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How to overcome expectations and manage continuous discovery

Continuous discovery—that is, continually gathering information on user needs to refine your product ideas—can result in happier customers, sharper priority lists, and a better product-market fit.

Continuous discovery

Last updated

8 Oct 2021

Sounds perfect! What product team wouldn’t want to move to continuous discovery methods?

But, it’s not always easy. Product managers may find that teammates, business departments, and even customers are stuck in linear discovery models. They expect you to do research, build, then test—not to constantly refine your ideas based on emerging user needs.

To experience the benefits of truly effective product discovery, you’ll need to learn to manage these expectations. In this article, we show you how.

We cover:

Improve continuous product discovery with Hotjar

Want to generate fast, effective product experience insights from a broad range of users? Find out how Hotjar can help you with continuous discovery.

Continuous discovery for product teams

What is continuous discovery?

Continuous discovery is a process in which product teams continually search for new information about user needs, using research activities like weekly customer touchpoints and hypothesis testing, to uncover product experience insights and user behavior data. Product teams then use this data to evolve, adapt, and refine their ideas.

The traditional product model is linear and divided into neat phases:

  1. Start with ideas and assumptions

  2. Do user research

  3. Refine ideas and define a solution

  4. Build and deliver a product

  5. Test and tweak

In continuous discovery models, the research and refinement phases don’t stop when delivery starts—product teams remain curious and open to change. They constantly strive for a deeper understanding of their users’ needs and adapt based on their discoveries.

Why should product teams engage in continuous discovery?

While linear discovery fixates on outputs, like particular features, continuous discovery focuses on outcomes, like customer delight and product-market fit.

Continuous discovery is an opportunity for product teams to create real value for their customers. It encourages product teams to question their assumptions, learn how customers really think, and constantly improve the products they deliver.

Other benefits of continuous discovery include:

  • Building deep trust with existing customers

  • Constantly building, measuring, and learning for speed and agility

  • Product team feels ownership and autonomy

  • Knowing when to adapt or abandon non-functional ideas instead of sinking more resources into them

  • Uncovering new user segments

What does continuous discovery look like?

Continuous discovery consists of small, frequent research activities designed to better understand users on an ongoing basis.

Key continuous discovery activities include weekly customer interviews, focus groups, or using tools (like Hotjar 👋) that give you a constant stream of information on what your customers are thinking, how they're experiencing your product, and what their specific needs are.

For effective continuous discovery, product teams should ask customers open questions to better understand them and share concrete ideas or wireframes for feedback.

5 expectations that block continuous discovery (and how to tackle them)

Expectation 1: tools need to be built before seeking customer feedback

Why it arises:

PM teams and business stakeholders often assume user feedback is most valuable once a minimum viable product (MVP) has already been delivered. They may feel engaging in continuous discovery during the delivery phase would be a distraction.

How to manage it:

Get teams and departments aligned on the function of continuous discovery. It’s not just about testing the solutions you’ve already developed. It’s about testing your underlying user assumptions so you can design new and better solutions the whole way through.

By inviting feedback through design and delivery phases, you can backtrack on wrong assumptions before you’ve invested in a full tool, and you’ll improve product-market fit for final products. You’ll also involve your customers from the start and create desired product outcomes together.

Expectation 2: product teams should focus on output

Why it arises:

Stakeholders may be used to measuring success based on tangible outputs like features or upgrades—after all, this is often easier to measure.

How to manage it:

Lead your team to focus on outcome rather than output. Involve your product team in key business and user satisfaction metrics—like lifetime value, monthly recurring revenue, and retention rate—so they stay connected with the impact their products make on customers and the organization as a whole.

This also means creating a culture where failure is part of the learning process, and it’s okay to change ideas for a better outcome.

In a learning culture, not every tool, feature, or upgrade the team builds gets used, which can take some getting used to. But starting to create something and then shifting gears isn’t a waste of time if it helps you figure out what will create value.

Josh Morales, Lead Product Researcher at Hotjar, put it this way:

“Think outcomes, not outputs. Don't focus on the number of features you're building, but on the number of tasks you're solving for your customer.

This way you'll make sure you only ship functionalities that respond to what users really need, which will in turn move you in the right direction towards the customer satisfaction metrics you should be most concerned with.”

Josh Morales
Lead Product Researcher at Hotjar

Expectation 3: following the product roadmap is the most important thing

Why it arises:

It’s common for product team and stakeholders to fixate on fulfilling the product roadmap and timeline for delivery, which is understandable since different departments set goals based on product plans. But user needs should always come first.

How to manage it:

Build space in the product roadmap and calendar for experimentation and user discovery right from the start.

Set expectations for the product team so everyone understands that user needs are your North Star. This means being humble enough to let go of product ideas and timeframes when necessary, and being open to constantly revising, rethinking, and reframing your ideas.

You’ll also need to get stakeholder buy-in for experimentation and new priorities. Being data-driven helps here: show clear customer insights to justify why a change in priorities may create more value based on your discoveries.

💡 Pro tip: combine quantitative metrics with qualitative feedback to make a strong case for your new product priorities.

Share projections for how your priorities will improve ROI and profitability, and provide insights into the current user experience with statistics on CRO and feature use, backed up by direct user feedback that shows what customers think, feel, and want.

Hotjar’s Incoming Feedback widget and Surveys give you clear VoC data to back up your discoveries, and Session Recordings and Heatmaps give you quantitative metrics on where customer issues lie with your current products.

Expectation 4: users will validate product ideas through continuous discovery

Why it arises:

It’s natural for product teams to get attached to product ideas, but this can block you from being flexible when discovering new information about user needs. If you approach user discovery looking for validation, you can end up asking loaded questions that confirm your ideas but don’t give you a full, deep sense of what your users are thinking.

How to manage it:

Continuous discovery goes far beyond product validation. A validation mindset is antithetical to the experimental approach needed for continuous discovery.

Make sure your team understands why it’s important to challenge your assumptions about customers: if you don’t, you’ll miss out on opportunities to empathize with users and discover entirely new angles and ideas you haven’t thought of.

Set expectations and goals for your team's continuous discovery activities, and weed out approaches that fall into confirmation bias, like leading or closed-ended questions. Build a culture where proving your initial ideas wrong is seen as a positive step.

“Having an idea in mind and seeking customer approval is one of the most famous professional manifestations of what cognitive scientists call 'confirmation bias'. If you're looking for yellow cars, you'll end up convincing yourself that there are plenty every time you see one!”

Josh Morales
Lead Product Researcher at Hotjar

💡 Pro tip: make sure you’re asking the right questions.

Loaded questions that only seek to validate your assumptions will feed your confirmation bias, but they won’t lead to real discovery.

Instead, ask open-ended questions. Include a few direct, closed questions to gather yes/no feedback on your current ideas, but give users lots of space to express themselves without limitations

Ask what’s most important to them, how your tool improves their life, and what their main frustrations are—and let them answer in their own words. This will help you go beyond your current ways of thinking to discover new user needs and concerns.

Expectation 5: being user-led means implementing every user idea

Why it arises:

Users who take the time to give you feedback may have the expectation you’ll implement each of their ideas. Business departments can also put pressure on the product team to implement the features users are asking for.

How to manage it:

The only way to tackle this one is by setting crystal clear expectations during continuous discovery. Make sure users are aware you’re seeking to better understand their needs, and not necessarily to implement their ideas and suggestions.

Let users know the stage of any early-stage features or tools you’re proposing, too, so they’re not disappointed if they don’t see the feature released soon (if at all). Above all, make sure users feel listened to and involved in the whole process, so they understand why you’re making certain decisions.

It’s important to set clear expectations with the business team, too. This will help them understand the need for feasible, viable, and usable products.

Josh identifies a common pitfall to avoid:

“​​One of the worst mistakes is thinking that learning from your customers is asking them if they like what you're working on. They'll answer YES: they don't want to upset you.

Even worse is asking the user for the actual solution to your problem. Your objective should be to listen and empathize with them, which creates input for your team to come up with ideas that cover their needs.”

Josh Morales
Lead Product Researcher at Hotjar

4 tips for engaging in effective continuous discovery

Here are four ways to implement continuous discovery—to help your product team navigate expectations and engage with customers as you refine your ideas:

1. Create a supportive business environment

Develop an outcome-focused culture that values continuous discovery, and encourage a growth mindset. Your product team should feel confident with challenging assumptions.

A supportive continuous discovery environment gives product teams the flexibility to refine their ideas rather than sticking rigidly to a plan. Ensure your team is deeply connected to the mission and vision of your product, and let that drive everything else.

2. Build a discovery team

Discovery can’t be led only by the product manager.

A continuous discovery mindset should include your whole team—but it’s usually best to designate a smaller discovery team to take the lead.

Create a product trio consisting of a product manager, a tech lead, and a design lead. The product manager focuses on business needs, the tech lead offers perspective on feasibility, and the design lead prioritizes user experience.

For effective collaboration, ensure the trio uses the same vision, expectations, and customer data, then give them full ownership for product discovery.

3. Question, question, question

Cultivate a curiosity mindset. Question everything and encourage your product team to ask deeper, less intuitive questions.

That means questioning every feature and every piece of user feedback. Don’t accept anything at face value: dig deeper to understand the 'why' behind user needs and behaviors.

Instead of relying only on user metrics like active users and conversion rate, use high-level user research techniques—and Hotjar!—to truly empathize with your customers. To focus your discovery, you should set a research roadmap and aim to uncover particular information—which new features users find most valuable or which kinds of users are most attracted to your tool.

Go beyond user personas and statistics by using qualitative tools like customer interviews, user testing, and online surveys.

4. Use tools to automate continuous discovery

Build short, regular product discovery activities into your schedule—which means automating as much as possible.

Try planning blocks of customer interviews for the same time every week, or setting reminders to check and implement user insights at key touchpoints in the product development process.

And of course: get smart with tools that can surface user insights without a major time commitment.

For example, use Hotjar’s Heatmaps and Recordings to get an overview of what your current users are experiencing and guide the questions you ask in discovery activities.

Then, go deeper with Incoming Feedback widgets to ask users for feedback on different aspects of their experience. You’ll get a steady stream of information about user needs in small, manageable chunks to take your product discovery to the next level.

💡 Pro tip: at the discovery stage, unearthing insights from potential users is just as important as learning from your current users.

Remember, you’re trying to question everything—including your user model assumptions.

Place Hotjar Surveys on high-traffic website landing pages, signup forms, and product or feature trials to get feedback from customers higher up in the funnel.

For more targeted discovery, set user attributes to focus on feedback from new vs. returning users or filter by industry, region, etc.

Continuous discovery is a game-changer for product teams

By mastering continuous discovery, your product team can stop fixating on outputs and take ownership for creating amazing outcomes.

But there are challenges: implementing continuous discovery means breaking with traditional product development models and questioning your assumptions, so you’ll need to manage the expectations of your product teammates, your business colleagues, and your customers.

With the right mindset and tools to meet these challenges, continuous discovery can help you build deep empathy with your users and feel confident your products meet their evolving needs.

Improve continuous product discovery with Hotjar

Want to generate fast, effective product experience insights from a broad range of users? Find out how Hotjar can help you with continuous discovery.