How to Run Product Discovery: Process, Frameworks, and Best Practices

May 11, 2022
Updated:
5 min

Anastasiya Kharychkova

COO

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Application development is difficult and expensive. Having a new idea or improving an existing product won’t guarantee success. So how can you make sure that your project is worth the cost? 

Product discovery can maximize your chances of developing a product that the market needs. However, while developing a software solution, there is no space for guessing or underestimating risks.

Every product decision needs to be backed up by customer demand. If you don’t know your market or your customers well enough, there is a high chance that they won’t end up needing your product.

Today, we will shed more light on the product discovery process, its primary goals, steps, and outcomes.

What Is Product Discovery?

Simply, product discovery is the process of deciding what to build. It includes various activities you need to do before starting the product delivery process (the development of your product).

It’s impossible to develop an application without both discovery and delivery. These are two necessary processes required for a successful project. 

Here’s how Tim Herbig, the author of “Product Discovery Practical Guide for Agile Teams,” defines product discovery:

“Product Discovery is about the data-informed reduction of uncertainty in regard to problems worth solving and solutions worth building through a series of nonlinear activities, conducted as a cross-functional team.”

— Tim Herbig, the author of “Product Discovery Practical Guide for Agile Teams”

Herbig points out that teams need to focus on building “the right thing, not the thing right” (this is the key goal of product delivery). There are several forms and structures of product discovery. 

While running the product discovery process, a team must balance the “problem space” and “solution space.” Generally, the problem space addresses the problems worth solving, and the solution space is about creating optimal ways to solve said problems. Additionally, the discovery phase should also cover one more area - the “business space.” 

Product discovery process

How Does Product Discovery Work?

The discovery process can be divided into two main extensive components: exploration and validation. 

  1. Exploration. This is probably the first term that crosses people’s minds when they hear the term “discovery process.” This term encompasses all the tasks linked to the product research stage, including interviews with stakeholders and researching existing problems, ways to solve them, and customer needs. To summarize, exploration typically boils down to research, ideation, and evaluation. 
  2. Validation. This is the process of checking assumptions made during the exploration phase. Before development starts, the product must pass a series of tests to prove its viability and usefulness for users. Prototyping and user feedback are the primary tools used during the validation process. 

Product discovery doesn’t have to be focused only on the shipped features. Instead, it aims to identify the right space to explore and understand a problem. 

There has been progress on the delivery side for the last 15+ years, but the main goal remains the same: to deliver value as quickly as possible. Nobody wants to spend years on a product just to learn that the market doesn’t need it, and with the release of the Agile Manifesto, everything has changed. 

Agile helps development teams identify the problems and needs of stakeholders faster because Agile allows development to happen in smaller batch sizes. Now, developers no longer have to waste months writing code only to find out they aren’t on the right track. Due to this, Agile is a strong step forward that improves design thinking and user experience.

In most cases, product discovery isn’t a linear cycle, meaning teams may need to repeat stages to get results. Often, product discovery and delivery overlap since they are continuous processes. While discovery is problem-oriented, delivery is solution-oriented.

Product Discovery Techniques

Over the years, many product discovery techniques have been proposed. Some have become more widely accepted, and others gained little or no presence in product discovery sessions. Next, we’d like to cover some of the product discovery techniques that we use at ODG.

Product discovery through design thinking 

Design Thinking 

Design thinking is one of the basic concepts and frameworks used during the product discovery phase. It’s often described as a way to solve particular problems through creativity.

IDEO is believed to be the father of design thinking, but they denied this title, claiming that they just popularized this approach:

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

— Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO

Design thinking focuses on the following stages:

Empathy

This pillar focuses on understanding potential customers' needs, pains, and problems. In practice, it’s all about trying on your customers' shoes and identifying their feelings. 

During this stage, there are various interviews and polls. You can leverage the demo and collect early feedback. If the product is already on the market, you can find real user stories and identify the product’s weaknesses. 

At the end of this stage, teams need to define the problems they want to solve. This decision can also be considered a separate step of the design thinking process. Still, since it’s an indispensable part of the empathy stage for us, we decided to keep them together for this summary. 

Ideation

It’s the stage when teams generate ideas that should provide answers to the established problems. This includes anything that can help solve the problem, like a new feature, a different marketing approach, or a completely different software project. 

This stage includes mind-blowing sessions where team members can share their ideas and thoughts. Ideation isn’t about judging others’ ideas or idea quality; it’s about creativity and idea quantity. 

Prototyping or experimentation

Teams go through the ideas generated in the previous stage and analyze them to understand their feasibility. During this stage, teams identify the most feasible and useful ideas that can be turned into prototypes. 

Testing

After the prototypes are built, teams need to test them. This stage allows teams to determine how users use the app and whether the app meets their expectations. Throughout this stage, teams need to collect as much data as possible. 

Though testing is a final stage of the design thinking approach, the process doesn’t end after this stage since a developed prototype isn’t a product. And depending on the testing results, a team might need to revisit previous stages - empathy, ideation, or prototyping. 

The design thinking cycle can be repeated several times to achieve the desired results. Moreover, there can be more than one team involved in the process. They can work simultaneously or asynchronously; for example, “Team A” deals with ideation while “Team B” focuses on prototyping. 

Product discovery through “Jobs to be Done” 

Jobs to be Done (JTBD) is a famous framework that grew out of Toyota's manufacturing approach and gained massive traction outside the automotive industry. The JTBD approach asks development teams to look at their users’ problems through the lens of someone looking to complete a specific job. 

Here, a job is considered to be a particular change that the user wants to achieve with the product. In this case, you won’t look into improving the existing solution; you’ll find a completely different solution to said problem. 

Let’s look at an easy example of how the JTBD approach works:

Let’s say someone struggles with daily vacuuming because they have two dogs shedding all the time. They have a regular cleaner, but there is a lot of mess, and cleanup takes time. In this case, many people will propose, “Let’s build a more efficient vacuum cleaner for everyday use and sell it at a premium price.”

JTBD takes an entirely different approach. It tries to find the core of the problem to improve the end user’s life. For example, do they want their house fur-free? Yes, of course, but they don’t care about the vacuum’s efficiency.

Instead, they want a clean house and happy dogs. Also, they don’t want to spend time and money on daily cleanup. 

With a JTBD approach, the development team would look into developing a fully-autonomous robot vacuum cleaner. Would this satisfy the job that this person is looking to get done? For sure, this person will get their house cleaned without spending too much on a cleaner. 

Effective techniques to explore the problem and solution space

Since product discovery is a multistage process, each stage has different techniques. Let’s focus on the four main stages and their techniques:

Stage 1 - Learn and understand your users

The first stage is where you need to learn all about your target users. There are different methods to perform user research, including:

  • Interviews. Asking your users is the simplest way to find out what they need. Insights from users can provide valuable information that your team can use to draw conclusions about your users’ pain points and experiences. However, note that interviews are time-consuming. 
  • Competitor research. The first product discovery stage is a perfect time to research the market, identify your direct competitors, and find gaps in their solutions. You also get a deeper understanding of the problem by analyzing all the available solutions on the market. 

Once you’ve analyzed all competing apps, you can list their strengths, weaknesses, and killer features. This exercise should help you spot the gaps that you can fill with your app.

Stage 2 - Make a decision 

Next, it’s time to make sense of the research and identify key problems to focus on while developing your application.

  • The five “whys.” This technique allows you to find the root cause of the identified issues and develop a broader hypothesis. At ODG, we leverage the following technique to help clients understand what they want to build. Further, this exercise leads to a more precise product vision instead of fulfilling small feature requests. 

Stage 3 - Prioritize 

Stage 3 of product delivery is about getting creative and coming up with solutions to the defined problems. 

  • Brainstorming. It’s a straightforward technique to get an uninterrupted flow of creative ideas. You need to gather your team and give them some time to think. 

Brainstorming is widely used within the software development cycle. However, in some cases, brainstorming can lead to a lack of focus or ideas among participants.

Luckily, a few brainstorming exercises can help you bring your session back down to Earth. Here’s how you can prompt your team:

  1. Imagine that there are no time limits to find a solution 
  2. Imagine you have only two months to produce a fully functioning app
  3. Imagine that there is no desktop app; your solution exists only on mobile 
  • Prioritization techniques. There are many different frameworks to use for planning your product roadmap. For example, the MoSCoW template can help determine the features to include in your solution.

We also like the Kano Model, which aims to describe the connection between customer satisfaction and product features. This model approaches a service or a product as more than just features and functions. As a result, this model allows teams to identify killer features that lead to improved customer satisfaction and a higher ROI. 

Stage 4 - Build a prototype and test 

The primary goal of the product discovery process is to validate the app idea before investing massive resources into the development. Building a prototype is an easy way to test your app idea. Sketches or paper prototypes can work perfectly during this stage. 

Prototyping allows for early-stage usability testing. Plus, bringing in real users to test your prototype can help you determine if your users:

  • Understand how your solution works 
  • Can solve their primary problems
  • Encounter any usability issues
  • Have a user-friendly experience

Essential tools for your product discovery team

There are different tools to help at various stages of the product discovery process. These tools make it easier for teams to communicate, collaborate, and stay on top of customer insights. The following sections will cover what we use to run our product discovery process at ODG.

Lean Canvas

Lean Canvas is a simple but powerful tool for market research. It allows you to find the problems you will solve and work out the ideal solution. 

Lean Canvas was designed based on the Business Model Canvas (BMC). However, BMC wasn’t a great fit for early-stage startups or the product discovery process, but it still features some useful techniques that Lean Canvas leverages.

Lean Canvas

This tool allows you to get a complete picture of a business by looking at a business’s different aspects and understanding how these aspects influence one another. Essentially, this means you better understand the problems your application can solve. Also, you can use this tool to create a value proposition and find a unique selling point to help you stand out from the crowd. 

Lean Canvas consists of nine sections. For an example, let’s analyze them as if we were launching a fitness app: 

  • Problem. Your app will solve users' particular issues, like an "unhealthy lifestyle" or "lack of time." Here, you can also list all the existing alternatives to your solution. For example, “fitness trackers,” etc.
  • Customer. You cannot target everyone with just one software solution, and you need to segment your target audience. For instance, your audience could be “women in their 30s who work in an office.”
  • Unique value proposition. This section consists of a brief message to attract your target audience; it should explain the solution and promote its uniqueness. For example, “15-minute daily workouts for staying fit anywhere and anytime.”

You can also include a high-level pitch, a short statement about your app. For instance, “Get in shape in four weeks.”

  • Solution. You need to analyze all the earlier problems that users faced. For example, “motivation from the like-minded community,” “15-minute workouts,” “no gym or equipment required,” etc. 
  • Unfair advantage. These are your unique features that make your app difficult to copy. This could be “exclusive training sessions with world-class trainers,” etc. 
  • Revenue streams. This section describes the way you’re going to make money. For example, “subscription for fitness programs,” etc.
  • Cost structure. In this section, you need to estimate your budget and include your expenses like “rental spaces,” “software development,” “marketing,” etc. 
  • Key metrics. These are how you will measure your success. This can include “number of downloads,” “number of workouts taken,” etc. 
  • Channels. You need to communicate with your customers and define it in this section. You can use email, special media, push notifications, etc. 

Lean Canvas is an excellent tool for the product discovery process since it allows you to focus on the most important aspects and “stay lean.” In addition, it's quick to build and easy to adapt to your needs.

Value Proposition Canvas 

Value Proposition Canvas (VPC) is another framework used at the product discovery stage. This tool allows you to focus on the product users, their problems, and solutions. 

VPC is a tool used to determine the balance between what you need to deliver and what your customers want. It helps you ensure that your future product is positioned around users’ needs and values. 

Value Proposition Canvas

VPC starts with a client profile that will include these three user factors:

  • Customer jobs. These are tasks that users want completed. 
  • Pains. Here you can list emotions, issues, or negative experiences your users may get while getting their jobs done. 
  • Gains. You need to list all the goals and desires of your customers. 

While running the product discovery process, you need to pretend you’re a user to understand what users need. Brainstorming can help you work out hypotheses about user gains and pains. 

The more information you can collect about your users, the better solution you can build. Doing interviews, gathering feedback, and running exit interviews can provide valuable insights into user experiences. 

Value proposition is another facet of VPC that follows the client profile section and directly corresponds to your earlier inputs. The value proposition section consists of the following three elements:

  • Products and services. These are what you will offer to your users to help them tackle their problems. 
  • Pain relievers. These are particular aspects of your product that relieve users from their pains. 
  • Gain creators. This section refers to the value of your product. Your app’s value should positively correspond to the gains your customers need to fulfill. 

VPC can complement Lean Canvas since it’s more focused on the customer side of the product. Plus, it can offer a completely different perspective that teams need to consider. 

Product Discovery Is a Great Way to Minimize Risks

Today, there is no need to guess what your user needs. Thanks to modern tools, frameworks, and techniques, you can get a detailed overview of the market and your target audience’s pains, needs, and wishes. Then, you can turn these insights into a product that can match customer needs and tackle their problems. 

Finding a perfect match of features requires a well-thought-out, organized product discovery process. At ODG, we run discovery and delivery flows in parallel to cope with the market’s viability and stay competitive in the long run.

Want to dive deeper into product development? Get in touch with one of our product managers today.

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