6 challenges to overcome in product discovery

11 min read
June 5, 2023

Product discovery is a challenging process with no guarantee of success.

Your discovery process is likely to have its ups and downs, and your initial assumptions might turn out to be way off the mark.

Even if you make sure to avoid the worst mistakes in product discovery, the odds of your product idea being validated without major changes are far from assured.

So, what are some of the challenges you’ll face when doing product discovery and how can you overcome them?

Let’s find out!

Creating a cross-functional discovery team

One of the most important elements of a successful product discovery process is having a competent team running it.

Having the right people leading your discovery efforts will make your product discovery process faster, decrease associated costs, and maximize the chances of success for your product.

The product trio

The product trio

To start, your base discovery team should consist of the product trio:

  • Product manager
  • Product designer
  • Lead engineer

These three roles play a key part in any product discovery process, being responsible for it from start to finish.

They’re intimately involved in the process from the kickoff meeting all the way to the launch of your product, intensely collaborating with each other and other stakeholders to ensure your product’s success.

The key to a truly successful product discovery process is creating and managing a cross-functional team to participate in discovery.

But what does “cross-functional team” actually mean?

Functional vs Cross-functional team

Functional vs Cross-functional team

Cross-functional teams consist of people with different functional expertise coming together to achieve a common goal – in our case, successfully finishing the product discovery process.

The product trio is cross-functional by design, for example.

Who else you pick to be on the discovery team for your product will depend on the scope, your specific needs, and your team’s availability.

For example, if your product is text-heavy, bringing your copywriter or content writer on board could be a smart move.

Or you might want to loop in your QA engineer to catch any bugs or mistakes as soon as they happen.

product discovery

Learn more about our discovery process →

App development starts with product discovery…

A good rule of thumb is to limit your core discovery team to a maximum of 5 people and participants in discovery sprints to a maximum of 10 people.

Regardless of the exact composition of your discovery team, involving different perspectives during the discovery process will help improve your product and maximize its chances of success.

Eliminating biases in the discovery process

Biases are an unavoidable part of our lives – you can make a convincing case that they’re what makes us human.

We’re all biased one way or another.

But what makes the difference is whether we’re conscious of our biases and try to mitigate them or we let them fester and negatively impact our work.

A product created by a team which hasn’t addressed their biases will have a higher chance of failure compared to a product developed by a team that’s challenged their biases.

Unaddressed biases can kill even the best product idea if they cause you to miss what your users need.

Before talking about how you can address your biases, let’s discuss some of the most common biases and how they can affect your product discovery process.

One of the most common biases you might have is confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias

In simple terms, confirmation bias is when we favor information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs while disregarding or minimizing information that contradicts them.

In product discovery this might manifest itself by ignoring negative user feedback and focusing only on positive feedback, for example.

While it’s impossible to create a perfect product and it’s fine to disregard negative feedback if it’s a clear outlier or a very specific case, you have to remain vigilant that it doesn’t become a habit.

One bias that product teams are particularly susceptible to is the IKEA effect – this is when we value something more if we make it ourselves.

The IKEA effect can easily lead to another cognitive bias – the sunk cost fallacy.

This is when we persevere with a course of action because we’ve invested time, energy and money into it even though quitting it is more beneficial.

So, how can you address these biases?

To start, it’s crucial you remain as objective and clear-headed as possible, doubly so if your initial assumptions are invalidated by user feedback.

This is also why it’s important to involve different perspectives during the discovery process, as a fresh set of eyes can help identify and address any biases that may have cropped up during the discovery process.

Pivoting if your idea isn’t validated

One of the main benefits of doing product discovery is having your product idea validated.

Idea validation is a very important process you shouldn’t skip as rushing to market without validating your idea is a very risky proposition.

Launching your product without validating your idea is like jumping out of an airplane without checking your parachute.

Sure, your jump might go off without a hitch, but the risk in case of failure is too great to leave it up to chance.

Going to market with a product that hasn’t been validated carries with it a higher risk of failure than going to market with a validated product.

Idea validation is in some ways an exercise in risk mitigation.

Validating your idea will show you if there’s even a market need for your product.

Your product idea can be superbly executed but if there’s no market need for your product the harsh reality is that it won’t be successful, no matter what you do.

So, what should you do if your product idea fails to be validated?

The answer is pivoting.

The tree types of pivots

The tree types of pivots

As pictured above, there are three common types of pivots:

  • Product pivot
  • Customer pivot
  • Problem pivot

A product pivot is great when a certain feature you’ve planned for your product turns out to grab a lot of attention from your potential customers while you’re validating your idea.

This can either mean that other features aren’t up to par quality-wise or are simply unnecessary, necessitating that you focus on the best-performing feature.

A customer pivot happens when you discover a new target audience during your validation process – if they’re more enthusiastic about your product than your original target audience, focusing on them is a good idea.

Lastly, a problem pivot is when you discover serious issues with your initial idea after attempting to validate it.

Your initial idea may be salvageable if you redefine your features to address those problems but if it isn’t, starting over with a new idea is advisable.

It’s understandably difficult to pivot if you’ve devoted a lot of time and effort to developing your idea but not pivoting could cost you a lot more in the long run.

Devoting enough time to discovery

Product discovery is the first and most important step during product development.

One might say that’s a bold or even a controversial statement but the point of product discovery is finding out and then meeting your users’ needs.

And without users, there’s no viable product.

This is why it’s important to devote enough time to the discovery process.

You also find out the market potential of your product and end up doing a lot of research which can come in handy in the future.

By doing product discovery, you not only find out if your product is worth making but also lay the foundations needed for your product’s success.

Through the discovery process you can more easily chart a successful course towards launching your product.

Gant table

Gant table

But, how long should the discovery process take?

That’s not an easy question to answer and will depend on what your product is, the complexity of your target market and the scope of your product.

If you’re targeting a small niche market with only a handful of competitors your discovery process will be significantly shorter.

On the flip side, if you’re targeting a broad market with dozens of competitors vying for the same users, you’re going to need a lot more time.

An unsatisfying but nevertheless accurate answer to how long the discovery process should take is “as long as it takes.”

For some products, discovery might take only a couple of weeks but for particularly complex products it might take several months.

A longer discovery process, though, doesn’t necessarily yield better results.

What it comes down to, in the end, is having the right team in place.

If you have the right team in place, the best tip we can give you is to listen to them and devote as much time to discovery as they deem necessary.

Making discovery continuous

The conventional wisdom regarding product discovery is that once it’s completed and the product transitions towards delivery it’s done for good.

The paradigm is beginning to shift, however.

An increasing number of organizations are starting to implement continuous product discovery as their product discovery process model.

So, why is continuous product discovery all the rage these days and why should you implement it?

As we mentioned previously, the point of product discovery is to find out what your users’ needs are and how your product can fulfill those needs.

But will your users’ needs stay the same 6 months after you’ve finished your discovery process? Or after a year?

Odds are, no, they won’t. They can change dramatically, depending on factors like economic conditions or new solutions to their problems presented by your competitors.

Continuous product discovery will help you not just respond quickly to these shifts but also anticipate them before they even happen.

Continuous product discovery

Continuous product discovery

Continuous product discovery dovetails nicely with product delivery, as pictured above, creating a loop that makes the decision-making process simpler and easier.

You also always keep your finger on the pulse of your users, helping you make user-centric decisions that put the needs of your users first.

While continuous discovery does sound daunting at first, its brilliance lies in its simplicity.

Teresa Torres, product discovery coach and author of Continuous Discovery Habits, defines continuous product discovery as follows:

“At a minimum, weekly touchpoints with customers by the team building the product, where they’re conducting small research activities in pursuit of a desired product outcome.”

So, continuous discovery doesn’t mean you constantly repeat the entire discovery process but it primarily involves simple research activities that aren’t time-consuming.

And yet, even such simple activities will yield you numerous benefits and significantly increase the odds of your product having enduring success.

Switching focus to outcomes rather than outputs

Outputs and outcomes are 2 words that are used interchangeably far too often.

One easy way to differentiate between the two is that outputs are the “what” and outcomes are the “how”.

“Outcomes over outputs” might sound like another in a long line of buzzwords everyone swears by and only pretends to understand but it’s anything but that.

Diference between outputs and outcomes in product discoery

Diference between outputs and outcomes in product discoery

Outputs are specific deliverables and features while outcomes are the results we get through launching and implementing those outputs.

The outcomes like, for example, user frustrations you’ve solved and pain points you’ve addressed in turn generate financial and business benefits for your organization.

Focusing on outcomes is essential if you want to maximize the value your product provides to your users.

This doesn’t mean that output-driven product discovery and development are inherently bad, of course – after all, most product teams still manage by outputs, even when they think they’re managing by outcomes.

Let’s say your target users are experienced software engineers. 

In this case, it would be better to manage by outputs, since software engineers already understand the outcomes of each output. 

However, as a general rule, focusing on outcomes will help you not only maximize the value your product gives your users but also help you create user-centric features and deliverables.

Switching focus to managing by outcomes might be challenging and fully transitioning to it might take you a good while but the payoff is worth it.

Product discovery challenges: summary

Product discovery is an extremely important part of the product development process and it comes with its own set of challenges.

To summarize, we’ve discussed these challenges you’ll likely have to overcome during your discovery process:

  • Creating a cross-functional team
  • Eliminating biases in the discovery process
  • Pivoting if your idea isn’t validated
  • Devoting enough time to discovery
  • Making discovery continuous
  • Switching focus to outcomes rather than outputs

If you’re interested in learning more about product discovery, feel free to reach out to us about our product discovery process or read our 6-step guide to great product discovery.

Written by

Karlo Mihanovic

Tech Advisor

Related articles