The Fountain Institute

Product Discovery vs Delivery...vs Design?

published6 months ago
2 min read

Dear Reader,

Did you know that there's a term that product managers use to describe your work behind your back?

It's a word they use to describe it when you do extra research to make sure you're designing the right thing.

It's a phase of work that you might call UX, but that's not what they call it.

They call it "product discovery."

The term comes from consultant and author, Marty Cagan [source], and it was invented in 2007 to make product managers understand their real job is discovery, not delivery.

What is Product Discovery?

A product person gazes in awe at a "new" concept in 2007 that seems a lot like the Double Diamond
Product discovery is the opposite of product delivery. It's deciding what should be built collaboratively using whatever data you can gather or generate.
For designers, product delivery is designing the product, and product discovery is deciding what to design.

It's where you make decisions about what problems are worth solving and which solutions are worth designing.

Since it's a term that comes from product managers, the scope of work is a bit bigger than you might be used to as a designer.

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Back in 2007 when Marty coined the term, there was a perception that a product manager's job was to make up requirements and tell everyone what to do.

Sadly, some product managers still act like that in 2022, especially in emerging tech hubs coughcoughberlincough...excuse me.

What part of my work as a designer is discovery?

A product manager watches as designer and engineer do their thing in the Triple Diamond but now product "gets it"

This is a bit awkward, but um...

If you're a UX designer or researcher, all of it.

Some things you might do in discovery:

  • Talk to customers and explore problems
  • Do quantitative research using your analytics tool
  • Send out a survey and identify problem areas worth solving
  • Create a lo-fi protoype and get feedback on an early idea
  • Design an experiment to test an assumption
  • Run a usability test to identify pain points in the interface
  • Reframe a problem into an opportunity

These are product discovery activities because they help ensure that you are "building the right thing" (product discovery), not "building the thing right" (product delivery).

Why is product discovery important to designers?

I'm writing like the longest email ever because I think it's key to getting human-centered design work done inside of product orgs.

Product discovery is essentially the mentality of UX, and the Double Diamond applied to product management work...with one crucial difference: product people feel more ownership for the outcomes.

It is easier to sell because it comes from product leaders and uses the language that they care about.

Basically, "Can we get more budget for discovery?" is better than saying, "Can we get more budget for research?"

I've noticed that product managers who get into product discovery suddenly start to care more about UX design.

They start to realize the power of understanding problems, and they stop building in the face of uncertainty. That will keep you from becoming a pixel-pusher at a feature factory.

TL;DR: It's your ticket to product strategy

Product designers can use product discovery to become product strategists, consultants, and even product managers.

Want to start?

Check out this 2-day workshop we're running on April 19th & 20th called Product Discovery Process.

It will be actionable training in the methods and process of product discovery...everything you need to start down the path of product strategist.

After all, "building the right thing" is a lot easier when you have UX skills like researching and prototyping.

All it takes is a little zooming out.

So what is product discovery? It's product design.

Until next week!

Jeff Humble
Designer & Co-Founder
The Fountain Institute

P.S. Hannah gave an amazing talk last week called How to Design & Run Workshops. If you missed it, catch the talk here.