Product Discovery: to kill an idea as early as possible

An interview with Matteo Cavucci

We had a nice exchange with our trainer Matteo Cavucci on the importance of a good phase of product discovery before we even start developing the first lines of code for a new product, how to make sure business and clients' needs are aligned, and how EventStorming is a great technique alongside Lean Value Tree when it comes to put all the parties involved on the same page.

Avanscoperta: Hello Matteo, how are you doing? Nice to be talking to you. Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?

Matteo: Oh well, I'm just a regular guy trying to rescue Product, Dev, and UX people from the clutches of deterministic, command and control management style.

Avanscoperta: In this interview we are going to talk about the relationship between Product Discovery and why a certain product should be developed. Before going deep into that, tell us your first computer-related memory and what coding means to you.

Matteo: My first memory is the smell of hot transistors while playing Epyx Winter Games on my dad's IBM at work. I was an ace at biathlon and at managing the MS-DOS 640kb memory limit.
I've never been interested in coding for the sake of coding. It has always been a means to an end. The first "digital product" I made was a Fantasy Football league manager I sold to my friends for 5000 lire.
With my first working experience, I got frustrated by the way software was commissioned, developed, and managed. When I heard for the first time about XP principles in the mid-2000s, it was a revelation.

Avanscoperta: Your focus and interest have been helping teams reach alignment, both internally and with their clients, and to produce meaningful, useful products.
Was there a moment that led you to take this route?

Matteo: It didn't take too much to realize that without alignment and no clarity on value provided, the only possible result was frustration. I've been lucky to experience it on a small scale, so it was easy to experiment, fail, and learn from my failures.

Avanscoperta: Some of the key tools of your current arsenal are product discovery, product strategy and lean value tree.
Let's start with some clarifications: what do we mean by product discovery, and how does that differ from product strategy?

Matteo: While product strategy can be a very articulated topic, I like to think of product discovery as "what we can do to kill an idea as early as possible".
In other words: a deliberate set of orchestrated actions to determine if and why a certain product should be developed.

Avanscoperta: Another important bit is lean value tree: what do we mean by that?

Matteo: The Lean Value Tree comes from my years at ThoughtWorks, where I had the privilege of working side-by-side with extremely talented people who came up with this format.
In a nutshell, it is a visual tool to capture and share product decisions and enable decision-making.

Avanscoperta: One of the most important elements to take into account when it comes to making business decisions, and we've seen that in action with the current pandemic, is uncertainty.
How do these approaches and techniques help you navigate these uncertain times?

Matteo: Focusing on outcomes and cultivating optionality. Unfortunately, most of the planning made by (digital) organizations completely ignore it and focus on creating linear, deterministic roadmaps insisting on what needs to be done by when.

Avanscoperta: It might sound obvious, but for a team to decide to focus on making useful products is surely a big step. We do know that sometimes business logic doesn't equal the client's needs.
The approach you offer is somehow synonymous with "change", and definitely puts companies in a different frame of mind. What are your thoughts on this?  

Matteo: Promoting change is an incredibly ungrateful, disappointing experience where there's no shared perception that change is necessary. I wouldn't force anyone to change the way they work if they don't realize first there's something that can be improved. It doesn't imply that there's always a better way. Often change requires lots of time. Or some things are just out of our control.

Avanscoperta: We also know that sometimes the opinion of those who actually work on a project and those who are "in charge" of that project can be quite different.
When you're asked to intervene in a project, does the request come from a team or from the management?

Matteo: From the management. I haven't seen any teams sign off invoices so far. This is a fundamental aspect. If there's no manager who wants to steer the organisation in a different way, no help can be provided from the external world.

Avanscoperta: How is EventStorming, Alberto Brandolini's technique all about "alignment" and creating a shared understanding around a given domain, linked with Lean Value Tree and Product Discovery?

Matteo: EventStorming is a fantastic tool to explore the product "domain" and let opportunities emerge. Usually tons of ideas for new products or improvements come up after an EventStorming session. The product discovery process (including the Lean Value Tree) comes in to properly frame each option, determine the most promising, and orchestrate the discovery process.

Avanscoperta: You're the author of the Product Discovery Workshop with the Lean Value Tree. Tell us something about it that we can't find in the workshop description.

Matteo: Setting up a discovery initiative is easy. Making it a repeatable process, integrated with the rest of the work, is not. I aim to offer the right approach to make it happen.

Avanscoperta: Convince me that I have to buy a ticket for your workshop.

Matteo: If you're making digital products, it's not unlikely you experienced the friction between the complex and ever-changing nature of the software and old-fashioned product management approaches. Let's rethink the whole process starting from discovery.

Avanscoperta: What are we gonna actually get out of this workshop?

Matteo: Two things make it a workshop of a different kind: advanced topics and pragmatic attitude.
Even if the language remains accessible, we will explore methods beyond the usual canon of design sprint and lean UX, like economic prioritization applied to discovery activities. It will come with actionable models and templates coming from real-life practice. A set of actionable tools that can be adopted from day 1.

Avanscoperta: Your workshop description states clearly that "it is really demotivating to work on a product nobody really needs". We can definitely agree on that!
What's the best success story of that one time when, after a good product discovery session, you were able to put a team back on track in producing a meaningful and useful product?

Matteo: A couple of years ago, I had the chance of joining an organization evolving from a chaotic startup to a more solid business. It was essential to set up structures for repeatable success without losing the teams' creative push and collective ownership. We made huge efforts to adopt an outcome-first mindset and define a baseline of methods to shape business ideas and refine them, focusing on continuous customer feedback.
After I left, seven remote-first teams were able to evaluate, test, and release a new business idea within 12 weeks - in a continuous, always-evolving mode.

Avanscoperta: What are you currently working on? What are your future projects?

Matteo: After spending most of the last 12 months working on a more sustainable model for food ordering, I'm about to get back to retail and eCommerce.

Avanscoperta: What's the perfect soundtrack for this workshop?

Matteo: From the funky rhythm of the Wulfpeck to the jazzy tunes of Kamasi Washington.

Avanscoperta: What do you like doing in your free time?

Matteo: I do cycling a lot and talk too much about bikes.

Cover photo by Jeff Kingma on Unsplash.

Learn with Matteo Cavucci

Matteo is the trainer of the Product Discovery Workshop with the Lean Value Tree and Dynamic Product Roadmaps for Digital Products Workshop.

Check out the full list of our upcoming training courses: Avanscoperta Workshops.

Matteo Cavucci

A specialist in creating outcome-based strategies and designing lightweight governance models, enabling team autonomy and collaborative decision making.

Enrico Meloni

Roadie @ Avanscoperta.

Great! You've successfully subscribed.
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.