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Aligning Major Product Discovery Work with the Product Confidence Matrix
How to kickstart product discovery activities with better alignment across stakeholders, and a smaller risk that we're building the wrong thing.
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Being a product manager includes working with a lot of hypotheses and supposed facts. In product discovery, we want to validate key questions to ensure we’re building the right thing. This process isn’t easy if we’re working alone or with a small group. But creating clarity becomes even more challenging if we need to align with a lot of other people.
On the one hand, we want to collect everything in one place that we believe in. On the other, we should ensure that others see the same picture.
While writing a product discovery document helps, the important part is to agree on what has been validated with high enough confidence and what needs more research. And we need certainty, especially if the effort to build the product is significant.
One way to map out the confidence levels is to use a product confidence matrix, a three-by-one sheet that puts hypotheses to three different columns:
What we want to figure out: items with low or no confidence, where we don’t have the expertise, or topics that we haven’t looked into before.
What we suspect: medium confidence ideas that we might want to reconfirm.
What we know: items with high confidence, where no further validation is needed.
Here, we graduate items from left to right once we have confident answers to the questions. The items’ size also matters: more important questions are bigger, indicating their significance. It’s also recommended to focus on bigger cards first and only validate smaller ideas if that’s a reasonable investment.
Even if we get the smaller details wrong during product development (a small part of the user flow, placement of some explanation…), it’s easier to correct those than if we make a mistake with a bigger one.
The main benefit of the product confidence matrix is that it’s shared with others. In the beginning, all essential stakeholder from the product discovery should add their thoughts to the sections (high, medium, low). Once done, the alignment starts: discussing the items’ perceived level of confidence.
The discussion part is vital. During these alignments, we can surface our stakeholders’ context on the topic, or if they have a different viewpoint. And if they do, it’s a good opportunity to share theirs with the rest of the audience, thus, potentially eliminating some guesswork.
Product confidence matrix with an example
Let’s suppose we want to build a new task management app, something similar to Todoist, Google Tasks, or Any.do. Here, we can start writing down our key hypotheses about what our target group would want to see in the product.
Do they need a quick way to delete tasks? Are keyboard shortcuts necessary at the beginning? Should the product support recurring tasks?
After this is done, invite key collaborators for a discussion, presenting what’s assembled:
In reality, it’s rare to have alignment at first, so let’s assume this is not the case here.
When discussing the items, it turns out that there are divisive opinions around the “undo” functionality. Some people in the room argue that it’s highly needed; others challenge this, saying that if it’s easy to add or delete tasks, the feature wouldn’t be a top priority. Finally, the audience agrees to move this hypothesis to the low confidence zone, so more research is needed.
There is another debate around the possibility of live collaboration. A few participants highlight that most to-do apps don’t have this functionality, so it cannot be too important for the first version. Again, the group settles this by moving the idea to the medium-confidence zone, requiring smaller amounts of confirmation.
Lastly, a participant who worked with AI systems before added a suggestion that AI recommendations are needed with high confidence. Others disagree; they argue that while an AI-powered tasklist would be great, the concept is too broad, and the effort might be too much. To resolve this, the stakeholders move this hypothesis to the low confidence zone, marking this for validation.
After the changes, the product confidence matrix takes its final form.
The collaborators see the same picture at once, and the product teams working on the discovery will now be putting effort into the relevant questions. For simplicity, the card sizes were the same in this example, but they should be different in reality, to indicate the items’ significance.
Coordinating product discovery work with many contributors needs effort, especially for major solutions. At this point, individuals cannot just trust that everyone has the same context and knowledge. Some proactive action is needed to align the group.
The product confidence matrix takes the guesswork out of alignment. By agreeing on what we want to figure out, what we suspect, and what we know, we can ask the right questions and, hopefully, get down to the right answers.