Product Discovery: The ultimate guide to discovering innovative features and products

This guide dives into the importance of insights-focused product discovery. Learn how to execute an insights-focused product discovery, from setting up the team for success, to the exact steps, to best practices.

Product Discovery: The ultimate guide to discovering innovative features and products

The product discovery process is a key step in the product development process that helps teams focus on developing features and products that deliver results. This process involves understanding customer needs and using that knowledge to create products that are vital to customers.

In this guide, we summarize years of product strategy work to help you understand the product discovery process and the methods teams use to develop ideas that lead to innovative products. Below, we explain carefully crafted continuous discovery techniques and a process and framework to help you better understand the product discovery process so you can prepare your teams to build industry-leading products.

To create truly innovative and not just new products, the best product development teams use a carefully crafted set of continuous research methods. Product discovery allows teams to move from nice to have features and products to building products that solve problems and become a real need for customers.

Overview

This hands-on tutorial will teach you how to go beyond conventional wisdom in order for Product Discovery to aid organizations in achieving real progress. We will explore the stages of Product Discovery, how to structure one for your initiative, and how to explore and converge on the right solution. You will also learn how to implement lightweight Product Discovery techniques with your team right away.

This guide outlines Product Discovery, how to bring Product Discovery into your organization, and how execute the discovery process yourself. The best approach to begin the implementation of discovery in your teams is to focus on a certain set of methods and rhythms that work in your team and company.

Getting Started

Product Discovery is a process that helps you focus on what matters in your product. It helps you learn about your customers and their problems so you can build something they want. It's a key part of the agile process, and it's important to connect it to other processes like Scrum and user research.

Product Development Process Phases

Product Discovery is a process of reducing risk or uncertainty with problems worth solving and solutions worth building. It is typically conducted as a product trio or more expansion cross-functional team, and should focus on the problem space rather than the solution space.

The problem space is the area of focus for a product, while the solution space is where potential solutions are explored. It is important to differentiate between the two, as spending too much time on ideation can be counterproductive.

Before you start Product Discovery you need to have your Product Strategy clearly defined and understood by the team.

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Discovery & Delivery

As this is the most customer-centric method of operation, the Product Manager and Product Designer should always be in Product Discovery mode. Nonetheless, the Delivery and Discovery activities overlap and interact, with their respective peaks occurring at distinct periods in the product management lifecycle.

Discovery & Delivery

Discovery can include learning about your target audience, competitors, product range, and opportunity size. Discovery refers to the process of finding out exactly what problem you are trying to solve with your product. This is a vital and distinct work step that should take place at the beginning of a project, but also something that product developers must continually do throughout the development process, during launch and beyond. A discovery is often referred to as a work package that is performed early in the development of a product to set the direction for product development.

It is important for the same team to own both Product Discovery and Delivery. Doing this grounds the working team in the problem by building empathy for the customer and their jobs to be done, while increasing intrinsic motivation to ship. It is ok to temporarily focus more on Delivery or Discovery at a given point in time, but the Product Team needs to have the skills and freedom to work on both aspects on their own time.

It is this “discovery” that allows product teams to make sure that their solutions meet real user needs and that users are willing to pay for them. The product discovery process involves getting a deep understanding of customers and then using that knowledge to create products that are vital to customers.

Design thinking is understanding the needs of potential product users, potential product users, the problems they face and their importance. Design thinking is a customer-centric approach to analyzing product requirements.

Strategy & Goals

The goal of this guide is to help connect Product Strategy and your Product Discovery/Delivery efforts through outcome-oriented goals.

Intercom's Execution from Strategy to Releases

There are four key pillars that influence your overall focus on Outcomes: Product Discovery, Product Strategy, Product Goals, and Product Roadmaps. As a Product Manager, it is essential that you understand what is within your scope and duty to improve and where clarity is required.

A good Product Discovery Strategy should be based on answering 4 core questions:

  • What is the problem the feature or product is solving?
  • What alternatives do uses solve this problem with today?
  • What is the core value proposition for your solution?
  • How is your feature or product differentiated from alternatives and competitors?

OKRs stand for Objectives and Key Results, and usually refers to the business strategy tool/framework that can be used in order to measure and track progress towards specific objectives.

Through outcome-oriented goals, you effectively connect your product strategy and objectives to your product development and delivery initiatives. Leverage your product roadmap as inspiration and direction for your next discovery initiatives.

A roadmap is a plan of what activities a team plans to do and in what order they plan to do them. The roadmap should be updated on a rolling cycle-based cadence and aligned to the activities of Strategy and Goal iterations.

As a key step in the product development process, an effective search strategy will help you maximize your R&D budgets while meeting and exceeding the needs of your target audience. Having a robust discovery process makes it easier to focus on developing features and products that deliver results. User focus, focus, enthusiasm, and flexibility are the keys to successfully completing product research, which will lay the foundation for building the right product.

Without a specific end goal in mind, companies risk wasting valuable time by creating products that no one wants or uses. When product development teams don't pay attention to user problems, they fail to create real value for them and end up destroying the project. Even the most experienced people spend weeks, months and sometimes years developing new and more innovative products that we hope will answer customer questions, solve problems and improve lives.

Team Structure and Participation

The model below outlines the key stages of Product Discovery, which teams should cycle through during their efforts. The stages are prioritization, exploration, definition, and delivery. Each stage has specific activities that teams should undertake in order to move forward.

Product Discovery reduces risk and wasted time by increasing the confidence to invest resources in building a specific product. When prioritizing opportunities, skip solution-specific frameworks like Effort and Impact scores, and prioritize instead by Impact and Confidence.

By evaluating confidence, you get a much clearer picture about which ideas you need to further explore during Product Discovery. High impact, low confidence items are your first opportunities to evaluate.

How to Set Up Your Discovery Process

The goal of a Product Discovery process is to better understand the problem you are trying to solve. This should be the focus of the majority of your time, and you should avoid jumping straight into ideation sessions discussing specific solutions. A period of three weeks has proven to work well for splitting up a Discovery into different phases.

Who Should Participate

The main benefits of involving team members across domains during Product Discovery are that it allows for insights and decisions to be made at the team's own pace, and that it helps to avoid confirmation bias.

Alignment is crucial in the early phases of Product Discovery. This involves getting everyone on the same page with regards to the problem you’re trying to solve. However, not all alignment is created equal - make sure you focus on commitment rather than just agreement.

In order to identify a new product opportunity, it’s important to first understand the biggest areas of uncertainty and then choose research techniques that will allow you to capture the intersection of multiple perspectives. Additionally, turning existing sources of continuously incoming feedback into tangible evidence lockers can be a helpful way to get a better understanding of your users’ needs.

Ideation is the process of generating a lot of ideas. The goal is to get people out of their comfort zone and to think big. Once you are ready to converge, dot voting is an effective technique to quickly narrow ideas. Discard ideas without votes immediately.

Product discovery provides value to development teams, to the business (for example, by not wasting valuable resources chasing misunderstandings and developing products that no one wants), and to customers by providing what they think is important. When companies fail to find a product that works, it's usually because "they haven't researched their customers thoroughly enough, and their product is based on untested assumptions," said Josh Decker-Trinidad, a product designer and researcher at General Assembly. Rather than writing user stories, designing user interfaces, or building actual solutions, your product discovery efforts should focus on articulating value propositions, target groups, business goals, business models, and product features.

Prototyping

The best approach to figure out how consumers will respond to your product is to test prototypes with them. Validate the concepts with a focus on simulating the experience as best as possible, balancing tradeoffs with the time available.

The distinction between an assumption and an experiment is that an assumption is accepted as true or certain to occur, without evidence, whereas an experiment is the scientific method undertaken and necessary to test such a belief.

When it comes to picking the precise experiment methods to use for testing the most important, yet unproved assumptions behind your ideas, you should aim for a holistic viewpoint. However, before you pick an experiment approach, make a list of the concrete assumptions that must be true about an idea first.

How to refine ideas

  1. Take a step back and review your validated assumptions and ideas.
  2. Assign a priority to the different ideas based on the user problem they address.
  3. Create a backlog of user stories that need to be implemented to deliver the different features or product ideas.
  4. Prioritize the user stories based on their business value and the user’s need.
  5. Create a release plan that includes the different user stories and their implementation dates.

Mission Briefing

The Mission Briefing is a strategy tool that helps product teams stay aligned. The briefing is divided into five sections, and teams should work through each section together. The first section is the Context, which describes the current situation from an internal and external perspective.

The next section is the Higher Intent, which describes the problem that the team is trying to solve. The next section is the Team Intent, which describes how the team plans to solve the problem. The fourth section is the Key Implied Tasks, which describes the tasks that the team needs to complete in order to achieve their goal.

The last section is the Boundaries, which describes the limitations of the team's solution.

Impact Mapping

The Impact Mapping framework helps Product Teams make sense of all the evidence they have collected and trade-off decisions. It helps connect Features and Activities to overarching business goals, using user behaviors as more leading proxies. Impact Mapping can also act as a very effective input to the OKR definition of Product Teams.

Impact Mapping connects Features and Activities to overarching business goals, using user behaviors as more leading proxies.

Impact Mapping has of five levels:

  1. Impact
  2. Goal
  3. Solution
  4. Activity
  5. Feature

Each of the five levels relates to the main elements a Product Team needs to work through during Product Discovery. This makes it simpler to structure the activities of teams working in the problem and solution space.

Idea Validation Grid

The Idea Validation Grid is a tool used to help structure the testing process of Product Discovery ideas.

The grid has five key ingredients:

  1. A one-sentence description of the idea
  2. Decision-making criteria, like a RICE score
  3. Assumptions behind each idea
  4. Behaviors and outcomes expected
  5. An experiment to validate our assumptions

The grid helps Product Teams to establish and communicate data-based confidence in their ideas.

Actor, Job, Impact Mapping

The Actor-Job-Outcome-Mapping is a tool that can be used to help communicate the insights you have gathered from your research, and to help determine the specific changes in behavior you aim to create in the form of measurable Outcomes.

The Actor-Job-Outcome-Mapping consists of four parts:

  • Actor
  • Context
  • Motivation
  • Outcome

The Actor is the persona you are designing for, using your product. The Context is the situation or environment in which the Actor is found. The Motivation is the reason the Actor is trying to achieve the Goal. The Outcome is the change in behavior you are trying to create.

Best Practices

The best practices for Product Discovery are dynamic, it's best to understand your options, and experiment with methods until you find the right approach for your product, team, and company.

The key is to be pragmatic and to tailor your approach to the company culture, the team dynamics, and the business context. This means that you might have to adapt and experiment with different techniques in order to find what works best for you.

Share Early and Often

Sharing work early with stakeholders and leaders allows them to provide feedback and offer suggestions to help improve the work. Additionally, it allows them to be better prepared to support the work when it is completed.

Make sure the idea is tested and that management is comfortable moving on to the next step, which is to expand the team and start developing the product. As a Product Manager, CTO, or CEO, you will be directly responsible for making the case for why the team should spend more time on the process. Now the delivery team must continue to improve your product while keeping the research team involved.

Continuously Talk To Customers

Product managers need to talk to customers every week to get feedback on their product. This feedback can help them make changes to the product to make it more user-friendly and successful.

Informal conversations on Twitter and LinkedIn are valuable as well.

Dealing with Difficult Stakeholders

There is no one-size-fits-all solution, as the best way to deal with difficult stakeholders will vary depending on the individual situation.

However, some tips on how to deal with difficult stakeholders include:-

  • Set clear expectations
  • Establish clear lines of communication with the stakeholder
  • Be assertive and firm, but remain respectful
  • Try to find common ground
  • Be patient and understanding

Startups vs. Enterprises

Startups, like big companies, I try to get them to focus on the hard parts, and once they find a solution that works — one that is usable, viable, and feasible — then it’s all about executing on the idea.

Realize that almost all companies go through the discovery process described here, but instead of using a few weeks for prototypes, they use their entire engineering team to go through a full release cycle to build the software, then quality test it and distribute it into production.

Once companies have organized their investments and assessed their risk tolerance, they typically explore the potential of new products, move them into the discovery process if they fit into the right product mix, and then into the development process.


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