The Gaps of Product Discovery

Independent of their exact definition of success, the struggles of most organizations I meet and get to work with when trying to scale practices internally can be mapped to one of three core gaps of Product Discovery:

  • A systemic gap
  • A skill gap
  • An insights gap

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Last Updated: Sep. 18, 2023

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Some of these gaps may appear in one of your teams but not another, or different teams may have different gaps simultaneously, and some companies face all three at once. I recommend that teams assess gaps early on, because knowing what opportunities you have to make the strongest impact where processes, learning, tools, methodology and even budgeting is concerned makes scaling efforts more efficient.

The Gaps of Product Discovery Overview

The Gaps of Product Discovery Overview: Systemic Gap, Skill Gap,
and Insights Gap

The Systemic Gap of Product Discovery

Systemic gaps in Product Discovery are the result of practices that fall short on the systematic level –– from ownership of results and decision making to measurement and metrics. It is a damaging inefficiency that comes from the systems that are in place to drive and develop Discovery. 

If your Product Discovery falls short of expectations, the root cause may be a systemic gap if:

  • Discovery and Delivery are owned and performed by different teams who hand off work to each other.
  • Defining and measuring the success of individual teams is solely done through arbitrary numerical goals: number of shipped features, experiments, or A/B tests in the last 30 days, for example.
  • Choosing which Discovery efforts to prioritize happens through formula-driven, cross-department, and company-wide stack-ranked lists.
  • Expecting that Discovery is a single, dedicated phase within a goal cycle before delivery starts instead of an adaptable practice running in parallel.
Continuous Discovery Collaboration within One Team Over Outsourced Upfront Discovery Projects

Encouraging continuous Discovery Collaboration within one Product Team over outsourced upfront Discovery Projects

Correcting these problems often means bringing multiple stakeholders together to overhaul the processes and expectations that your company has for Discovery. A systemic gap can’t be solved by one team changing their methodology alone. Rather, it requires a shared, company-wide understanding of what you want to get out of adopting Discovery practices, followed by an audit of how your OKRs and Product Strategy do –– or don’t –– support those desired results.

The Skill Gap of Product Discovery

Even with the perfect system in place, your company will flounder if product teams don’t have the expertise to drive Discovery. And, when better systems with more autonomy are instituted, even product team members who had previously been active in Discovery projects may find that they don’t actually possess all the right skills to do the new job at hand.

You will know that there is a skill gap at play preventing employees from contributing to their potential deploying the most effective techniques if:

  • Product Teams always default to the same research and testing techniques (usually interviews, surveys, and A/B tests) without considering the holistic angle on the problem.
  • Activities are done because they fall in a team’s comfort zone, without a connection to what has to be learned/tested.
  • Biases about whose problems are considered (getting lost in averages, unclear segment priorities, feedback from colleagues considered unbiased) leads to strategy-less prioritization.
  • The execution quality of Discovery techniques is sub-par (small sample sizes, leading interview questions, qualitative methods to test desirability, etc.).
Decision-making Consequences of Discovery Skill Gaps

The consequences on Product Discovery Decisions based on the individual Discovery Skill Gaps of a Product Team

Companies that are serious about improving Product Discovery practices need to take an active role in educating employees through resources, training and a culture of learning. The skill gap cannot be solved without efforts to provide consistent training across teams, even with motivated individual employees teaching themselves. This is something I dove into with Sarah Reeves, a Senior Product Ops Manager at The Stepstone Group, and her insights prove how deep thinking about upskilling is a core of scaling Product Discovery.

The Insights Gap of Product Discovery

Perfect techniques, the best training and all the autonomy in the world won't help you if teams are spinning tires because your research and testing infrastructures don't allow your team's efforts to gain traction.

Symptoms that an insights gap is what is holding your Discovery back are:

Bridging the Discovery Insights Gap by focusing on Strong Evidence

Product Teams are stuck with weak anecdotes due to a lack of systematic access and insights documentation to make decisions

Overcoming an insight gap means evaluating the tools and methods that teams use throughout the Discovery journey. Keep in mind that these go hand in hand –– good methods rely on good tools, but even the best tools can’t overcome poor organization and subpar methodology. 

Building a Long Bridge to Close the Gap

As you are evaluating your Product Discovery, you will find that each of these gaps works together: bad systems can lead to stunted team knowledge, which leads to a lack of real insight. This can become extremely apparent when you start to solve one area: teams realize the inadequacy of the rest of their process and become frustrated that steps down the line don’t work with the newer procedures in place. 

The plus side is that teams in the process of upskilling will be motivated to continue progress down the line. And, as you put the new pieces of your Product Discovery puzzle together, the long bridge you are creating to overcome these gaps will get stronger. Depending on your starting point and organizational maturity, it’s worth starting with the most upstream effort (in this case, systemic gap) to set you up for a more effective deployment to close the skill and insights gap.

This piece is part of my “Scaling Product Discovery” series. Navigate to the next piece by clicking the arrow just above on your right, or go to the series introduction here

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