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Book review: “Continuous Discovery Habits” by Teresa Torres

I’ve been following Teresa Torres and her work for a good few years, so I was very excited when she published “Continues Discovery Habits: Discover Products That Create Customer Value and Business Value” earlier this year. In “Continuous Discovery Habits” Torres explains the value of continuous discovery and describes the best way to implement a culture where we constantly explore against specific outcomes.

The prerequisite mindsets

Torres rightly stresses that for continuous discovery to be implemented successfully (and to become a habit), the right mindset needs to be established. “Many teams chase frameworks, tools, and methodologies, hoping that each new innovation will suddenly unlock the door to product success. However, for most frameworks, tools, and methodologies to be successful, it’s not just your tactics that need to change but also your mindset.”

Torres lists six mindsets that must be cultivated to successfully adopt the continuous discovery habits outlined in her book:

  1. Outcome-oriented – This mindset is all about shifting from a focus on the code shipped (‘output’) to constantly driving the value that the code creates for customers and the business (‘outcomes’).
  2. Customer-centric – The customer is at the centre of our world. It requires us to not lose sight of the primary purpose of a business: to create and serve a customer.
  3. Collaborative – This mindset requires us to embrace the cross-functional nature of digital product work and reject the siloed model, where we hand off deliverables through stage gates.
  4. Visual – In the book, Torres provides readers with practical ways to express our thoughts differently. So many businesses tend to use PowerPoint and Word documents as prevailing communication methods. Instead, the visual mindset that Torres advocates encourages us to draw, externalise our thinking and map what we know.
  5. Experimental – How can we best develop and hone an experimental mindset? Something that I personally refer to as a “try and learn” approach.
  6. Continuous – Rather than thinking about discovery as something that we that do at the beginning of a project, Torres encourages us to infuse discovery continuously throughout the product development process.

In the book, Torres introduces the following working definition of continuous discovery for readers to adopt:

At a minimum, weekly touchpoints with customers

By the team building the product

Where they conduct small research activities

In pursuit of a desired outcomes

To achieve our desired outcomes, we need to first map the opportunity space and second, select the opportunities we’re going to pursue. Torres distinguishes between three different types of outcomes:

  • Business Outcomes: Measure business value (e.g. retention, revenue)
  • Product Outcomes: Measure how the product drives business value (e.g. small business applying for loans to grow their business)
  • Traction Metrics: Track usage of specific features (e.g. click through rate, adding documents to the platform, conversion)

Mapping outcomes through Opportunity Solution Trees

A large part of ‘Continuous Discovery Habits’ is dedicated to the Opportunity Solution Tree (‘OST’), a great tool to resolve the tension between business and customer needs. As Torres explains, “The key here (through the OST, MA) is that the team is filtering the opportunity space by considering only the opportunities that have the potential to drive the business need. By mapping the opportunity space, the team is adopting a customer-centric space, the team is adopting a customer-centric framing for how they might reach their outcome.”

Only include opportunities that are relevant your outcome – Taken from Teresa Torres: https://learn.producttalk.org/p/opportunity-mapping

One of the great benefits of Torres’ OST is that it helps product teams to take large project or programme-sized opportunities and break them down into smaller opportunities. You can then start comparing and contrasting different opportunities, based on their assumed value against the desired outcome. Per opportunity, you can map a number of ideas or potential solutions.

Mapping ideas or potential solutions against the different opportunities – Taken from Teresa Torres: https://www.producttalk.org/2016/08/opportunity-solution-tree/

An important byproduct of this mapping process is the way it almost forces product teams and their stakeholders to consider questions, that so often don’t get asked:

“Which of these customer needs is most important for us to address right now?”

We’ll evaluate our options. Instead of falling in love with our first idea, we’ll ask:

What else could we build?”

“How else might we address this opportunity?”

Like with all tools and techniques, the OST facilitates communication and collaboration. For instance, outcomes enable people to communicate strategic intent, the ‘why’ that underpins the different opportunities to consider.

Discovering Opportunities

To start discovering, structuring and prioritising the opportunity space, Torres recommends starting with an experience map. Building an experience map helps teams to create a shared understanding about what they already know about the customer and their behaviours. She lists a number of helpful steps to apply when creating an experience map:

  • Set the scope of your experience map – Start with your desired outcome and ‘work backwards’.
  • Start individually to avoid groupthink – To avoid groupthink, it’s critical that each member of the team or the product trio (engineer-designer-product manager) start by developing their own perspective before working together to create a shared perspective. This approach will help avoid groupthink, where a group of individuals underperform due to the dynamics of the group.
  • Draw the experience map – Torres argues that drawing is more specific than language. Drawing out the different steps of the customer’s interactions with your product will create a concrete shared understanding of the current ‘baseline’.

In addition to experience maps, Torres stresses the importance of ‘continuous interviewing’. She distinguishes between what you’re trying to learn (your research questions) and what you’re asking in a customer interview (interview questions). The primary research question in any interview should be: What need, pain points, and desires matter most to this customer? (and why)

Create a snapshot of your customer interview – Taken from Teresa Torres: https://www.producttalk.org/2021/04/design-justice/

Main learning point: In “Continuous Discovery Habits”, Teresa Torres has written a great book about how we can learn early and often. She explains how we can start with the outcomes that our customers and businesses want to achieve, and offering valuable tools to test assumptions against these outcomes.

Related links for further learning:

  1. Barbara Tversky, Mind in Motion
  2. https://marcabraham.com/2019/07/09/my-product-management-toolkit-38-discovering-opportunities-and-solutions/
  3. https://www.producttalk.org/2016/08/opportunity-solution-tree/
  4. https://learn.producttalk.org/p/opportunity-mapping
  5. https://dragonboat.io/escaping-the-build-trap/
  6. https://miro.com/blog/mapping-product-teams-teresa-torres/

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