What is product discovery? All you need to know

17 min read
December 14, 2023

Product discovery is all about making sure your product meets your users’ needs – if it doesn’t, it won’t be successful.

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 if you do product discovery, you can make that happen.

But, what exactly is product discovery? And how can you do it?

In this article, we’ll answer those questions and show you how to make your discovery a success.

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 your users will actually want to use.

A good way of thinking about discovery is that you’re answering several important questions, such as:

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

In short, product discovery helps you validate your idea and show you if it’s viable or not.

And if you skip this step, you risk spending money on developing a product that doesn’t meet the needs of your market.

product discovery

Learn more about our discovery process →

App development starts with product discovery…

But, if you validate your idea, product discovery will help you lay a strong foundation for further development.

And that’s just one reason why product discovery is so important.

Now, let’s discuss some other benefits of doing product discovery.

Benefits of product discovery

Doing product discovery has a lot of benefits, some of the top being that it:

  • Speeds up development
  • Validates your idea
  • Minimizes risk

Let’s cover each in more detail.

Speeds up development

One of the main benefits of product discovery is that it speeds up development and helps you get your product to market faster.

That’s because you’ll learn:

  • Who your target audience is
  • Which features you should include
  • What your product will look like
  • If your idea is viable or not

Knowing these things will help you set a clear timeline and keep your development focused.

And that’s especially important if you’re building an MVP:

MVP steps

source: Net Solutions

Out of the 6 steps laid out here, the first 4 are done during discovery.

Think of product discovery like an equivalent to mise en place in professional cooking – it’s where you collect all the necessary ingredients to build your product.

After discovery, all you need to do is put them together and develop your product.

And that significantly speeds up development.

Validates your idea

The top benefit of doing product discovery is that it validates your product idea.

Validating your idea will show you if your idea has merit or not.

This can save you a lot of money you’d otherwise spend developing a product that doesn’t fit the market.

And building a product without a solid product-market fit is a huge mistake.

While we’re on the subject, here’s what Resonate’s founder, Davor Culjak, has to say about achieving product-market fit.

According to CB Insights, having no market need for their product is one of the main reasons why startups fail:

Reasons why startups fail

source: CB Insights

And by doing product discovery, you’ll prevent the same from happening to your company.

A good example of successful idea validation is the online shoe retailer Zappos.

Back in 1999, founder Nick Swimmum did an experiment – his hypothesis was that customers would be willing to purchase shoes online.

So, he teamed up with local shoe stores, took pictures of their inventory, and promised he would buy the shoes at full price if customers purchased them online.

And they did – the rest is history.

Minimizes risk

Another major benefit of product discovery is that it minimizes the risks involved in developing a product.

And there’s a number of risks to look out for.

Here’s an overview of the 7 most common ones:

7 common project risks

source: Asana

But, how does doing product discovery minimize these risks?

Of course, product discovery isn’t a silver bullet – you still need to properly manage your product’s development.

However, doing discovery gives you all the tools you need to create a clear and focused development roadmap.

And that alone will help you minimize most of these risks.

But, product discovery also minimizes the biggest risk of all – not having a product-market fit.

And that’s why discovery is so important.

Top product discovery tools

Now, let’s take a look at some of the top product discovery tools you should use:

  • Contentsquarea digital experience platform, Contentsquare offers advanced analytics that show you how users interact with your product.
  • FigmaFigma is a collaborative design tool you can use to create wireframes, user flows, and prototypes during discovery.
  • Google Workspacea suite of productivity and collaboration tools, Google Workspace is a good choice as an all-in-one platform to organize your product discovery process.
  • HotjarHotjar is a heatmap and digital analytics tool that tracks how users interact with your product, so you can identify problem areas and see how users actually use your product.
  • Jira Product Discoverya dedicated product discovery tool in Jira, Jira Product Discovery will help you organize the data, ideas, and insights you gather during discovery.
  • MazeMaze is a continuous product discovery platform that allows you to conduct user testing at scale and iterate your product based on user feedback.
  • MiroMiro is a digital whiteboard tool that supports real-time collaboration, making collaboration easier if you discovery team is remote.
  • Productboarda product management tool, Productboard is versatile and has a number of features that will help you manage your discovery efforts effectively.
  • Slacka cloud-based messaging app built for businesses, Slack is a great tool for organizing communication between members of your discovery team and other stakeholders.

Of course, you should pick the tools that suit your specific business needs, but these tools are good choices if you don’t know where to start.

Now, let’s cover how to do product discovery step-by-step.

How to do product discovery

Here, we’ll discuss the steps you need to take for successful product discovery, which are:

  • Assemble your discovery team
  • Start with market research
  • Research your users
  • Ideate and create a product hypothesis
  • Create wireframes and user flows
  • Test and validate your idea
  • Pivot or continue with development

We’ll also give you key tips for each step.

Let’s go!

Assemble your discovery team

Before starting product discovery, you need to assemble your discovery team.

Getting this step right is crucial for the success of your product discovery process.

So, what should your discovery team look like?

For starters, your team should be cross-functional.

Functional vs cross-functional team

And there’s good reasons for that.

A Harvard Business Review study found that teams that are more cognitively diverse solve problems faster and adapt better to change than non-diverse teams.

Cross-functional teams in product discovery are a perfect example of cognitive diversity in action.

Also, another Harvard Business Review study found that cross-functional teams supported by executives reached a 76% project success rate.

In short, cross-functional and cognitively diverse teams are the way to go.

But, which roles should you include? And how big should the team be?

For starters, you need to include the product trio in your team.

The product trio

These 3 roles are key to the success of your discovery process and will form your core discovery team.

Of course, you can include other relevant stakeholders or extra designers and engineers, depending on your needs.

But, your discovery team should include between 4 and 7 team members, not more.

This will help you keep your product discovery workshops efficient and productive.

And that’s key to their success.

Key tips

  • Build a cross-functional team make sure your discovery team is cross-functional, so you get diverse perspectives and insights during discovery
  • Involve relevant stakeholders include relevant stakeholders, like subject matter experts (SMEs), to make your discovery more successful
  • Ensure effective communication – make sure your discovery team can communicate and share documentation effectively

Start with market research

Once you have your team ready, the first thing you need to do during product discovery is market research.

Without it, you won’t be able to build a successful product.

Thorough market research will help you find out everything you need to know about your target market and identify your target audience.

Target market vs target audience vs target persona

And that’s key to your product’s success.

Like Philip Kotler, marketing professor and consultant, said:

“There is only one winning strategy. It is to carefully define the target market and direct a superior offering to that target market.”

Market research will help you position your product and get a product-market fit.

It’s also one of the key steps you need to validate your idea.

If you do it right, by the time you’ve finished market research you will know:

  • How your competitors position their products
  • The size and growth dynamics of your target market
  • How you can position your product
  • Which features you should prioritize

And you need all of these things to build a successful product.

Key tips

  • Analyze your competitors – do a thorough analysis of your competitors’ products and positioning to get a sense of your market’s dynamics
  • Use the right analysis methods – use analyses like SWOT or Porter’s Five Forces to analyze the data you collect during market research
  • Analyze global trends – keep an eye out for global trends, even those outside of your target market

Research your users

Researching your users is a key step during product discovery.

With user research, you’ll discover your users’ behaviors, needs, and pain points.

And that information will help you build a product that actually resonates with your users – which is the point of doing product discovery.

So, how do you do user research?

Your first step should be to set clear research goals – you need to know what you want to achieve if you want your research to be successful.

Next, you need to choose the user research methods you’ll use.

There’s a huge number of different research methods out there:

User research methods

source: Nielsen Norman Group

The research methods you end up using will depend on your specific research goals.

But, make sure you use both qualitative and quantitative research methods, like:

  • Surveys
  • Questionnaires
  • Focus groups
  • User interviews
  • A/B testing
  • Usability testing

Also, keep in mind that user research isn’t a one-time thing.

Your users’ needs will evolve and your product will need to constantly meet those needs.

But, the user research you do during discovery is the most important.

It will set the stage for the rest of your discovery process and your product’s development.

And that’s why you need to get it right.

Key tips

  • Use a mix of research methods – use both qualitative and quantitative user research methods to get well-rounded results
  • Clearly define your research goals – before you start doing user research, define exactly which goals you want to achieve with it
  • Create user personasafter you’ve done researching your users, create user personas as a handy reference for the rest of discovery

Ideate and create a product hypothesis

By design, product discovery is an intensely collaborative process.

And ideation and brainstorming are key to making that happen.

Ideation

This is when your discovery team comes up with:

  • Feature ideas
  • Solutions to user problems
  • Branding ideas
  • Monetization strategies

But, the most important thing your team should create during ideation is your product hypothesis.

What is a product hypothesis

source: Upsilon

Just make sure that your hypothesis is falsifiable i.e. that it can be disproven.

And it can be as simple as “our users will find value and enjoy using our product”.

But, you should develop a more detailed hypothesis to validate your product idea properly.

Let’s say you’re building a fitness app.

tech CEO 1

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One of your hypotheses can be: “We believe that adding a social networking feature to our app will result in a 20% increase in our user engagement rate”.

Then, your next step is validating that hypothesis.

But, you also need to design your product before fully validating it – and that means creating wireframes and user flows.

Key tips

  • Create a safe and inclusive space for ideation – make sure that all team members can share their thoughts and ideas openly and without fear
  • Create several hypotheses – you should create several product hypotheses to thoroughly validate your idea
  • Include diverse perspectives – including diverse perspectives and insights during ideation and brainstorming will make those sessions more productive and well-rounded

Create wireframes and user flows

Once you’ve done your research and decided on your product’s features, your next step is creating wireframes and user flows.

They’ll form the basis of your product’s final design, and they’re some of the most important deliverables you get from product discovery.

And you can use them to validate your product hypothesis, too.

But, what exactly are wireframes and user flows?

Wireframes are initial sketches of your product’s user interface (UI) – think of them like a blueprint for your product.

Low-fidelity wireframe

And they can be as simple as a hand-drawn rough sketch.

Wireframes are great visual guides that illustrate how your product will work.

But, wireframes by themselves aren’t enough – you also need to create user flows.

User flows are diagrams representing the typical user’s path when using your product to complete a task.

User flow

The main benefit of user flows is that they’ll show you if your users will experience friction when using your product.

User friction refers to any obstacle they face using your product, like overly complicated navigation.

And solving that friction and improving your product’s design is key to a good user experience (UX).

Key tips

  • Start with low-fidelity wireframescreate rough, low-fidelity wireframe sketches to get the basics of your design done quickly
  • Focus on UX – when you’re creating wireframes and user flows, focus on how your users will use your product and how you can improve their experience
  • Iterate based on feedback – get feedback from stakeholders and users and use it to improve your wireframes and user flows

Test and validate your idea

After you’ve done your initial research, created a hypothesis, and drafted your initial design, your next step is to test and validate your idea.

We’ve mentioned that validating your idea is one of the main benefits of product discovery.

It’s also an ongoing process throughout product discovery – every previous step we’ve covered also serves to validate your idea.

But, once you’ve done all of them, you still need to fully validate your idea.

And there are 3 validation tools you should use:

  • Proof of concept (POC)
  • Prototype
  • Minimum viable product (MVP)

So, what’s the difference between the three?

The difference is in their purpose.

Here’s a detailed overview of the differences between them:

POC, prototype, and MVP differences

source: Asana

In short, creating a POC will help you determine if your idea is technically feasible at all.

A prototype, on the other hand, is used to validate your design and your product’s UX.

Finally, an MVP validates both the visual and technical aspects of your product as well as if there’s market demand for your product.

You should use all 3 to fully validate your idea before committing to further development.

That’s the only way to make sure your idea is truly viable.

Key tips

  • Create a prototype – building a prototype will help you effectively test your product’s design with your users
  • Do user testing – getting potential real users to test your product is essential if you want to validate your product idea
  • Use analytics tools – use analytics tools like Contentsquare and Hotjar to see how users actually use and interact with your product

Pivot or continue with development

After you finish product discovery you’ll have 2 options – pivoting to another idea or continuing with development.

Your choice depends on whether your idea was validated or not.

Don’t commit to full development if your idea isn’t validated, that will cost you much more in the long run.

And pivoting to another idea can turn out to be a massive success.

Take Slack, for example.

Slack started as an internal communication tool for Tiny Speck, a gaming company developing a browser-based multiplayer game called Glitch.

Slack name origin

source: Vator News

The game wasn’t very successful, but their communication tool showed promise. So they pivoted in order to fully focus on building Slack.

The rest is history. In December 2023, Slack had a market capitalization of $26.51 billion.

But, what should your next steps be if your idea is validated?

If you’ve built an MVP, you need to gather all the feedback you’ve received and prioritize which features you’ll add next.

You should also implement continuous discovery.

Continuous product discovery

This way, you’ll be on top of your users’ evolving needs and keep your product relevant.

And that’s key to its long-term success.

Key tips

  • Create a feedback loop – having a feedback loop in place will help you consistently iterate based on your users’ feedback
  • Iterate on your MVP – if you’ve built an MVP to validate your idea, iterate on it and add new features and functionalities
  • Assess the risk of pivoting/continued development – once you’re done with discovery, make sure to do a thorough risk assessment before you pivot to another idea or continue with development

Product discovery: FAQs

What is product discovery?

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

Why is product discovery important?

Product discovery is important because it validates your product idea before you commit to full development, which minimizes the risks involved. Also, thorough product discovery will help you develop your product faster.

How can I do product discovery?

The key steps for successful product discovery are:

  • Assemble your discovery team
  • Start with market research
  • Research your users
  • Ideate and create a product hypothesis
  • Create wireframes and user flows
  • Test and validate your idea
  • Pivot or continue with development

Who should be on my product discovery team?

Your core discovery team should include the product trio (product manager, product designer, and solution architect/lead engineer) but you can include other team members and relevant stakeholders, depending on your needs.

Need discovery for your product?

Do you have a great product idea but don’t know how to turn it into reality?

Don’t worry, we’ve got your back.

With our thorough product discovery process, we’ll make sure your idea fits the market and meets your users’ needs.

If you want to learn more, check out our process and feel free to get in touch with us.

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Written by

Ivan Kardum

Lead product manager

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