What is product discovery

What is product discovery, why it matters, and how to do it right

Building a digital product takes a tremendous amount of time, effort, and investment. According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, 30,000 new consumer products are launched each year—and unfortunately, many of them fail. Often, the companies that fail weren’t thorough in their research and didn’t validate their ideas with data. 

To reduce the risk of failure, companies must invest in product discovery to ultimately build products that resonate with the needs and concerns of their target users. 

What is product discovery?

Product discovery happens early in the product development process to build a foundation on the Why, How, and What. Product discovery methods can also be used in pivotal times to review user insights, build roadmaps, and onboard new stakeholder groups. This process focuses on understanding the target user’s goals and motivations for using the product so that teams can effectively build hypotheses and map solutions to users’ problems. 

There are many ways to approach product discovery depending on how established the product idea is, how much data exists, and the level of stakeholder buy-in. Product Managers use different tools, frameworks, and approaches to facilitate product discovery so that everyone involved is rallied around a common goal. 

Common frameworks include the Lean Business Canvas, RICE Scoring Model, and Impact over Effort Matrix to align on near-term prioritization and strategy.

The goal of conducting Product Discovery is to:

  • Gain a deep understanding of the target user’s wants and needs.  
  • Validate that the product/feature ideas align with the problem statement and hypothesis.
  • Develop solutions that map to the user’s pain points.
  • Mitigate risks associated with product development.

Why should we conduct product discovery?

Product discovery is worth the investment because it enables teams to define a product strategy and build features vital to their target users’ lives. In addition, product discovery outcomes establish a foundation of focus, empathy, and excitement toward solving the user’s problems. If you skip product discovery, you have no foundation to build on and risk prioritizing features that do not truly resonate with your target audience or market position.

“Customers know more than we’ll ever know about their needs and context,” says Teresa Torres, design teacher and founder of Product Talk. “Our customers are the experts. So they’re better at evaluating whether our solution is a fit than we are.” 

Gathering insights can be done through competitor analysis, product-market fit analysis, and capturing feedback from alternative solutions. The goal is to build a product that your customers can’t live without and achieve organic growth. If successful, your product will be in high demand and will validate success measures quickly. 

When investing in new product development, validating your assumptions with product data collected through user interviews, customer surveys, or focus groups before jumping into development is essential. Without enough data to support your assumptions, you risk building products that are disconnected from the user's needs. Furthermore, having no user insights to support your product strategy can lead to slow or no adoption simply because there is no true value proposition for the target user. 

Product development always carries some element of risk. Product Management expert Marty Cagan identifies four significant risks associated with Product Management: 

  • Value risk: Whether customers will accept the product or choose not to use it. 
  • Usability risk: Whether customers will be able to use the product with ease.
  • Feasibility risk: Whether we have what it takes to build the product.
  • Business viability risk: Whether the product is in alignment with other aspects of our business and meets the customers’ needs.

By integrating product discovery into the product management process, product leaders can identify and mitigate these risks, ensuring new products will delight their customers and create a competitive edge in the market. 

Product discovery process: 

Product teams may use different methodologies and tools to conduct product discovery, but the end goal is the same: Rally your team around a common goal and build a Product Strategy based on data. The overall structure can be categorized into the following: 

  • Understand and define customer pain points:  Product teams usually start with hypotheses about their customer’s pain points and possible solutions. However, it’s best to enter product discovery with an open mindset. User research, customer interviews, focus groups, product data, and competitor research may reveal new personas, pain points, and potential solutions.  A complete understanding of potential customers and their needs can make all the difference in your product’s success. 
  • Ideation:  After you have identified and defined users’ needs, you can proceed towards the next stage, ideation and potential solutions. Team members use various techniques, such as brainstorming, feature mapping, and storyboarding, to develop solutions and create competitive differentiators.  
  • Prototype and test: In this stage, the team uses the identified MVP features to create prototypes and test their feasibility. Depending on what the team is trying to achieve, team members will create sketches, wireframes, mockups, or a clickable prototype.  The product team will then validate that the product resonates with users. Team members can conduct A/B testing, user testing, focus groups, and product beta testing. The goal is to collect actionable feedback and iterate toward a final version of the MVP. 

Tips for better product discovery  

A strong foundation is critical for success, as many factors remain out of our control. From a market downturn to a new competitor in the space, staying focused on your product's Why, How, and What will help create a  unique value proposition. Conversely, an unclear vision of the problem or opportunity underlying the product can lead to wasted time and resources, as well as the risk that your product will fail to resonate with its users. To help you get started in the right direction, here are some quick tips: 

Adopt a flexible approach 

Be willing to challenge assumptions about your customers and their needs. There may be unmet needs or underlying pain points that your competitors have failed to recognize, limiting their impact and scalability. Validate your assumptions with data and conversations with real customers, and recognize when established practices are limiting innovation.  Leveraging industry knowledge and experience is critical to success, but this must be flexible in changing markets and circumstances.  

Build a team with key players  

To discover the central problem to solve, you must start with the right team. A product discovery workshop should include various subject matter experts and stakeholders, a product manager, a product designer, and a solution architect.  With these key players in the room, the discovery phase will be more effective, ensuring critical business and product decisions can be identified. Dedicated blocks of time or a workshop, with a clear agenda and measures of success, will ensure the team remains aligned with the rest of the business. 

Explore all the possible solutions  

Product discovery is about identifying solutions that solve problems for your users. To determine which issues and pain points are most important to your users, you should explore every aspect of the product through product analytics, survey results, one-on-one interviews, and all other means available. This data and insight will validate your hypotheses and inform your immediate development timeline and long-term planning.  

Solution Architects help identify the as-is workflows and future state data models and propose a solution architecture. Collaboration with product managers and designers helps the solution architect determine the feasibility of proposed features and solutions. Inputs from existing systems, custom development, and API integrations will all be considered by the Solution Architect as part of an impact-over-effort analysis so that the team can prioritize features. Technical constraints or dependencies should be raised early in product discovery so that the product manager can weigh this into solution design. Wireframes, mockups, and prototypes help inform understanding of users and flows, capturing a visual representation of the product. 

Product discovery with Kellton

At Kellton, we follow an innovative product discovery methodology that continues to evolve with industry trends. Using various collaboration and design tools, such as Miro, we spend eight weeks focusing on the target audience, breaking down the user research, prioritizing problems to be solved, and mapping solutions. Once all stakeholders and team members agree on the MVP feature set, we provide a detailed estimate and timeline for delivery. We cater to businesses of all sizes and tailor our workshops for B2B and B2C products, ranging from FinTech to DEI to the Clean Energy sector.

Here’s a quick rundown of our approach and deliverables:

Understanding the problem space

  • Problem statement and hypothesis
  • Competitor analysis
  • Market positioning and unique value proposition

Understanding the user

  • Persona development
  • User interviews
  • User journey mapping

Understanding the feature ideas

  • Problem and feature prioritization
  • Feature canvas worksheet
  • Sketches

Proposing the solution

  • Solution mapping
  • Wireframes

Visualizing the MVP

  • Design workshops to develop a style guide
  • High-fidelity prototype mockups

Planning for delivery

  • Data model
  • Solution architecture
  • Product specification documentation
  • Roadmap development

Contact us to learn more about our product management offerings and how Kellton can supercharge your product discovery process.