Feb 22, 2023

Product Discovery at BASF with NEXT



Rick van der Werf

Chemicals are everywhere.

And so is BASF.

On earth, on the moon, or on planet Mars.

On earth, BASF products are used in the fabric of airbags that keep us safe, in the foam of running shoes that cushion our runs, and in the laundry detergents that make our clothes whiter and brighter.   

In space, BASF products were used to insulate the solar panels of the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission during its 786 days in space.

And on planet Mars, BASF special coatings are used to protect NASA's Mars Rovers from extreme temperatures and radiation.

The company's 111,000 strong workforce work in chemicals, materials, industrial solutions, surface technologies, nutrition & care, and agricultural solutions. They contribute to the success of over 90,000 customers in almost every country in the world.

BASF team chooses NEXT to build better products, accelerate time to product market-fit, and lower development costs

When it comes to developing products, discovery is everything.

"We are not god," says Adrian von Mühlenen — Product Owner in Catena-X at BASF.

"We cannot magically be aware of our customers' needs and wants," he continues. "The only way [to build great products that deliver tangible customer value] is to have this discovery-first approach."

But it wasn't always smooth sailing for Adrian and his team. In a previous iteration of their product, they had gone ahead with an assumption of the customer's problem without any validation only to realize, after releasing the product, that they had totally missed the mark.

"Oh, my gosh, we should have validated that much earlier," said Adrian.

Research shows that for every dollar you spend researching functionality during the discovery phase, it costs $10 to redesign that functionality during development, and it costs $100 or more after release.

The result? 

"That was like an eyeopener," continued Adrian. 

The team went back to the drawing board with a real commitment to product discovery before they developed anything.

"The [customer] interactions during the observation and interviews let us identify what are the key features that needed to be done to make their job massively easier [for the customer]".

The team also used this discovery phase to focus on the business value of solving the customers' problem. 

"Without the discovery, without the customer-centric approach, we wouldn't have achieved the design that we have today. And we wouldn't have a crisp picture of the [business] value we are delivering [to the customers]." said Adrian.

Product decision based on customer evidence – not gut feeling

Too often, product decisions are based on a hunch, an assumption, or direction from the higher ups.

"Before NEXT, we made product decisions based on gut feeling, not customer evidence," said Adrian. "NEXT helped us define the final design of our product."

And NEXT isn't something just for the product owner, UX, and designers. Everyone on the team used NEXT and contributed to the discovery work. 

"It's always good to have different perspectives," says Adrian. "[In discovery], you need tech, customer, and business."

Adrian then argued that going on gut feeling isn't just bad at the moment of making product decisions. It's also bad when revisiting previous decisions.

"[Before NEXT], we used whiteboards, tons of paper, and flip charts [for discovery]," said Adrian. "And the worst thing is that we didn't have a repository to which we could come back and see why we made certain [product] design decisions."


Adrian and his team have used NEXT to establish a customer-first way of working in their team. The discovery work happens in parallel to the delivery work. 

Product discovery is intended to provide customer validated items in the backlog that Adrian's team can build with confidence.

BASF continues to invest in developing solutions for the greatest challenges of our time – protect the climate, make optimal use of limited resources and provide food, energy and clean water for a booming world population. Unpacking the customer needs and wants is an important step in delivering customer value.

"I definitely see a tremendous potential for NEXT, not only in software development, where actually it is already the standard way of working, but also in the more adjacent areas: like hardware and also in materials development." concluded Adrian. "And I hope you can contribute to changing the game in the way we actually structure R&D."