Product Innovation / Product Management

Typeform’s Product Manager Shares Experiences on Discovery and Dual Track Agile

Embracing a customer-centric mindset – whether it’s about being “lean”, “agile”, or simply curious – is something that all product people should strive for. Hopefully, by now we all know how important it is to get continuous feedback about our products and ideas to steer them in the right direction.

When I first read about the concept of ‘Discovery’ and ‘Delivery’ in “Inspired” by Marty Cagan, I had one of those famous ‘Aha!’ moments. For someone like me, who started off in the world of technology products as an ambassador of customer development and transitioned into a product manager role down a long, winding road, the concept immediately hit home.

While Delivery is centered around releasing with confidence, Discovery “includes everything from making sure there’s enough customers that even need this solution (the demand) and then coming up with a solution that works for our customers and our own company […] and works for many customers. In order to do this, we need to learn fast.” – Silicon Valley Product Group

dual-track-agile-diagram

It’s about two tracks, not two teams — and definitely no ‘duel tracks’, as Jeff Patton cleverly puts it. In fact, loops that feed each other over time is probably the best way to imagine Discovery and Delivery in a product organization.

The reality is that in a company with existing customers to serve, products to maintain and stakeholders to keep happy, it can seem challenging to balance the attention between continuous learning and deploying.

Yet, I do believe it’s worth making this double approach part of your DNA, and sometimes a few inspiring examples of how others are managing it can help a lot.

At the latest edition of the Barcelona Product Management Meetup, Pol Narbona, Typeform’s Product Manager talked about their own experiences with the dual track agile methodology.

Specifically, he shared some intriguing insights on how the company streamlines Discovery and uses it to feed their product backlog with higher confidence.

Let’s summarize some of the tips he shared with us that night.

How to nail Product Discovery as a team

Set clear expectations

  • Collaborating with the team, clearly define what a ‘minimum testable version’ means for your company.  This is most often not even an MVP-level product, but the “cheapest testable product”. You should focus on this version in your Discovery process. Typeform even created a Product Playbook so that everyone has a common understanding.
typeform_product_playbook

Typeform’s Product Playbook

  • Focus on one hypothesis only per Discovery initiative.
  • Define a metric or target that can serve as an indicator for success vs failure.
  • Allocate a maximum “time box” to each initiative. (We all know we’d sometimes love to spend just a few more days on that task…then a few days more…internal deadlines are much needed.)

Keep development efforts to the minimum

  • Try to aim for prototypes and tests that require zero, or minimal development work: think interviews to understand the needs to paper or concierge prototypes. (Here are 12 great ideas for prototyping.)
  • Don’t get stuck with your first idea. Sometimes it’s good to take a step back and focus on the ‘job to be done’ and brainstorm different potential solutions to the problem.
  • Similarly, in the Discovery phase, Typeform recommends to focus only on the “Must”-level features of the MoSCoW framework. They only start addressing ‘Should’ type of elements when they’ve validated the key value. 
  • As for customer interviews: if it’s not possible to interview the clients themselves, for example, access to key accounts in a B2B company is limited or cumbersome, due to timely or other kinds of restrictions, sometimes Typeform interviews the Account Managers.

(My two cents: this can be a good approach to get feedback on the key topics or pains that come up in customer conversations, but always be cautious with unintentional bias and filtering by the ‘medium’. To some extent, it’s inevitable, but the approach is still million times better than giving up on the idea of getting market feedback altogether!)

Keeping things on track (pun intended)

  • “Think” 1-3 sprints ahead when compared to the Delivery backlog (or higher level company objectives, I guess – the editor). This leaves you enough time to prototype, test, gather enough feedback, and decide what would actually make it to your pipeline for deployment. 
  • At Typeform, the Product Owner prioritizes the Discovery backlog – preferably based on market insights, customer tickets, recurring topics.

(I think the best approach can be a mix of cross-team input to ensure the flow of creative ideas, combined with input from the market and customers. This may ensure that the team addresses relevant issues, but they also feel that their ideas matter and it’s worth thinking disruptively.)

  • One person only works in one track at a time. (However, it is important to note that we are talking about two tracks, not two teams. One person may be involved in both types of activities, just not at the same time.)
  • Create a Trello board or use another kind of kanban tool to handle your Discovery backlog and move (validated) ideas all the way to to the Delivery backlog.
Typeform_Discovery_Trello_blurred

Typeform uses a handy Trello board to select ideas to prototype & validate, and move them from definition to validation to pushing into the Delivery backlog (or discarding them if needed). I blurred out the the actual content of the cards.

  • Take time to regularly review your first estimates. Stay flexible.

If you want to learn more about how Typeform does Discovery, watch the video of the event.

And as my final, personal advice: the earlier you start spending time on Discovery, the more you will learn. Even if it’s not always easy to manage time and resources, you will gain invaluable experience. About your customers, about your products, and about your team.

Cover photo: how to turn a bagel into a Mobius strip – which, just like Discovery & Delivery, is an infinite loop and a great invention.

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