7 key product discovery techniques

14 min read
January 26, 2024

Steve Jobs once said: “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around.”

And product discovery is the best way to make that happen and create a product that meets your users’ needs.

But, doing it right is key.

To do that, you need to use the right techniques – that’s why we’ll discuss 7 key product discovery techniques you should use.

Let’s dive in!

What is product discovery?

Product discovery is the process of researching your market and validating your product idea before developing it.

And the point of product discovery is building a product that meets your users’ needs.

Product discovery will help you answer several important questions, like:

  • Why is our product valuable to our users?
  • Are we going to get a product-market fit?
  • What problem is our product solving for our users?
  • Who are we solving this problem for?

Answering these questions will help you validate your idea or, in other words, show you if your idea is viable or not.

If you don’t validate your idea before committing to full development, you risk building a product that won’t resonate with your users.

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App development starts with product discovery…

And that can end up costing you a lot of money.

On top of that, product discovery will help you build a strong foundation for your product’s further development.

And that will speed up your product’s development and help you get it to market faster.

Now, we’ll discuss 7 key product discovery techniques you should use.

7 key product discovery techniques

Brainstorming and ideation

By design, product discovery is a collaborative process.

And brainstorming and ideation are key to making that happen.

Ideation

It’s during these sessions that your team comes up with:

All of these are key to the success of your discovery process.

So, how can you make sure your brainstorming and ideation sessions are successful?

First, make sure your discovery team is cross-functional.

Functional vs cross-functional team

A cross-functional discovery team brings together diverse perspectives – and that will help you build a better product.

And it isn’t just a meaningless buzzword.

According to a Harvard Business Review study, cognitively diverse teams solve problems faster and are better able to adapt to changes than non-diverse teams.

Next, make sure you set clear goals for each brainstorming or ideation session.

This will help your team know which problem they’re trying to solve and keep your sessions focused.

You can also use structured brainstorming methods like SCAMPER, pictured below:

SCAMPER

Another good idea to give your sessions structure is using mind mapping tools like Ayoa and MindMeister.

They’ll help your team organize their ideas while also creating an easy reference you can revisit later, if you need to.

And that will make your brainstorming and ideation sessions more successful.

Key tips

  • Set clear goals for the sessions – your brainstorming and ideation sessions should be focused and have clear goals, so your team knows which problem they’re trying to solve
  • Create a safe and open environment – if you want the sessions to be successful, your team should be comfortable sharing their ideas in a judgment-free environment
  • Document every idea – you should document every idea, even unconventional ones, as they might be valuable for future brainstorming sessions and as your product evolves

Competitive analysis

Market research is one of the most important activities you’ll do during product discovery.

And competitive analysis is a key technique in market research that will help you position your product correctly on the market.

By analyzing your competitors, you’ll get a better idea of how you can differentiate your product from theirs.

You’ll also see if you’ve achieved a product-market fit.

And that’s essential if you want your product to be successful, like startup coach Marc Andreessen said:

The only thing that matters is getting to product/market fit. Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.

So, how do you do competitive analysis?

First, you need to identify your competitors.

Of course, you likely already know who your main competitors are in your target market.

But, you need to go in-depth and categorize all of your competitors as either primary, secondary, or tertiary competitors.

Primary/secondary/tertiary competitors

This way, you’ll get a full overview of your target market and competitors.

Your next step is analyzing the 4 Ps for each competitor:

  • Product
  • Price
  • Place
  • Promotion

This will give you a thorough understanding of what exactly their product does, their pricing strategy, and how they position themselves in the market.

You should also do other analyses like a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis and Porter’s 5 forces.

This way, you’ll be able to identify unmet user needs your product can fulfill.

And that’s what product discovery is all about.

Key tips

  • Use a variety of sources – you should use a variety of different sources (and qualitative and quantitative data) to get the full picture of your competitors
  • Look at user feedback – the feedback your competitors’ users leave is a valuable source of information and can help you identify unmet user needs you can solve with your product
  • Do a SWOT analysis – a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of every major competitor will help you better position your product

User interviews

We’ve mentioned that the point of product discovery is building a product that meets your users’ needs.

You can’t do that without thoroughly researching your users.

And user interviews are one of the best techniques to understand your users.

With user interviews, you get a direct insight into your users’ behavior and pain points when using your product.

But, how do you make sure you nail your user interviews and get usable feedback?

For starters, you need to recruit the right participants – they need to be representative of your target audience and your product’s potential end users.

Target market vs target audience vs target persona

If they’re not, you’ll be wasting your time.

You also need to create an interview guide.

This is where you’ll put all the questions you’ve prepared for the interview.

Make sure you include only open-ended questions in your interview guide – you want your users to give you long and detailed answers about your product.

Here’s what your interview guide might look like:

User interview guide

Also, make sure you’re interviewing one user at a time – your user interviews shouldn’t turn into impromptu focus groups.

If you want in-depth feedback, you’ll have to dedicate enough time to each user.

And that will help you build a product your users will actually want to use.

Key tips

  • Interview one user at a time – interviewing one user a time will help you get in-depth and detailed feedback on your product from each user
  • Avoid leading questions – don’t ask questions like “did you enjoy using our fantastic product?” which prompt users to give a particular, because you won’t get good feedback
  • Create a feedback loop – once you’ve implemented their feedback, reach out to the users you’ve interviewed to close the feedback loop

Feature prioritization

Feature prioritization is one of the most important techniques you’ll use during product discovery.

Correctly choosing your product’s features is key to its success.

If you don’t do it right, you’ll end up with a product that won’t resonate with your users – and that’s a recipe for trouble.

So, how can you do it right?

First, you need to come up with a list of features you want to include in your product.

Then, you should ask several questions:

  • Is this feature aligned with our business goals?
  • Does it meet our users’ needs?
  • Is it technically feasible?
  • Does our competitors’ product have this feature?

And feature prioritization frameworks will help you answer these questions.

There’s a number of prioritization frameworks you can use, like:

They’re a great way to objectively evaluate features you want to include in your product.

Here’s an example of how the RICE framework works:

RICE framework

Whichever framework you end up using, make sure you put your users’ needs first.

That’s the best way to create a great product.

Key tips

  • Put your users’ needs first – your main criteria for prioritization should be how each feature meets (or doesn’t) your users’ needs
  • Periodically review your prioritization – you should review your prioritization as your users’ needs evolve and the market changes
  • Use feature prioritization frameworks – use prioritization frameworks like value vs. effort, RICE, Kano, and MoSCoW for a structured, data-driven approach to feature prioritization

Prototyping

One of the main benefits of product discovery is validating your idea.

But, you don’t need to just validate your idea – you need to validate your product’s design, too.

And that’s where prototyping comes in.

A prototype is a preliminary, interactive version of your product that shows its design and visual elements – it’s the ultimate design validation tool.

Crucially, it doesn’t have functional code and all the features and user interactions are simulated.

And it doesn’t have to be complex, you can create a low-fidelity prototype that you can even draw by hand.

Low-fidelity prototype

While they’re not interactive, they’re a great way to quickly test out concepts and tweak your user flows before building a higher-fidelity prototype.

And here’s what a high-fidelity prototype looks like:

High-fidelity prototype

But, validating your design isn’t the only benefit you get from building a prototype.

With a prototype, you can also:

  • Get buy-in from stakeholders
  • Design a great user experience (UX)
  • Speed up development

You not only validate your product’s design with your prototype, but you set the foundation for its further development and make it easier.

And that’s why prototyping is an essential technique you should use during product discovery.

Key tips

  • Start with low-fidelity prototypes – start by creating low-fidelity prototypes to quickly explore different ideas and concepts without investing too much time and resources
  • Focus on core features – your prototype should showcase your product’s core features and functionality, which you’ll then validate with users
  • Get user feedback early – get feedback from users as early as possible to quickly validate your product’s design and steer your discovery efforts in the right direction

Usability testing

Did you know that you can uncover 85% of usability issues by testing your product with just 5 users?

That’s a pretty compelling reason to go through with usability testing during product discovery.

But, what exactly is usability testing?

Usability testing is non-functional testing that mainly focuses on how to improve your product’s UX by observing how real users interact with it.

It answers the question: “Can our target audience use our product”?

And that’s why it’s such an important part of product discovery – after all, if your users can’t use your product like you intended, you can’t meet their needs.

But, how exactly do you conduct a usability test? 

Here’s a simple overview of how it works:

Usability testing

You need 3 key elements for a successful usability test:

  • Facilitator – a UX researcher or team member who gives tasks to, interviews, and observers test participants
  • Participant – a user from your target audience who tests your product and completes the tasks they’re given
  • Tasks – realistic scenarios participants complete to validate your product’s UX

If your test is well-designed, you’ll be able to find and fix flaws in your product’s UX and see how users will actually use your product.

And there’s a number of usability testing methods and types you can use, such as:

Usability testing methods

Make sure you use a combination of various methods in your usability tests to get the best results.

You want your testing to be thorough and diverse – this way, you’ll find the vast majority of issues and flaws with your product before committing to development.

And you’ll end up building a much better product.

Key tips

  • Choose the right participants – your test participants should represent your actual user base if you want your usability testing results to be relevant and valuable
  • Create realistic scenarios and tests – the tasks in your usability tests should simulate real-life scenarios your users will encounter, which will help you understand how they would naturally use your product
  • Record the sessions – record your usability testing sessions so you can go back and catch any useful details you might have missed

Product analytics

If you want to make the right decisions during product discovery, you’ll need lots of data.

Like W. Edwards Deming, American statistician, once said: “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.”

Product analytics tools are the best way to get that data about your product.

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But, which metrics should you track? And which product analytics tools should you use?

The metrics you track will depend on your product and your specific target audience and market.

If you’re building a software-as-a-service (SaaS) tool, you might track metrics like:

  • Daily active users
  • Churn rate
  • Retention rate

In short, the metrics you track should align with your business goals.

And the product analytics tools you end up using should, too.

Some of the top analytics tools on the market are:

Most of these tools offer a free plan, so you should try them out and see how they work with your product before committing to a tool.

That’s how you’ll get the best value for your money and the best results.

Key tips

  • Clearly define your KPIs – you should clearly define and focus on KPIs that are most important to your product (e.g. user engagement or conversion rates) and its UX
  • Segment your data – segmenting your user data by demographics or user types will help you get a better understanding of your users’ diverse needs
  • Map user journeys – by mapping out and analyzing your user journeys, you’ll be able to find points where they drop off or run into issues

7 key product discovery techniques: FAQs

What is product discovery?

Product discovery is the process of researching your market and validating your product idea before developing it.

Why is product discovery important?

Product discovery is important because it validates your product idea before you commit to full development – this will help you minimize the risks involved and develop your product faster.

Which techniques should I use in product discovery?

You should use:

  • Brainstorming and ideation
  • Competitive analysis
  • User interviews
  • Feature prioritization
  • Prototyping
  • Usability testing
  • Product analytics

Which frameworks should I use for feature prioritization?

You should use frameworks like value vs. effort, RICE, Kano, and MoSCoW.

Need discovery for your product?

Do you have a great idea for a product but don’t know where to start?

We’ve got you covered.

With our in-depth product discovery process, we can test your product idea and see if it fits the market before building it.

Feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions.

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Written by

Ivan Kardum

Lead product manager

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