How much product discovery work is necessary? While I find it impossible to give a general, precise, and accurate answer, there is one factor that has a big influence on the time and effort necessary to create a valid product strategy: the product’s lifecycle stage.
The younger a product is, the more discovery work it requires. A new product development effort may spend several weeks carrying out necessary prep work such as creating an initial product strategy and iteratively testing and correcting it. Contrast this with incremental enhancements of a mature product that may require little or no discovery work, as the following picture shows.
Please note that the line representing the discovery effort is in the picture above is only a rough approximation. In reality, the discovery effort may be higher or lower, and it may fall later or sooner.
The picture also assumes that the product moves from growth into maturity and decline, when it is eventually retired. Be aware, though, that when you extend the life cycle of your product, for example, by creating a variant for a new market (segment), unbundling one or more features, or changing the business model, you will have to carry out a significant amount of discovery and strategising work, as the picture below illustrates.
When determining the discovery effort, don’t make the mistake of skipping or shortcutting the necessary work. Don’t start the actual development work without a valid product strategy in place, without having nailed the value proposition, market, differentiators, and business goals of the new or changed product. Consider showing the necessary discovery work on your product roadmap, particularly when you make bigger changes to an existing product.
At the same token, avoid overdoing the discovery work. There is no way to guarantee that the product strategy is correct, that the new product or next version will be a success. Your goal should therefore be to get a good enough product out as fast as possible, and then adapt it to the market feedback.
[This post was updated on 6 October 2017.]