Product Research and Design

One of the challenges Agile teams face is on merging design and development. We’ve seen numerous Agile teams trying their best to fit everything in an iteration, product design and research included. But we are seeing a shift in most Agile companies as they give more value and attention in product discovery. There has been a shift in mindset in recent years, particularly to innovation-first companies. These companies have realized that product discovery and design needs breathing room and time to materialize. The need to separate product design from development became more appealing. This gave birth to systems and concepts such as Discovery Kanban. 

What is Discovery Kanban?

Discovery Kanban is a Kanban system for product research, innovation, and discovery. Most Kanban systems we know of, especially the ones used in software development, deals with the creation and delivery of a product. But Discovery Kanban focuses on validating ideas before fully implementing them. Instead of letting a team go straight to developing a concept right away, we dedicate time to assess its viability and feasibility.

Discovery Kanban saves teams from exerting too much time, effort, and money on developing something that wouldn’t work out. One problem with most Agile implementations is that design and development are done simultaneously. Without a validated design, the possibility of scope creep gets higher. This can bring frustration and confusion to the team. Worse, the output might not be usable or viable once released to the market. 

The cost of learning is higher if development is implemented this way. With Discovery Kanban, you’re providing enough time and space for the idea to be fleshed out and validated. 

Discovery Kanban for Product Research and Design

The process of Discovery Kanban starts with an idea or a problem statement. This triggers the start of the discovery process. Once an idea or problem statement is identified, it enters two main stages in the discovery process: exploration and validation

The exploration stage is where the team gets as much information about the idea or problem at hand. This serves as the data gathering phase where the team aims to further understand

  • How the idea satisfies a customer need
  • The problem and its effects on customer experience and behavior

The team can use a variety of ways to gather feedback. It can be through interviews, customer surveys, market research, focus group discussions, or even customer support tickets if the product is already live. The exploration stage is also where possible risks against the idea or solution are evaluated. 

As the team gains a better understanding of the idea and how the solution will take shape, they can start creating prototypes or rough sketches of the design. The technical team also provides their inputs during this stage as to the technical feasibility of the solution. 

The output of the exploration stage is your value proposition accompanied by a well-researched design. This feeds into the second stage of the Discovery Kanban which is validation

In the validation stage, the team uses their working prototype to test their idea and value proposition. Testing should be done with your target customers. You can nominate a customer group and have them run a series of usability tests. Gather their feedback and observe how they interact with your product. By performing experiments you get to:

  • Test the viability of your solution
  • Know how to improve your design to fit customer expectations and behavior

After the validation stage, you should emerge with a fully working prototype that will feed into the product delivery process for development. 

Portfolio Kanban - Reduce Overburden - Improve Flow

Create Your Own Discovery Kanban Board

A typical product discovery process will have an exploration and validation stage. But you can dive deeper into these stages and outline the steps your team takes when doing product discovery. You can then model your discovery process on a Discovery Kanban Board. You have full flexibility when it comes to designing your Kanban board.

Below is an example of a Discovery Kanban Board. From a list of ideas, the product discovery team chooses which ones to explore further. They seek to flesh out the idea or understand the problem statement better through research. Then they analyze the solutions that can be done, builds a proof of concept or prototype, and validates their idea and design. At the end of the Discovery Kanban is the Ready for Delivery step which connects the Discovery Kanban system to the Delivery Kanban system.

Discovery Kanban Board

Not all ideas will move forward to delivery. At any point in the Discovery Kanban, the team can discover that an idea is not worth pursuing. Maybe after some research, they would think it’s not a viable model. Perhaps when analyzing solution options or building the prototype, they stumble upon some technical constraints or find that developing the solution is not cost-efficient. There will be instances where the team may have to go back to a previous step as they gain more information and feedback from the team and their customers.

The flow of the Discovery Kanban is fluid and that’s perfectly fine. Discovery Kanban deals heavily on experimentation and learning. The ultimate result of a Discovery Kanban system is validated learning. 

But of course, you must also set boundaries at how long your product discovery is going to take. While it may depend on what the idea or problem statement is, it’s best to timebox your discovery activities. This will help ensure that your idea stays relevant and allows you to regularly assess whether pursuing it is worth it or not. If at the end of your timebox you find that you still have many unknowns, your team can decide to enter another discovery timebox, change your course, or stop the discovery. 

Deliver Better Products with Discovery Kanban

Discovery Kanban is a great way to ensure you have a steady stream of viable ideas to develop and deliver. Rather than just throwing your development resources and skills to an idea that won’t fly, Discovery Kanban allows you to test your ideas before going into full-blown development. Discovery Kanban increases your team’s Agility and allows your business to focus on developing profitable and relevant products.

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About the Author: Lena Boiser

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Lena Boiser is an Agile enthusiast. Starting off her career as a Software Business Analyst in 2010, she eventually performed other roles including Project Manager and IT Business Manager. When she was immersed in Agile methodologies in 2014, Lena found her way through honing her craft and eventually became a Certified Scrum Product Owner. In 2017, after 7 years of working in the corporate world, Lena started her own remote consulting practice. Today, she provides project management and Scrum Product Ownership services to various businesses including software development companies, e-Commerce business owners, and small to medium sized companies. She believes that even teams working remotely can harness the benefits of Agile in order to deliver results for their companies. In her free time she likes to write. One day she could be writing about Agile, the next she could be writing anything about fashion or travel.