Product Discovery - The Ultimate Guide for Product Managers

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.

Product Discovery vs. Delivery

Product discovery and delivery are the yin and yang of product management, each holding its unique set of activities and objectives.

Discovery is centered on making decisions about what to build next. It encompasses all the activities that help us determine the right value to create—figuring out what our customers need and how we can meet those needs both innovatively and effectively.

Delivery, on the other hand, focuses on the actions required to ship these solutions to our customers. It’s about bringing the value we’ve meticulously crafted into the real world. Tim Herbig, a renowned product discovery coach, aptly summarizes the relationship between Product Discovery and Delivery:

Product Discovery typically describes a (flexible) period during which you and your team focus on building the right thing as opposed to building the thing right, which happens during Product Delivery.– Tim Herbig

Many companies prioritize their efforts on swiftly shipping products. While it is vital to deliver products quickly to stay competitive, continuously releasing products without dedicating adequate time to product discovery can lead to suboptimal outcomes.

The rapid pace of delivery raises an important question: Are we truly proficient at identifying what to build in the first place? It’s crucial to recognize that the success of the product you release depends heavily on the effectiveness of the discovery phase.

This nuanced understanding of discovery versus delivery empowers us to execute with efficiency and innovate with accuracy, ensuring that every product we deliver is one that our customers genuinely need and love.

Why is Product Discovery Important?

The product discovery process is an integral part of any product manager's responsibilities. It is crucial because it helps product management teams understand what customers need. A product only qualifies as a "necessary product" if it solves a genuine problem.

‍User-centric Product Development


Product discovery is a process that heavily relies on customer inputs and insights to inform product decisions. One of the main goals of product discovery is to help you build products that align with your customers' needs and desires. This goal drives you to keep your users at the center of your product development process, thereby facilitating a user-centric approach.

Smart Use of Money and Resources


When you make product discovery a habit, you will base product decisions on comprehensive research. This prevents you from spending money and resources on building products that will not yield positive results. Proper product discovery enables you to inform your product decisions by considering customer pain points and business needs.

‍Helps Identify Valuable Solutions


Often, product discovery paves the way for you to identify pressing customer problems quite early in the development process. This allows you to build solutions that are the best pain relievers for their pain points.

‍Eliminates Risks

‍Every product team has to make multiple risky bets during their products’ lifetimes. As Teresa Torres states, product discovery enables you to make better bets. With the help of product discovery, your product decisions will be considerably backed by valid data points. This aids in eliminating risks to a larger extent, as the chances of failure for products or features born out of product discovery are greatly reduced.

Ensures Higher Impact

Incorporating product discovery throughout the product lifecycle ensures that each feature developed is not only desirable but also viable and vital for the market. This methodical approach maximizes the impact of your efforts, enhancing both user satisfaction and return on investment. By aligning product capabilities with user expectations and market demand, you increase the likelihood of your product’s success and longevity in the market.

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 

Gathering voice of the customers (VoC)  will unveil their needs, expectations, and desires. It helps in capturing detailed feedback that can guide development. 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. 

Opportunity Solution Tree

Introduced by Teresa Torres and popularized through her books Continuous Discovery Habits, this visual tool helps teams better understand their decisions during product discovery. The framework focuses on outcome-driven innovation and is structured around:

  • Desired Outcome: The primary goal or outcome that the team aims to achieve.
  • Opportunities: These are the ways the team can achieve the desired outcome, often derived from customer research.
  • Solutions: Specific ideas that could capture the opportunities.

Experiments: Tests to validate whether a solution effectively addresses the opportunity.

Source: Product Talk

Jobs to Be Done (JTBD)

Jobs to Be Done is a framework that focuses on the user’s job—or task—as the primary unit of analysis. It helps product teams create more value for their customers by understanding and addressing the specific job the customer is trying to accomplish. It involves:

  • Identifying the job: Understanding what functional or emotional job the customer is hiring the product to do.
  • Clarifying the job context: Exploring when and how the job is performed.

Job execution: Identifying pain points and opportunities in the current way customers fulfill this job.

Source: UX Collective

Idea validation grid 

The idea validation grid framework, as a product discovery technique 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 product discovery tools that we found useful: 

1. Zeda.io

Zeda.io is a comprehensive tool developed by a team of product managers to address the specific challenges commonly faced in the field. This platform allows you to shift your focus from operational tasks to more strategic, customer-centric product discovery activities. Zeda.io speeds up the process and enhances its effectiveness through automation and advanced analytics.

Top Features

  • Seamlessly integrates with platforms like Slack, Intercom, and Gong to automatically gather customer feedback.
  • Utilizes artificial intelligence to analyze customer input and generate actionable insights.
  • Simplifies the process of validating product ideas by facilitating efficient feedback collection.
  • Provides deep insights into customer sentiments and churn reasons, highlighting the business impacts and helping you refine your product journey.
  • Unveils customer sentiments, enabling you to develop products that truly resonate with your audience.

For those interested in diving deeper into what Zeda.io offers, you can start using it for free 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. 

  1. 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. 

  1. 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 

The Importance of Continuous Discovery in Product Development

Continuous discovery is a fundamental aspect of modern product development that emphasizes the ongoing integration of customer feedback and insights into the product lifecycle. This iterative process ensures that products remain relevant, valuable, and aligned with user needs over time. Here are several key reasons why continuous discovery is crucial:

1. Adapting to Changing User Needs

Customer preferences and needs are not static; they evolve over time due to changes in technology, market conditions, and societal trends. Continuous discovery allows product teams to stay in tune with these changes and adapt their products accordingly. By regularly engaging with users and analyzing their behavior, teams can anticipate shifts in needs and preferences, ensuring the product remains relevant and desirable.

2. Mitigating Risks

Product development inherently involves uncertainty and risk, particularly in terms of market fit and user acceptance. Continuous discovery helps mitigate these risks by validating assumptions continuously throughout the product development process. By testing hypotheses and prototypes frequently, teams can identify potential issues early, adjust their strategies, and avoid costly mistakes that might arise from basing decisions on outdated or incorrect assumptions.

3. Fostering Innovation

Innovation is driven by a deep understanding of user problems and the creative application of technology to solve them. Continuous discovery fuels innovation by providing a steady stream of user insights that can inspire new features, improvements, and even entirely new products. This ongoing engagement with users can uncover unmet needs and emerging opportunities that teams can capitalize on to differentiate their offerings.

4. Enhancing Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty

Products that evolve based on user feedback are more likely to meet and exceed user expectations. Continuous discovery processes ensure that customer feedback is not only heard but acted upon. This responsiveness to user needs can significantly enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty, as users see their input leading to real improvements and feel more connected to the product and the brand.

5. Improving Product and Market Fit

A continuous discovery approach ensures that products are constantly refined to better fit the market requirements. By continuously validating every aspect of the product from the feature set to the user experience, teams can ensure that their product solves the right problems in the right way. This ongoing alignment with market needs is crucial for achieving and maintaining product-market fit.

6. Streamlining Product Development

While it may seem counterintuitive, integrating continuous discovery can actually streamline the product development process. By identifying what users truly need and eliminating features that do not add value, teams can focus their efforts more effectively. This focused approach can reduce development time and resources spent on less impactful areas, thus optimizing the overall development effort.

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 
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