20 minutes, just sharing some of the big ideas from the book. But then I’m gonna have you do a little bit of work, where what we’re going to do is we’re going to take something that we’re working on in our own organisations, and we’re going to workshop a little bit playing with some of the ideas from the book. So maybe start thinking about what’s an initiative or a solution that you’re currently working on – it doesn’t have to be product related. I’ll give some examples in just a little bit. But maybe, in the back of your mind, start thinking through just what are some things that you could be working on?

So as Mark said, I’m Teresa Torres, I work as a product discovery coach, I’ve had the luxury of working with teams all over the world, across a wide variety of industries, all different sizes, some startup teams,as small as two founders, to really large multinational companies. The reason why I like to share that is because the tools and the framework that I’m going to share briefly, has been tested in a lot of contexts. So I want to encourage you to think about like, oh, what can I take for my organisation, because odds are, I’ve probably worked with a team like yours.

So I did write a book about product discovery. So I’m going to talk a little bit about what these terms mean, we often talk about discovery, in contrast with delivery. So discovery is just the work that we’re doing to decide what to build. Whereas delivery is the work we’re doing to build a ship and maintain a production quality products. Now I’m gonna let you in on a secret, this framework that I built isn’t just about product, I can actually revise this slide just a little bit, we can drop products, and instead of saying deciding what to build, it’s really about deciding what to do. And then on the delivery side is really about how do we implement our solutions. And not only do I teach this framework to product teams, which is the bulk of my business, but I also teach at Northwestern through their school of education and social policy. And I work with a lot of students who are either management consultants working on general business problems, HR practitioners, and a lot of organisational change agents. So people that are looking at how do we change our culture? They work on problems like employee engagement, how do we get people to share more knowledge, talent development, all sorts of things, right.

And what’s been fun for me is seeing how this framework can actually be applied to a lot of different problem spaces. And a lot of that is because I’ve really grounded my work in problem solving, decision making and critical thinking. And really, just how do we bring a more critical lens, and a more thinking lens to the work that we’re doing in business? So I’m gonna give an overview of sort of my continuous discovery framework. But I don’t want you to think about it as just a product framework, because we’re going to talk a little bit about how do we apply this to general business problems, I’m gonna let you choose a business problem or solution that you’re working on to apply it to. And then you can tell me how well it applies to different domains.

Okay. So let’s start with, in my book, I defined continuous discovery. And the reason why I took the time to define this is that I work with a lot of product teams that come into my coaching. And they say, Teresa, we already do continuous discovery. And then I say, when was the last time you talked to a customer?, and it was like four weeks ago? I’m like, Okay, well, that’s pretty good. But that’s not very continuous.

So I defined continuous discovery as weekly touchpoints, with customers, by the team building the product, where they’re conducting small research activities in pursuit of a desired product outcome. Now, again, I can remove product from this definition. The idea is this simple: If we’re going to develop solutions, we want to be engaging with the people who are going to be impacted by those solutions. We want to engage with them on a continuous basis. So one of the examples I’m going to use throughout this talk to help you see how it’s broader than just product is right now, a lot of companies are thinking about how are we going to return to the office?

And if you’re like me, you’ve probably read horror stories on the Internet about how some companies are unilaterally rolling out, you must come back to the office policies. And I’ve seen numbers as high as they’re expecting 40% turnover as a result of these policies. So this is actually I think, a really relevant example right now, where people are sitting in a room in isolation, designing a solution without getting continuous feedback from the people who are being impacted by it. Not a product solution, right, just a general business problem. So we’ll talk a lot, we’ll use that example to talk a little bit about how this framework can be applied broader.

So there’s a lot to this definition. And so we’re going to break it down a little bit. One of the tools that I like to use to help teams manage their discovery process is called an Opportunity Solution Tree. And I talked about this in Boston a few years ago. So if any of you were there, this is going to look familiar. But if it’s new to you, I will walk through how it works.

It starts at the top with just defining a clear outcome. Now, in business, we talk a lot about KPIs and metrics, and you’ve probably heard people talk about outcomes over outputs. The trickiness is in the how, right, so a lot of us are starting to use OKRs but when we define our OKRs, we’re defining them as counting outputs. So we’re not quite getting to this outcome thinking. So again, COVID, gives us a great example of why outcome thinking is so important. If you started January 2020, with a roadmap or with initiatives, if we go broader than product, if like, these are the projects we’re going to do across the organisation this year. I’m guessing by March of 2020, you had to throw that plan away, right? The whole world changed suddenly around us. And we had to adapt.

What we’re seeing in businesses, we’re seeing a shift away from dictating outputs, to saying, let’s think more about what’s the impact we need those outputs to have. This is an old idea, right? It’s Stephen Covey’s begin with the end in mind, how are we defining success? How are we measuring success? Let’s start there. And if you were at Boston, I have a terrible sense of time. But a few years ago, I gave a whole talk about how do we manage buy outcomes? So if you were there, this is that same exact idea of how do we shift to outcome mindset. Once we have that in place, once we know here’s, here’s the success, that outcome we’re trying to drive, we then want to discover the opportunities that have the potential to drive that outcome. In the product world opportunities represent customer value, right? So opportunities or customer needs, customer pain points, customer desires, if you’re working on an internal challenge, like should everybody come back to the office full time, your customers or your employees? Right? May maybe for some business challenges your customers are your vendors, your suppliers. But almost always when we’re working on when we’re focused on an outcome, there are constituents that are affected by what we’re doing. And I want you to think about them as your customers and they have needs, they have pain points they have to desires.

Once we have an understanding of what those are outputs do matter, we want to discover the right solutions that will address those opportunities in a way that will drive our outcome. What we’re doing here is we’re aligning customer value with business value, which sounds really simple, but in practice is really powerful.

Okay, so let’s talk about how do we do these things a little bit more in depth. In the product world, I really recommend that when we’re setting an outcome, it’s a two way negotiation between your product executives – so this is your chief product officer, your vice president of product, if it’s a really large companies that might be a GM and a business unit – and that product team. And by product team, I mean, literally the cross functional team that is building the product. So if we generalise this to other business problems, what you want to be thinking about is you want an executive who has the across the business view, communicating to a team, how they can create business value, and then you want a cross functional team that’s working closely with whoever their constituents are on how to reach that outcome.

So if we stick with our return to the office policy, the team might be HR professionals, it might be a mix of HR people plus your executive team, it might be a cross functional group of middle managers, and your customers would be your employees. Once that’s in place, we now want to start interviewing, so we’re interviewing our customers or our employees or our suppliers, whatever is relevant for your target challenge. And the goal with interviewing is to really understand for the people that will be impacted, as I work to drive this outcome. How can I create value not just for my business, but for the people who will be impacted by my potential solutions? So in the product world, this is customers, this is end users in the for looking at working on internal business challenges. These are your employees, your suppliers, anybody else your partners. The reason why we’re interviewing every week, so in that definition, I talked about small research activities in pursuit of a desired outcome. The first small research activity is we’re interviewing to understand the opportunity space. And for a lot of product teams. This is a new idea. We tend to interview to get feedback on our solutions. This is really about being curious and being humble and really using our interviews to really understand what are the lives of the people that are affected by our solutions like? What do they need? What’s the context in which our solutions will live?

Once that’s in place, we can start to look for how can we align customer value with business value. So our outcome represents business value, the opportunity space represents customer value, we want to look at can we find an opportunity to start with that, if we addressed it would create value for the customer by addressing that opportunity, and would in turn, drive our outcome. And once we’ve identified an opportunity to start with, I really encourage product teams to work with one opportunity at a time and to work with a set of solutions. And this is the idea in particular we’re going to play with today, most of us get really solution focused, right, we hear a problem, we jump to the first solution, and we run with it. And we’re seeing this right now, as companies think about how to bring employees back to the office, we have some companies that are really dogmatic that everybody has to come back to the office. And that’s just the way it is. And we have some companies that are completely on the other end of the spectrum, we’re going to be fully remote. And that’s just the way it is. And we’re considering one solution.

The problem with this, and we see this a lot in the product world, but I see this across business. So we work with one idea at a time decision making making researchers tell us that we frame the decision as a whether or not decision Should we do this or not? Should we bring everybody back to the office or not? The problem with this is it exacerbates a couple of biases. When we work with one idea, we tend to commit to the idea. And there’s this bias called the escalation of commitment. The more we invest in an idea, the more we identify with it, the more we commit to it, the more we dig our heels in and just get stubborn about this is the only way we see this a lot.

That also exacerbates the second bias – confirmation bias. Which suggests that as you roll out your solution, or you test your solution, you’re gonna see all the evidence that suggests this bias that your solution is great. And you’re gonna miss all the evidence that suggests your idea is flawed.

Fortunately, decision making, researchers give us a really easy way to to skirt all these issues. And that’s simply to set up a compare and contrast decision. Instead of saying, Hey, this is the best idea, let’s go figure out if it’s good. We’re gonna say here’s a set of ideas, that all have the potential to solve our problem. Let’s compare and contrast them against each other. Comparing and contrasting. We already know how to do this in a lot of life decisions, right? When we’re buying a house, we don’t go look at one house and decide should we buy this or not? When we’re choosing a job, we don’t just go interview at one company and say, should I work here or not? We intuitively know that looking at multiple houses, talking to multiple companies will help us make a better decision.

We forget to do this in most of our business decisions. This is important enough of an idea that I’m going to give you a visual to help you remember it. And we’re going to centre today’s activity on exactly this idea of comparing and contrasting. But first, let’s talk about Usain Bolt.

Usain Bolt was once the world’s fastest 100 metre runner. I did not get to catch the Summer Olympics this summer. But I understand there was another really fast sprinter. And I really should update this example. But we’re gonna ‘run’ with Usain Bolt. If you saw him running around a track by himself, and I asked you, is he fast? I want you to a hear whether or not question Is he fast or not? And I want you to ask, Is he fast relative to what? How are you setting up the Compare and contrast? Is he fast relative to a cheetah? Probably not. Is he fast relative to a Tesla? In the first 100 metres I would pay to see that race? Is he fast relative to other humans? Absolutely. So what we’re seeing in the photo on the right is a compare and contrast decision where we have a clear front runner. This is what we’re looking for as we evaluate solutions. We’re looking to compare and contrast until we have a solution that’s Head and Shoulders better than the rest.

Okay, the last part of this framework I want to quickly introduce, although we’re not going to spend a lot of time on this today. The reason why most of us don’t set up good a compare and contrast decisions is because we’re testing our ideas with this old project based research methods and in a continuous strategy. The way that we can more quickly test our ideas is to break them down into their underlying assumptions, and then rapidly test those assumptions. And that’s what allows us to quickly compare and contrast.

So this visual is the high level overview of my continuous discovery framework that I discuss in much more detail in my book Continuous Discovery Habits. Today we’re going to play with this idea of comparing and contrasting. So what I would like everybody to do is to just just take a minute if you’ve got a piece of paper near you, or your your at your computer, you can just jot down some notes. I want you to choose a solution that you’re working on right now, if you’re a product person, this could be whatever big idea you’re building, or you’re about to build. If you’re more on the business side, you could think about a business challenge that you’re facing and what solution you currently are working on. It could be anything from are you thinking about bringing your employees back to work, it could be about your maybe you’re implementing Salesforce for the first time, maybe you’re trying out a new OKR tool. The key here is I want you to think about a solution that’s either currently in flight or you’re about to launch an initiative around. So I’m gonna give everybody a minute just to think about that. And if you feel comfortable as you think about what it is, if you feel comfortable, put it in chat, just so I can get a sense for the types of things people are working on.

I will share I’m going to break you into small groups, and you’re going to talk about these challenges. So there’s anybody just passively listening. I want to encourage you to put in a little bit of effort here.

Rebuilding a website. Okay.

Should we try to sell our acute care product to rehab facilities perfect.

Wether an escalated support channel is worth investing perfect.

Deploying our emergency evacuation system to schools

Porting products to arm architecture

Integrating into another company good.

Developing a privacy centre, okay, so a new a new venture.

Becoming GDPR compliant. Okay.

Low no code self serve builder. Yeah, perfect. Okay.

If everybody has a solution, the next step we’re going to think through is oftentimes, so if we go back to this framework, we often in business, probably 98% of the time, we start at the bottom of this tree, we’re starting with a solution. Now, what’s usually happening is that our brain is making fast inferences. We heard something from our market. And we immediately jumped to a solution. There was a pain point we heard about, and we just jumped to a solution. And it’s a really fast inference that’s happening in our brain. And we’re skipping over what’s the outcome we’re trying to drive? And are we reaching that outcome in a way that’s serving our customers? And so now, the and that’s why I asked you to start with a solution, because 98% of the time, that’s what your brain is going to give you. You’re going to start with a solution.

But what I want you to do now is try to work backwards a little bit. I want you to take a minute and think about why are we building the solution? What’s the success? What’s the impact we expected to have? And how might we measure that? And when I say how might we measure that? I don’t think I don’t need you to come up with an actual metric. So someone says expanding into some additional verticals? I think because we think it’s going to drive revenue. That’s enough increase revenue, or doing both b2c and b2b at the same time. Again, why: is it market share? Is it revenue? You can get more specific, maybe you’re doing something to drive engagement? Maybe it’s customer engagement, maybe it’s employee engagement, but you just want to work backwards, right? So if I stick with my return to the office policy, we see big name companies like Apple, for example, very publicly announce, we’re bringing everybody back to the office because we believe it derives collaboration. So in that example, maybe my outcome is increased collaboration, increase employee collaboration. So I want you to just take a minute and think about what’s the outcome you think you’re driving and if again, if you feel comfortable, go ahead and put it in chat?

Increase ARR good.

Increase revenue and total addressable market.

Hire the best talent around the globe. Okay, great. So when we think about things like hire the best talent around the world, if you can go one step further and say you could say talent increase a players. For this exercise, that’s great. But in real in, like, when you go back to work, think about how might we measure that?

Okay, so for Slava, if your outcome is become GDPR compliant. I want to encourage you to think about a different solution because with regulations, we often don’t have a lot of flexible ability, whereas in this exercise, we’re going to play with flexibility about what else can we do. Whereas with GDPR, unless there’s different ways you could become GDPR compliant, that may not be the best thing to work with today, but I’ll leave that up to you.

Close first deals, that’s a great outcome.

So here’s the power of this, we tend to start with a solution. If we can get to, why are we building that solution? We can now ask a really powerful question. What else could you do? What else might we do?

This is what’s going to help us get to that compare and contrast. So almost all humans, we get really fixated on our first solution. If we can uncover the implied why we can now start to think laterally. What else can we do? Now, I’m going to tell you, I’m gonna guess that when I put this slide up, a lot of you got stuck, there is a blank, because we’re so fixated on first solution. So what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna do an exercise where we’re going to help each other, get on stuck on our solution focus.

So we’re gonna break into groups of three, and we’re going to use the Troika consulting for format that comes from liberating structures, it’s just sort of like a group activity, here’s how it works. The first person in the trio, you’re going to be in groups of three, the first person is going to spend a little bit of time, I’m going to, I’ll give you times, I’ll give you times for this as soon as we break out into groups, but the first person conceptually, is going to share their, their, the solution they came up with, and why and their why. So their solution and their outcome, and they’re going to spend, let’s say a minute, giving a little bit of context around that, then the other two people are going to brainstorm what else that person could do. And here’s the key, the person with the challenge is not allowed to talk. So when people start suggesting other solutions, you can’t say hold on, that won’t work, you’re just there to listen and learn. And odds are you only gave a minute a context. So your peers may not give you the most viable solutions, you might think these are never going to work, your job as the listener is to listen for what you can take away from their suggestions. And then you’re going to rotate roles. So we have, I would love to give you, I’m going to give you 24 minutes for this. So you’re gonna have three people. Think about it as you have eight minutes. So take like three minutes to just say hello and introduce yourselves. And then you’ll have seven minutes each, where you’ll take what let’s say one and a half minutes to 90 seconds. So the person explaining their solution and their outcome, 90 seconds. And that’s it. And then you’re not allowed to talk for the rest of the five and a half minutes and your seven minutes, the other two people are going to brainstorm what else they could do. And then when the full seven minutes is up, you’re gonna rotate roles.

So let me explain that again. So if I’m, if me and Mark and Kirk are in a group, I’m going to start with my challenge, Mark and Kirk are going to brainstorm what else I could do. And then when we’re done with that, then Mark’s gonna share his challenge. And me and Kirk are gonna brainstorm what else Mark could do. And then when we’re done with that round, Kirk will share his challenge. And me and Mark will brainstorm what else Kirk could do.

Teresa Torres

Author, speaker, and coach

Teresa Torres is an internationally acclaimed author, speaker, and coach. She teaches a structured and sustainable approach to continuous discovery that helps product teams infuse their daily product decisions with customer input. She’s coached hundreds of teams at companies of all sizes, from early-stage start-ups to global enterprises, in a variety of industries. She has taught over 7,000 product people discovery skills through the Product Talk Academy. 

Before coaching, Teresa led product and design teams at startup Internet companies, most recently, at AfterCollege. She was CEO of Affinity Circles, an online community provider for university alumni associations and a social recruiting service used by Fortune 500 companies. She’s also held product and design roles at Become.com and HighWire Press. She has a BS in Symbolic Systems from Stanford University and an MS in Learning and Organisational Change from Northwestern University. 

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