The Product Discovery Process 101

If you've ever wondered about the product discovery process or its components, I can assure you, you're not alone! For many years, I was both curious and confused about the entire topic of product discovery. However, times have changed, and with this brief article, I hope to illuminate the mysteries of product discovery.

Let’s start with a critical question…

What is Product Discovery?

The product discovery process involves continuously identifying and validating your customers and their problems. Once you understand who your customers are and the challenges they face, you can begin to think about solutions. Alternatively, if you've identified a problem, you might want to pinpoint the individuals who experience that issue. In either scenario, the goal is to achieve what's known as Product-Market Fit. If you address a problem that no one has or is concerned about, you've wasted both time and money. Regrettably, this is why more than 90% of startups fail. While product discovery lays the foundation, it also shapes the product vision and strategy.

What a Product Discovery Isn’t!

Product discovery isn't simply asking customers, "What problem do you have?" Instead, you should have a hypothesis or question in place that you intend to validate. Asking people about their problems without a guiding hypothesis will lead you nowhere. Therefore, you should always inquire about a specific problem and how they are addressing it. I'll dive into the question templates later.

With that basic understanding let’s go deeper into the rabbit hole and take a look at the product discovery process.

A Product Discovery Process Overview

The process of discovering products contains a couple of steps which are all connected to each other. Let’s take a look at the image below:

The product discovery process is the headline and its goal is to find product-market fit. In order to find product market fit it’s recommended to do customer development.

Note: The whole product discovery can be done either quantitatively (e.g. surveys) or qualitatively (customer interviews).

The Need for Customer Development

Customer development involves engaging with potential customers. The professional approach is termed "conducting customer interviews." This is done by asking open-ended questions related to a specific topic, problem, or hypothesis you aim to validate. Once you begin to understand your customer's challenges, you move significantly closer to achieving "product-market fit." The subsequent step is to devise a solution that genuinely addresses the customer's needs. Please remember that the entire process is iterative. A single conversation with a potential customer won't provide all the answers you seek. It's essential to engage with them regularly, as behaviors and needs evolve over time.

Doing User Research to Build the Right Thing(s)

In user research, you dig a level deeper to validate your user experience (UX) and user interfaces (UI). At this stage, we're validating the solutions we've worked out. This requires conversations with potential and/or existing users. Another term often used in this context is "user testing." During this testing phase, you engage in an iterative process: presenting your solutions, allowing customers to test your product, and silently observing while taking notes. Prototypes are most commonly tested because they offer a quick and cost-effective way to validate ideas and solutions before diving into development.

Product Discovery Techniques That Will Help You

I’ve created an overview of product discovery techniques that you can try out if you’re looking to validate an idea.

1. Customer Interviews

Engage directly with customers to understand their needs, pain points, and desires, using open-ended questions to gather qualitative insights.

2. Observational Studies

Observe users as they interact with your product or a competitor's product in their natural environment. Such studies will provide insights into user behaviors, challenges, and workarounds.

3. Prototyping and Rapid Testing

Create low-fidelity prototypes of your product ideas, and subsequently test them with users to swiftly gather feedback and iterate.

4. Competitive Analysis

Study competitors' products to identify gaps, strengths, and areas of improvement. Additionally, understanding market trends and user expectations is crucial. This is one of my personal favorites

5. Surveys and Questionnaires

Distribute online surveys to a broader audience to gather quantitative data. It's recommended to use a mix of multiple-choice, rating scales, and open-ended questions.

6. Affinity Diagramming

Organize insights from research sessions into themes or categories, allowing you to identify patterns and prioritize features or improvements more effectively.

7. User Journey Mapping

Chart out the user's journey with your product, from awareness to advocacy, to help identify pain points and opportunities at each stage.

8. Empathy Mapping

Visualize what users say, think, do, and feel about your product to gain a deeper understanding of their emotional experiences.

9. 🅰️/🅱️ Testing

Test two versions of a product feature to determine which one performs better, using metrics such as conversion rates, user engagement, and satisfaction scores.

10. Analytics and Usage Data

Analyze user behavior within your product using analytics tools to gain insights into popular features, drop-off points, and areas for improvement.

11. Stakeholder Workshops

Engage with internal teams, such as sales, support, and marketing, to gather insights, understand internal perspectives, and align on product direction.

12. Feature Voting

Allow users or stakeholders to vote on potential features or improvements, and prioritize development based on demand. However, exercise caution! Since this process is internal, there's potential for bias.

Each of these techniques offers unique insights and can be tailored to fit the specific needs of your product and audience. Incorporating a mix of these methods will provide a holistic view of user needs and guide your product discovery process effectively.

Product Discovery Template

There are many product discovery templates on the internet. I’m a big fan of keeping things lean and simple. That’s why I created a quite lean template for myself that I’d like to share with you. Feel free to adjust to your needs.

BTW: If you want to learn a quick and pragmatic way of doing user research I recommend listening to this podcast interview with Nikki Anderson:

Product Discovery Framework

One of the most renowned frameworks is the PDAC framework. It stands for:

  • Plan
  • Do
  • Act
  • Check

In my view, it closely mirrors the double diamond framework, which emphasizes the four D’s:

  • Discover
  • Define
  • Develop
  • Deliver

Ultimately, I contend that most product discovery frameworks convey the same core principles:

  1. You have to understand the problem
  2. You need to talk to your customer and validate your assumption
  3. You scratch out a solution and test it
  4. You build it and then…

True validation and feedback only come once your product is live! That's the moment of truth when you discover if you were on the mark or missed it. However, I don't believe in labeling outcomes as "wrong." Instead, I see every outcome as a learning opportunity. I don't believe you ever truly fail; you simply learn. What's your take on failure? I'd love to discuss this further on Linkedin.

Continuous Product Discovery: The Modern Way of Product Development

In the ever-evolving landscape of product development, the traditional "build it and they will come" approach is no longer sufficient. Continuous Product Discovery is a dynamic, iterative approach that keeps the user at the center of product development, ensuring that products not only meet current user needs but also anticipate future demands.

Why Continuous?

The digital world is in constant motion. User behaviors shift, technologies advance, and market dynamics change. A one-time discovery, no matter how thorough, will soon become outdated. Continuous product discovery ensures that teams are always in tune with these changes, making real-time adjustments and staying ahead of the curve.

Key Principles of Continuous Product Discovery

User-Centricity: You regularly engage with users through interviews, surveys, and usability tests. Their feedback is the compass that guides your product direction.

Iterative Learning: Adopt a mindset of continuous learning. Each product release, user feedback session, or prototype test offers invaluable insights to you.

Cross-Functional Collaboration: Product discovery isn't just the domain of product managers or UX designers. Engineers, marketers, sales teams—all have unique insights that can enrich your discovery process.

Data-Driven Decisions: While intuition has its place, decisions grounded in data tend to be more reliable. Regularly analyze user metrics, A/B test results, and other quantitative data.

Flexibility: Be prepared to pivot. The goal of continuous discovery is to identify the best possible solution for your users, even if it means changing course.

The Payoff

Continuous product discovery fosters a culture of proactive problem-solving. Instead of reacting to issues post-launch, your teams can anticipate and address challenges in the development phase. What’s the result? A product that resonates with your users, fewer costly post-launch iterations, and a stronger market position.

In Conclusion

In the words of the renowned design thinker Tim Brown, "Fail early to succeed sooner." It's not just a methodology; it's a mindset!