Product Discovery How-To: Actionable Tips and Strategies
What is Product Discovery?
Every product on the market started somewhere as the seed of an idea. Product discovery is the process of exploring, researching, and defining those ideas or concepts, in order to truly understand their viability, feasibility, and potential value.
The Product Discovery Process
The product discovery process involves researching, exploring, and defining a product concept before it gets to development. This includes identifying problems or opportunities, gathering user feedback, validating assumptions, and refining a product idea (sometimes several times over).
This iterative process ensures that the final product aligns with customer needs and business goals, and gives it a higher chance of success in the market. Product discovery is a crucial phase in the overall product development lifecycle, setting the foundation for informed decision-making and effective delivery.
Innovative Techniques in Product Discovery
In the age of product discovery, the most innovative techniques emphasize collaboration, rapid iteration, customer-centricity, and evidence-based decision-making. These approaches help product teams uncover valuable insights, reduce uncertainties, and increase the likelihood of developing products that are both successful and customer-focused.
Design sprints, popularized by Google Ventures, are intensive workshops that compress the product discovery process into a short timeframe. Cross-functional teams collaborate to define problems, generate solutions, and create a prototype that is then tested with users. This rapid and collaborative approach accelerates the validation of ideas and reduces the time to gather valuable insights.
Jobs-to-be-Done, or JTBD, is a framework that focuses on understanding the various tasks that customers are trying to accomplish—in other words, why they’re using your product. With this level of insight, teams can uncover unmet needs that influence how solutions are built.
Customer journey mapping involves visually representing the entire customer experience, from initial awareness to product use and beyond. This technique helps teams empathize with users, identify pain points, and discover opportunities for improvement. By understanding the end-to-end customer experience, product teams can make informed decisions to enhance user satisfaction and loyalty.
Lean Startup Methodology:
The Lean Startup methodology focuses on avoiding wasted resources by validating ideas early in the product discovery process. It starts with quickly building a minimum viable product (MVP), and encourages a cycle of “build-measure-learn,” along with rapid iteration based on real-world data.
Finally, assumption testing and validation is about explicitly listing everything you can assume about the product, market, or users, and systematically exploring and testing each of them. Surveys, interviews, and prototype testing are ideal ways to validate (or invalidate) theories, ensuring that a product’s concept is rooted in data and evidence.
The Role of Product Managers in the Discovery Process
Product managers play a crucial role in the product discovery process, leading the charge on collaboration, market research, and strategic, feature-based prioritization. They’re responsible for guiding the team to identify, define, and validate product ideas that align directly with business goals and customer needs, as well as the overall company vision.
Product managers also ensure that the product concept has a future in the first place, acting as a bridge between business stakeholders, development teams, and end users. It’s on the PM to ensure that teams are making informed decisions, adapting appropriately to feedback, and shaping a successful direction for the product.
7 Advantages of Effective Product Discovery
Well-done product discovery comes with a series of valuable benefits. The more polished the process, the faster something with real potential gets to market—but the advantages go beyond fueling efficiency.
1. Informed Decision-Making
Effective product discovery provides a solid foundation of insights, allowing teams to make informed decisions about the viability, feasibility, and potential success of a product concept. This reduces the likelihood of investing resources in ideas that don’t end up meeting customer needs or business goals.
2. User-Centric Solutions
By thoroughly understanding user needs and pain points, product discovery ensures that the resulting product is designed with a user-centric approach—leading to solutions that genuinely address customer wants and improving the product’s overall market fit.
3. Reduced Development Risks
The product discovery process helps identify and validate assumptions early, reducing risks associated with developing a product that may not resonate with the target audience. This risk reduction is particularly valuable in minimizing resource waste and avoiding costly mistakes during development.
4. Faster Time-to-Market
Efficient product discovery accelerates the overall product development lifecycle. By quickly validating ideas and features, teams can stay agile, move to the development phase sooner, and shorten time-to-market.
5. Optimized Resource Allocation
Product discovery helps teams prioritize features and functionalities based on their alignment with business objectives and customer needs. This maximizes efficiency by ensuring that development efforts focus on the most valuable and impactful aspects of the product.
6. Increased Stakeholder Alignment
Through the product discovery process, stakeholders gain a clearer understanding of the product vision, goals, and the rationale behind key decisions. This increased alignment fosters collaboration and support from stakeholders, creating a shared vision for the product’s success.
7. Adaptability to Change
Effective product discovery embraces adaptability. By continuously validating assumptions and making updates to the product concept, teams can respond quickly to changing market conditions, emerging insights, or shifts in demand.
Navigating the 6 Most Common Challenges in Product Discovery
No product development strategy is ever one-size-fits-all, and the effectiveness of an approach will vary based on the specific context of the product and the organization. Still, there are a handful of common product discovery mistakes that can be avoided—or quickly overcome—with the right level of awareness and planning.
Challenge 1: Lack of user involvement
Actionable tip: Actively involve users throughout the product discovery process. Conduct user interviews, surveys, and usability testing to gather direct feedback. Regularly engage with customer support and sales teams to understand common user pain points and needs.
Challenge 2: Unclear goals and priorities
Actionable tip: Clearly define and communicate product goals and priorities. Establish a collaborative decision-making process involving key stakeholders. Conduct workshops or strategy sessions to align teams on overarching objectives and ensure everyone understands the strategic direction.
Challenge 3: Insufficient data and insights
Actionable tip: Invest in robust market research and data collection techniques. Leverage analytics tools, customer feedback channels, and competitor analysis to gather valuable insights. Consider partnerships with external research firms or industry experts to get a more comprehensive view of the space.
Challenge 4: Resistance to change
Actionable tip: Regularly communicate the benefits and measure the impact of product discovery, emphasizing its role in reducing risks and improving outcomes that influence the business as a whole. Encourage cross-functional collaboration, and share successes resulting from product discovery done right.
Challenge 5: Limited resources
Actionable tip: Prioritize and optimize resource allocation. Clearly identify and focus on the most critical aspects of product discovery aligned with business objectives. Consider leveraging agile methodologies and iterative approaches to make the most of available resources.
Challenge 6: Overemphasis on features (not pain points)
Actionable tip: Shift the focus from building new features to solving user problems. Encourage teams to explore the root causes of user pain points. Use techniques like Jobs-to-be-Done or problem-solving workshops to ensure that product discovery is centered around addressing real user needs.
Productboard’s Approach to Product Discovery
At Productboard, we believe that the step-by-step Double Diamond approach is everything you need to know about product discovery. It has a straightforward goal: build the right products for the right people by reducing the risks associated with product decisions. With a focus on understanding user problems and iterative testing, the endgame is not just to ship features faster, but to promote a culture of continuous learning, and improve products both incrementally and consistently.
Uncover the underlying user need
How to do it: Identify broad challenges and high-level objectives, looking at the big picture rather than specifics. Challenges may revolve around new product exploration, current user needs, or growth vs. technical challenges.
Understand, define, and prioritize
How to do it: Rely on quantitative and qualitative research techniques, including user research, focus groups, observation, and data analytics, to understand user needs. Define the problems clearly and validate their significance. Prioritize identified problems using frameworks like value vs. complexity.
Identify the optimal solution
How to do it: Reframe specific user problems into solvable chunks. Ideate, prototype, and test potential solutions with the team. Choose prototypes that align with what needs to be learned and tested.
Ideate, prototype, and test
How to do it: Encourage creativity in solving user problems through ideation techniques like brainstorming and design sprints. Use various types of prototypes, such as sketches or clickable prototypes, to bring ideas to life. Test proposed solutions through methods like A/B testing, customer interviews, and surveys.
How to do it: Present viable solutions, understanding that solutions don’t necessarily equal features. Stakeholder alignment is crucial at this stage. Solutions may require multiple iterations before moving into the delivery phase.
Build excellence into the process
How to do it: Codify best practices for how solutions should be used to ensure both internal teams and customers get the most out of them. Maintain flexibility to allow users to adapt solutions to their specific needs.
Case Studies: Product Discovery Success at Salesforce and Zapier
As a product discovery tool, Productboard has created new avenues to efficiency, market penetration, and adoption for leading companies across industries.
How Salesforce reduces risk, improves efficiency, and saves time
Salesforce senior directors Drew Lau and Andrew Lawrence leveraged Productboard to enhance their product management processes, with the platform playing a crucial role in aggregating user feedback, collaborative feature planning, and real-time roadmap management.
The platform’s advanced capabilities significantly contributed to risk reduction through the identification of major user concerns and guided decision-making for roadmap planning. One key feature involved aligning cross-functional teams by linking revenue data to specific features, in turn minimizing pushback and supporting data-driven decisions. This not only improved accountability, but also highlighted the impact of high-impact features, allowing team members to be tagged and offering visibility into their contributions through comment histories.
In addition to reducing risk, Productboard added efficiency to the Salesforce product discovery process. Acting as a central source of truth, the platform enhanced visibility for multi-org initiatives and facilitated smoother transitions during organizational changes. Its scalability proved to be crucial in managing the complexities of the “messy middle” of product management, allowing for efficient collaboration among different teams.
The time-saving benefits of Productboard were undeniable—its ability to replace manual updates with transparent planning eliminated version control issues, and release planning time was significantly reduced. The team’s ability to plan more efficiently, alongside the platform’s seamless creation of release plans based on “later” ideas, continues to provide increased visibility and time savings. Salesforce’s Commerce Cloud team not only sees reduced pushback and streamlined feedback consolidation, but also enhances collaboration, allows for faster feature justifications, and creates space for continuous planning.
How Zapier built customer-centricity into company culture
Zapier, recognized for automating work across 5,000 apps, employed Productboard to significantly enhance their product management processes. Confronting challenges of silos and disconnected systems—despite experiencing an influx of customer feedback—Zapier’s Senior Manager of Product Operations, Shira Bauman, introduced Productboard to align teams around real-time roadmaps.
The results were phenomenal, with 97% of Zapier makers actively using Productboard, 200 contributors consistently viewing roadmaps, and enhanced transparency, collaboration, and efficiency across the board. Productboard helped the team at Zapier create more connected insights, in addition to better backlogs, prioritization, and roadmaps, all while fostering a unified and transparent product management environment. Productboard’s integration with Zapier streamlined workflows, automating the transfer of data from Slack and other sources. With Productboard in place, the team strengthened cross-functional collaboration and connection, and can ensure that every product decision is customer-driven with a high chance of resonating in the market.
Integrating Agile Practices in Product Discovery
Applying an agile mindset throughout the product development lifecycle is about embracing collaboration, iterative development, and customer-centricity from the outset. When done well, it leads to more adaptive and successful outcomes than inflexible, static roadmaps.
Stay agile by always encouraging close collaboration between cross-functional teams during the product discovery process. Bring together people from product management, development, design, and other relevant teams to ensure diverse perspectives and expertise are considered. Collaboration promotes faster decision-making and a holistic understanding of the product’s feasibility and market fit.
It’s also important to bring iterative prototyping and testing into all stages of the product discovery phase. Instead of waiting for a fully developed product, create minimum viable prototypes or mockups, and gather feedback from users and stakeholders early and often. It’ll help validate assumptions faster and uncover issues before they become major disruptions.
On a higher level, integrate agile practices (e.g., sprint planning, daily stand-ups, sprint reviews) into the entire product discovery process. These rituals promote clearer communication, deeper transparency, and greater adaptability. Emphasize collaboration, customer feedback, and delivering incremental value throughout product discovery, and use what’s uncovered to prioritize the product backlog based on value and strategic goals.
Finally, use techniques like MoSCoW prioritization or value-based ranking to ensure that any high-priority features—those directly aligned with mission-critical business objectives—are addressed first.
Productboard helps leaders in every industry build repeatable product discovery processes that fuel faster time-to-market, align outcomes directly with what customers want, and help businesses deliver products that are always relevant and competitive. Start a free trial today to see how your business can build better product discovery strategies and outcomes with every launch.