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The striking similarities between Escape rooms and Product discovery

The Product Discovery Escape Room

Cover Image for the Blog Article "The striking similarities between Escape Rooms and Product Discovery"

You probably have played an escape room game before. If you haven’t the purpose of an escape room is to discover clues, solve puzzles, and accomplish tasks to reach a specific goal in a limited amount of time.

There are some striking similarities between playing an escape room game and running a product discovery. 

So if you are looking for a nice team event, sponsored by the company, that is both engaging, motivating and useful for work, look no further and let me help you get the budget.

Let’s look at the Product Discovery first.

Product Discovery

Product Discovery at its core is a process to help refine ideas by deeply understanding real user problems and then landing on the best way to solve them. The outcome provides you with the insights if and why the idea should be developed and offered.

The product discovery typically helps to answer the following questions

Product Discovery Questions: Will the customer get how to and use it? Will they be willing to pay for this? Can we build it? Would our company want to deliver this?

Discovery Process

The process to answering these questions looks something like this.

Product Discovery high-level process: Initiate, Research and Analyze, Ideate and Solution Framing

Initiate: This is all about understanding the idea and which challenge it solves. If we pursue this idea, what problem will it solve, how will it enrich lives. What is the real problem we are trying to solve?

Research and Analysis: To truly understand and define the problem, you need to discover. You can do this through research and analyzing the information you have acquired. 

Ideate: When you nailed the research and analysis, it is time to ideate the best solution to tackle the problem. What will the most suitable solution, that is desirable, viable and feasible, look like?

Solution Framing: Time to make the solution and develop a prototype, test and iterate on it, to find the ultimate solution, to start building and delivering for.

Product Discovery Essentials

The essentials to running a successful Product Discovery are as follows

Product Discovery Essentials: Assemble your team, keep things organized, communicate, understand thoroughly, work with your customer, look at the broader picture

Assemble your team: The product discovery isn’t done in solitude, and consists of the Product Manager, the Designer, the Engineer and a few others. Each of them bring their own expertise, making it an effective bunch of people!

Keep things organized: The Product Discovery phase can be overwhelming, shifting between divergent and convergent practices. To get to a great outcome, having structure and an organized approach is not only efficient, it also helps to stay focussed on what matters most and provides more “brain space”.

Communicate: Besides being organized, communicating is key, for all involved to work towards the same outcome. Observations are to be shared, problems are understood and solutions are brainstormed together. The discovery team is one lean mean communication machine.

Understand Thoroughly: Great discovery is run based on assumptions, with the purposes to not end with assumptions. The problem is to be understood deeply, to then validate against with a prototype of some sort. If you don’t understand thoroughly, there is a good chance you will not solve the right problem and waste a lot of resources, time, and money.

Work with your Customer: To solve the right problem you work with your customer, they provide you with valuable information, and enable you to understand what it is, that is to be created, for them to improve their lives and deliver value.

Look at the broader picture: To understand the true problem, you can not have tunnel vision. During Product Discovery, you need to have an open mind and stay focussed on what is the right problem to solve.

Now let’s take a step back and look at the Escape Room Approach

The Escape Room Approach

An escape room is a game in which a (team of) player(s) are introduced to a story in which one needs to discover clues, solve puzzles, and accomplish tasks, in order to accomplish a specific goal, in a limited amount of time. 

As you might have guessed, frequently the specific goal is to escape from the site of the game.

To win an escape game, you will probably find yourself answering some of the following questions.




Escape Room questions to answer: How is this (logically) connected to the story? What have explored and uncovered What is needed next to achieve the specific goal? How much more time do we have, and do we understand it well enough to resolve within the remaining time?

The Escape Room Process

The process to answering these questions looks something like this

Escape Room high-level process: Initiate, Research and Analyze, Ideate and Solution Framing

[you are seeing the overlap here already, right? #mindblown …just wait … there is more to come]

Initiate: This is all about understanding the context of the escape room, what is the background, which hints have you been provided with, how do your surroundings look like and what are your initial thoughts. With this information given, what are the objects that can help me, what are the items I can see around me, and how can they be linked logically?

Research and Analysis: To truly understand, connect the dots and resolve puzzles, you need to discover. You can do this through research and analyzing the information you have acquired.

Ideate: When you nailed the research and analysis, for a puzzle, it is time to ideate and connect the dots. How do we solve this puzzle and unlock the next one?

Solution Framing: Time to try, and go for it. If you don’t succeed at once, try again, keep initiating, researching, analyzing and framing a solution to unlock the next step and get closer to escaping the room.

On top of that, an Escape Room is Time-boxed. You get a fixed amount of time to figure out all the puzzles and win the game. In my belief, any good Product Discovery should also be time-boxed too. Time-boxing is a great tool for concretely defining open-ended or ambiguous tasks. It helps to avoid analysis paralysis, limits the tendency to procrastinate, and increases motivation.

You will take as much time to discover as you are willing to give it. 

Product Discovery Essentials

Essentials to winning an Escape Room Game

Escape Room Essentials: Assemble your team, keep things organized, communicate, understand thoroughly, work with your host, look at the broader picture

[if you didn’t see the overlap in the process, the essentials show the striking similarities, right? #dontleavemehanging]

Assemble your team: To have a common context for communication and shared norms, an escape room is best played with people you know. A diverse group of people who all bring their unique self to the table, to discover clues, solve puzzles, and accomplish tasks.

Keep things organized: Organize objects neatly, to keep the room tidy, so you can find what you need. Make a used and unused pile. Keep a used key in its lock, as a key is almost never used more than once. In short, stay organized to keep oversight and increase your changes to escape.

Communicate: Teams work best when they try everything. It is important to listen to each other, share ideas and try together. Escape rooms are won and lost based on how quickly you find related items and can match them together. Don’t be afraid to shout loudly what you find, like a key, a lock, or a pattern that shows up in the same way in two different places.

Understand Thoroughly: To find all clues, you need to get oversight. Split the room into section and have each searched through by someone, to find essential objects and clues. Be extremely thorough when look and touching everywhere, sometimes you might find items in the most unexpected places. Understand thoroughly, but don’t overthink it.

Work with your Host: Listen to the intro and rules provided by your host. Sometimes you just need some support or a hint. Work with your host when you are completely stuck to revive the energy and move forward, and double check when something doesn’t work, which you are certain of that it should.

Look at the broader picture: It is easy to get lost in all the little details that you see in an escape room. Know what to ignore and avoid getting too stuck on an individual puzzle, as you might not have found enough clues to resolve yet. Keep track of the larger picture, meaning understanding which puzzles are to be resolved, what objects are to be collected and which items have been used.

I am hoping the next part is needless, yet let’s look at how the Product Discovery and Escape Room have striking resemblances in process and essentials.

The Similarities

The Process

Picture mirroring the four steps of the Product Discovery and Escape Room high-level process

Say what now, they are basically identical. Who would have seen that coming. There is a lot to say for the processes for both discovery and an escape room are striking similar and suffice the same objective of meeting a specific goal.

The Essentials

Picture mirroring the 6 Product Discovery and Escape Room essentials

Again so much overlap, it is like if looking in a mirror. Now ain’t that something!

Unlock the potential of your team by playing an escape room 

Yep, this title was #punintended!

Utilizing the above and helping teams understand the similarities will not only be a great team energizer, but give a bunch of hands-on Product Discover learnings as well. Now go get your leaders to provide budget for this win-win-win situation.

Picture with title: Potential Unlocked, Goal Accomplished

Hope you enjoyed this short read and let me know what you think about the comparison!


Klaas Hermans for Sharpwitted.Ninja

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