Why founders should care if they are optimized for delivery or discovery

In the ever-evolving realm of product development, two core processes—discovery and delivery—take center stage. Delivery, fundamentally (and perhaps obviously), is the execution phase aimed at placing a product in the hands of end-users. It prioritizes productivity, efficiency, and tangible development outcomes. 

On the other hand, the discovery process is about intimately understanding user problems and needs. It involves validating ideas for solutions before diving into development, ensuring that the product aligns with user expectations and provides them with value. 

Knowing whether you’re optimized for delivery or discovery can significantly impact a product’s success and its users’ satisfaction. Which process your organization optimizes comes down to what it values: outcomes or outputs. 

Download our quiz to assess whether you’re optimizing for delivery or discovery.

If leadership teams are unilaterally determining what gets built and when, if there’s only minimal input from your intended audience, and if timelines and documentation hold absolute authority, it suggests a focus on outputs and delivery. 

Optimizing for Delivery: Recognizing The Pitfalls

From startups to established players in the software and technology sector, the pressure to release quickly and frequently is undeniable.  This imperative is well-founded, and having a streamlined, well-informed development plan is a crucial component for the success of any product development team. However, a potential pitfall arises when well-intentioned product owners equate quantity with quality.

When teams prioritize delivery without adequate emphasis on discovery, there is no criteria for success outside of releasing, and the risk of developing software that falls short of solving users’ needs grows. The organization may find itself in a cycle of churning out software that doesn’t contribute meaningfully to user satisfaction. 

Imagine a scenario where you have the best-laid plans and work with your development team to execute them quickly. You’ve worked out each screen with the designer and specced out the architecture to a tee with your tech lead. You’ve dotted all of your i’s, crossed all of your t’s, and hit your deadline for release. Once the feature is released, you start seeing an uptick in customer service calls, and sales aren’t rising as anticipated. What’s going on? Through research, you discover the feature you released is hard to use and not all that valuable. Now, you have to work backwards, using valuable development time to fix the problems you’ve created. 

The productivity and efficiency of your development team might have looked good on paper. But in reality, you’ve created more work for the customer service team and provided little value to your customer base. 

Discovery: Paving the Way for Informed Development

Now, let’s consider an alternate scenario. If a product owner had tested their hypothesis with users before any development, they might have discovered they were focusing on the wrong problem or gained clarity on the right focus. This proactive approach allows for course correction before significant time and resources are invested in development.

While some argue that discovery is time-consuming and hinders swift market entry, the reality is that potential waste in releasing unused features or financial losses from overlooked opportunities makes the value of the discovery phase evident. Integrating discovery into the process can expedite the delivery of value to users more efficiently.

While there may be instances where the need to hedge bets and release something quickly arises, it should be approached with the spirit of experimentation, even in these cases. Expecting to iterate and learn from the initial release allows for a flexible development approach. This adaptability responds to customer feedback and enables strategic planning that aligns with evolving insights, fostering a more responsive and customer-centric product development journey.

Optimizing for Discovery: Fostering a Culture of Innovation

Optimizing for discovery involves cultivating a culture that prioritizes delivering significant customer value over superficial productivity gains. It empowers teams to explore and validate assumptions about product-market fit, creating an environment conducive to innovation. By looking beyond the product being built, organizations can address the holistic needs of end-users. This mindset rewards experimentation and curiosity, leading to risk mitigation and simplified development.

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