Product Discovery - The Ultimate Guide for Product Managers

November 16, 2022
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Product managers almost always want to look for answers to questions like - which problem to prioritize next? How do I better impact customers’ lives with my products and services? 

The answer to these questions lies in the concept of product discovery. Businesses that focus on building their own product discovery process can save a lot of time and money. Product discovery is a rather simple process if product managers know the right tools and techniques. 

Here is a step-by-step guide on the product discovery process that product managers can take inspiration from before working on their next product roadmap. 

So, let’s dive in! 

What is Product Discovery? 

Product discovery is a process that product managers use to figure out which product to develop next. Product discovery aims to get a clear idea about users’ needs and validate your product roadmap. A successful product discovery process can help product managers answer the following questions: 

  • What is the central problem users are facing? 
  • Am I solving the right problem with the product? 
  • Will the customers be ready to pay for this product? 

“Not everyone wants to do product discovery but everybody should" — Jeff Gothelf

The product discovery process will continue as long as you don’t find optimum answers to these questions. As soon as you find the correct answer to all of these questions, you can create, revise or adjust your product roadmap and start communicating with the development team. 

Why is Product Discovery Important? 

Product discovery process is an integral part of any product manager’s responsibilities. It is important because it helps product management teams understand what customers need. A product only qualifies as a “necessary product” if it solves a genuine problem. 

Think of Uber. This brand solved a deep need of customers to book cabs online. Uber is an example of why products that fulfill customers’ needs have a higher demand in marketing. A successful product discovery process can differentiate between a product that is simply “nice to have” and an “absolutely necessary” product. 

Product Discovery Process Explained - A Step by Step Discussion 

Product discovery process can be different for different product managers. However, the fundamentals of the product discovery process remain the same. Here are the steps of a product discovery process that most product managers follow: 

  • Learn and understand 
  • Define and decide 
  • Ideate and prioritize 
  • Prototype and test 

Step 1: Learn and understand 

The first step in the product discovery process is to understand your target users’ pain points. And how can you do that? By absorbing as much information as possible. When you start exploring more about your target users, you’ll start noticing patterns in their pain points. Evidently, you have to prioritize the most common patterns first and build a product around them. 

Most organizations kickstart the product discovery process with a top-notch product idea. While that is commendable, that should not be your sole focus, especially in the first stage of product discovery. Rather, product managers should be completely neutral in the first step of the product discovery process. 

The first step is to focus on the business problem you are trying to solve and dig deeper through in-depth user research. Some of the best ways to conduct user research include: 

  • Customer survey 
  • 1:1 interview with customers 
  • Collaborating with focus groups 

The insights you derive from these sources can shape your product strategy. Product managers can also focus on competitive research in this stage. This can help them understand the industry landscape better and develop new product opportunities. 

Step 2: Define and decide 

As you continue to perform user interviews and surveys, there will be some emerging patterns and trends in the user stories. Product managers will find that most user feedback circles back to 2-3 critical problems that deserve their attention. With this information, you need to draw a hypothesis to become the foundation for your product development process. 

A common pitfall product managers make is not spending a lot of time on this step of the product discovery process. They rather move on to building the product without understanding the problems customers are facing. 

Product teams should spend as much time as possible analyzing the problem. This will only mean that you save time, money, and resources.

Step 3: Ideate and prioritize 

If you are at step three of the product discovery process, it is safe to say that you have now understood the problem inside out. So, the next approach for any product manager should be to focus on ideation and product feature prioritization

Ask yourself the following questions before making any decision in this stage: 

  • Is the problem aligned with the goals and targeted metrics of your business? 
  • Will this addition benefit your potential customers? 
  • Are enough stakeholders asking for this solution? 
  • Will you regret it later? 

You can use these questions to narrow down the problems you have identified from your user research. By the end of this step, you will have a clear idea of which problems/features to prioritize first. 

Step 4: Prototype and test 

The final step of the product discovery process is to create a prototype and ask for customers’ feedback. The last three stages can help product managers shortlist the most critical problems. However, you cannot count on them until they are validated. The testing stage is all about getting your prototype out there and understanding what’s working, and what’s not. 

However, don’t spend too much time or money on the prototyping and testing phase. The entire product idea might fail, and you don’t want to risk all your resources at once. So, maintain an agile approach to prototyping and perform simple tests that can help you collect practical datasets. 

Product Discovery Techniques and Frameworks 

Here are a few techniques for product managers to master the product discovery process: 

Impact mapping 

Impact mapping is a useful framework that helps product managers evaluate all the evidence and make an informed decision. Product management teams are often caught up with so many factors that they forget to concentrate on what matters the most - the problem itself. Impact mapping helps product managers prioritize the problems, align the product with its initial goal, and ensure a perfect product-market fit. 

The major components of impact mapping include: 

  • Goal - Mention what your product is trying to achieve. Setting the goal is important because it will inspire the product managers throughout the product discovery process. 
  • Actors - Actors are any such people who play a key role in the product journey. Actors could be end customers, internal employees, suppliers, strategic partners any such people who play a part in your product strategy. 
  • Impact - Once you know your goals and actors involved in your product discovery process, start planning which actor is responsible for fulfilling which goal. 
  • Deliverables - Finally, you must also include the features each actor will use to create an impact. 

Appropriate use of the impact mapping framework can help the product teams with the following benefits: 

  • Providing strategic guidance throughout the product discovery process to make data-driven decisions. 
  • Helping the product teams work with a level-by-level approach to prioritize each step without jumping straight away to assumptions. 
  • Assisting product managers in keeping track of the whole picture and concentrating on the long-term goals. 

Idea validation grid 

The idea validation grid framework aims to gather all essential information and elements that can validate the decision you make regarding product discovery. Ideally, this framework starts with a fundamental idea, passes across different validation phases, and finally ends at acquiring paying customers. It is all about exposing your product idea in the real world before making the final decision. 

The steps involved in the idea validation grid are as follows: 

  • Defining a goal - Product managers should define their business goals effectively in this step
  • Developing a hypothesis - In this stage, it is important to identify all the assumptions around your business idea and find out the minimum success criteria. 
  • Experimenting consistently - Once you have a hypothesis, you should find out the most effective way to test the assumptions. This stage is also about creating an execution plan for the test methods. 
  • Validating the ideas - Finally, in this stage, you need to identify whether your assumptions are valid or not. Based on the results, you can make a final decision on whether to proceed or pivot

Ideally, the idea validation grid should include the following factors: 

  • A clear description of the product idea so that there is no room for confusion 
  • Listing all the assumptions and prioritizing them 
  • Experiment with the assumptions that have been prioritized and identify whether they are valid or not. 

Mission briefing  

Stephen Bungay first described the concept of the mission briefing framework in the book called - The Art of Action. While this book explained the concept of the mission briefing for military leaders, it can easily be utilized in an organizational context. 

The concept of mission briefing highlights the following aspects: 

  • Product managers should restrict top-down directions. Instead, they should focus on defining and communicating the intent with the team members. 
  • Employees should be liberated to plan their actions associated with product intent. 
  • Keep all the team members at different levels to be aware of the changes made in the product intent. 

The key components of the mission briefing framework include: 

  • Context of the problem 
  • Higher intent 
  • The intent of team members 
  • The key actions 
  • The restrictions and boundaries 

The product manager and other team members should go through the mission briefing document section by section to complete the product discovery process successfully. 

3 Best Product Discovery Tools 

Product discovery comprises collecting and analyzing feedback from multiple customers. There’s no way product managers can attempt to do such a vast task manually. They rather need some tools to support this process. Here are a few tools that we found useful: 

1. Zeda.io

Zeda.io is an advanced tool created by a group of product managers, and it specifically addresses all the challenges that product managers typically struggle with. With Zeda.io, you can spend less time on operational activities and focus more on product-led activities like feedback collection, analysis, plan, and execution. 

Top Features 

  • An interactive customer portal, widgets, and integrations to collect customer feedback from various sources and add teammates from various apps like Slack, HubSpot, Zendesk, etc., for collaboration. 
  • A comprehensive feedback dashboard to view, sort, and prioritize user stories, feature request ideas, feedback, bug reports, and so on. 
  • Planning product roadmaps and OKRs and offering clear visibility into customers’ requirements. 
  • A unified product space, consisting of analytics, design, documentation, and all other aspects related to product management. 

Want to explore further? Join the waitlist now! 

2. Maze 

Maze is another tool to empower product managers and speed up the product discovery process. Maze helps you build customer-centric products that relate deeply to customer insights. 

Top Features 

  • Perform usability tests and surveys to understand customers' opinions and implement those insights into products. 
  • Integrate with some of the best design tools like Figma, AdobeXD, Sketch, etc., to maintain an effective workflow. 
  • Generate interactive and visually appealing reports that can easily be shared and communicated with your team. 

3. FullStory 

FullStory helps product managers to get a clear picture of user experience beyond numbers and stats. It captures each click performed by users to depict their experience from the product end-to-end. Hence, product managers can get real-time visibility of users’ experiences and align the product roadmap accordingly. 

Top Features 

  • Understand the blockers in the way of improved customer experience and take action accordingly 
  • Identify bugs effectively and fix those quickly to enhance customer satisfaction 
  • Understand customers’ challenges quickly and improve their digital experience to boost retention 

Product Discovery Best Practices and Tips

Still finding it difficult to conduct the product discovery process successfully? Well, here are some best practices to level up the process: 

1. Problem validation first, solution later 

Product management teams should be very focused on the goal of the product discovery process. Product discovery is all about validating a problem and analyzing whether it is good enough to solve. Finding a solution to the problem should be your second priority. Product managers always have this risk of developing a product that nobody wants. The product discovery process is all about mitigating this risk as much as possible. 

2. Set some time aside for product discovery 

Developing a brand new product has its own set of challenges. Trust us when we say that the product discovery process is tricky and requires close attention to detail. Hence, it is always good for product managers to block some time for product discovery. This time slot should be dedicated to brainstorming, customer interaction, internal meetings, and all such activities that can smoothen the product management team's product discovery process. 

3. Build a team of experienced professionals 

Product discovery process is all about team collaboration. Therefore, bringing in the right people matters a lot. Some of the professionals who play key roles in the product discovery process apart from the product manager are: 

  • An expert development team consisting of UX designers, UX developers, and tester 
  • Marketing and sales professionals 
  • An agile coach or project manager 

A product manager needs to regularly brainstorm ideas and insights with these team members to validate the identified problems from the product discovery process. 

Common Pitfalls to Avoid in the Product Discovery Process 

Here are a few common mistakes that product managers must avoid during the product discovery process: 

  • We know that the product management team should actively perform in the product discovery process. However, involving too many employees can also be a challenge. Apart from a product manager, one designer, one developer, one tester, one marketer, one salesperson, and one project manager can easily proceed with the product discovery process. 
  • Not focusing enough on validation and jumping straight away to the solution stage is a critical problem. Your product discovery should be centered around users and verifying whether or not your assumptions of problems really matter to them. 
  • Product managers often get biased during the product discovery process. Common biases include confirmation bias (where they look for evidence to support their assumptions), Survivorship bias (where product managers only interact with happy buyers to feel good about the product). As a product manager, you should remain unbiased throughout the discovery process, interact with all customers and find out only the problems that can help your product’s growth in the long run. 

Product Discovery Process Outcomes

A successful product discovery process can help product management teams to achieve the following outcomes: 

  • Validating the targeted problems from users and building a better product that customers would prefer 
  • Launching a product faster and attaining your revenue goals quickly 
  • Reducing the risk of delivering a product that nobody wants 
  • Increasing the possibility of customer retention by offering them what they want 

Closing Thoughts 

Product teams are mostly busy with the product roadmap and product development. However, they miss out on an important step in-between - product discovery. The product discovery process bridges the gap between these two stages and ensures that businesses launch products that have high demand in the market. We are sure that the steps of the product discovery process mentioned above can help you eliminate a lot of blockers in your product roadmap and ensure higher user satisfaction in the long run. 

Frequently Asked Questions

When to run product discovery? 

Product discovery should be started as soon as possible. Ideally, it should be performed before creating the product roadmap. 

Who should participate in product discovery? 

The product manager and the product development team should primarily participate in the discovery process. Some organizations include marketers and sales representatives too. 

How to set up your product discovery process? 

Product managers can use tools like Zeda.io or adopt frameworks like impact mapping, mission briefing, etc., to successfully set up a product discovery process. 

What are the phases of product discovery? 

The four phases of product discovery are as follows: 

  • Learn and understand 
  • Define and decide 
  • Ideate and prioritize 
  • Prototype and test 

Why do we need product discovery? 

Product managers need to perform a product discovery process to validate a problem and ensure that the target customers demand it. 

Who is responsible for product discovery? 

The product manager and the product development team are responsible for product discovery. 

What are the key elements of product discovery? 

The key elements of product discovery include: 

  • Learning a problem 
  • Prioritizing it in collaboration with team members 
  • Building a prototype 
  • Testing it for validation
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