Teresa Torres Continuous Discovery Habits

On April 4, Teresa Torres joined us at Agile Insights Conversations. If you already heard the conversation with Petra Wille about Strong Product People, you know why you shouldn't miss this session. Look forward to a conversation about product development, product leadership, and constantly improving your products. Teresa is an internationally recognized expert in her field and ideal for an exciting introduction to Continuous Discovery Habits!
The Transcription of the video is below.

Picture of: Sohrab Salimi
Sohrab Salimi

Sohrab is founder & CEO of Scrum Academy GmbH. He is Certified Scrum Trainer® on Agile Academy and initiator of the agile100 conference series as well as host of the Agile Insights conversations.

Picture of: Teresa Torres
Teresa Torres

Teresa Torres is the author of the book Continuous Discovery Habits and an expert in product leadership. She also writes for her site Producttalk.

Continuous Discovery Habits

Sohrab:
Hello and welcome to our next edition of the Agile Insights Conversation series. Today I'm very fortunate to host Teresa Torres who wrote one of the best books on product management and product ownership. And you'll know why I think this when we get into this conversation.
But before we get started I usually don't like to introduce our speakers but because I want them to introduce themselves they know themselves much better than I. So I would like to start with giving Teresa a bit of time and space to quickly introduce herself to us. And then based on that introduction we would dive into the topic of the book which is right behind her: Continuous Discovery Habits. Teresa, welcome to the show. I am very delighted to have you and thank you already for donating your time to us and your wisdom. Now give us a quick introduction about yourself.

Teresa:
Thanks for having me. So I'm Teresa Torres. I work as a product discovery coach. That means I help teams make better decisions about what to build. And it really comes down to “how do we do that in a customer centric way”? Through experimentation, through interviewing.
And then I'm also the author of the book Continuous Discovery Habits and I blog at producttalk.org. https://www.producttalk.org/

Sohrab:
Cool. And you're joining us today from where, Teresa?

Teresa:
I am joining from Bend, Oregon. So the West Coast of the US.

Sohrab:
West Coast of the US. So Teresa, when I found your book, actually, I got introduced to it by a friend of mine. Oliver Winter, who I think also, to some extent, contributed to the book. At least his name is in the end where you thank many people with whom you co-developed or who acted as your sparring partner. I guess through this process of writing the book and when I saw the book all three words meant something to me. The continuous piece obviously, when you think about agile product development or product development in general. It's a continuous journey. Then the discovery piece, and we dive into that much more, and especially the habits piece. But before I bring in my interpretation, I would like to know: “why did you call this book the way you called it”? Why? What do these three words individually and collectively mean to you?

Teresa:
I think discovery as a concept has become very helpful in the sense that I think it's easy to put a big emphasis on delivery and what we're shipping and of course that matters. That's how we get value to our customers. But I think it puts equal emphasis on ‘are we building the right things’? How are you making good decisions about what to build? I think across the industry we're seeing a shift from a project mindset to a continuous mindset. I think that's really important. Especially for digital products. Although I would argue this is bigger than digital products. But especially for digital products.
And then the habits piece. One of the things that I look at is, most product teams are working in organizations that are still output driven and product project driven. And so how do we make it as easy as possible to shift to a more continuous mindset and to put more emphasis on discovery? We know from behavioral psychology that if we just rely on willpower and motivation it's not going to be successful. We really have to lay the foundation by building strong habits. Just like when we're trying to adopt healthy habits in our own personal lives or good social habits or whatever the case may be. It's really just taking this lens of ‘how do we make it easier to do this than to not do it’.

How can you make Product Discovery easier?

Sohrab:
Yeah I like the point that you mentioned at the end. How do we make this easier to do this. Because for many organizations and for many individuals the process of discovery let alone continuous discovery is very hard to get started with. But once you build the habits at least it was then my interpretation going through the book and your thinking was once you build the habits it becomes the norm and it then becomes very easy to do right. But initially you need a lot of discipline. And this is one of the areas where I want to talk to you more today. But let's start with discovery itself.
You start your book with a section about basically laying out why discovery matters. Can you share, and you already did this to some extent, but can you share with our listeners, with our viewers, why does this topic of discovery matters so much to you? And also to many of the clients that you work with?

Teresa:
Yeah, I mean here's the reality. We're really still in the early days of digital products and even forget the early days. Even if we look at physical products and mature products. We just have a lot of gaps between what we're trying to do and what actually happens in practice. I view it almost as if we have a lot of really smart people spending all day, every day on products. That's like a lot of lives. It's a lot of hours of productivity and work. That in a lot of ways we're wasting. If we're not creating a close connection between the needs of our customers and the products that we're building. And in the product world in particular, it's so easy to have an opinion about what to build and my opinion doesn't have to be based on anything. And there's a cost of that. Like if you just have an opinion about what to build and it's not grounded into any evidence. It's not centered on what your customers need, you're going to spend a lot of time and energy building something that may or may not be helpful to anybody. And so on some level, I feel like we have sort of this moral obligation of like if we're going to work this hard to create things let's make sure the thing is what people want!
And then there's this sort of second part of it. Of, I just see all around me, like on my phone and on my computer and out in the world. Just things, products that fall short. We really just need to get a lot better at this. And then I think another realm is, we're starting to see a lot more conversation around products that replicate the inequities we see in our communities and our products. That's a whole other area that I think discovery can help with.
So I think it's really about ‘we spend a lot of time building these products, we could probably spend a little bit of time making sure that they're going to create value for somebody’.

Sohrab:
Absolutely. You mentioned some of the reasons why this matters to you and ideally it should also matter to organizations because no organization wants to waste the energy, the talent and the money that goes into building stuff that nobody wants. Now when you work with organizations and I mean most of them are not stupid, but when you work with them, what do you observe being the main reasons for them? And I would include myself as well. As that right, what do you observe being the main reasons for them not doing discovery as you see it. What keeps them back from doing this?

Teresa:
I want to go back to something you started with. You mentioned that getting started with discovery is hard. I don't actually think it needs to be hard. I think we think it's hard and the reason why we think it's hard is because it's so counter to how business has traditionally worked. Right? So we have this sort of we got to push back against our internal culture and that feels hard but it doesn't have to be hard. I think what's hard is organizational change. But I think for any individual in a company, to start to adopt some of these habits, it does not have to be hard. I think the key is to find a teeny tiny place to start and then to iterate from there. It's really embracing a continuous improvement mindset from the very beginning. And I think every single one of us all, doesn't matter where you work or how your organization works, you know somebody who's like your customer. You know somebody who's talking to your customer. You know how you find a way to get started. And I think it's that. It's really easy for our brains to see all the reasons why. We can't do this and I think it's really about flipping the nuts on its head and looking for the smallest way you can get started. And then just iterating.

Sohrab:
So what I see in many organizations that I work with is, and you already spoke about discovery versus delivery, and what I see is a lot of metrics in an organization. In all the incentives, at least in traditional organizations, are framed in a way that you're not incentivized to do discovery that you're actually incentivized in many cases if you look at the short term metrics. To do primarily delivery focus on like getting the things out and then once the product is done you basically you're like okay we did our work to the best of our knowledge but whether it now creates an impact for customers and ultimately based on that for your business becomes secondary. Do you see that as well? That the metrics in an organization don't incentivize us to do good discovery work?

Teresa:
I don't think a good product person needs to be incentivized to do discovery work. That may sound harsh but if you wanna be a product person, you have to find a way to do discovery. I don't care what your organizational context looks like and here's the deal. I didn't work in places where I had a VP or CEO say ‘here's some space to do discovery’. Like, if you want to serve a customer you have to understand who your customer is. Full stop. Right? That's just the reality. That's the world we work in. And yes it's true that most organizations… That's not how they think about it. Nobody's telling you to do this, nobody's holding your feet to the fire, saying if you don't do this something bad's gonna happen or gonna go wrong. And I get that a lot of people are in meetings all day long and we already have way too much work on our plate. If you want to build something that people care about, you have to talk to your customers. It's just that simple. And I think everybody, every single person, without exception, has the ability to do it, has the ability to find a way. And I'm sort of frankly a little bit tired of this excuse of like my company won't let me. I don't have time. I'm incentivized. I have these horrible delivery guidelines. We all do. Every single one of us. And I feel like, frankly we all have. The only way anything is going to change is if we each individually start making the change happen.
I don't have a lot of, I mean sure, I have sympathy for it. Like I've been in that situation I know it can feel overwhelming. I know it can be hard, but you know what, like that's why we get paid to do this. We have like one of the best jobs in the world. And I think that it's our responsibility to go out and do it.

Sohrab:
I love that. You're that. You're this frank. And that you're basically saying there is no excuse to not do it. Now, when I listen to you. One of the things that we teach product people is, you have to prioritize what you build. Now maybe prioritization actually starts with your own time. Where do you spend your time? Do you spend your time in meetings that are not going to add any value to your customers or are you going to prioritize the time to talk to your customers to get a better understanding? Maybe even, have your team speak to customers as well. So that you can speak to them like on the same eye level more or less. And based on your now deeper understanding of customers, you're going to build better stuff. You're going to probably have less debates in meetings where everyone is just talking based on their own assumptions and no one is talking based on real knowledge and experience. And an observation through that kind of prioritization, you make the right call to actually move forward and drive customer success. And through that business success it's very important to point these things out now getting to discovery itself.
What is discovery exactly to you? You already mentioned speaking to customers et cetera but what else is part of what you define as discovery and probably many other people I know. You refer to Marty Cagan quite a lot. But what is it to you?

Why do you need Product Discovery?

Teresa:
I think broadly. Discovery is just the work that we're doing when we're deciding what to build. It's that simple. I think good discovery includes the customer and the process. And I think it's when we talk about including the customer in the process. Now we're getting into sort of research methods. Frankly I don't love using the word research anymore in connection to discovery because I don't think anybody in industry is doing real research. I'm seeing a lot of user researchers get upset that they think that product teams are now doing their job. I don't think that's true. I think what product teams do is not research. We're trying to get fast answers to our daily questions. We have really good feedback loops, we're trying to influence user behavior. I think from a discovery standpoint there's two core activities. There's interviewing to understand your customers' context and there's assumption testing to evaluate solutions and the reason why. I would say neither of those activities is true research, if we think about the word research. Usually we associate it with academic research. And we have this standard of research: what makes research valid, what makes research reliable. And I'm hearing more and more UX researchers complaining that discovery isn't good research. Neither is most user research. It turns out, the industry doesn't have time for good research. Good research takes decades where multiple people replicate studies before we learn anything. Nobody in the industry has time for that. So now it's shades of gray. It's like how reliable, how valid our work has to be. To be able to make decisions off of it. And I think where user research is really valuable is that we do have longer horizon questions. That user researchers should be answering things like: where, what's going to happen in our market? What's long term customer behavior? That's different from discovery questions. Discovery questions are what do I need to be building next? That's a very short term sort of research question that we're answering. By the way, not with real research because we don't really have time for real research. And the reason why. That's fine because we're putting a stimulus out in the world and we're seeing how people react to it. That's a feedback loop we don't have in real research.
So I would argue that discovery is not research. Discovery is just the work we're doing to make better decisions about what to build. There's some research like activities we can do as part of discovery. Whether that's interviewing customers to uncover unmet needs, pain points or desires. And assumption tests to evaluate potential solutions and the reason why. Those can be quick and dirty research methods. And I am putting research in quotes because I don't think it's real research. It is because again we're just trying to influence behavior and we can quickly measure. Did we influence behavior?

Sohrab:
I like the fact that you also mentioned that. This is not like traditional research. Because I'm, by background, a medical doctor. So I've been through this research process. Working on PhD stuff et cetera. And if you compare these two, I mean research in the scientific field is always looking backwards. You see something happen. Now we can look at covid right and then you see a million people getting this. And then you do your research and then you have it peer reviewed. So you have a high-end. You have multiple people being involved and you have a long time horizon as you mentioned. Now, when we're building products, we're not looking backwards. We're trying to understand patterns of customer behavior and then build products that either support this behavior or help people or nudge people into a different type of behavior. I like the fact that you say this is not real research nor is UX research. It's actually a different thing where we use similar things quick and dirty because we don't have the time.
But not having the time is not an excuse to skip it all completely because we cannot do it in a perfect way as academics. But we can still do a lot to validate our assumptions.

Teresa:
And here's what I must say about this. It doesn't mean we shouldn't pay attention to reliability and validity. Those are research concepts, right? How repeatable is our research? How likely is what we're learning reflecting reality? Those are really important concepts that we should pay attention to and how we conduct an interview. The questions we ask, the way that we account for different biases in the process will have a big impact on the reliability of the feedback we collect. So it's not that we shouldn't be learning from research methods, it's that I'm starting to see this as a territorial battle. Like user researchers are saying, product teams are now stepping on our own territory with discovery. First of all I don't think that's true. I think there's still a need for longer horizon user research and there's a need for product teams to get fast answers to their daily questions. So I don't think there's a territorial battle there at all. I think what's happening on the research side is exactly what we saw on the design side and we still see on the design side. We deem designers as special and they have this unique ability that other humans don't have. Which I think is baloney. I'm not saying designers don't have skills. And there's not a skill of developing design skills. But it's something we learn and most of us learn in industry practice. The same is true on the user research side. There's skill there and there are people that are better at research than others. But the vast majority of us learned it in industry. And so, then to turn around and say you other person in the industry you can't do this because I have special skills you don't. I don't buy it. I don't buy it. That's territory. It's people being territorial. It comes from, I think really toxic business culture. Of like land grab territory space. And I would much rather we have conversations about how can we work together and I'm recognizing that I clearly woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I'm not usually up this early. So I apologize.

Sohrab:
Honestly, I like that. Because that's very to the point. That's very frank and similar to you. I mean you mentioned that you're tired of hearing excuses. And in the field where I work, where it's mainly about organizational change and organizational redesign. Like, how do we set up our whole organization, not just one team? But how do we set up our whole organization to be better at doing this work? to be honest I'm also tired of the CEO of an organization telling me like he can't do anything about it. I'm like if you can't do anything about it who can? Because this organization was ultimately designed by you or your predecessor or whoever. Now you also have the ability to change it. You mentioned this like territorial fights. I think when we think about the organization of the future, it's not about individual territories. It's about us as an organization building great stuff for our customers. And it doesn't really matter where these insights come from. And honestly if you're a user researcher be happy that now, the work that you do is getting to a much higher level of attention and more people are trying to do that, because in the past you were fighting to get the customer's perspective into the product and no one was listening to you. So I think…

Teresa:
And here's the “every”. I mean I think there's this fear, right? Like I started with design. If everybody on the product team’s doing discovery, does the designer lose some specialness of no longer being the voice of the customer? And now we're seeing that with user research here's the deal: I get it. People are feeling threatened, but there's so much work. Like there's gonna be enough work for everybody. User research is not going away. Design is not going away. lf anything, putting more of an emphasis on discovery is going to elevate these rules. We're going to see more companies hire user researchers. Because when we get fast answers to our daily questions, we see that we actually have weekly questions. And monthly questions that also need slower answers. And that's exactly what user researchers excel at. No product team, no product team doing discovery, is gonna do a diary study. Nobody has time for that. User researchers have time for that. And we need that. That's a great research method. That information, that can inform our product work. So it's not about…I really wish I could just give everybody a hug and say look, your job's not going away. You're not threatened by these ideas. It's really about how do we all get better at working together. Or change sides. I went back and got a master's in organizational change and my takeaway was this simple. We can't really influence organizational change. We can in the way that we think. I get why CEOs say they can't influence organizational change.
Here's what's required for our organization to change. Every single individual has to go through the change on their own timeline. Individuals change at different rates and it's not until almost everybody in the organization goes through the change that the whole organization actually changes. Which means, whenever an organization is trying to go through their change, it's utter chaos for a really long time.
So what do we do as an individual contributor, we can bang our heads against the wall and like try to influence that process, that by the way your CEO is barely even influencing. That's crazy town. Like I wouldn't do that. What we can do is, we can focus on our own work. We can change the way we individually work which has two benefits. One if everybody did that, the organization would change a lot faster. And two when we do that, other people get curious about how we work and that's when we have the ability to influence. But that's not what most people do. Most people don't start with themselves. They start talking about the right way to do things and they advocate without changing their own behavior. And it just becomes my opinion versus your opinion. And we get nowhere so this is a little bit why, like I'm tired of the excuses, like the only way organizations are going to change is if all of us individually change. I feel like I'm a community organizer right now. If all of us individually make a decision to work this way and to be customer centric, that's really the only way this is going to happen.
That's another. I've been hanging out on twitter too long, which is why I'm kind of tired right now. But another thing that keeps coming up is like all these thought leaders are writing about this way of working and nobody's really working this way and they take that as a criticism. You know what ninety eight percent of people don't do discovery. Does that mean discovery's bad and that this model sucks? And then, it's all a scam, yeah, you're right. We shouldn't be customer centric and we shouldn't build things that customers want. Let's just go back to the old way. How is that an argument? I just don't get it. Like this isn't meant to be this revolutionary new idea. It's meant to be: How do we better serve our customers? How do we get closer even if we're just inching our way there? Because frankly, that's the only way anything's going to change and nips the norm is like the dance is pretty depressing.

Who should do Product Discovery?

Sohrab:
It is. I wrote you an email yesterday. And in that email I wrote, when I was reading your book, I was constantly asking myself why hasn't anyone written this book, yet. And that I'm very happy that you ultimately went and wrote it, because the topic of discovery, being one of the people that teach methods like Scrum etc, I've always considered Scrum not only a pure delivery method. Because one of the first teachers I had was Jeff Patton and in one of his trainings he said something like: “What happens, if you build shit faster? You just get more shipped, right?

Teresa:
Yep.

Sohrab:
I will never forget that quote. The rest of the training is all right.
I talked to you about delivery. Now let's focus on discovery because other people can teach you the delivery. Very few people can teach you discovery. So I was aware of the importance of this topic. Now another thing that happened when I was reading your book was, I'm not going to say your unique take, but I think very few people have written about it the way you did, is that discovery is not something that designers do or only designers do. Because you speak about this concept of a product trio. We were just talking about this territorial grab and I thought it would be interesting to bring this up. Because you believe, and correct me if I’m wrong, that the discovery is done by this product trio consisting of product people, design people and engineers. Is that correct? Did I get that right?

Teresa:
Yes.

Sohrab:
Why is it so important to you that discovery is not only done, as it is traditionally, by the designers but, I mean the product person okay, but that also the engineer is involved in this. Because that would just make the territorial grab much bigger, right?

Teresa:
Yeah, I'm gonna… this is another topic that I didn't realize was going to be controversial when I put the book out. The product trio isn't limited to those rules. I think this is also where user researchers are getting feeling left out. If you're a user researcher on your team, they sure as hell better be on your product trio.
I'm just gonna say that, right? Like if you have a full time user researcher on your team, include them in your trio. That is, should be a no brainer. The idea of a product trio is taking a cross-functional approach to the decisions that we're making, period. That's it, right? So if in most companies, on most teams, the cross-functional roles represented our product managers, designers and software engineers. I was not trying to say exclude your researchers, exclude your content marketers, exclude your journalists, if you're a newspaper, whatever. I don't really care what the rule is. It's for your team and the type of product that you're working on. What are the right cross-functional rules that need to be represented when making decisions about what to build.
That's the idea and the reason why. We want engineers involved, because they're the ones that know what's possible. Why would we exclude them from our decisions about what to build?
My goal here, in all of this, is how do we get back to building things like humans and breaking these weird cultural norms we developed in a like assembly line. Business culture like so much of our business is influenced by Taylorism.
In the industrial age where you're focused on efficiency and how do we crank more widgets off on an assembly line. Well, software doesn't work that way. It's too complex. There's too many open ended problems. We actually need creative humans to work together in a way that, I used to use this analogy, of like if you were a bunch of kids on a playground and you decided to build something out of like building blocks. You wouldn't create an assembly line. You're the designer and you're the engineer. You'd all put your heads together and create something together and people would just use their natural strengths and blur boundaries between rules and get something done. In fact, there's the marshmallow challenge. It is a great example of this, where they took teams of business students, MBA students and like kindergarteners and gave them some spaghetti and a marshmallow and they basically were told to build a structure and make the marshmallow as high as possible. And what happened?
The kids just worked together and tried things. MBA students tried to be experts.The kids outperformed the MBA students. We forget how to collaborate. We forget how to be human. We forget how to solve problems together.
My goal is to get us back to that. How do we get back to working together as a team? Which is why people push back on some of these ideas. Because they're worried they're being left out. I literally wanna shout from the mountain tops, you're missing the point. We're not leaving you out. We're trying to bring everybody back together, to actually work together as humans. Not to get into this like my territory versus your territory.

Sohrab:
So, if I understand this correctly, the same or the similar type of crossfunctional team that we would want to have in delivery, we would want that type of people also working in discovery, because they know what the customers want. They would know what is technically possible, they would know what is the product strategy, where do we want to take this as an organization, and all of those things combined, result in better ideas on what to actually build. And better experiments to validate whether we're going to build this. The second point you brought up is this analogy to the kids in the marshmallow challenge.

How do you use Continuous Discovery Habits?

Sohrab:
When I read about the topic of discovery, what comes back to me is always like we need to get back to being curious. Like kids. Kids are very curious. Kids do not pretend that they know stuff. They actually are very okay not knowing and asking and trying to understand. But when I look at most organizations that I work with, when I look at myself in many cases, we believe we're good, if we know to some extent we've been trained. This way and I think aiming to know, we don't spend enough time being curious and then doing discovery. How do you see that?

Teresa:
I think curiosity is a big piece of it for sure. And I think this is where business culture gets in the way. Businesses reward us for being right. They don't reward us for being curious. So this is where I think it is. There is some “it does take a little bit of a leap of faith” for all these individuals to create the space to be curious. But I think equally important to curiosity is that we also just don't know how to collaborate cross-functionally and we see this at the highest levels of our organization. Very few companies have well functioning executive teams because we don't know how to collaborate cross-functionally. So curiosity is a big piece of it and I don't want to trivialize that but I know a lot of curious people who are struggling in their organizations. And it's because we really do have to learn it's like, we're in it, like we're in kindergarten. When it comes to collaborating we don't know how to do it. We weren't taught how to do it. Think about like all your school years. Maybe in a graduate program. You got to like more robust group work. But maybe not a lot of people still don't even at that level… we just don't learn how to collaborate. And that's one of the things I really focused on in the book. It is teaching people how to collaborate visually because I think it's one of the best ways to stay aligned and to really short circuit some of that like endless debate that we're so afraid of when collaborating. And so I think that's the the other piece of this. You can individually cultivate your curiosity and you definitely should, but you also need to learn how to do it as a team.
How to be curious about your teammate's perspectives and how to slow down and not just be focused on my opinion is right but oh I think something different from you. Why is that? Let's explore our unique perspectives.

Sohrab:
I like that piece. So curiosity and collaboration both of them are tremendously important skills to build up. Now, you mentioned earlier when we talked about why it is so difficult. You said it doesn't have to take this giant leap. You can start out small. So what are a few small things that teams can do to get on this continuous discovery journey?

Teresa: The very first thing anybody listening should do is, they should talk to a customer. It's really sad to me how many people work on product teams that have literally never talked to a customer. Never once and I mean, I met a product manager at a bank who had never talked to a customer. And when I asked why, they had all these reasons, like I'm not allowed to talk to the customers. There's always regulations in place, you know what I said? Do you have a friend who has a bank account?
Like really you're at a bank and you can't talk to someone who's like your customer? I worked with somebody else so I coached a product team. Their customers were clinicians, doctors and nurses who worked on a badging system. Like to badge into a workstation to be able to chart. That team really struggled to talk to clinicians because clinicians are busy and nobody at their company had no avenue to get to them. They spent weeks like trying to get they even had clinicians of the company so first they spent weeks just trying to get meetings with those clinicians and they failed. Because it was a company where they have a meeting culture and they were in meetings fourteen hours a day and it was going to be three weeks before they could get on that person's calendar. And so we're sitting on the coaching call. There's three of them on the call: the product manager, the designer and the engineer. I just said hey do any of you have any clinicians in your personal network? The product manager's uncle was a doctor and I was like okay do you think maybe your doctor has a badge he uses to badge into a workstation? Maybe you could just have a conversation with him?
Now is that perfect?

Sohrab:
Maybe it's easier to get on his calendar?

Teresa:
Is that perfect? No. Is it better than zero?

Sohrab:
Oh yeah.

Teresa:
Yes, right! Like this product team is just speculating about what a doctor's life is like and all they have to do is have a conversation and then the pushback. I get it: like is it really safe to make a decision off of one conversation? Is it really safe to make a decision off of zero?
Conversations like this is where we're letting perfect be the enemy. No matter what, I don't care what your organization is like. I don't care what regulations are in place. You have the ability to talk to somebody who's close to your customer profile without exception. Every single product person. That's where you should start.

Sohrab:
So, you mentioned the clinicians. I recently had a similar experience with a team building a new basically the chemical marker to diagnose sepsis. And I asked have you talked to your customers? They're like you know we're not allowed to talk to patients! Yeah, but the patient is not your customer. Who's your customer? They're like the clinician and the lab doctor. -So you are allowed to talk to them. They're probably like yes. So have you done it? No. How can you get it right?

Teresa:
Also, they are allowed to talk to patients. They're not allowed to talk to patients going through the health channels, because we have HIPAA.

Sohrab:
Exactly.

Teresa:
Laws, right? They are allowed to talk to patients. I've worked with teams that interview patients. They recruit on the internet and screen for whatever condition they're looking for. And by the way, if that person opts in, you don't have a HIPAA violation anymore because you're not going through the health care system.
I can run an ad, saying do you have this condition? Will you talk to me for a hundred dollar amazon gift card? There's no problem there.

Sohrab:
And you don't even have to because there's so many patient communities out there. You just get in, you just tell them what you're planning to do if they realize that you're working on something that will improve their lives. Their quality of it. Many of them speak to you for free.

Teresa:
And I'm gonna tell you, especially with health care people push back. They're like people aren't gonna be willing to talk to us about their health concerns. Here's what I tell you. I've worked with teams where planned parenthood interviewed women about really emotional decisions. To have an abortion. They were willing to talk about it. I worked with a company in the UK that treated erectile dysfunction. Those men were willing to talk about it. I don't care what your realm is, you can find a way to: talk to your customers.

Sohrab:
Okay, so number one: start talking to your customers! Now, what is the next thing you would recommend? The next small thing? Remember we're trying to make small habit changes.

How do you make Continuous Discovery a Habit?

Teresa:
I think after you've talked to your first customer, you want to start looking at “how do we make this a habit?” - So I really want to see teams talking to customers every week. You don't have to get there tomorrow. If you're literally hustling to find your first conversation, find your second conversation once you start to get into this groove of like “Oh I do have people in my network, like my customer” Here's what happens. Okay let's say you work at a bank and your bank has regulations about who you're allowed to talk to and you don't know how to get through them. And you're being told the product team's not allowed to talk to people great. talk to your friends and family. There is going to be bias. Are they going to be like you and you're not going to have a representative sample? Yes. Is it better than zero? Absolutely. Talk to those people in those conversations. Pay a little bit of attention like reading a few articles on the internet about how to ask good questions. So you're working to make those conversations a little bit better. Share internally with the rest of your company what you're learning and how it's influencing the decisions that you're making.
What does that do? It cracks the door open to: “oh there's value in these customer conversations even though we have all these weird regulations we got to jump through. Maybe we need to find a way to make this happen.So we're showing the value of doing this rather than waiting and asking for permission. And now you have to use your judgment. Don't get fired, don't ignore your company policies. Like is your company going to tell this person they can't talk to their uncle about their work. That's safe. So look for those safe ways to talk to people like your customer and then show the value of having done that to other people at your company. That's what starts to bring change in your organization.

Sohrab:
Now, when you mention talking to your relatives, friends et cetera. Is that you, the product manager, or would that be everyone that's on that product discovery team or on that team in general?

Teresa:
I wanna see the trio's interviewing together. There's a reason for this. We filter our brains. Filter everything that we hear based on our prior knowledge and experience. So we've all had this experience. You were sitting in a meeting, you leave the meeting, you walk away with a takeaway and your colleague in the same meeting walks away with a different takeaway. Why does that happen? We don't perceive the world objectively. We all think we do, but we don't. Everything that we're hearing and seeing is being filtered by our brains because we don't have the cognitive ability to process everything in front of us. We have a whole bunch of cognitive biases that are basically shortcuts. That usually works in our favor that's helping us perceive the world around us. The problem is those filters are tuned. And they're tuned based on our previous knowledge and experience. So we have a product manager, a designer and an engineer. Three different people with very different knowledge and experience watching the same conversation. They're gonna hear very different things.
We want that. That's how we get more value from that conversation. So to the degree that you can, I want the trio's interviewing together.
Some people think: “oh am I gonna overwhelm the participant?” I mean if you're running your interview where if I pepper you with a hundred questions and there's seven people watching, you're gonna feel interrogated. But if there's three of us and I just say: “hey here's what we're trying to learn, by the way tell us about a time when this happened.” And you tell us your story. It's gonna feel like a conversation you're not gonna care that there's three people there and if you're really concerned like when we interview on sensitive topics, like these health topics, actually had those teams have one person connect the interview they recorded them and had the others watch them. And because it was a sensitive topic they had to record them and then destroy the recording. So they had to follow some procedures to make the patient feel safe. To anonymize the data. In really specific environments there's some extra things we might have to do but there are ways even in these really sensitive topics to allow everybody on the team to either participate in the interview or watch the interview after the fact.
And the benefit of that is you're leveraging everybody's knowledge and experience. You're going to pull a lot more value out of that interview

The Opportunity Solution Tree

Sohrab:
Yeah, I mean even with the recording people can get different interpretations of what that customer is saying. But being involved in the live interview you can also ask questions from the technology perspective from the product perspective etc. Now, in your book very early on, you introduce a tool called the opportunity solution tree. Correct?

Teresa:
Yep.

Sohrab:
Now, what I liked a lot is, that tool helps us and is also part of the discovery work because what I took away from it is, it helps us specifically look for multiple ways to solve a problem.
Because I see in myself, but also in many others, that they realize what the problem is. They immediately come up with an answer and that's it right. Case closed. But with the opportunity solution tree you force yourself to come up with multiple things. Was that the main intention to create such a tool?

Teresa:
That's a part of it. So the opportunity solution tree definitely helps you visually see when you're only considering one option and that's really important. A lot of this comes from decision making research. We actually don't even need the research. We already intuitively know this. When you're looking for a job, you don't talk to one company. When you're looking for a place to live, you don't look at one apartment or one house. We know we make better decisions when we compare and contrast options. The reason why we forget to do this on product teams is one: because of time pressure and two: is actually it comes from a good place. We hear a customer need and we actually want to solve it as quickly as possible. We're trying to serve the customer so we jump to a fast solution. We know though we'll generate better solutions. If we just suspend that a little bit and consider multiple options. This is especially true in the opportunity space. A lot of teams jump straight from outcome to solution and they forget what are the most important problems to solve. Which is a really important strategic question to ask! Where are we gonna play? What are the boundaries of the opportunity space that we're going to tackle as a team? And what are we gonna leave for somebody else.

Sohrab:
So it ties in really well. I recently spoke to Roger Martin and he has this strategy development framework, like where to play and how to win. That ties in really well now.
What I liked a lot, similar to the topics that you already shared with us, like speaking to customers, interviewing them. How to find those early customers to speak to, but also the opportunity solution tree as a visual way to ask questions, to make transparent how many solutions we are seeing. To do that in a collaborative manner, because visuals help us collaborate much better. The book is full of these tools, tips and tricks on how to advance and ultimately build this habit. You didn't ask me to do that, but I also wanted to spend a few minutes before we close this interview to ask you where can people learn more from you? One is the book and I think that's clear to everyone listening to this, but you also have a few programs out there where I hope or I guess, you build individuals and teams over and build these habits. Is that correct?

Teresa:
Yeah, so the first thing I'll share is the book is available worldwide. It's called Continuous Discovery Habits. It's currently out in kindle, epub and paperback. The audible book is literally days if not maybe a week or two away. Actually this afternoon I'm going to record my final pickup. So it's very close and I know a lot of people have been waiting for that.
And then one of the things that we did when we launched the book is, we know that it's not enough to read a book. People really need support as they're putting the habits into practice. So we also launched a membership community alongside the book. It's the heart of it. It is a slot community, where we support each other as we're putting the habits into practice. We do community calls so think of them as like group coaching calls once or twice a month. We just get people together and talk about their challenges, what they're facing. We do a book club, we share worthy reads every day, we'd run monthly challenges. Just easy ways to invest in your habits. That's a really low cost-easy way to get involved and to connect with other people who are trying to adopt these habits. You can learn about that at members.producttalk.org and then we also have a variety of online courses that are designed to help you develop skills in each of the habits. So we have a class on how to interview well. We have a class on how to define outcomes, we just launched two new classes on identifying hidden assumptions and assumption testing. You can find all those options at learn.producttalk.org.

Sohrab:
And those classes are live instructor-led courses?

Teresa:
They are live and instructor-led courses. They're online so you can participate from around the world. We try to offer them at different time zones and to accommodate different time zones. You can find the upcoming schedule for all of those at learn.producttalk.org

Sohrab:
Cool! So, Teresa, is there a final word you would want to share with product people, designers and/or engineers in order to get started with Continuous Discovery Habits?

Teresa:
Yeah. I'll just leave you with: I realize that most companies don't work this way. It can feel really overwhelming as an individual but I want to really encourage you that you have more agency than you think. So look for small places to start and iterate from there. And I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by how much progress you make.

Sohrab:
Cool, we close with that Teresa. Nice hosting you, thank you so much for being here!

Teresa:
Thank you so much for having me. This was great!

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