As you start to adopt the continuous discovery habits, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by how much stuff you generate.
Inevitably, you might start to wonder, “How should I keep track of all of this stuff? Do I need to save it for posterity?” The answer is a bit complex. Let’s explore a few different ways we can think about what to keep and for how long.
Doing vs. Communicating vs. Archiving
Whenever I create something, I start by asking, “Why are we creating this?” For most of the discovery artifacts we create, there are three answers.
- We create artifacts as we think, do, and align as a team.
- We create artifacts to help us communicate our thinking to stakeholders.
- We create artifacts to remind ourselves where we’ve been.
The biggest mistake I see teams make is they create completely different artifacts for each of these three purposes. For example, they might create 1) user stories to help their scrum team align around what they need to build this sprint, 2) a slide deck that tells marketing and sales what’s coming out in the next two sprints, and 3) release notes to document what actually happened.
The problem with this is we spend an overwhelming majority of our time doing, not communicating or archiving. As a result, the artifacts we create while doing get most of our time and attention. This usually means we don’t do a very good job communicating with stakeholders or archiving our decisions, as we simply run out of time for these after-thought activities.
Instead, I recommend teams create one set of artifacts that accomplish all three. And that’s exactly what I set out to describe in my book.
When a product trio maps out the opportunity space on an opportunity solution tree, they are doing the synthesis work required to really understand what they heard in their interviews. They are thinking, doing, and aligning as a team. But they can use this same visual to communicate what they are learning to their stakeholders and they can archive their opportunity solution tree when they move on to a new outcome.
When a product trio story maps a solution, they are working together to define how a solution might work. They are doing the work required to figure out what to build. Story maps happen to also be a great way of communicating how an idea might work and archiving an idea for posterity.
When we use the same artifacts to do the work, communicate the work, and archive the work, all three purposes get the attention they deserve.
When we use the same artifacts to do the work, communicate the work, and archive the work, all three purposes get the attention they deserve. – Tweet This
Doing the Work: Thinking, Doing, and Aligning
Doing discovery work is messy. There will be lots of false starts. Lots of redos.
When a team is creating an opportunity solution tree for a new outcome, it might change and evolve with every interview. But as they conduct more interviews, the structure should start to stabilize. Over time, with each subsequent interview, they will fall into a pattern of filling in missing details rather than restructuring the whole tree.
When a team is exploring solutions for a target opportunity, they might need to story map, assumption map, and test assumptions from half a dozen ideas before they find a clear front-runner that might work. But eventually, they do find a front-runner, and instead of churning through ideas, they focus on removing risk from their front-runner.
These iterations are critical when doing the work. They help the product trio stay aligned as they meander and wander through their discovery work. Visualizing their thinking helps them keep track of where they’ve been and where they might head next. These artifacts help them do the work.
But when communicating our progress or archiving our decisions, these iterations don’t matter. In fact, they distract us.
When communicating our progress or archiving our decisions, the iterations we’ve gone through previously don’t matter. In fact, they distract us. – Tweet This
Communicating with Stakeholders: Sharing Our Thinking with Others
Very few stakeholders want (or have time) to see every iteration we’ve churned through. Instead, they want to see the thinking that has led to where we are now.
With our opportunity solution trees, that means they want to see what it looks like today. They don’t need to see every iteration we’ve cranked out as we worked to find a stable structure. They probably don’t need you to walk through every single opportunity you’ve encountered.
Instead, they want the highlights. I like to share my top-level opportunities (the ones that give structure to the opportunity space). Then I dive into the details of the branch I’m working on right now. I only share the other branches if the stakeholder has a particular interest there. Otherwise, I focus on where the current work is being done.
When we’re sharing solutions, most stakeholders don’t want to hear about the half a dozen solutions that didn’t work. They want to know what might work. So rather than running through several story maps, share the two or three that are still in consideration. Share the highlights of what you are learning from your assumption tests and give them a clear picture of how and when you might make a decision.
When we’re sharing solutions, most stakeholders don’t want to hear about the half a dozen solutions that didn’t work. They want to know what might work. – Tweet This
Notice how when we move from doing to communicating, we aren’t creating new artifacts. We are simply using a filtered set of artifacts that we already created while doing our discovery work to share our discovery progress.
Archiving Key Decisions: Reminding Our Future Selves Where We’ve Been
Most teams archive too much. We err on the side of archiving everything, because we can. But when we archive everything, we make the things we truly need harder to find.
Most teams archive too much. We err on the side of archiving everything, because we can. But when we archive everything, we make the things we truly need harder to find. – Tweet This
When deciding what to archive, we need to be thoughtful about what we might need later. We rarely need every messy iteration. We usually just need a history of key decisions. We want to remind ourselves of where we’ve been, so that we don’t repeat work—or worse, repeat past mistakes.
We don’t need to archive every iteration of our opportunity solution tree. When we move on to a new outcome, we might want to archive our latest version of our opportunity solution tree, so that if and when we return to this outcome, we can pick up where we left off.
We don’t need to archive every story map that we create. We probably do want to archive the story map, assumption map, and assumption test designs and results for the solution we do move forward with. Later, when we are evaluating the expected impact of our solution, we’ll want to reference these. Once we know how a solution performs in our production environment, these artifacts will help us understand if we missed any key assumptions in our testing.
Again, we aren’t creating new artifacts for archival purposes. We are simply archiving final versions of the artifacts we created while doing the work.
Putting it Into Practice: What Goes Where Day to Day?
I’m going to walk through what this might look like day to day. Don’t get caught up on specific tools. I’m going to reference the tools that I use, and am familiar with. But feel free to swap in the tools that work for your team. And if you need inspiration for what tools might work for your team, check out our Tools of the Trade category.
When I’m doing discovery, my primary workspace is a Miro board. I have one Miro board per outcome. In that board, I have an experience map, an opportunity solution tree, story maps for any solutions I’m considering, and assumption test designs and results for those solutions.
When I’m ready to move on to a new target opportunity, I just move to a new area of the canvas to story map and design assumption tests. I know for some teams this gets too unwieldy and they like to create new boards for each target opportunity. That works, too. Do what works best for your team.
I like to keep my interview snapshots in a slide deck. If I’m working on a solo project, I create them in Keynote. If I need to share them with others, I create them in Google Slides. This allows me to quickly browse through many interview snapshots at once and they are always a click away. I don’t find that I need them on my Miro board, as I’ve already captured the most relevant opportunities on my opportunity solution tree. But I know some teams like to include everything on their canvas for easy reference.
When I’m communicating my work, it’s usually to someone who is well-versed in the discovery habits. So I don’t need to make many changes to my existing artifacts. Instead, I use my exact same “doing” board to communicate where I’m at. Remember, you don’t have to share all the iterations. Instead, focus on the most recent iterations. And you don’t need to share every little detail. Hit the highlights and let your stakeholders ask for more detail.
You don’t have to share all the iterations. Instead, focus on the most recent iterations. And you don’t need to share every little detail. Hit the highlights and let your stakeholders ask for more detail. – Tweet This
When archiving my work, here’s how I manage it:
- I have one slide deck per product for interview snapshots. I no longer keep interview notes or recordings. I know some companies want to keep these around. I’d rather not incur the storage cost or the privacy burden. So I delete these about once a quarter.
- I have one Miro board per outcome. When I move on from that outcome, I clean up the board to include the most recent opportunity solution tree and experience map, story maps for my final solutions, and assumption test designs and results for my final solutions. If something particularly interesting came up while exploring a solution I didn’t move forward with, I might keep that story map and assumption test designs and results as well. I am a company of one with lots of outcomes, so I often bounce from outcome to outcome, quarter to quarter. This allows me to quickly pick up where I left off when I return to a past outcome.
- I also keep a decision journal where I document key decisions. This includes outcome selection, opportunity prioritization, and solution selection. I keep this journal in Apple Notes. I sometimes copy and paste relevant snippets to the Miro board, but not always.
That’s it. I try to spend as little time as possible archiving, while maintaining a reasonably good history of where I’ve been.
I’d love to hear what works for you and your team. We are currently discussing strategies for doing, communicating, and archiving our work in our community devoted to putting the discovery habits into practice. You should come join us.