The Board Episode 37 — Product discovery workshops

By Rebecca Jones

17 November 2014

Tags: ,

In Episode 37 of The Board, we talk about:

  • Product Discovery Workshops
  • Different approaches to achieve the best results

Further reading

Introduction to the Agile Project Kick-off

Kick-off kit in brief: The discovery workshop made simple

Product discovery for Scrum Product Owners

Full Transcript

Gavin Coughlan: Hello, welcome to episode 37 of the Board. I’m Gavin Coughlan, Agile Coach, and I’m joined by…

Kirstin Donaldson: Kirstin Donaldson. We don’t have Paul Flewelling this week because he’s actually left us, sadly. However, we will be joined next time…


Gavin: …Just a different job, he hasn’t left…

Kirstin: …Town

Gavin: Yes.


Gavin: Or you know, planned it [indecipherable 0:25]


Kirstin: So today, we’re going to be talking about product discovery workshops.


Gavin: Yeah, I thought we’d talk about one that I did recently, because we’ve done a couple of product discovery workshops. We’ve been trying different things. I did one recently, which I thought was quite successful.

So I just thought I’d go through the steps that we took during that workshop, and…

Kirstin: To start, just at the beginning, when do you usually run a product discovery workshop? Some clients come to us already having a pretty good idea of what they want to achieve, and sometimes even how to do it.


Kirstin: But in this situation, what made you decide to…?


Gavin: Well, the client came to us, and they had an idea of what they wanted to do, a vague idea, but nothing concrete. It’s just something that came up because it’s a website for World War I. They wanted a website to display World War I media, videos, audio, images, and such.

They didn’t really know much beyond that. So, we wanted to get them in, and we want them to meet the team and get to know the team, and get their vision out of them, as well.

We had one little workshop where we just went through a team charter, and introduced them to the team and asked them what their vision was. It still wasn’t quite enough for the team to actually start work with…


Kirstin: This is a Greenfield site, right? It’s a little bit different if you’re doing a re-development through an existing site, being that it was Greenfield’s, scope was wide open wasn’t it?

Gavin: Yeah, that’s right. So, I wanted to get them in, and help not only define the vision for our team, but also help them to define their own vision, also, gives us a starting point so that we could actually start writing some stories, because it’s hard to write stories for something that’s…


Kirstin: That’s the unknown? [laughs]

Gavin: Yeah, exactly. So, we needed a starting point before we could actually get to work. So, we got those guys in and put together a product discovery workshop.

Got some of the ideas from stuff we’ve done in the past. Got some of the ideas that spoke to “NZ on screen”, Norm at 8, did a press release as part of their product discovery, so we looked into that and used that as well. Used the elevator pitch and the success sliders, which is something that we’ve used.

Kirstin: Are they in the “Mission Games” book or the “Game Storming” book?

Gavin: No, actually. We were initially looking at doing a product box or a vision box as it’s called as well. I’ll explained that to you, before we go any further. It’s quite a cool exercise. We’ve used it a couple of times and we’ve had varied degrees of success with it. We’ve decided to change that up a little bit.

A product box or a vision box is you give people a box. They think into the future and think about the state that they’d want their product or, whether it’s their piece of software or their website or whatever it is in the future, and think about the ideal state of that. Almost like a perfect world state of that product.

On the front of their product box, if you think of it sort of like a cereal box, they do a logo and you do an image and you come up with a little slogan for your future brilliant product.

Kirstin: Those are really about the benefits of the product.

Gavin: That’s what you do as well. You list out the benefits, like on a cereal box, they’ll say, “Filled with Iron” and “Really great for kids. Not bad for their health at all”, stuff like that.

Kirstin: All the lies. [laughs]

Gavin: All the lies, but in this case you want it to be the truth. You list out the benefits to the consumer of this product. It really gets people to think about the end customer and the end user of the product, rather than what they themselves would actually like to get out of it.

They list out all the benefits on the front of the box. On the back of the box, you list out some features that will help some of these benefits to actually be brought to the customer. It’s a really good way of, like I said, getting people think about it from a customer’s point of view as well but also to get some features out if everything is being a little bit in the dark.

It’s not going to cover everything but it gives you a really good starting point and it helps you to create a bit of a vision and get everybody to get a sense of what they want to get out of the project in the first place.

Kirstin: Just for reference, for anyone who’s watching, is that still in the Game Storming book or…?

Gavin: That’s in Game Storming. I think that’s in both actually. I think it’s Gamestorming…

Kirstin: And Innovation Games. We will put up the URLs to those books on the site.

Gavin: I think it’s called product box in one of the books and vision box in one the others. Like I said, we’ve done that in the past. We did it here internally a Boost when we’re trying to do some strategic planning and looking a year ahead. We had varied degrees of success.

Kirstin: A lot of these things really are down to the facilitation as well. I feel like the more you facilitate these activities, the better the results you’re going to get. It’s really in how you set up the exercise at the start.

Gavin: Absolutely and people need to know what is expected of them and what they’re doing. In the case of Boost, people just sort of did a product box for how Boost is now.

Kirstin: I think it was the first time that we’d run that one. It wasn’t your or I’s, as I recall. [laughs] I guess a wee bit of practice on the team and there were definitely some improvements that could have been made.

Gavin: We ran it again, a while after that, and it was a lot more successful.

Kirstin: Did we?

Gavin: We ran it with a couple of people from Contact Energy and, it was just as an exercise, it went really well and the initial library.

That was more successful but still, it’s a little bit hard for people to get their head around and people sometimes find it a little bit intimidated when it comes to drawing something.

I found that recently, when I did a poster session with a group of people, some people are…

Kirstin: I know that when you did the poster session and that was about getting some ideas out around a new project, they worked in groups of six or 10 or something like that.

Did you find that, even then, there was a reluctance? My view is that, when you work in a group, there will always be someone who can pick up a pen and draw something.

Gavin: Yeah, with some groups there was a bit of reluctance, with other groups none at all. You just never really know. That made me think, “Maybe, for this situation, not to do anything that involved drawing.”

Kirstin: For this particular client, you thought you would try something different?

Gavin: Yeah. In the end we did success sliders, which I’ll go through soon, and we did the elevator pitch and we did the press release. It slipped my mind for a second.

I also was thinking it would be great if I brought in some examples of what we came up with but it’s probably best I don’t share that anyway because the project is still underway.

First of all, we started with success sliders. Some of you may be aware of these and some of you may not be. Success sliders is a way of getting information out of the client as to what is important to them, going forward in the project, and where, in the future, there may be some jiggle room, some tradeoffs that might be possible. I’ll explain it.

This is printed at an A3 so you won’t be able to see the details necessarily.

Kirstin: There is, actually, a picture of this on a blog I read recently, as well, on the Boost blog. You can have a look there.

Gavin: I think the latest post on the Boost blog is this.

This is the success sliders. As you see, it is a grid. You can write six, sometimes people will put in seven, different points. They are things that can pop up in every project. It’s really what is important to the client, things that are important to them.

Their priorities going forward. The first line that we have here is stakeholder satisfaction. The second line here is deliver on time.


There’s different ways you can do this. I’ll point out, as well, the vertical columns here. It just goes one through to five. There are a couple of different ways you can do this. You can either give people a certain amount of points they can spend.

Each column equals the amount of points or else you can tell them that they can’t…


In this case, we had it all drawn up on a white board where people would put Post-Its up in the corresponding space on the grid. Sometimes they get the point and sometimes you have to tell them they can’t get the Post-It, they can’t have two Post-Its in one column. They all have to be spread out over different columns.

Kirstin: In this case, you do have some so they get the points?

Gavin: This time it was points.

What I did was I started off with all the Post-Its in the middle column, in column number three. That was a total of 18 points.

I said, “You have 18 points to spend and I want you to move these Post-Its around. Anytime you move one up towards five, which is something that is really, really important for you, it means you have to move something down.

You can’t go over those 18 points.” Obviously, when you run this exercise, the temptation for the client, in our case, is to put everything in five. Everything is equally as important. But that doesn’t really work, as we know.

We can’t get, usually, a full scope done by a certain time for a certain budget. It just doesn’t really work like that in the real world. You have to…

Kirstin: It’s really a first exercise in prioritization for the client, because they are going to then move on to use the stories and prioritizing those. I think it’s a really great start, like to get them used to, “you can’t have it all.” At the same time…

Gavin: Yes, exactly. And it’s a really tough exercise for them to go through, because it really makes them think about things from the outset which are difficult to think about. It’s a good foundation to set in many ways.

Here in this situation, you can see that deliver in time is very important. That’s because it’s a World War 100 website, so it needs to be in place by a certain time to match up with the…

Kirstin: Commemoration.

Gavin: Commemoration.

Kirstin: That’s what it is.

Gavin: And equally as important as that was quality, so whatever we do with quality has to be really high.

Kirstin: Particularly because we’re dealing with video, I think.

Gavin: Yes, that’s right. The things that came down little bit because those went up, we had the shareholders’ satisfaction, because it’s a project which has already been given the go-ahead, I suppose, and it’s for the public. So the stakeholders don’t really…It’s not for them. The stakeholders don’t play quite as big a part in this as…

Kirstin: It’s for users, rather than for someone back at the office.

Gavin: Yeah. That’s right. What also came down is the scopes of where, if we’re running out of budget in time, that scope can be…

Kirstin: Reduced.

Gavin: Negotiated. Which is great to see.

Usually when you run this exercise, everybody tries to push everything up, and the one thing that suffers is the last thing here, which is the team satisfaction. Clients don’t necessarily care about how satisfied…

Kirstin: I think they don’t see the value.

Gavin: Yes.

Kirstin: They begin to see the value once you start working, but at the outset of a project it can be difficult to…

Gavin: Yes. Well exactly it might be not caring or still the wrong [indecipherable 12:11]


Gavin: It’s certainly the one that you do see suffer. It’s a bit of a pattern there, but that’s the time when you do have to explain to them that when team satisfaction is really low, you’re going to suffer on quality. That’s going to be a real issue.

Team satisfaction is incredibly important, so we started off with that exercise, and it went really well. It gave everybody an idea of what’s really important in this situation: the time and the quality, which is…

Kirstin: It really allies the team with the product owner, with the product group, as to what’s important. They’re all in the room at the same time, and they all understand, rather than sort of hearing about it later and not really…

Gavin: Yes, exactly

Kirstin: …Being in tune with it.

Gavin: So, once we had that done, we were ready to move on, and we decided we’d do an elevator pitch.

For anybody who’s not aware or hasn’t heard of an elevator pitch, imagine you get into an elevator and somebody asks you, “Hey what are you guys working on at the moment?” You need to describe your project in a nutshell before that person gets out of the lift and number of floors later. It’s really one or two sentences that really describes your project.

Kirstin: You’ve got a formula there for that?

Gavin: Yes

Kirstin: I think that’s before actually.

Gavin: Yes, we found a formula which really helps people. I’ve done the elevator pitch before without a formula, and it’s just really hard and you can go on and on and on.

Kirstin: That’s the opposite of what we want, right?

Gavin: Yes, exactly.

Kirstin: …Sort of meandering through.

Gavin: It’s really hard for people to agree on. The formula that we had goes “for who the is a that. Unlike our product.”

Kirstin: [laughter]

Gavin: I will of course explain that.

You start off with the “for”, who is this actually for?

We’ve got an example here, which is for a road closure system. And so in this case it’s for individual construction teams.

Kirstin: Right.

Gavin: Then, you go “who”. It’s what they want to achieve, or what they do.

We’re going to use track road access to the construction site, so that’s what they really need to do.

Then “the”, which is really just the name of your product. So, in this case, the road closure system. “Is a” What is your product?

Kirstin: Briefly?

Gavin: It’s a safety communication tool.

“That” What does it do? It informs crews when roads will be closed. Then there’s a full stop there. Then you get to the sentence which is just a bit of a point of different sentence. So, “Unlike”.

In this case, it’s the current paper-based system. “Our product” In this case, web-based, and can be accessed by all contractors any place, any time.

Kirstin: It’s showing the benefit as opposed to something else. How did that work, with your team, given that it was a reach out to the public? How did it go on the “Unlike”?

Gavin: Well, this “Unlike”, as there are obviously other World War 100 websites out there. So, unlike other World War 100 websites, our product is a highly curated set of quality images and video.

Kirstin: OK, rather than just sort of putting more material that happened to it.

Gavin: I think the following was, our product is a highly curated set of videos and quality images showing smaller stories of the War.

Kirstin: Yeah

Gavin: Because we’re not in the situation where we’re trying to talk about, you know, the huge battles, and the things that people already know.

Kirstin: There’s real focus on what was happening at home, and you forget people’s lives.

Gavin: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, talking about how people…Lice was a terrible thing in the trenches. People aren’t really aware how much of a tyranny lice caused in the trenches.

So it’s the smaller stories that people might not be aware of. We’re not trying to show every angle video that we have available, plus it’s really high quality stuff that we’re trying to show.

So that’s the elevator pitch. That can give a really good sense of what the project was.

Kirstin: That’s something they can take back to the office as well. When someone asks them in the office, “What are you working on?

Gavin: Yes. Well, interesting, I was talking to…the next exercise, the press release. I was talking to NZ On Screen. They said when they did the press release, they actually used it as a press release.

Kirstin: That must mean that they were able to deliver upon those objectives. We can go into what that it before we sort of talk about that.

Gavin: Yeah, that’s right. They modified it a little bit, but also the client that we went through this with said, “OK, can we use this press release as a sort of way around.”

It’s fantastic. I also ran this recently with quite a large group of people, split them into teams, they all did their own press releases, and presented them. That was trying to…

Kirstin: It really would be interesting to hear, in that situation — large group of people — to hear what the different teams came up with, like what they think they’re doing?

Gavin: Yeah, exactly. To see if everyone’s vision is aligned. And everyone’s vision was incredibly aligned. It was very interesting to see that. It all came out in the press release.

Kirstin: That’s good.

Gavin: So we’ve run that a few times, and it’s always been really successful. This is the one we chose to replace that product or vision box, exercise that we spoke about earlier.

The press release, you introduce it. Our way of introducing it was to say, “Hey, say it’s Anzac Day 2015, and you’re having a cup of coffee in the morning, and you pick up the paper and you read a press release about this website. What would you like to be reading?” This press release that we’re going to build together is going to be that press release that you read in the paper.

We try to set the scene a little bit and try to get people reading into minds of reading a future newspaper or press release about your product.

Once you’ve done that, you take them through it, bit by bit, and don’t get them just to write the whole press release in one go. You don’t tell them to sit down and write a press release. You take them through the different sections.

The first one would be your heading or your headline. In our case, I wanted to not just name the product in the headline, but I wanted them to come up with a snappy headline that would make people want to read it and encapsulated what…

Kirstin: Yeah, what’s the best thing about this?

Gavin: Yeah, the best thing about it. They did that, and the next item that I got them to think about, when they finished their headline, is then the sub-heading, which is just one sentence underneath the title. You’re trying to get across the main outcome of your product or the main benefit, in many ways, as well.

Once we had that done, there was a bit of drawing involved here. We got them drawing a picture. It was pretty good fun. They were a bit daunted at the start, because it was a picture of a website that doesn’t exist, but it was also really interesting because we really quickly got out, in their minds…

Kirstin: What they thought it might look like?

Gavin: What they were picturing on this future site. Again, it’s just a fun little thing to do, in many ways, as well.

They draw a picture that’s going to accompany this press release in the newspaper.

Next up is a really, really important one. They’re all important, but this one’s the summary. This is the first proper paragraph of your newspaper story.

In this situation, you facilitate by telling people to imagine this paragraph is all the reader is going to read from this story. This is the only thing they’re going to read. They’re not going to read anything else.

Kirstin: So that classic newspaper article, the upside-down triangle?

Gavin: Yeah, the pyramid.

Kirstin: Upside-down triangle. [laughs]

Gavin: Interesting. I’ve never heard it called the upside-down triangle.

Kirstin: It’s a [laughs] very first.

Gavin: This is a short summary, but it’s still got to really capture everything that the product is about. It’s probably the one that’s hardest to write, in many ways. Really, really important.

Once they manage to nail that summary, they go to the next paragraph is about the problem, and you’re describing the problem that this product solves or issue that this product solves.

Kirstin: It’s interesting. Just thinking about this particular project, and the fact that it’s a website. Quite often, it’s not a problem, necessarily. Again, it’s another benefit.

Gavin: That’s right. I suppose the problem this solves, in this case, was, because this is a film archive, where you have to, in a lot of cases, physically visit the building to view this material, usually.

This way, you can see it online and you don’t have to actually walk to the archive, arrange a meeting and see some of the footage. There was a bit of problem solved there.

The next paragraph you want to take people through is to describe how your product elegantly solves this problem that you’ve previously just described, which is a little bit easier to direct, because you’ve already described your problem, so you should have something in your mind about how you’re actually going to solve this.

Then, the last two things that you take people through in your press release. You take them through a company quote.

This quote is from a company spokesperson on the client side. It might be a quote about them waxing lyrical about their product, or else talking about the benefits that the customer are going to get from this product. Hopefully, it’s something enthusiastic.

Kirstin: We’re excited to release this new, never before seen material. Things like that.

Gavin: Exactly. The very last thing you want to do is another quote, but this time, it’s from the customer’s point of view. It’s them, again, hopefully enthusiastically talking about how they’ve benefited from this and what it means to them.

Once you have this press release done, and you have everything from the headline through to the picture through to the quotes done, you have a really good idea of what people are hoping to get out of this project and what their overall vision is.

Like I said, for this project I gave the team already a good idea of what we were trying to achieve and also for, on the client side, solidified a lot of things in their head.

They said that they’d like to circulate that around in their own company, so people can read it and get an idea of what they’re actually doing.

When I ran this in a larger group of about 35 people and split them into teams, it was really interesting to watch them present their press release and just to see how much their ideas aligned or how much they didn’t align. In this situation, they aligned very, very closely.

Kirstin: That’s good.

Gavin: Interestingly, we then went on to discuss their vision in a separate little workshop, after doing the press releases. It was very hard for people to decide on what their vision. You’d think, looking at the press releases, that their visions were aligned, but when they actually tried to encapsulate their vision in one sentence, they just could not agree on it.

I’d probably run that differently, if I was doing it again, because the conversation went full circle until we came up with something. Those press releases, they were so aligned with that. I’m not sure how I’d do it if I did it again.

Kirstin: I don’t know if there’s a way to get the material from the press releases as a start to the conversation about [indecipherable 24:03] .


Gavin: Even the pictures that they drew were very similar, in many ways.

Kirstin: I guess it would have been good to use those as the basis for the next conversation. Otherwise, you’re taking them right back to the start again.

Gavin: That’s right. I’m always looking for new ideas and new games and exercises for people. We don’t like to stick with one for a long period of time. We’re always looking for bigger and better things.

If you people out there have any ideas, leave a comment, or if you want to try any of this stuff, we will put some links under the live-stream video.

Most of the stuff is information about it online. Sam, who’s doing the technical stuff today, he was part of that discovery workshop. Did that help you and the team, when we went through all this stuff? That’s a yes and a thumbs-up from Sam.

Kirstin: I was wondering, actually, as we’ve got a couple minutes left, whether it’s something that the team will revisit. Is it somewhere where they can access it?

Gavin: Absolutely. You have to send this stuff around. It can’t just disappear.

Kirstin: Actually, I was thinking more of on the wall.

Gavin: I just sent it around electronically. We don’t have it displayed beside the scrum board, for example.

Kirstin: It might be an idea. Sometimes, when you’re working on something, you can get bogged down in the detail. Sometimes, it’s good to draw back out and think about, “Does what I’m doing align with the original vision?”

Gavin: I think that’s a great idea. I might actually stick that up beside the scrum board today. That’s a really good idea.

Kirstin: You’re welcome.


Gavin: That sort of stuff should be made visible. Otherwise, it can get lost in the ether, somewhat.

Kirstin: We were talking about company vision a little while ago. I was reading something about people putting the company vision up on the wall, and then thinking throughout every day, “Is what I’m doing right now in line with that vision? If not, should I be doing it?”

Gavin: Exactly. That’s what you want, everybody to be working towards that all the time. You’re right. If they’re not doing something, why are they doing it?

Kirstin: Is it of value? It can be quite hard to remember when you get bogged down in things on a day-to-day basis.

Gavin: Absolutely.

Kirstin: I think that’s it for today, isn’t it?

Gavin: Yeah.

Kirstin: Thanks for doing it, for talking Gavin, sit back and take a [indecipherable 26:26] .

Gavin: Pleasure. I do love to talk.

Kirstin: [laughs] We’ll see you again in a couple weeks’ time.

Gavin: Bye-bye.

Kirstin: Thank you…

Make a bigger impact tomorrow

Talk to us today