Product discovery is a key step in the product development process that you should not overlook. It will help you and your team avoid building a product that no one wants and will allow you to go on the market with a product that will satisfy customers’ needs.
To ensure your product’s success, it’s essential to validate the product idea before you invest time and resources into building it. Your goal here is to gather insights and feedback that will help your team build the right product.
You can take several approaches to turn an idea into reality with product discovery depending on the product you build, the market, and the team you’re part of. It can involve customer interviews, surveys, user testing, and data analysis. This means that you will collaborate with designers, developers, stakeholders, or product managers to test and validate ideas, gather user feedback, prototype solutions, and release the first version of your product.
This article will guide you through a set of steps that will help you understand where the development of a new product, or of a new initiative for an existing product, should begin. Let’s dive in and see what are the key elements of product discovery.
Step #1: Identify the problem
Product discovery starts with a problem that your product is trying to solve. You may have identified a business problem, such as high costs and low profitability, where a new product or feature can help. Or it can be a user problem, such as a company’s lack of organization, ineffective communication, or something else.
But where do you find the problem?
It depends on whether your product is already on the market or if you are building a new product.
For an existing product:
- You can gather user feedback and feature requests from the support and sales teams.
- You can analyze user data by observing usage patterns to see the most used areas and the ones where users struggle. Tools like Hotjar can come in handy for such information.
For a new product:
- Finding the frustrations that customers may have with existing products can help you find areas for improvement with a new product.
- Finding unmet customers’ needs or gaps in the market can lead to new product development. This can involve analyzing trends, conducting market research, and pinpointing customer segments with unfulfilled needs.
Step #2: Research your competition
Competitor research is useful when you need to find unique selling points for a new product or understand how others are already solving an existing problem. But also, to compare the features of your existing product with those of your competitors.
As soon as I find a problem, I always do my research and check if any products on the market already solve it, how they do it, and if can be done better.
When you want to research your competitors, the first thing you should do is create a list of similar products. Then, analyze their features to find out what they offer. Also, looking into the user feedback for those products and the unaddressed needs is a sound plan.
Ultimately, a comparison matrix will prove helpful to see where there are few or no existing solutions to a problem and to find the strengths and weaknesses of different products.
Step #3: Get a better grasp of customers’ needs
Now that you have an idea about what problems users face, it’s time to get a deeper understanding of what users need.
Begin by defining clear user research goals. This allows you to focus your research effort on gathering proper information. Otherwise, you may end up looking into too many areas that are not relevant.
Once you know what the success of your research should look like, continue with choosing the proper user research method and find participants that have relevant experience. There are a variety of ways you can use to figure out customers’ needs, but I’ll focus on user interviews in this article.
I learned that finding the right people to schedule user interviews is key. For example, if you are building a new CRM product, you will want to focus on people working in relevant domains, such as marketing or sales.
Or let’s say you are already in the market with an HR solution for large companies, and you have identified a problem that you want to solve. This being so, you can have interviews with the HR departments who use the product, as well as the employees who have been registered with the tool.
It’s essential to find people with different responsibilities in a specific area, otherwise, you will build features that may apply to only a few activities.
I prepare for the interviews with some key questions that guide me through the interview and then just leave the conversation flow.
I try to find out what is important to the users, how they do their job now, what difficulties they face, what they need that they don’t have, and what their goals are.
You can many times find out from this early stage if you should continue on the same path or look at the problem from a different angle.
Once you gathered all the information you were searching for, it’s time to make a list of all the paint points you found in this research phase, check for patterns, and create user personas.
Step # 4: Generate solutions that will meet customers’ needs
Brainstorming workshops can be a great way to generate ideas and find potential solutions. The session should start by making clear the problem you are trying to solve. The participants must be very clear about it, so they can come up with the right ideas.
Also, keep in mind that you should invite to this session a diverse group of people with different backgrounds, perspectives, and areas of expertise. This may include a UX designer, development team members, and even stakeholders.
You will then need a board where everyone can collaborate. Many tools come with pre-built templates you can use, but you can create your own layout. Here are some brainstorming ideas for you.
- Mind mapping: The mind map is a visual diagram that allows you to organize ideas and information. It’s composed of a central idea or theme that is connected to other related subtopics and ideas.
- 6-3-5 method: In this technique, you’ll have six people, each writing ideas on a card. Each person will hand over their card to the next person and everyone will get the chance to add new ideas to the preceding person’s card. This will create 108 ideas.
- Rapid prototyping: Instead of just brainstorming ideas, create quick prototypes of potential solutions. This can help you quickly find what works and what doesn’t and, can inspire new ideas as you iterate on your prototypes.
The goal of brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as possible. However, if you generated too many ideas, you can vote for them and create a shorter list.
In this same session, prioritize the solutions you have found. This will help you find the right features to prototype.
Step #5 Prototype the solution
Prototypes are a great way to visualize and communicate more effectively the solution to your development team, stakeholders, or users. They allow them to give you feedback, which makes it easier to discover potential issues and challenges before you invest time and resources into feature development.
What should you consider when prototyping?
Begin with low-fidelity prototypes, which may include sketches, paper prototypes, wireframes, or digital prototypes. Why? Because they can be created quickly and easily, and it’s enough for you to test basic concepts and user flows.
Fidelity can be increased gradually until you get a high-fidelity prototype that will help your development team understand better what they will have to build. This will also allow you to test it with users and check if the interface is intuitive.
Once you are ready to test the prototype, begin gathering feedback on the user experience and validating your assumptions. Some methods that you can use are user testing sessions, surveys, or analytics to collect data. You can work here with people inside the company, but also with a couple of existing or potential users. Then, use the feedback to improve the prototype.
It’s not a rule to wait for the high-fidelity prototype to be ready before you test it with users and start development. Depending on what you build, the developers can start implementing the foundation and then iterate as the fidelity of the prototype increases.
Don’t forget that this is collaborative work. The UX designers may be the ones who create low-fidelity and high-fidelity prototypes, but the product owner makes sure everything is aligned with the customers’ needs. Also, the developers can raise potential technical difficulties they may encounter.
Always consider prototyping a solution before starting the development phase. It’s not mandatory for small features, but with new products and initiatives, it’s an essential step.
Add an MVP to your roadmap
Until now, you have found the problem to be solved, found and prioritized solutions, and created a high-fidelity prototype. You can now release an MVP to gather data about your idea from real users. Depending on the complexity of your prototype and objectives, you can even consider the prototype as being your MVP. However, if you want to test more complex and automatized functionality, the MVP will need engineering work.
For the MVP release, you’ll first need to define its success metrics, which could be to confirm a concept, generate revenue, validate assumptions, or anything else you want to achieve.
After you develop and test the MVP thoroughly, release it to a small group of users and gather feedback. Focus on information such as user experience, and the product’s ability to solve their problem.
Last, iterate and refine. Use the feedback that you gather from the group of users you release the MVP for and continue to iterate until you have a fully featured product.
You can find out more about how to build and release the MVP in my post here.
Discovery doesn’t stop once you release the product on the market. There will always be additional needs that we have to help our users with. So, make sure you find the time to integrate it into your day-to-day activities.
How much time do you invest in product discovery?
Leave a comment below.