Published December 28, 2023

Kickstarting Your Research: A Five-Step Continuous Discovery Framework

15 min read

Welcome aboard, innovators and product space cowboys! You’re about to embark on an exhilarating continuous discovery journey —it’s a transformative approach to making your product user-centric. And guess what? It’s not as daunting as it sounds. Let’s break our continuous discovery framework into five digestible steps, shall we? The path to becoming a user-centric company is a progressive journey.

As our chief instigator, I’ll share Helio’s journey of diving headfirst into continuous discovery and research. With millions of answers collected from participants, I’ll outline the five steps required to make the user the center of your product and marketing efforts.

What is continuous discovery, and why should I care?

Continuous discovery is a user-centered approach in product development that involves regularly interacting with and learning from customers or users. It’s a process where product teams continuously gather customer feedback, test their ideas, and validate assumptions about their product. This approach is typically iterative and agile, meaning it involves frequent small changes and improvements based on real-world user experiences and feedback.

The core idea behind continuous discovery is to ensure that product development is always aligned with the actual needs and problems of the users. It moves from the traditional approach of building products based on assumptions or infrequent user insights. Instead, continuous discovery integrates user feedback into every stage of the product development cycle, from ideation to launch and beyond.

By doing so, teams can reduce the risk of building products that don’t meet user needs, increase the likelihood of product success, and adapt more swiftly to changing market demands or user preferences. A dynamic, responsive approach to product design and development keeps the user at the forefront.

illustration showing the relationship between exposure to users and user experience. this is critical to understand before applying a continuous discovery framework

Companies with great user experiences find two hours to spend with customers every six weeks. That seems like a low bar, but it’s the threshold that Jared Spool and his team at Center Centre found. We recently shared a great illustration Ant Murphy put together to highlight this point.

Those who spent less than 2 hours with their users within a 6 week period had a substantially worse user experience than those who spend 2 hours or more.

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Ant Murphy, Founder, Product Pathways

Continuous discovery is continuous research

Continuous research is the heartbeat of user-centric product development. It keeps your product pulsing and evolving in tune with your users’ real-world experiences and expectations. But why does it matter so much? Let’s delve into the essence of continuous research and its impact on user experience (UX).

  • The Power of Regular User Interaction- Imagine only talking to a friend once a year. The connection would likely weaken over time, right? The same principle applies to your relationship with users. Regular interaction keeps the connection strong. Companies that excel in great design don’t just check in with users occasionally; they make it a routine. The two-hour-every-six-weeks model mentioned is a revelation in its simplicity and effectiveness. It’s a manageable commitment that fits into the busiest of schedules, yet it’s frequent enough to keep your finger on the pulse of the user’s changing needs and problems.
  • The Iterative Approach- Ant Murphy’s insight that “continuous exposure > concentrated” speaks to the iterative nature of modern product development. It’s not about overwhelming yourself with a deluge of data in one go. Instead, it’s about iterative learning—small, frequent, and manageable interactions that provide ongoing feedback. This approach allows quicker responses to issues, a deeper understanding of the user over time, and a more agile response to changing market conditions.
  • The Depth of Continuous Learning- Continuous research is like peeling an onion. Each layer reveals more depth. With each iteration of user interviews, you uncover nuances that a one-off, large-scale study could miss. These nuances can lead to innovations and improvements that enhance user satisfaction and loyalty.
  • The Illustration of Effectiveness- Ant Murphy’s illustration, linked in the post, likely visualizes the advantages of continuous research. It shows how consistent engagement with users can lead to better insights and, consequently, a better product. Visual representations like this can often make a more compelling case than words alone.
  • The Competitive Edge- Continuous research can be your competitive edge in a market where everyone can access similar technologies and trends. It keeps you ahead because you’re constantly learning from the best teacher available—your user. It’s a proactive approach that can prevent problems before they arise and identify opportunities for innovation that others might miss.
  • The Cumulative Advantage- Lastly, continuous research compounds over time. Each interaction builds upon the last, creating a cumulative understanding of your users that becomes a strategic asset. This depth of understanding can inform product design, marketing strategies, customer service approaches, and overall business direction.

In essence, continuous research matters because it’s the most effective way to ensure your product meets users’ needs today and continues to do so tomorrow. It’s an investment in the ongoing relevance and success of your product.

Introducing a continuous discovery framework for organizational maturity

To successfully implement a continuous discovery framework, begin with modest efforts and gradually adopt a broader program approach. The key challenges to navigate are: staying current with evolving trends and user needs, managing and interpreting large volumes of data, fostering collaboration across different company departments, securing ongoing funding, and maintaining buy-in from all levels of the organization.

5 challenges this continuous discovery framework will help you overcome

Start small and progressively work your way into a program mentality. Here are the challenges in order.

  1. Keeping up with changes
  2. Handling loads of data  
  3. Working with other departments 
  4. Finding money to keep going  
  5. Sustaining organizational buy-in 

Step 1: Keeping Up with Changes, Embrace Uncertainty 

In the whirling dance of the tech world, agility is your partner, and flexible product management sets the tempo. To stay in rhythm with the fast-paced evolution of user needs and market trends, you must adopt a nimble mindset and be prepared to pivot at a moment’s notice. The essence of using an iterative design process is the ability to iterate quickly based on real-world feedback and data-driven insights.

But how exactly do you keep up with these constant changes? It starts with a dedicated, cross-functional team empowered to act swiftly. Think of your team as a jazz band — each member plays a distinct role yet harmonizes to create a compelling product narrative. The bassist (your developer) lays down the technical foundation, the saxophonist (your designer) adds the melody of user experience, and the drummer (your product manager) keeps everyone on the beat.

Your goal here is to establish a product development cycle that’s both efficient and responsive. Implementing design boards and weekly planning sessions can help you visualize workflow and prioritize tasks that align with user feedback and business objectives. But it’s not just about having the right tools; it’s about fostering a culture that values learning and adaptation over rigid planning.

hunches, questions, observations, and signals are key ingredients to a continuous discovery framework

In this step, you’ll also need to become an expert at customer feedback analysis. This means collecting user input through surveys, interviews, and usability testing and translating this feedback into actionable insights. It’s about discerning patterns, identifying pain points, and recognizing opportunities for enhancement.

As you navigate through this step, remember that keeping up with changes isn’t a solo act — it’s a collaborative performance that requires each member to listen, adapt, and play their part with precision. By embracing this agile dance, you’ll keep up with changes and lead the way in innovation, ensuring that your product remains relevant and resonant in a market that never stands still.

Step 2: Collecting Data – Make It Your North Star, Not Your Black Hole

Imagine navigating the vast product development space; data is your North Star, guiding your journey toward user satisfaction and product excellence. In this information age, handling loads of data is as critical as the innovative ideas themselves. But here’s the clincher: data will only serve you well if you can interpret it effectively. This is where User Experience research comes into play, serving as your compass in the sea of numbers and feedback.

Let’s dive into how you can conquer the data deluge and emerge as a data-savvy navigator:

Harnessing UX Data

The first step is to harness the power of UX data. You can track user interactions, engagement levels, and conversion metrics with many analytics tools. But the real art lies in setting up the right metrics to track before launching your product. Helio provides a fast and easy way to collect UX data BEFORE you build anything. Focus on those that align with your user’s needs and business goals. 

For instance, an ad campaign management company named Advent planned to introduce a new component to their platform, an Audience page. This new Audience page provides ad campaign managers a full view of the types of people they’re currently reaching and who they’re trying to reach.

Since this was a new concept on their platform, Advent wanted to involve testing in their creative process of building the Audience page. Over three weeks, Advent met with their Helio support team to discuss the current state of the designs, share signals that the testing results had unearthed, and plan improvements for the next round of testing:

The testing started with a prototype of Advent’s Audience page in a wireframe stage, without any elaborate visuals and displaying minimal information on the page, as shown in the screenshot below.

To conduct their tests, Advent used the Gravity Score Method to establish a customer usability score as a baseline against which to compare future iterations. The Helio Gravity Score Method is based on the System Usability Score (SUS) method of testing, in which participants who have just experienced a product answer a series of 10 questions to gauge their reaction to the product.

In Helio, participants were presented with click directives—a prompt asking them to act on the page based on goals they would like to achieve. 

Once the participants are taken through the most important actions on the page, the series of 10 Likert scale questions begins.

The questions alternate between positive and negative inquiries, gauging how successful the product was at establishing good emotions and avoiding user pain points. The data output from these ten questions is placed into the same formula used on the tried and tested SUS method.

Feedback as a Beacon

Feedback is the beacon that illuminates your product’s strengths and weaknesses. Gather it through multiple channels: direct user interviews, social media, in-app metrics, and customer support tickets. The key is establishing a lean product development approach that values customer insights as the primary driver for changes and new features.

The Gravity Score method produces a single data point to compare future iterations against, such as the 66 achieved in the first round of testing on Advent’s Audience page.

Actionable Signals

The goal is to turn this data into actionable insights. This involves filtering the signal from the noise and identifying actionable items that can drive your product forward. Develop a knack for spotting trends, predicting user behavior, and personalizing experiences to meet user expectations.

An average Helio Gravity Score is 68, so Advent’s first iteration of the new Audience feature didn’t meet the team’s or participant’s expectations. In the individual columns where you want to see a high average number for each question, questions 8 and 10 are the most harmful categories to the overall score.

This meant that participants agreed too much with the idea that the platform is cumbersome and requires a lot of upfront learning before it can be used.

Data-Informed Decision-Making

With insights in hand, it’s time for data-informed decision-making. This means making choices that are backed by evidence rather than intuition. It’s about balancing what the data tells you with the vision you have for your product. Use A/B testing to validate your hypotheses, and be prepared to kill your darlings if the data dictates.

Over the next week, Advent changed its Audiences page design to increase the fidelity and target those two culprits and then ran the same Gravity Score test again. Below is a screenshot of the updated prototype.

The new score of 69 confirmed the team’s direction on the Audience page, allowing them to move forward confidently towards the final iteration.

Building a Data-Aware Culture

It is crucial to cultivate a data-centric culture within your team. Encourage your team members to seek out data, understand it, and argue with it. Create a common language around data that includes everyone in the discussion, from engineers to marketers, ensuring that decisions are understood and supported across the board.

With their wireframe layout set, Advent completed their Audience page design in full visual fidelity over the next week and tested the page once more to validate their decisions.

With a constant increase in Gravity Score up to 71, the Advent team could wrap up their Audience page designs and confidently present ux data to back up their ideas to stakeholders.

View the Helio Example

By mastering these aspects of data handling, you’ll ensure that your product development is user-centric and grounded in reality. Data becomes not just a resource.

Step 3: The Collaboration Conundrum – Working with Other Departments

In the labyrinth of corporate structure, the path to success is often through the maze of interdepartmental collaboration. This step is about unlocking the potential of cross-functional team collaboration and creating a symphony of skills and insights that can elevate your product to new heights.

Breaking Down Silos

The first obstacle to overcome is the silo mentality. Silos can suffocate innovation and stifle the Product Discovery Techniques that are vital for a user-centric approach. Encourage open communication channels and create shared goals that align different departments. A united vision is a powerful motivator and can dissolve barriers that hamper collaboration.

While you do want to cultivate a collaboration mindset, you can’t include everyone in every decision. You’ll move too slowly.

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Teresa Torres, Product Discovery Coach, Product Talk

The Language of Empathy

To work effectively with other departments, speak the language of empathy. Understand the pressures, constraints, and objectives that drive the actions of sales, marketing, customer service, and engineering teams. When you empathize with their challenges, you can create solutions supporting their goals while advancing your own.

Integrating Stakeholder Feedback

As you iterate on your product, Stakeholder Feedback Integration is critical. Regularly engage with stakeholders from each department to gather their insights and perspectives. This feedback loop can provide knowledge that enriches the product development process and ensures that every department’s needs are considered.

Building Cross-Functional Teams

Consider establishing dedicated cross-functional teams for specific projects within your continuous discovery framework. These teams can function as task forces that tackle complex problems by pooling diverse expertise. When a developer understands the marketing challenges and a marketer grasps the technical limitations, you create a fertile ground for innovative solutions.

The Art of Negotiation

Master the art of negotiation. Each department has priorities, and it’s important to navigate them to find common ground. Be prepared to compromise and find solutions that may not be perfect for one department but work for the organization.

Celebrating Shared Success

And don’t forget to celebrate shared success. Recognize contributions from all departments and create a culture of mutual respect and appreciation. Shared success stories become the lore that cements a collaborative culture and propels your product forward.

Working with other departments isn’t just about ticking a box; it’s about building relationships and leveraging your organization’s collective intelligence. It’s a delicate dance of give and take, speaking and listening, leading and supporting. When done right, it can be the most rewarding step in your continuous discovery journey, yielding a product loved by users and those who build, market, and support it.

Step 4: Show Me the Money – Securing Your Funding Lifeline

As you venture deeper into the continuous discovery realm, the need for sustainable funding becomes evident. Securing a budget isn’t just about keeping the lights on; it’s about ensuring that your journey of discovery is not cut short due to financial roadblocks. Here’s how to strategically navigate the fiscal waters and keep your project buoyant.

Crafting a Compelling Story

Begin by crafting a story that resonates with those who hold the purse strings. This narrative should weave together the threads of user experience research, market trends, and the potential for innovative solutions. Demonstrate a clear line from investment to outcome, showing how funds will not only be used but also how they will generate value.

MVP as a Proof of Concept

Testing a pretotype can help you build a minimum viable product (MVP) as your proof of concept. It showcases the potential of your full vision in a tangible, demonstrable form. Use your MVP to validate the market need and the user’s willingness to embrace your product. A successful MVP can be the most persuasive argument for further investment.

Data-Informed Justifications

When you’re asking for money, arm yourself with UX data. Use the insights derived from your customer feedback analysis and market needs analysis to support your requests. Present case studies, analytics, and projections that paint a picture of a future where your product leads the market, thanks to the right funding at the right time.

Aligning with Business Goals

Ensure that your funding request aligns with the overarching business goals. Whether it’s market expansion, customer retention, or innovation, tie your needs to the organization’s strategic objectives. This alignment ensures stakeholders see the value of investing in your project beyond the product itself.

Continuous Budget Review

Adopt a practice of continuous budget review. As your product evolves through the Iterative Design Process, so will your financial needs. Regularly assess and adjust your funding requirements, and be transparent with stakeholders about where the money goes. This builds trust and makes the case for ongoing financial support stronger.

The ROI Conversation

Finally, be prepared to discuss ROI — return on investment. Stakeholders want to see a return on their contributions. Discuss metrics like customer acquisition cost, lifetime value, and expected growth in market share. By translating continuous discovery efforts into financial language, you help stakeholders visualize the monetary benefits of their investment.

By taking these steps, you can secure the necessary funds to fuel your continuous discovery journey, ensuring that financial constraints do not stifle your ability to innovate and respond to user needs. Remember, securing funding is not just about asking for money; it’s about showing the value of the investment and building a partnership with your stakeholders for mutual success.

Step 5: Keep the Flame Alive – Sustaining Organizational Buy-In

The final leap in our continuous discovery odyssey is about more than just crossing the finish line; it’s about keeping the torch lit and running the marathon. This is about cultivating a lasting commitment to User-Centered Design Methodology within your organization, transforming fleeting enthusiasm into enduring support.

We started gaining trust and buy-in from stakeholders because they realize we have a deep understanding of our customers. Leadership sees the importance of keeping our squad intact and instead of moving us to different teams they’re giving us different problems to solve.

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Jenn Atkins, Head Product Designer, Cix Health

Embedding a Continuous Discovery Framework in the Corporate Culture

Your first task is to embed the principles of continuous discovery into the very fabric of your corporate culture. This means going beyond lip service to ensure that every team member, from the C-suite to the front lines, understands the value of ongoing user research and iterative design. It’s about ensuring user-centricity is not just a department’s practice but a company-wide ethos.

Demonstrating Continuous Value

To maintain organizational buy-in, you must consistently demonstrate the value that continuous discovery brings to the table. This involves clear communication about the successes of your product development efforts (and lessons learned from failures). Use success stories and case studies to showcase how user feedback has directly improved product offerings and business outcomes.

Evolving with Market Needs

Sustaining buy-in also means evolving with the market. Use market needs analysis to stay ahead of the curve, anticipate user needs, and pivot when necessary. Show how your approach is not static but dynamically adjusts to the changing landscape, ensuring the company remains relevant and competitive.

Institutionalizing Feedback Mechanisms

Institutionalize feedback mechanisms to ensure user insights continue informing decision-making at all levels. This could involve regular user testing methods, surveys, focus groups, and customer journey mapping sessions that gather feedback and engage and involve various stakeholders in the process.

Celebrating User-Centric Wins

Make sure to celebrate the wins that come from being user-centric. When a product feature influenced by user feedback succeeds, highlight it. When a customer’s insight leads to a significant pivot, share the story. These celebrations reinforce the importance of the continuous discovery process and encourage ongoing engagement from all levels of the organization.

Nurturing Advocacy and Leadership

Encourage and nurture internal advocates and leaders who can champion the continuous discovery cause. Identify those passionate about user experience and empower them to lead workshops, seminars, and discussion groups. These champions can help maintain the momentum and ensure continuous discovery remains a priority.

Aligning with Long-Term Strategic Goals

Lastly, align your continuous discovery efforts with the organization’s long-term strategic goals. Show how understanding the user on a deeper level leads to better products, which leads to market growth and ultimately drives the company’s success. When stakeholders see how continuous discovery contributes to the organization’s vision, their buy-in is sustained and deepened.

In sum, sustaining organizational buy-in for the continuous discovery framework is not a one-off effort but an ongoing campaign. It’s about integrating the framework into the company’s DNA, demonstrating its value through results, and continuously engaging and educating stakeholders on its importance. With each step, you ensure that continuous discovery is not just a phase but a permanent fixture in your company’s approach to product development.

Apply this continuous discovery framework to your company

Each step in this continuous discovery framework is a stepping stone to making your product not just good, but great. This is a major paradigm shift for most organizations—an ongoing commitment to excellence. Setting up can be challenging, but the long-term benefits are worth it.

If you want to learn more about how you can become a champion of continuous discovery in your organization, simply reach out. I’m happy to start a conversation and share what I’ve learned over 25 years of building products and practicing continuous discovery!

Continuous Discovery Framework FAQs

What is a Continuous Discovery Framework?
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It’s a user-centric approach to product development, emphasizing regular user feedback and iterative design.

How can a company effectively handle large amounts of data?
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Utilize user experience research and data analytics tools to translate user data into actionable product insights.

What role does cross-functional collaboration play in continuous discovery?
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It fosters diverse perspectives and innovation, crucial for developing a user-centered product.

How can businesses secure funding for continuous discovery initiatives?
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Demonstrate the ROI of user-centric development through data-driven justifications and a successful MVP.

Why is sustaining organizational buy-in important for continuous discovery?
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It ensures long-term commitment to user-centric practices and the success of the product.

What are the first steps to adopt a continuous discovery approach?
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Start small, focus on agile practices, and progressively integrate user feedback into product development.

How often should a company engage with users for feedback?
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Regular interaction, such as every six weeks, is recommended to keep up with evolving user needs. With Helio, however, you can collect feedback in weekly cycles.

What is the importance of data-informed decision-making?
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It ensures product decisions are based on evidence and real user feedback, increasing product relevance and success.

How can a company measure the success of its continuous discovery framework?
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Track user engagement, satisfaction metrics, and the rate of successful product iterations and improvements.

Build something your users truly want