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Leading Continuous Discovery

Reflecting on my first 6 months at Penfold

Joining Penfold during a time of change was both exciting and challenging. Born as the go-to pension for the self-employed, it expanded its services to the workplace pension industry last year, and we needed to connect with a whole new user base. The moment I joined, my new (continuous-discovery champion 🏆) manager, Barry, stressed the importance of staying in touch with our customers, which became one my top priority in my first months, teaming up with Emi, Product Manager in our Customer Experience Team (affectionately known as Team CX).

Looking back at my first six months here, my time has been is a constant reminder of our commitment to our customers. During our yearly retreat, our CEO Pete, handed to a very confused Penfold crowd an (allegedly) chinchilla-plushie named Charlie the Customer Chinchilla. The idea was to keep Charlie on our desks and use it to challenge one another to always think 'customer-first.'


No customers chincillas were armed in the making of this Slack post

This is a reflection on the strategies I employed to foster a culture of ongoing discovery in our product team, and the impact on our team's speed and the quality of our work:

Continuous Discovery

1. Thinking outside the box for customer input 📦

Employees enrolled in a pension scheme by their workplace are naturally less likely to engage (you get an email you’ve been enrolled when you join, maybe you login, and you never think about it again 🤷). When recruiting users for research calls proved difficult, we had to get creative. We found clever ways to gather user insights, like shadowing people in the business with direct contact to users, proposing a better tagging system on Intercom to have a sense of common pain points and their volume, TrustPilot reviews, etc. Being resourceful kept the user voice at the heart of our decision-making process, no matter the recruitment challenges.

2. Sprinting towards goals 🏃 

To be focussed in our efforts, we embraced one-week sprints with a Discovery Kickoff session every week. Emi and I get together every Wednesday to set clear weekly goals for ourself based on our OKRs and the Opportunity Solution Tree. This makes sure that every week had a clear direction, propelling our discovery efforts forward and be sure we keep ourselves accountable.

3. Customer calls and insights galore 🕊️

Talking directly to users is gold. When I finally managed to set a regular pace (at least two a week) in calls with customers and followed tailored discussion guides to dig deep into their experiences and gather their feedback I needed to make sure everyone was in the loop. I regularly share these insights with the entire team, and I championed using Dovetail, a user research platform, in a standardised way to consolidate all our research insights. I even proposed a standard naming convention for projects across product teams, bringing everyone on board. This streamlined collaboration, levelled up our insights game, and boosted the quality of our research outcomes.

4. Encouraging involvement and collaboration 👯‍♀️

We wanted to build a team where everyone had a say in the discovery process. So, every Friday, right after our stand-up, I lead a - very informal, no prep needed - "Discovery Show&Tell". I pull up my screen and present any discussion guides, FigJam boards, research insights, Maze results, and work-in-progress designs that Emi and I have been working on in the past week. It’s a chance for the engineers to get involved early, ask questions, and challenge the work in progress. I also started inviting team members to shadow research calls with our customers, to give them a firsthand experience of user needs and challenges.


Impact on team's pace and quality of work

These habits of continuous discovery boosted our team's pace and the quality of our work. Staying connected with our users meant we made decisions based on real insights, resulting in user-centric solutions that hit the mark. The weekly sprints kept us on track and allowed us to make meaningful progress on our OKRs. Sharing insights and involving the whole team created a collaborative environment where different perspectives thrived. We saw increased efficiency, a deeper understanding of our product, and a knack for addressing our evolving user base's needs.


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