Visualizing discovery work with an opportunity solution tree has been a game-changer for both me and the teams that I work with.
It’s a simple visual that packs a lot of power.
At the top, we start with a clear outcome. This sets the scope for our discovery.
From there, an effective team is doing two key research activities week over week. They are interviewing to discover opportunities and they are assumption testing to discover the best solutions.
Interviewing is generative. Assumption testing is evaluative. We need both.
If we interview well, we’ll hear about a myriad of unmet customer needs, pain points, and desires—collectively called opportunities. But we won’t know if we can deliver on those opportunities until we find the right solution. And assumption testing is the best way to do that.
Interviewing is generative. Assumption testing is evaluative. We need both. – Tweet This
Over time as we continuously deliver solutions, we address more of the opportunity space, and we have more of an impact on our outcome.
This simple formula is how we create customer value (by delivering on opportunities) in a way that creates business value (by driving our outcome).
There’s only one problem. Most teams don’t work this way.
Reimagining the Way We Work
Most of us grew up in a world where we were asked to deliver specific outputs. Our jobs have been defined by racing toward impossible deadlines and managing infinite feature requests.
As a result, we can’t expect to change the way we work overnight. We have to learn new skills. We have to adopt new mindsets. We need to practice new ways of working.
Most of us grew up in a world where we were asked to deliver specific outputs, race toward impossible deadlines, and manage infinite feature requests. We can’t expect to change the way we work overnight. – Tweet This
Since 2013, Product Talk has helped teams do exactly this. I started with my 12-week coaching program. I coached teams week-over-week in the context of their own work. It was a powerful way of helping teams adopt new mindsets and invest in new habits. I have loved every minute of it.
But as I wrote in my January post, coaching doesn’t scale well. So in 2017, I released my first online course, Continuous Interviewing. Over the last 5 years, we’ve offered this course 20 times and have had more than 750 students go through this program.
I started with this course because I strongly believe that continuous interviewing is the keystone discovery habit that helps to unlock the other discovery habits.
In 2020, we expanded our course offerings. I partnered with Hope Gurion, who designed and teaches our Defining Outcomes course, and I designed and continue to teach Opportunity Mapping.
These three classes—Defining Outcomes, Continuous Interviewing, and Opportunity Mapping—cover the top half of the opportunity solution tree. Defining Outcomes helps you choose the best outcome to start with. Continuous Interviewing teaches you how to collect specific customer stories and how to identify opportunities from those stories. And Opportunity Mapping teaches you how to map out the opportunity space, giving you a big picture view of how you might reach your outcome.
In January 2021, I announced that we’d be releasing new courses to help you work the bottom of the tree—teaching you how to discover solutions. But that didn’t happen.
As our course business grew, I got more and more dissatisfied with the tools that we were using. Little things weren’t working well. Our course platform didn’t provide adequate receipts for most companies in the European Union. Email updates were hard to process because we had to manually update students’ emails in multiple tools. We saw an increase in Zapier errors as we relied on unreliable webhook implementations—basically we were stitching our tools together in unreliable ways. Too many of these problems were affecting our students. This wasn’t how I wanted to run my business.
This isn’t the sexy side of running a business, but if you want to create a great course experience, it’s what’s required given the tools that we have to work with today. I often compare the online course platform world today to the blogging world in 2003. You can do it, but if you want it to be a seamless experience, you better have some tech chops.
So instead of launching new courses, I spent 2021 rebuilding my tech stack. I dusted off my coding skills, dove into the AWS world, and started using APIs to better stitch the tools and services we use together.
Today, it’s not perfect. We are still limited by the APIs that are available to us. I desperately wish Slack would offer API support for user management at a price point that worked for communities. I equally wish Miro would allow me to create a new board from a template via their API. But alas, these things do not exist. And so we make do. But we are in a much better position than we were a year ago and we are ready to grow our course business.
And that’s why today, I’m thrilled to announce that we’ll be offering two new courses this spring and summer—both designed to help you discover solutions.
I’m thrilled to announce that we’ll be offering two new courses this spring and summer—both designed to help you discover solutions. – Tweet This
Discovering Solutions Quickly, Iteratively, and Sanely
Marty Cagan argues that the best product teams complete 12–15 discovery iterations every week. He defines an iteration as something we do to further our understanding of what to build. To most teams, this sounds like an impossible pace.
But that’s because most teams are still operating from a project mindset. We test our ideas by prototyping the entire solution—doing all of the design work before we learn if it’s the right thing to build. Or we build the entire solution, relying on A/B testing to tell us if we built the right thing after we’ve already built it.
Prototyping and A/B tests are invaluable tools in our toolbox. The problem is not with the tools. It’s with how we are using them. Our goal with discovery is to determine if we are building the right thing before we design or build it—not after.
Our goal with discovery is to determine if we are building the right thing before we design or build it—not after. – Tweet This
To do this, we need to return to an idea that Eric Ries introduced over ten years ago in The Lean Startup. We need to stop testing whole ideas and instead shift our focus to testing the assumptions that need to be true in order for our ideas to work.
But knowing that we need to test our assumptions is rarely enough. With solution testing, in particular, it’s really easy to be blind to our own assumptions. They feel so true that we don’t even notice that we are making them.
So to shift from idea testing to assumption testing, we have to become cognizant of the assumptions we are making in the first place. This is harder than it sounds.
To shift from idea testing to assumption testing, we have to become cognizant of the assumptions we are making in the first place. This is harder than it sounds. – Tweet This
It’s complicated by the fact that we work in teams. Each person on our team likely has different (even if only slight) interpretations of what our solutions mean—how they’ll work, what they’ll look like, where they’ll live. And as a result, we are each making different assumptions.
Before we can start testing our assumptions, we need to not only understand the assumptions we are individually making, we have to also align with our teammates on what our solutions mean and then generate assumptions together.
As of today, we are announcing two new courses: Identifying Hidden Assumptions and Assumption Testing—both designed and taught by me.
Identifying Hidden Assumptions: Uncover the Risky “Gotchas” That Can Derail Your Product Ideas
This course is designed to help you see the hidden assumptions that are lurking behind your ideas.
In this five-week course, you’ll learn how to:
- Create story maps to help you align as a team on what your ideas mean and how they might work.
- Use your story maps to identify desirability, usability, and feasibility assumptions.
- Walk the lines of your opportunity solution tree to uncover viability assumptions.
- Avoid unintended consequences by intentionally exploring where potential harm might creep into your solutions.
- And quickly identify which assumptions to prioritize and test.
We’ll be offering this course in May and September. Each cohort is limited to 50 students and is first-come, first-serve. Learn more here.
Assumption Testing: Quickly Determine Which Ideas Will Work and Which Won’t
This course is designed to help you quickly test your assumptions, allowing you to collect the compare and contrast data you need to make good decisions about what to build.
In this five-week course, you’ll learn how to:
- Match the right research method to any given assumption.
- Guard against confirmation bias and team disagreements by defining success upfront before you run your tests.
- Coordinate iterations and variations to ensure your results will represent what you’ll really see in practice.
- Make better decisions about what to build by understanding which assumptions are reliable and which need to be avoided.
We’ll be offering this course in June and October. Each cohort is limited to 50 students and is first-come, first-serve. Learn more here.
If you are interested in honing your skill and developing your discovery habits, I hope you’ll join us. You can find all of our course offerings here.