Speaking to people is critical to building badass products

Over the next week, I’ll be writing about customer discovery and how I approach interviewing people to build better products. The goal is to clarify my thinking around the topic and improve my current discovery process. I’ll keep things short, 300 – 400 word posts. At the end of it , I’ll put all the best bits into one big post that you can reference in the future if you ever want to.

I thought I’d begin by establishing what customer discovery is and why it’s important.

Customer discovery is the process of speaking to people to understand their problems so that you can uncover opportunities to improve your product.

The term “customer discovery” traces its roots back to  Steve Blank and Bob Dorf. They wrote a book called ‘The four steps to the epiphany’ that explains how to apply the scientific method to building startups. 

Customer discovery was the first of the four steps. The idea was to stop thinking about your product and “get out of the building” so that you can speak to people about their problems instead. The goal is to avoid spending loads of time building things nobody wants.

Traditionally, product work has been confused with pumping out new features. New features are fantastic but only if they’re useful.

Useful is a relative term. 

It relies on a shared understanding of who you’re building the features for and what they’re trying to do with them. How’re you supposed to build something useful when you don’t know what the problems are?

Good discovery work answers these kinds of questions and helps teams understand what better means to the people who use their product. 

When a team doesn’t share a clear understanding of the problems everyone can feel stuck. You begin wasting time building things no one uses. There’s no conviction on what to build next, and you’re constantly looking to competitors for ideas to steal.

Once people start to understand what the problems are, building useful stuff is easy. You stop worrying about whether you’re releasing features, and you’re more interested in whether or not they’re solving problems.

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