1. February 2024 By Emily Hossfeld
Product discovery – your path to creating a successful (medical) product
Ian’s mother has to take medication regularly because of her osteoporosis. But she finds it very difficult to stick to the schedule. Taking it is simply too complicated. Ian knows this too. He then has an idea on how he can make life easier for his mum. As a manager at an IT company, he tells his colleagues about his idea. It turns out that they really like it too. Anxious to get started, Ian doesn’t want to waste any time and has his team put together a product based on his idea right away. But the results are all rather disappointing. The product fails to take off and the customer reviews are less than stellar. But why?
Many companies develop products that offer no real benefits to their users and then spend too much time and money trying to make adjustments in each new version they launch to better meet their customers’ needs. Or, in other cases, the product fails altogether.
In most cases, they develop the product based only on their own assumptions about the target group. The company does not receive feedback from customers until the product is already on the market, only then to find out what features are missing that users would really love to have.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to know what users truly need before implementation? The answer is clearly yes. And this is where product discovery comes into play.
Although product discovery is an important phase in the product development process and requires the company to spend a little more time and money upfront, it always pays off in the end. It helps put them in a position where they are able to develop a successful, safe product, gain an edge on their competitors and save money over the long term.
In the case of software as a medical device (one example of this being a digital health application), the product discovery phase is particularly important if you want to develop a product that serves its intended purpose and helps patients without putting them at any risk.
I explain in my blog post what product discovery is and how it can be used to develop products that offer people real added value.
What is the ultimate goal of product discovery?
The aim of product discovery is to develop the right product ideas that offer benefits to users and are easy to use. Product discovery helps you:
- understand your target group and their (usage) context;
- gain insights into the actual problems and needs of your target group;
- find solutions to the problems of the target group;
- find out with certainty whether your product idea will be used and survive on the market; and
- determine whether your product idea is a medical device.
What approach is needed here?
The human-centric design approach in which users are involved in the development process from the outset is the best option because it helps you meet the requirements set out in IEC 62366-1, especially when it comes to medical devices. Because the approach is based on this standard, it also delivers proof of conformity with the requirements laid down in the Medical Device Regulation (MDR) for the suitability for use of medical devices. This in turn ensures that the product is tested for existing risks and is designed to be safe for users. Alternatively, design thinking, which places the needs of users front and centre during the product development process, is a similar strategy that can be used.
This process can be broken down into three areas: user research, ideation and UI design/evaluation. These will each be discussed in greater detail below.
How to learn more about the target group and the problems they face
The aim of user research is to understand the problems and the context of the target group. Secondary literature, market observations and competitive analyses can be used to this end. All that being said, entering into dialogue with the target group is a really good way to gain information and insights. In the health sector in particular, outsiders often have a hard time imagining how the patient is feeling. Even doctors can only make an educated guess. Only the patients themselves really know what they are truly experiencing. This is why it is particularly important to talk to them as well as to doctors. In addition, relatives are often involved in taking care of the patient and can provide useful insights or may even need support themselves, for which solutions can be developed. In general, it is important to ensure that a sufficient number of people are involved and that you do not focus on just one perspective.
There are a number of qualitative methods that can be used for primary user research in dialogue with the target group. These include, for example, one-on-one interviews with users or experts, focus groups, surveys, monitoring or shadowing. Here, it is necessary to create the accompanying protocols.
These can then be used to analyse the qualitative survey, be that, for example, in the form of a qualitative content analysis based on the approach developed by Philipp Mayring. Last but not least, you have to define what the user needs, which can then be used to derive their requirements. It can be useful to create personas or user/patient journey maps based on the results of the user research to understand the context and target group.
How to develop and visualise product ideas
Product ideas are developed at ideation workshops in the next area of product discovery (ideation and UI design). In a brainstorming session, as many solutions as possible are put forward and collected for the various problems faced by users, with a focus on quantity over quality. The ideas are not evaluated until step two, which can be done with the aid of the How-Wow-Now matrix, for example.
The product idea is further honed after the brainstorming workshop. Information architectures, navigation structures and feature maps are created for digital (healthcare) applications in order to gain an overview of the functions and how they are sorted. User flows, usage scenarios and low-fidelity prototypes such as wireframes show how the product idea is to be deployed.
This is followed (in the case of digital products) by the design of the user interface (UI). The user interface is designed with the help of mood boards, while also taking accessibility and security into account. This also includes defining how the individual elements will be arranged on the UI. The design is implemented in a click dummy, an interactive prototype that looks like the future product but does not yet have any functions.
How to validate your product ideas
Evaluation is the final area of product discovery. It can be divided into the usability evaluation and the technical evaluation. As part of the usability evaluation, the click dummies that were previously created are tested by potential users or usability experts. This can take the form of usability tests, formative usability evaluations, cognitive walkthroughs, heuristic evaluations or expert reviews, to give a few examples. The results of the individual test scenarios must be analysed and changes made to the prototype if this proves necessary. As you can see, product discovery is an iterative process, whereby the evaluation can provide a better understanding of the target group and reveal problems for which new solutions will need to be developed.
There are often risks involved in the use of medical devices, so one of the main focuses of the usability evaluation should be on reducing these to a minimum. It is important to prevent operator errors (for example, the user makes a mistake when entering the readings from the device, leading to the dosage being calculated incorrectly) from having serious consequences for users. To this end, usage scenarios are typically created before the usability evaluation is carried out. These define which of these scenarios present potential risks for users. If there are risk-relevant factors, these must always be taken into account in the evaluation. Another thing that is analysed is whether there are potential errors arising from the scenarios. If this proves to be the case, these must be mitigated through suitable measures designed to reduce the associated risks.
Lastly, high-fidelity prototypes are created for the technical evaluation in the final step. In addition to the project-related technical risks, these are also evaluated as a proof of concept.
Things to consider during product discovery
Ideas should be developed in an interdisciplinary team in order to bring together different points of view. For example, developers focus on technical feasibility, whilst employees with a medical background stress the medical benefits. It is important that ideas are generated on the basis of the problems identified in the user research. This means that the results have to be known and understood by the entire team.
Furthermore, it is important not to be influenced by assumptions and not to hold on to ideas when they prove ineffectual. Even if it is often difficult to deal with the uncertainty, it is vital to approach the process with an open mind in order to obtain a useful product.
Product discovery is used to develop successful products for a specific target group that deliver on their value proposition and meet the needs of users. Product discover allows you to create market-ready products faster and at lower cost than would be the case if you were to employ standard product development approaches, as the following illustration shows.
Prototypes are used in evaluations involving real users in the early discovery phase of the product development process in order to quickly achieve usable results. Then, based on these results, it is possible to make changes easily and at low cost. If it turns out that the product vision is not financially viable, the project can be revamped or scrapped altogether following the product discovery phase, thereby avoiding spending any more money on a product that has little chance of succeeding. Along with that, product discovery in conjunction with medical devices can also help reduce the amount of work from a regulatory perspective. If the requirements are met from the outset and there are results available from user research and the evaluation, these can be used again later for proof of benefit.
That means Ian should also plan in enough time for product discovery the next time around. Instead of creating a product straight away based on his own experience and assumptions, he should take a methodical approach and bring other patients and relatives on board. By doing so, his new product will succeed on the market and help his mother as well as many other people who suffer from osteoporosis.
If you are looking to develop digital products that support patients and their family as well as reduce the workload of doctors, we would be happy to assist you and guide you through the product discovery phase and beyond.
You can explore other topics and learn more about our services for the healthcare sector on our website.
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