Continuous discovery is more of a journey than a destination. You can pick up the habits and fold them into your daily practice, but there will always be room for improvement. Plus, your work environment is always changing, so you’ll constantly need to adapt to your current settings and stakeholders. If your sales team isn’t bought in, for example, they won’t want to sell your new product or feature. If your leaders don’t agree with your outcome, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to getting more resources.
Continuous discovery is more of a journey than a destination. You can pick up the habits and fold them into your daily practice, but there will always be room for improvement. – Tweet This
Lisa Orr understands this all too well. Her continuous discovery journey hasn’t just been about interviewing customers or prototyping to test assumptions. Lisa has also learned the importance of showing her work and keeping stakeholders involved throughout the process.
If you’re a longtime Product Talk reader (or if you’ve read Continuous Discovery Habits), Lisa’s name might sound familiar. Lisa was a product manager we featured in a Product in Practice called Tackling Big Hairy Product Challenges with Continuous Discovery and in Chapter 13 of the book. Don’t worry if the details are fuzzy—we’ll share a quick recap of Lisa’s story in a minute.
A lot has happened since we last spoke to Lisa—and we’re not just talking about the pandemic. Lisa also started a role at a new company called Human API. We caught up with Lisa to learn how she’s bringing her continuous discovery habits along with her to this new role in general and specifically how she’s making sure to involve stakeholders and show her work.
A Critical Lesson in the Importance of Showing Your Work
At her previous company, Airship, Lisa and her team were tasked with solving a recurring problem for their sales team. Prospects kept asking for a customer-journey-builder feature that Airship didn’t have. The simple solution would have been to build what competitors offered.
But Lisa and her team knew better. They were in the middle of Teresa’s 12-week coaching program and had learned that what customers (and therefore sales teams) ask for isn’t always what they need.
With the continuous discovery habits they’d learned from Teresa, Lisa’s team interviewed customers, mapped out the opportunity space, explored multiple solutions, quickly prototyped to test assumptions, and landed on a solution they were excited about. But then Lisa hit a roadblock. The sales team didn’t want to sell something new. They wanted to sell what their customers were asking for.
Luckily, this story has a happy ending. Lisa and her team were able to convince their leadership to allow them to run a one-month beta launch with a limited set of customers to test out their new feature. Since they had done good discovery, they were confident that if they could just get customers using the feature, the sales team would be convinced. It turns out they were, and, after a successful beta release, the Airship Journeys product launched and has seen great success.
When Teresa shared this story in Continuous Discovery Habits, she wrote, “While Lisa’s team did a great job executing on their discovery and were able to bring a successful product to market, all that work would have gone to waste if they weren’t able to get their sales team (and other business stakeholders) on board. This is a common tale and one that most product trios can learn from. It’s not enough to do good discovery if you aren’t bringing your stakeholders along with you.”
It’s not enough to do good discovery if you aren’t bringing your stakeholders along with you. – Tweet This
Now let’s explore how Lisa has taken this lesson to heart and continued to apply it in her new role.
Lisa’s New Role at Human API
Lisa now works for a company called Human API, where she’s a Senior Product Manager. Human API currently has two main verticals—life insurance and Real-Time Health Identity (which from here on out we’ll refer to as “RTHI”).
Lisa is responsible for the RTHI vertical, which currently focuses on making COVID vaccination and test records accessible so a consumer can share them with another business such as a health-pass provider like CLEAR.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot of complexity to this work. There are multiple layers of customers and consumers. First, there are the businesses, like CLEAR, that work directly with Human API, then the partners those businesses work with, like airlines, and ultimately the consumers themselves. “Our ultimate goal at Human API is to have a B2C play where we create a marketplace for the consumer to do even more with their health data,” says Lisa.
And while COVID is their current focus, Lisa says, “There are a lot of exciting use cases for what can be done with health data.” The clients who currently partner with Human API on COVID see many future opportunities. So in addition to focusing on the current project, Lisa is working with these partners to imagine what’s next.
Translating Continuous Discovery into a New Context
Lisa had built a strong continuous discovery practice at Airship. So how did she go about translating that to her new setting? “Number one, I wanted to find out how discovery-friendly the team was. And they absolutely do product discovery, which is great,” says Lisa. “I didn’t have to come in and fight for something that nobody knows about. I just needed to create the space to lean into it, which meant that I needed to build my product trio.”
Getting her product trio up and running was relatively simple. It just involved coordinating with the designer and tech lead, getting access to customers and prospects to start interviewing, and putting time on everyone’s calendars to do the actual work of opportunity mapping, creating interview snapshots, and deciding which solutions to pursue.
While Human API is a discovery-friendly company, the tech lead and designer hadn’t done this type of discovery work before. Lisa says she didn’t want to take a prescriptive approach, “I wanted it to feel like we were building this together and learning together. You should be rediscovering how this process is going to work with your new team, and that’s inviting them into the messiness of it.” One exciting outcome from this process is that the design lead who splits her time between both verticals is so bought into discovery that she’s formalizing the discovery process across verticals.
When bringing continuous discovery from one company to another, you should be rediscovering how this process is going to work with your new team, and that’s inviting them into the messiness of it. – Tweet This
Reflecting on this experience, Lisa says one of the biggest takeaways is making time for discovery. “You just need time in the seat. You need to get your trio together and spend at least three hours a week working together. If you don’t do that, nothing will happen.” She also reiterates the importance of staying flexible and adapting to your current situation. “Anything you’ve done in the past is not a prescription for the future.”
Stakeholder Communication in a New Setting
Lisa knows that it’s not enough to do discovery work with her trio—there are many layers of stakeholders she needs to keep in the loop. When it comes to defining who these stakeholders are, Lisa says, “I think in terms of really close and then far out.”
The “really close” category includes the product and engineering teams. “It’s not just my team discovering what to build and what to do next and what’s important. At some point, we need to take action. And action only happens if we have resources to build anything that we’ve decided we should build.” In other words, Lisa needs buy-in from the product and engineering teams in order to get anything built.
The next layer is the company’s leadership. While discovery continues on the COVID project, Lisa is already starting to think about what comes next for her vertical. “What I do next is likely going to bleed beyond what I’ve established as my need. I need to communicate with leadership so they can understand and buy into this new request or ask the right questions.”
And then, what Lisa considers “far out” or “the other side of the fence” are the sales, customer success, and marketing teams. Customer success wants to know who the existing solution supports and what the next phases are, while sales and marketing want an understanding of what’s happening in the market and where the product trio sees opportunity.
Adapting Communication Formats to Each Stakeholder Group
When joining Human API, Lisa was inheriting an existing vertical and communication patterns. Her first order of business was figuring out what worked and what needed to change. Here’s how she approached communication with each stakeholder group.
The engineering team primarily used Slack, so Lisa created a new channel to keep the teams up to date on all things RTHI. Lisa chose #questions_rthi as the place to send out updates and weekly summaries. Lisa includes metrics, an overview of what happened this week, and a preview of what’s on deck for next week. This solves an immediate need of sharing information consistently with the engineering team.
Here’s how Lisa uses each channel:
- #broadcast: Where the North Star metric is posted daily. The North Star is how many new consumers have synced their health data in the last day with Human API. RTHI has a large impact on this number, so Lisa will give some color as to why the number is going up or down as it relates to the RTHI clients and market.
- #engineering_rthi: Where anything related to RTHI delivery is discussed.
- #flightcontrol_rthi: Where any support issues or escalations are discussed.
- #questions_rthi: Where Lisa shares metrics, market insights, strategy, news, etc.
- #pacific: The discovery team’s private channel for discussing discovery topics and coordinating on activities, sharing assets, etc.
- #product_team: Where the product team discusses issues including prioritization considerations and new big ideas/opportunities.
But, Lisa notes that, “Slack communication is a push and pull. Somebody has to go and care about information—or know it exists there—for them to have any sort of takeaway from it.” Because Lisa doesn’t expect engineers to be passively ingesting information about the RTHI vertical, she worked with tech leadership to find a way to communicate consistently with the team.
Slack communication is a push and pull. Somebody has to go and care about information—or know it exists there—for them to have any sort of takeaway from it. – Tweet This
They decided that a weekly meeting would be the best way to accomplish this goal. But Lisa doesn’t take this lightly. “Engineers have almost no meetings on their calendars, but they complain heavily about every new one. Which makes sense—they shouldn’t have to be interrupted. So if you’re saying we have to have this meeting, they better enjoy it.”
To ensure that engineers got the most out of the meetings, Lisa asked them to participate in a dot voting exercise so they could have a say in what type of information they care about most.
Based on what she learned from this exercise, Lisa designed the weekly check-ins to cover all the information that engineers said they care about most. They talk about what’s hot, they review what’s just happened and what’s in flight, and they cover why they’re delivering whatever is in the next sprint.
Demos are also an important part of these meetings. “Demos are exciting for the engineer or designer doing them because they get to show off the work they’ve just done visually and contextually. It’s not just words anymore,” says Lisa.
Metrics are also included in the meetings due to popular demand. “That’s something everybody wants—even the junior engineer—but they often don’t have context or know how product measures success,” says Lisa. “It’s really important to say this is how we measure success and this is how we’re doing today.”
Finally, Lisa uses these meetings as an opportunity to tell the engineers what’s missing. She’ll point out the bugs, gaps, and anything she can’t measure currently while explaining some of the trade-offs she’s consciously making. This gives the engineering team insight into Lisa’s thought process and it also gives them the chance to engage in a conversation. “I want them to internalize that there are a lot of big decisions being made, but we could be working hand in hand. They might have cheap ways to cover the gaps that I’m not aware of.”
Sales and Marketing
The Sales and Marketing teams understandably have different needs from the Engineering team. The Sales team in particular is looking for updates on what’s happening in the market and what that means for their opportunity.
For example, the vaccine tracking situation in the US is complex and confusing. “How we get access is a big question for any of our prospects, so I need to be publishing internally what that looks like so sales can have confidence that they can have the conversations at the right level to move the prospect and the deal forward,” notes Lisa.
For the Marketing team, Lisa wants to make sure they don’t neglect the RTHI vertical, so she strives to keep them informed and be as helpful as possible when making requests. For example, when she wants to publish something, she’ll work with Marketing to decide on the channels and may even provide assets like a Loom video description or copy that they can work off of.
Slack is also the main communication platform Lisa uses to keep the Sales and Marketing teams informed. She regularly posts updates to a specific Slack channel to share what she’s seeing in the market and how this relates to Human API’s opportunity.
The product team talks with customers all the time as part of their continuous discovery and the customer success (CS) team is also included in those conversations. Lisa says that as the product team builds solutions based on their conversations with customers, they also create assets to announce these developments. “The assets are helpful for sales, but especially to CS since they cover what the new phase looks like, which problems it solves, and how it can be used.”
When it comes to the ideal format for sharing these assets with CS, Lisa says, “Since we’re a 70-person company, a lot of these systems are not formalized, which means it rolls back up into the product team to make sure all this education and communication is happening.” It’s something that Lisa’s aware of and she will continue to look for ways to scale asset sharing as the organization grows.
Last (but definitely not least) is leadership. Lisa recognizes that if she wants more than just COVID resources, she has to show her discovery work to leadership. “The big ideas that the product team is discovering against for the vertical need to be consumable in a way that the leadership team can say, ‘I get it and I have these questions’ or ‘I don’t get it and we need to have more of X for us to be confident.’”
At the moment, the product teams are experimenting with using Coda for this purpose. It’s an app where they can store their big ideas along with descriptions and notes about uncertainties or ideas that need to get tested. They can add labels for easy sorting, update each idea’s discovery status, and assign owners. Lisa’s goal is to create something that’s easy for leaders to drop in and consume while also maintaining consistency across verticals. Ultimately, she says, “We don’t want to have things that just drop off. We don’t want our big ideas to get stuffed in the back corner and forgotten.”
Lisa’s Lessons and Key Takeaways
Summing up her experience with continuous discovery so far, Lisa says, “You just need to get started. It doesn’t need to be perfect.” Start with the resources you have. For example, Lisa only had three hours of her tech lead’s time when she first started, but that limitation has since been removed. She tells anyone who’s excited about discovery to “Work with what you have.”
When it comes to continuous discovery, you just need to get started. It doesn’t need to be perfect. – Tweet This
When it comes to communication, it’s also about taking those initial steps. “Find any format where people can get curiously interested,” says Lisa. “Find your biggest, most important stakeholders and ask them if you’re sharing what they want to know or if they want to know anything else.” Remember that the more content you share, the more people have to interact with and form an opinion on. Don’t wait for people to share their opinions—give them something to react to. “It’s like a prototype test or any type of discovery test. You’ve got to have a stake in the ground. Just get started.”