Whether you’re a Product Manager, a Business Analyst, a Product Designer, or a Product Owner, understanding the product discovery process can help you make informed decisions and increase your chances of success. So let’s dive in!
The product discovery process involves market research, idea generation, prototyping, testing, and launching. It’s a crucial process to launch new products with a minimum chance of failure and stay competitive while meeting the ever-changing demands of customers.
There are two phases to the product discovery process: gaining an in-depth understanding of customer needs and then using this knowledge to create a product. The product discovery process enables product teams to make safe, informed decisions about which features to prioritize and build while laying the foundation for achieving product excellence.
What is the product discovery process?
The product discovery process is about developing the right products and features for the target users and customers. It has two main phases before development starts: a thorough understanding of users’ problems and needs, and validation of solution ideas.
Product discovery aims to ensure that the product design and the overall product strategy respond to real user problems, meet business objectives, and reduce risks when making decisions.
If it fails, the link between potential customer needs and the products built is potential, and therefore the risk of product failure is higher.
Inadequate conduct or omission of the product discovery process is a product management failure, which increases the following uncertainties:
- Will people use it, and will there be enough customers?
- Can users figure out how to use the product or product feature?
- Will our product have a place in the market, is it priced right, etc?
- Can it be taken further, or is the product complete with the planned features?
Product discovery reduces these uncertainties and risks and ensures that we create products that are useful and likable for our target users. It helps the product team to focus on the problem and needs of users, giving them deep user insight into the problem the product is intended to solve.
It is important to note that the product discovery process is not necessarily about delivering product features to the product development team or validating business goals. Rather, it is to foster the necessary openness and learning environment that will help consistently develop the product.
When do you need product discovery?
The process of product discovery is typically defined as the process before product delivery. It describes the work of making decisions about what to build, while product delivery describes the work of building the product.
Product discovery is needed when the team is not developing according to requirements, i.e. there is no precise documentation of what needs to be built, for whom, and why. If any of these are missing, for example, because you are preparing for new markets or adding new features to an existing product, you need to go through the product discovery process. The product discovery process is also about reducing project risks and costs, rather than developing products based on assumptions and unnecessary nice-to-have features.
Product discovery should take place at the start of the project. In the case of a new product, the product discovery process takes place before building roadmaps or strategies are developed, so it is essentially the first thing we do.
Or, as part of an agile approach, we can make it an iterative process of what we call continuous discovery. Or we can go through this with an existing product to improve it, and then we talk about product rediscovery.
Product discovery process: a step-by-step framework
The product discovery team
When a project is launched, product discovery helps the product team to collaborate, create a shared understanding and define the product vision and discuss project goals. Therefore, it is essential to involve all stakeholders in the process and make all of their perspectives valuable when designing the product. Thus, many views and interests need to be aligned, but the proper methodologies and tools are in place.
Typical roles in the product discovery team are
- Product Managers
- Product Designers
- Product Developers
- Marketing Managers
- Sales Managers
- Decisionmakers on the customer/sponsor side
The main stages of the product discovery process
The discovery process can be divided into two broad categories of activities: exploration and validation of hypotheses.
Exploration includes research, brainstorming, and evaluation activities. It involves communicating with stakeholders, understanding existing problems, researching potential solutions, and all activities related to exploring the customer’s pain points.
The purpose of validation is to check all the assumptions made during the discovery process and to verify from the user side that they create value. Before anything is designed, we must prove that the implementation of our ideas can create value for the end user. This is done using data and customer interviews and customer feedback, prototypes, and usability tests.
The validation phase takes place before the user stories are written, and aims to ensure that each idea staple is sure that it should be in the backlog.
Product Discovery tools and techniques
Ideally, the product discovery team will involve the customer in some form throughout the decision-making process.
There are dozens of product discovery techniques, and methodologies, these are the most popular ones:
- Surveys, user interviews, and focus groups
- Design Thinking, design sprints
- Journey mapping
- User story mapping
- OKRs (Objectives and Key Results)
- RAT (Riskiest Assumptions Test)
- Opportunity-solution tree
- Jobs to be done
- Usability tests
- Double Diamond, etc.
How to manage product discovery and how StoriesOnBoard helps you get it right
Agile product teams are always in product discovery mode to some extent and often run different discovery and validation activities in parallel to make faster progress. This is because – if they are truly customer-centric – they seek user feedback from the target audience as often as possible to make data-based product development decisions and product strategies.
There are no strict rules for product discovery, but they generally consist of the following stages:
The product discovery process starts with brainstorming with the product team to generate product ideas. This can be a solution to an already known and identified problem, the development of a completely new product idea, or the improvement of an existing product.
The aim is to identify the problem, formulate hypotheses from the perspective of the potential users, do the research, and create prototypes that after validation can be implemented as product features.
You can also use StoriesOnBoard to facilitate brainstorming workshops.
StoriesOnBoard is a product management tool built around the popular product discovery framework, user story mapping. You can create an ideas board to share ideas, suggestions, insights, valuable feedback, and more. After validation, you can easily convert these cards into user stories, which you can push to the visual backlog, the story map, with a few clicks.
Let’s see how to manage ideas in StoriesOnboard’s Ideas board:
You can carry out fresh user research, conduct user and customer interviews, focus group workshops, or review existing user or customer feedback to identify the pain points, needs, and goals of your target user group.
Once you’ve established feedback collection channels to receive feedback from colleagues, such as customer service and the success team, review to see if any valuable insights, themes, or recurring comments have come up frequently.
With StoriesOnBoard, it’s a very simple matter: you can automate the feedback collection from different channels into a single repository using integrations, highlight valuable insights, and place them in an idea board to share with all your team members.
Validation: prototype and test
Create prototypes or an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and test the core functionalities with your target audience.
It’s important to define success: after the problem and root causes, you must also define exactly what you consider successful problem-solving to be in terms of meeting your objectives and business goals. So set well-defined, preferably quantified, objectives. The OKR can be a good way of doing this.
The product discovery process is followed by the product development process, which involves market research, product-market fit, pricing plans, developing a product strategy and a product roadmap, and creating a Minimum Viable Product.
The use of user story mapping for product discovery makes prioritization and validation of ideas transparent: it is easy for all members of the product team to understand, so they can collectively select the user stories that will be included in the MVP from the visual backlog.
A quick guide to timeboxed and continuous product discovery
Creating new products, launching them, and seeing the profound impact they have on users’ lives is one of the most rewarding experiences in business. That’s probably why you’re in this game.
When practiced correctly, product discovery maximizes the chances of achieving product successRoman Pinchler
When you first start product discovery, be sure the product team asks the following questions, as these will provide a framework for the more detailed processes of ongoing product discovery.
Ask these questions before you start the continuous product discovery process
- The product development process identifies the market segment. It also provides in-depth knowledge of prospective customers. Who is the customer?
- The product must work as a solution to a specific problem or achieve a goal. What value does the customer get from the product?
- The product must stand out from the competition. How does the product compete with existing, similar solutions?
- Successful organizations not only create valuable products but also have a longer-term mission. Their main goal may be to generate revenue with their product, but it may also be to increase brand awareness in the market. How does the product fit into the larger business objectives?
- In today’s marketplace, ethical considerations are vital to a product’s reputation. Can your product have an impact on society or the climate?
- Production and marketing channels, costing, and revenue streams play a vital role in product development. What is the marketing and business model of the product? Do you have a product strategy?
- Identifying and optimizing how people will use the product is essential to its success. What will the user journey of the product be like?
- Before designing the architecture, consider all the available technologies. How will you design the product architecture?
Product discovery frameworks
There are two main types of agile methodology for product discovery: timeboxed product discovery, and continuous product discovery.
Timeboxed product discovery
Time-boxed product discovery is a strategy to use when you want to launch new products or make significant changes to an existing product. When it comes to innovating and redesigning products at the highest level, it is extremely difficult to estimate how much work this will require. Timeboxing the process will ensure that development doesn’t spiral out of control into a resource-draining process.
Time-boxed product discovery requires the right team. Therefore, it makes sense to involve stakeholders, representatives of the development team, and a Product Owner and/or Product Manager.
A suggestion to consider: if product discovery and product delivery are carried out by the same cross-functional team, it is likely to increase internal motivation, and individual responsibility and prevent knowledge silos from forming within the organization.
Make sure to bring all the relevant knowledge into the room. A facilitator such as an Agile Coach or a Scrum Master can then guide the process. Their role is key, as they can ensure that everyone on the product team is listened to and that the best ideas get to the top.
What is the point of a time limit in the product discovery process?
Time-boxed product discovery is one of the ways to avoid the rabbit hole of innovation and getting lost in the details of the process.
Consequently, the primary objectives are:
- validate the product strategy and business model,
- establish a practical and feasible product roadmap,
- identify the product details needed,
- enable the development of design concepts and the prototyping of product architecture.
As a result, the creativity of the developers, the responsibility of the stakeholders and the product goals of the Product Owner come together in a time-constrained process and collide different proposals, so that everyone knows the arguments and can quickly agree.
The result of a time-boxed product discovery process triggers development and creates a minimum viable product (MVP). However, the MVP is rarely the finished product. This is where continuous product discovery or product rediscovery comes in.
Continuous Product Discovery
Continuous product discovery is an important process that can squeeze more value out of your products. As technologies evolve and markets change, static products are never optimal for maximizing revenue. Businesses can become more successful if they remain open and flexible, and can constantly adapt to changes and new challenges.
Best practices for continuous product discovery
- KPIs (key performance indicators) or OKRs (objectives and key results) continually assess where the entire team improves.
- Innovation should include new technological developments as well as other external variables. For example, changes in legislation or the changing position of competitors may affect the ability to sell the product or grow the market.
- Investigate your competitors. Remember, your competitors have been involved in much the same processes as you are. Therefore, by keeping an eye on their developments, you can discover a gap in your continuous product discovery and generate new ideas.
- Internal changes to your business strategy may mean that your product development processes need to be rethought. What impact do changes within your own company have on the product? For example, is there a way to reduce costs or expand your agile teams?
- Create a product roadmap that tracks planned changes and is understandable and accessible to all product team members. Product roadmaps also support prioritization and sprint planning.
Continuous product discovery gives you a stable competitive edge in the market, as it constantly provides new sources of value and greater innovation in product development.
The product discovery process helps validate your product vision and make informed decisions before you invest time, money, and resources in product design and development.
It helps you better understand the potential user’s needs so you can create a coherent product strategy and a product that your audience will love and want to use, without unnecessary costs.
Ongoing good communication and agreed objectives will foster successful collaboration among stakeholders and help ensure the success of the product.
Continuous product discovery fits effectively into this model, but only if collaboration is defined as a core value. Getting everyone involved across all channels means that valuable insights are built into product discovery.
Remember, retrospectives are an excellent way to identify potential pitfalls and errors in the discovery phase and to continually refine the development workflow.