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Product Discovery Process – An Essential Guide

Product ideas are born out of need or inspiration. 

In either case, it should be user-centric. Need should be user need. Inspiration should come out of observing the users. 

As cliche as it sounds: You create the product for the users. And you can make this statement into a poster, print it on the shirts, or do anything to remind it. In the hectic process of product development, this often fades away. Or it gets dissolved in the team’s wrong assumptions.

More often the process might begin with assumptions. And, the results are scary. To avoid this, you should start product building with the discovery process. Starting with validation is the best way to ensure security and success. 

Dive in to know how the product discovery can be helpful and how to carry on the process. 

What is product discovery? 

80% of the products/startups fail. And among them, 42% of failure is caused by this—  

There is no market need. It means that the product didn’t address a real user problem or a problem of higher magnitude. 

Imagine putting in the sweat and blood into a product to find it was needless in the first place? That’s what has happened to this 42%. Might be that they have missed the ‘product discovery’ process during their development phase. 

So, what is product discovery?

Product discovery is where you find if your product idea aligns with the user’s needs. Your product is built on one core— user problem. Product discovery helps you check if your product tries to solve the right problem for the right users at the right time. 

Product Discovery Quote
Source: Skyword

A recipe for disaster— that’s how product development is when you don’t focus on users. Product discovery is your savior here. It gives you an answer to 

Why should you develop this product?

If you get an answer that’s convincing enough, you can go ahead with the development process. This Product discovery is all about 

‘Looking before you leap.’

Why is product discovery crucial?

Mitigate risks

Product management comes along with many risks. The riskiest of them all is building a flawed product. It comes along with the threat of financial loss. Investing your time and resources is another thing. 

Product discovery relieves you from such risks. 

You have the researched data to back up your product decisions. Product discovery emphasizes the value of the team and their work. It lets you create products and make use of your product team mindfully.

Feature prioritization 

A product is defined by its features. Packing your product with the right features is the ace up your sleeve. 

What are the ‘right’ features? Well, a simple answer would be— The ones from which the users find the value. However, the rest of the process, i.e- finding the right features, cannot be simple.

Value is directly related to the user’s needs. And needs have a hierarchy. Look at this need triangle that is modified for the digital product world. It depicts how people are tuned to the features of your product. 

Feature prioritization 
Source: Bressler Group

Consider a situation where a user wishes to buy a phone. They opt for mobile phones with good camera quality. However, you cannot entirely take away the basic requirements like the calling option. Wouldn’t they buy a camera instead if they don’t need a call option?

Product discovery aids you in understanding the user needs clearly to classify them. After that, you can use the prioritization frameworks to choose the accurate features. 

Improve company value

Experiments and failure are a part of learning. However, failed products come with the danger of losing credibility and accountability. Unlike Google, which has an established user base, some companies might venture fresh into the business. In that case, creating failure models breaks trust and casts a negative impression. 

Branding has become a vital part of the business. And for brands to win trust, creating products and services that are relevant and successful is crucial. You build trust by delivering value. If not, it’s hard to acquire customers. 

Product discovery helps your business sustain its value among the customers. It is the first step in making your product user-centric as well. 

Phases of  Product discovery

The product discovery process consists of 2 phases

  • Problem space 
  • Solution space

Like the name denotes, the phases deal with problem and solution, respectively. You identify the problem first, and then you move on to thinking about the solution side.

Phases of Product Discovery

Problem space

Alignment

The Discovery process involves many people from the product team. Especially, it brings in the key stakeholders. The first step is to ensure that they are aligned with the goal. And it’s upon the product manager to align them.

The goal here defines the problem you are trying to deal with. The focus and discussion should happen on the problems, not the solutions. Here are right and wrong questions,

Right and wrong questions

You elaborate on the problem statement here. 

Research

Now, it’s time to test your assumptions about the problem statement. Research enables you to look into the market and users to understand the reality. Then, you can compare it with your presumptions. 

Research includes

  • User research, done through interviews and surveys.
  • Market research like competitor analysis.

User research is of different types ⁠— qualitative (direct observation), quantitative (indirect sampling of reality), behavioral (what people do), and attitudinal (what people think). You can employ either of these or do a mix and match. 

You can document the user research data into the design artifacts like empathy maps, user personas, and journey maps.

Solution space

When the problems are analyzed and understood enough, your next stop is the solution. 

Ideate

Problems matter. But your product is the solution you are giving the users. 

The ideation stage is where you brainstorm or story map ideas/solutions. You can bring in team members and ask for their ideas. Once you gather ideas, ask the team to vote on the best ones. It’s significant to ask stakeholders for their say in choosing the solution to go ahead with. 

By the end of the ideation stage, your product vision and goals are ready.

Create

It’s time to demonstrate and check if the solution works. You have to create prototypes that bring your ideas to life. Be careful not to put too much effort into building it. You need not develop a high-fidelity prototype. 

Remember: Don’t concentrate on UI. It’s all about the functionality. 

Validate

The Discovery process is all about coming back to the users. 

Test the prototypes with your users. Ask for their opinions. You can do this through A/B testing, user interviews, and surveys (again). Involve stakeholders to know how they like it. Bring in developers to determine the feasibility. You must check the accountability of the results. Depending on the number of users, you must test it with suitable methods. 

Based on all the responses, you should validate your idea. If it doesn’t work/if the users aren’t satisfied, you can get back to the research or ideation phase.

Refine

If everything goes well with the validation, you start refining the solution/prototype. Here is where the actual transition from discovery to development happens. You got to come up with a further plan- the roadmaps. 

You shift the road from discovery to delivery here. However, discovery is like a parallel path to delivery. Whenever there’s a doubt or issue with the solutions you can enter the discovery lane.

This entire process is complicated. But you can employ product discovery tools to make it easier and effective. 

Your Product discovery team

When it comes to product discovery, cross-collaboration is a big league. Different teams need to come together, involve and contribute to the process. 

The Discovery stage needs varied perspectives from these teams. Especially the views from team members involved in product development can give you the awareness of the ground reality of their work, feasibility, and the gaps. It helps you avoid making assumptions about their work. 

Bringing them together is also a better way to help them understand the core of the product idea well. It makes it easier when the development activities begin. When teams are more aware of what they are creating, they can perform and contribute better. 

In addition to the teams, there are a few significant people, the stakeholders. You should include them. Product discovery is a continuous process. And at times, you need temporary contributors. So, it’s better to sort who is in the core discussion and who should be looped in occasionally. It makes scheduling and collaboration easy for everyone. 

Product discovery should comprise —  

Product Discovery Team

You can also include the sales team and marketing team. It all depends upon the nature of your discovery phase. 

When should you opt for Product discovery?

Multiple occasions demand product discovery processes. There are 3 cases where product discovery is helpful and necessary.

  1. You are building new products.

Product discovery is the check post of your ideas. It means your product ideas have to get past this to get implemented. 

So, in terms of timeline, product discovery comes before the actual product development process. It can begin when you do or do not have an idea.

 In the case of the former, you can see if there’s a customer segment and need. For the latter, you can research the user base and generate product ideas based on their problems. 

  1. You are redesigning. 

The redesign is done to make your product better. But for whom? Users. So, product discovery can help make the right decisions here. 

  1. Always

Product discovery is a continuous process. 

Agile development has become established in the product development field. It is all about dealing with arising problems on the go. This process embodies a learn-and-improve loop. The discovery phase intertwines itself in the process. You have to employ it whenever there’s a need. And there’s always going to be a need. 

When the product matures, or when you need to scale it up, or you wish to venture into new markets, product discovery can be the right choice. It can help you lay the foundation with confidence. 

Product discovery, product strategy, and product roadmap ⁠— the connection. 

Product discovery is not only continuous but also deep-rooted in everything that follows. You may see it as just a validation step, but there’s more to it than this. Well, validation is a part. However, the product discovery phase delivers the essence for framing product strategy and the roadmap. 

It is from the output of the discovery phase that you need to devise your product strategy. Involving everyone in the discovery stage reflects on the strategy formulation as well. It helps you in keeping everyone on the same page. Any miscommunication or conflict can be easily sorted out. People can give insightful inputs on strategy as well. 

Strategy translates into the roadmap. You got to refer to the takeaways from the discovery stage in building your product roadmap. Also, as you start working on the product roadmap, there might be some contradictory situations of what to prioritize. Findings of the discovery stage can provide you the clarity of what’s more important. 

Endnote

Every product owner/manager imagines their users to be loyal to their products.

Creating a product that users can never say no to is not a child’s play. But, you cannot deem it to be impossible. 

Product development is like a crossroads. 

You cannot just drive your product past it. There will be problems ready to bombard you from all directions. And product discovery is the green light on a standstill road that lets you know when it is time to move forward.

Product discovery, being a crucial stage, needs proper execution. The intricacies require attention and perfect handling. If it looks complex for you, there are digital product agencies that can help you out. They employ varied product discovery techniques to help you figure out the user needs.  Product discovery

Nandhini Narayanan

Nandhini Narayanan

A content writer who loves to explore and write about the digital product space. Constantly attempts to read between lines and live in words.

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