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Discover, and Discover, and Discover

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We just completed a huge, deep, complex, and super sexy Discovery for a client I can’t name. But I can say that the timing was tight, the expectations were high, the info going in was murky, and the result at the end was, as our VP of Engineering likes to say, “level ten.”

And it got me thinking. About Metal Toad. About the parts of the Metal Toad secret sauce that doesn’t involve coding or testing or deploying. About consulting. About partnering with our clients on strategy. About the high stakes at our clients’ executive meetings and customer demos. About how we show up at the table to help craft the vision of what our clients are trying to build, and about the good our clients are trying to do in the world with the software they want to build.

Today, I’m having a huge, authentic feeling of love for the product management we do and for the creativity and dedication we bring to the practice — both during the formal Discovery stage and beyond. We ask why, why, and why again. We whiteboard. We interview. We prototype. We prioritize. We reflect. We respond. Some clients need help at a feature level, some need skunkworks on a new product offering, others are coming to us for technical advice and feasibility. And because each of our clients are different, each of our engagements with them are different. Some of the Discoveries I’ve seen in the last year include:

  • Executive Pitch: This Discovery is used as a tool by the client sponsor to get funding for what he or she wants to do. It is part business case, part product definition. It needs to be super slick, and it needs to speak the language of the CEO. This Discovery is successful when it presents both an honest evaluation of risk and a clear path to success.

  • Technical Feasibility: This Discovery is used by a client who has a great idea, but doesn’t know exactly what the moving parts are, or how much the product would cost to build. The main focus of the Discovery is on the technical side: can we build it, and if so, how? This Discovery is successful when it gets into the technical weeds and comes up with the best solution.

  • Prototyping / Testing / UX: This Discovery helps the client move from concept to design. It can be a standalone Discovery, or can be part of another effort. It builds from functionality to user flows, and it focuses on the highest priority items first in order to create a beautiful, testable, clickable prototype. This Discovery is successful when it can be taken to stakeholders and used to get feedback.

  • Product Strategy: This Discovery helps a client define overall product and program strategy, including competitive analysis, release and iteration plans, and go-to-market. It is used by clients who don’t want to build and release blindly, and who need help taking a macro look at their product plans and roadmaps. This Discovery is successful when it defines and articulates a successful product strategy, from features to release plan to iteration.

  • Product Requirements: This Discovery defines product vision, and gets into the details of what the product needs to be. Usually, this Discovery goes along with a project SOW and is the first part of a larger project engagement. This Discovery is successful when it aligns Metal Toad and the client on what we’re building, and when it results in a product backlog that the team can use to build the right thing, on time and on budget.

The discovery doesn’t end when the coding starts. Discovery is an ongoing practice — a state of mind rather than a box in a process map — and it’s part of what makes me so proud to be a Toad.

Date posted: May 18, 2017


Makes total sense even to someone who isn't a product manager. Your clients must love you! Nice work!

I was deeply struck by your use of the word "love" -- and I absolutely believe you.

There's something wonderful about doing challenging work and being supported to do it well. It feels profoundly satisfying. You experienced that.

And to do the work you're describing at the level you're describing it, requires a high functioning team with a lot of trust. That sense of trust is a wonderful thing to have (at work or anywhere). Clearly the Toads are creating a beautiful experience for one another.

Lastly, you describe deep listening. Listening like that is harder than talking. It requires you to open up. Then you describe going through a series of "why" challenges -- which can make the other party defensive unless they trust you -- and success at deep challenging also brings bonding.

It's been said that for many people, being truly listened to and heard is so close to being loved as to be indistinguishable. I'm happy for you, your clients, and your team.

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