Leave space for the unexpected to grow

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In early October 2019, we attended the mtpcon in London to see where we as codecentric Digitization Labs stand when it comes to product discovery. codecentric Digitization Labs is a unit of several cross-functional, fixed teams. We are optimized for rapid exploration of digital products. Not produced on paper, but as real usable prototypes. This means that users can provide feedback by fiddling with something real instead of imagining how it could look like.

A Good Starter

mtpcon is a one-day conference that offers a pre-conference day with product management and UX workshops. Sadly, we couldn’t join the workshop day, because our calendars were fully booked with other things.

A flavourful product discoveryAs a consequence, we arrived in the evening before the conference day, enjoying the most awesome burgers we’ve had so far at Honest burgers. Consider this good karma for the next day. All talks during the day had their specific highlight. But let’s focus on the ones that impacted our thoughts the most.

Mind the Gap

The conference started with a talk by Henrik Kniberg (he formerly worked at Spotify, Lego and Mojang). His main topic was the minimization of the gap between makers and users. By doing so, the risk of investing in the wrong thing gets actively reduced. From a practical perspective, he brought things up that have been proven to be successful inside our labs teams, too: design small experiments, aim for real user feedback, live radical transparency, be curious to uncover the non-obvious, act autonomously and release often. Be it just to learn early enough that an idea wasn’t as good as it appeared in the beginning, or be it guiding the exploration into valuable outcome based on user feedback.

Andy Aim continued with a talk that explained how mental models work. In first-order thinking, we generate new ideas by breaking down problems into its constituting parts. Implementing solutions (actions) for these problems produces a subsequent effect that we try to anticipate (second-order thinking). But, if we think this inversely: What impact would that have? E.g. having only e-cars in place will supersede petrol stations. This is a model we strive in our daily experience as well. Thinking about the solution options in a controversial way brings up more in-depth findings. Taking a problem to the “next level” leads us to these moments of innovation and serendipity. As Andy pointed out, this enables us to make smarter decisions as we increase our chances to understand how a system works.

Prepare to be Wrong

This statement had been flanked by C. Todd Lombardo’s talk. He pointed out that statistically 45% of an emerging product won’t be used at all. The rule he derived from these statistics, also in our perspective, is the most important rule to consider when starting a product exploration or discovery effort: “prepare to be wrong!”. Whatever you think is a good idea and whatever seems plausible on first sight, just be aware that it is an assumption that can turn out to be wrong. This makes the importance of good product research, namely user research, product analytics and market research, evident.

Todd addressed the importance to avoid prediction of user’s behaviour by transactional or confirmational questions. Instead one should focus on diagnostic questions like “Tell me more about…”. Todd also emphasized that insights inspire further actions and thus, we should make continuous discovery a habit. This is again one of our learnings during the growth of codecentric Digitization Labs during the last years.

Continuous Learning and the Unexpected

Jonny Schneider, Thoughtworks Australia, felt to us like the talk that summed all this up. For him, continuous learning is the new competitive advantage. This means designing the right experiments for the most important assumptions to learn the right things. This wouldn’t replace a good strategy, but trying ideas with real customers on a real product increases the chance for good product design. Having a confident team that lives co-ownership and measures the aspects that help to make grounded decisions is crucial. Alongside with experienced product people, this creates an atmosphere that enables a constant switch between different view levels to anticipate and address next order problems.

The day ended with a talk by Brendan Dawes, Artist, who pictured parts of his design and artwork. Brendan combines tech stuff with design as we could see, for example, by his work for Trend Micro where he visualized cybersecurity threats, their detection and their elimination. One of his guidelines is applying to product discovery as well: “We need to leave space in our work for the unexpected to grow.” One may simply predict every user’s behaviour, but he won’t leave room to experience that moment of serendipity to uncover the unexpected.

Conclusion

We as codecentric Digitization Labs appraise the same values as others who work in the field of ideation and product exploration. But there is one interesting difference: Most of the hypotheses about how the process of product discovery should be designed base on the assumption that the development of an usable app is taking a lot of effort. Under this assumption, experiments to receive valuable user feedback are most likely narrowed down to paper prototypes or click dummies. In our daily experience, we have proven something different: as a steady team that is highly skilled in the field of exploration we are able to produce something usable within a week. We would love to chat with you on how we can help you on your journey. Check out our German website or contact us directly:

Let's talk!

Jan Coupette

Jan has been part of software projects in different roles spanning the whole range from pure coding to business analysis. When it comes to software development processes he survived waterfalls, values the principles of XP and agile software development, and learned to break rules to reach that moment of serendipity during product discovery journeys.
Nowadays, Jan advises product managers and business leaders to produce valuable outcomes for their product initiatives. He is an inherent part of the Digitization labs initiative at codecentric that helps to bring product ideas to life as quickly as possible; by the aid of usable prototypes.

Jan Hölter

During his career Jan was working on digital products in a wide variety of roles and phases. Being a software developer by education Jan discovered to be a product person with a strong focus on discovery, exploration and validation of new product ideas and business models by heart. In his roles as coach and mentor for various startups in the Rhein-Ruhr area, for different acceleration programs and while building a corporate insurtech startup he helped nurturing and developing several early stage ideas. Using his knowledge from these experiences he now consults customers about useful product experiments in order to discover new and valuable product and business ideas in his role at the codecentric Digitization Labs.

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