The step-by-step guide to successful product discovery

Discover the 4 essential steps to work through for your team's product discovery

The step-by-step guide to successful product discovery

In short:

  • Product discovery is the essential problem-solving and decision-making process before starting development
  • This step significantly reduces the risks of developing a product that your customers don’t need and so won’t use
  • There are 4 steps to discovery: defining the outcome, identifying the opportunity, shaping the idea and validating the solution
  • Above all, however, product discovery needs to be continuous as your teams constantly swing between identifying/understanding a problem and creating a solution

What is product discovery?

Successfully developing a new digital product or feature involves two essential, dichotomous steps:

  • Product discovery is about finding and understanding a problem that your customers have.
  • Whilst product delivery involves building a solution and bringing it to your customers.

Given that delivery, and getting the product to clients with speed, is what senior managers often consider as the most important, this stage tends to take the most attention.

However, without a deep discovery of your customer’s problems and needs, the product may not be worth developing in the first place.

Given this, successful product discovery considers the customer throughout, whether directly involving them (interviews, tests, surveys etc.) or keeping them at the front of your team’s mind (defining their jobs-to-be-done, pain-points, hopes, desired outcomes etc.).

Why is product discovery important?

In short, a thorough, well-structured product development reduces the risks of developing a product that customers don’t actually need and so won’t use.

Silicon Valley Product Group outline 4 major risks that are mitigated by product discovery:

  • Value risk: will customers buy it or choose to use it?
  • Usability risk: will users understand how to use it?
  • Feasibility risk: will your engineers be able to build this with the resources available (including time, skill and technology)
  • Business viability: will this solution also work for the various aspects of your business?

The step-by-step guide to product discovery

The specificities differ across industries, however the foundations of a successful discovery involves 4 steps.

  1. Define the outcome
  2. Identify the opportunity
  3. Refine the idea and align your team
  4. Validate the solution

1) Define the outcome

Goal: I’m clear on the impact of my work on my company’s objectives

Process: define the impact of your work in terms of business outcomes, before translating these into product outcomes.

How to keep the customer in mind at this stage: product outcomes should translate into metrics that can be measured from a customer’s perspective, such as weekly active users, retention rate, etc.

This step is also about framing your discovery activity, setting yourself up for success and ensuring each opportunity, idea and solution is going to help you achieve business goals.

Outcomes are pretty circular in that you’re given business outcomes by senior management, which should then be converted into product outcomes that measure customer behaviour. Your users then interact with the product and this should positively impact business outcomes.

Once defined, this product outcome will lay the foundations for the rest of your discovery work, with every other step looping back to the question, “will this opportunity/solution help us achieve our desired outcome?”

You may also be interested in:

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2) Identify the opportunity

Goal: I’m confident that we’re prioritizing the most impactful opportunities.

Process: Speak to your customers to extract opportunities through conversations before developing, assessing, sizing and prioritizing these opportunities.

How to keep the customer in mind at this stage: You’re naturally involving the customer at this stage as they’re the ones telling you about their pain-points, desired outcomes and  jobs-to-be-done.

After the interviews, you can develop the opportunities further, assessing their feasibility, viability and desirability before prioritizing by importance and potential risk. This is essential for ensuring that you don’t seek to address every opportunity, but rather address the opportunities that help you reach your business and product outcomes.

“Mapping the opportunity space is how we give structure to the ill-structured problem of reaching our desired outcome.” - Teresa Torres, Product Talk

A key tool you can use at this point, and throughout the discovery cycle, is an Opportunity Solution Tree. It helps you keep track of explored opportunities, corresponding solutions and experiments you’ll run to validate whether these are worth investing in.

Benefit of a tree diagram approach:

  • Ensures opportunities are always brought back to the desired outcome
  • Increases the speed of the discovery process and your team’s decision-making
  • Helps to prioritize and assess opportunities
  • Puts customers at the forefront of the problem solving

3) Refine the idea and align your team

Goal: I’m clear on target users, scenarios, components and potential risks of the solution ideas

Process: Continue to develop these opportunities, assessing and refining ideas until you find a potential solution that can be turned into a testable hypothesis, continuously keeping in mind your product outcomes.

It’s this that’s often forgotten - the fact that this stage is more than simply generating an idea, but transforming dispersed opportunities into a clear, refined idea with identifiable conditions of success. To achieve this, you should flesh out the solution idea with storyboards, scenarios, components, potential risks etc, also helping to align the team on a single view of this idea.  

How to keep the customer in mind at this stage: Constantly come back to the product  outcome and your conversations with customers, not hesitating to go back to interviews if needed.

4) Validate the solution

Goal: I’m confident we’re progressing with the winning solution

Process: Hypothesize, test and experiment with the potential solution

At this stage, we’d recommend starting simple to avoid rushing to highly functional, developed versions of a solution that may not actually prove successful during testing. This avoids wasting time and resources (especially tech time) - instead, maybe start with a mock-up version to test usability, feasibility, value for clients and for achieving business goals.

How to keep the customer in mind at this stage: Don’t just take your assumptions for granted - bring them back to your customers to test and ensure they solve a pain point, help them achieve a job-to-be-done or provide something they need.

How do you validate assumptions?

  • Talk to your customers: concept testing, interviews, surveys
  • Testing with customers: A/B tests, smoke tests, validation tests
  • Mapping: of the customer journey, experience, story, assumptions, opportunities, etc
  • Internal processes: usability tests (is the solution feasible?)
  • Communicate with stakeholders, based on evidence

The key to product discovery?

No product is ever finished (unfortunately). It can always be improved.

Every product is developed as a result of a measurement and opportunity discovered at a particular point in time, but this collected data isn’t static, it’s constantly evolving based on a wide variety of factors, in and outside your control (developing technology, changing regulations, new client needs, etc.).

This is certainly hard to accept and put into practice, but continuously optimizing where possible is what will keep you ahead of the competition.

How do you achieve this?

Regularly speak to your customers with the goal of understanding their pain-points and jobs-to-be-done, as well as to not be clouded by your own understanding of the product and attachment to its development.

Panash can help!

Create, plan and run a continuous product discovery playbook in your team with Panash’s expert support: from well-identified problems to timely-validated solutions.

Our training and coaching programs help your teams unlock decision-making across discovery and delivery. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Develop a user-centric, evidence-based practice of product management
  • Align stake-holders and your team
  • Weekly live sessions, interviews and coaching sessions
  • Meet fellow product-people and leaders who will share concrete examples of best-in-class, past successes and failures to inform your own strategy

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