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Understanding the product discovery process

Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

December 07, 2022

Before hosting a dinner party, you likely ask your guests about their likes and dislikes. If you forget this step, you could end up with hungry friends who need to hit a drive-through on the way home. 

The same is true of product design. You don’t dive in at the creation stage. Before you can create something that people love, you need to ask a few questions — and know why you’re asking them. This is what product discovery is all about. 

Here’s a guide to the product discovery process to get you started.

What is product discovery?

Product discovery is the process of gathering insights, which you’ll then use to shape your designs. Everyone’s approach is a little different, but at a high level, the process involves three key areas: 

  • Researching 
  • Testing 
  • Validating assumptions

The importance of product discovery

The product discovery process increases your chances of creating a hit product instead of a flop ( celery Jell-O anyone?)

You might be tempted to assume you know what people want, and you could be right — but product discovery isn’t just about avoiding embarrassment. It’s also about creating the best product possible for your customer. One that isn’t ‘close enough’ when it comes to customer needs but, as Goldilocks once said — “just right.”

As a process, it helps you validate a concept before investing, which is always a good thing.

To summarize:

  • Product discovery helps you validate a product concept before investing time and money into the development and launch.
  • By engaging in discovery early on, you can save yourself from costly mistakes further down the line. 
  • It helps you better understand user needs, allowing you to build a product your audience loves.
  • Working towards data-backed goals fosters collaboration and healthy communication with stakeholders, suppliers, and the broader organization. 

How does product discovery work?

Product discovery involves researching, testing ideas, validating assumptions, and understanding users’ needs. It’s a great way to get feedback on your product early on and can help prevent problems later in the development process.

Stages of the product discovery process 

Product discovery processes vary, but it generally involves these five stages: 

1. Research

2. Ideation

3. Validation

4. Specification

5. Development

Let’s expand on these in more detail.

1. Discovery

The first step is to define your users’ need, aka your product’s ‘why’ (here’s a classic TED talk from Simon Sinek about this).

Find your “why” by talking to potential customers, researching your competition, and looking at industry trends. 

The more you research, the better placed you’ll be to understand the root cause of the problem and understand what users need or want.

10 product discovery questions to ask

  1. Who is your target audience?
  2. What problem are you trying to solve?
  3. What do users need from your product?
  4. How would they use it?
  5. What features would they find most useful?
  6. Are there any potential pain points or areas of confusion?
  7. What competition already exists in the market?
  8. How can your product differentiate itself from the competition?
  9. What features do users expect from a product like this?
  10. What is their desired outcome when using the product?

Data collection strategies

At this stage, you’ll use a mixture of qualitative and quantitative research techniques to gather data. This could include interviews, surveys, focus groups, and user testing. Here are three key strategies you’ll need: 

User Interviews 

User interviews are a great way to get early feedback on your product. Talking to people face-to-face (or virtually, one-on-one, or via focus groups) who have experience with the problem you’re trying to solve is invaluable when learning user needs and validating assumptions.

Surveys

Surveys allow you to reach a larger audience for a relatively low cost — and it’s often easier to get honest feedback when people are filling out an anonymous survey.

User journey maps and personas

Once you’ve gathered your data, you’ll want to make sense of it. 

User journey maps are a great way to visualize users’ steps when using your (or an existing) product. This helps you identify potential pain points or issues with your product or others on the market (which means opportunity). 

User personas are also helpful at this stage, as they help you distill your target market into an exemplary user with specific needs and motivations.

Risk register

Every project has risks, but savvy managers know that sticking their heads in the sand generally doesn’t help. 

A risk register is a document that contains a list of every conceivable risk (this could include technical challenges, financial constraints, legal requirements, and so on), as well as a rating for each, priorities, a mitigation plan, and an indication of who is responsible for each. 

2. Ideation

Once you’ve gathered all the information you need, it’s time to start ideating. This is where you come up with potential solutions to the problem you’re trying to solve.

When it comes to ideation, there are no rules — let imaginations run wild! That said, it’s important to remember that not all of your ideas will be feasible, and you will eventually need to focus on the ones with the most potential. But for now? Run free! 

Brainstorming techniques

You can use a few techniques to help you develop good ideas.

1. Brainstorming: Get a group together and generate as many ideas as possible. It’s a great way to get lots of different perspectives and can help to spark new ideas.

2. Analogising: Take an existing product or service, and apply it to your problem. For example, if you’re trying to devise a solution for a food delivery app, you might think about how Uber works and how you could apply that model to your product.

3. Modeling: Take a current solution and improve on it. Consider thinking about ways to improve the user experience or simplify the process to make it easier for users.

4. Reverse Engineering: Take apart a competitor’s product and analyze what makes it successful. You can then use this information to create an even better version.

Once you have some good ideas, it’s time to start validating them.

3. Validation

For this stage, you need to be realistic and ask yourself if the idea is feasible and if it solves the problem.

First, define your metrics. Once you’ve set these metrics, you can start testing your ideas with real users to see how they respond.

Metrics

Three metrics you can consider tracking:

  • User engagement: How long users spend on the product, how often they use it, etc.
  • Conversions: How many people buy/download your product
  • Customer satisfaction: How satisfied customers are with the product.

Once you’ve gathered feedback from real users, analyze the results and make changes to your product as necessary. Iterating and refining your product is a key part of product discovery, so be sure to keep testing until you’ve found the best solution for your audience.

Iteration techniques

You can use a few techniques to help you with this:

1. Pivot or Persevere: Take your original idea and tweak it until it’s feasible. You might need to change the target audience or how the product works to make it viable.

2. Prototyping: Create a basic prototype of the product so that users can interact with it and offer feedback before you’ve invested too much time and money into creating a fully fleshed-out version.

3. User testing: Get people to test your prototype/MVP and give you feedback. It’s a great way to see how users interact with the product and what they think.

4. Specification

Once you’ve validated your idea and deemed it viable, it’s time to get into the details. This is where you think about how the product will work, what features it needs, and what technology you’ll use to support it.

Here are some specifications you’ll need to consider: 

1. Product Requirements: List all the features and functions the product has to have to succeed. Ensure the product requirements are realistic and achievable (and reflect your user’s needs).

2. Technical Specifications: List the technology and infrastructure needed for the product to work. Consider things like servers, databases, and APIs.

3. UI/UX Design: Create the user interface and use wireframes to perfect the UX of your product. It’s essential to ensure that the design is intuitive and easy for users to understand.

4. User Stories: Define how a user will interact with the product with user stories. The more comprehensive you can be, the better! 

5. Development

Now that you’ve defined your product’s requirements and specifications, it’s time to build it. You’ll need to think about coding languages, frameworks, and databases — as well as how you’ll test and refine your product (because discovery never ends!).

 Here are the key focus areas for this stage: 

1. Testing: Essential at the beginning; essential throughout. Test the product at different development stages to ensure it’s working as expected. You’ll also want to use beta testing to banish bugs before the big launch. 

2. Continuous Integration: Use tools like Jenkins and Travis CI to automate tests and deployments. Continuous integration ensures your code is running as expected in different environments — and helps you do it efficiently.

3. Launching: Once you’ve built the product, it’s time to launch. Think about how to market the product, ways to reach users, and what type of support you need to ensure it lands with the splash it deserves. 

4. Promotion: As mentioned above, promotion and marketing help your hard work get the recognition it deserves. So create campaigns and use marketing channels to reach potential users. Your data collected earlier will ensure your message resonates with your target audience.

5. Support: This is where you provide help and support to users once the product is launched. Have a team or system in place to handle any issues or questions quickly and efficiently.

Tools for effective product discovery

  • Backlog: Our all-in-one project management software will help you manage product requirements, tasks, versions, and bug fixes in one place. It’s a great way to ensure everyone on the team — from stakeholders to interns — is on the same page. 
  • Cacoo: Our diagramming tool can help you with brainstorming, wireframing, prototyping, and more. It’s a great way to get feedback on the product’s design, share it with clients, and edit your work with your team simultaneously.
  • Hotjar: Hotjar’s heatmaps visually represent how users engage with your website or app.
  • UserTesting: This handy tool lets you get real-time feedback from your target users as they use your product.

Final thoughts

By following these steps, you’ll be able to conduct a comprehensive product discovery process that will set you up for success. Remember to keep your research objective, be open to feedback and insights, use a range of product discovery questions to gain valuable information about user needs, and give your team tools that are up to the job

Now you’re ready to turn your product discovery process into reality. And don’t forget to use the feedback you collect to keep improving as you go.

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