Ultimate 2024 guide to Product Discovery for business founders

Ultimate 2024 guide to Product Discovery for business founders

We had the blockchain craze a few years ago, now everyone is talking about AI. Does it mean there’s a new trend, a novel approach to product management, too?

Well, it turns out best tools are the old ones. With all the fancy methods, there’s still the only one that makes up for 80% of a Product Manager’s job – and that’s continuous product discovery. 

In this article, we explain what product discovery is, and why it’s a must-have element of any successful (software) product out there.

If you want to build successful tech products, this article is for you.

Check out our Product Discovery Workshop services

What is product discovery?

In general, product discovery is the ongoing process of understanding what users need, validating solutions, and making informed product decisions about what to build, how to build it, and how to improve it.

It applies to any stage of developing a product, whether you’re building a completely new app, or tweaking an existing product.

It’s often associated with, but not limited to the pre-development phase, where the focus lies on understanding user needs and validating solutions before committing to full-fledged development.

Here’s a breakdown of what product discovery entails:

  • Understanding users: This involves conducting research, like user interviews and surveys, to identify their pain points, desires, and behaviors to solve with your product efficiently. Essentially, you’re putting yourself in their shoes to see the world from their perspective.
  • Validating solutions: Once you have a grasp of user needs, you brainstorm potential solutions and then test them with real users through techniques like prototypes and usability testing. This helps ensure you’re on the right track and building something that users will actually find valuable.

The successful product secret. What is continuous discovery?

It’s crucial to remember that product discovery is a process, not a one-time phase. You want to repeat it all the time as you progress in the product development process.

Continuous product discovery is a framework and mindset that emphasizes ongoing learning and decision-making throughout the entire product lifecycle. This process involves defining the problem, crafting an offer to solve the problem, and continuously validating these with potential users or customers. It differs from traditional approaches where product discovery activities stop after initial development.

A product is never done, never finished. As the market and users’ behavior are changing, the overall product should follow along. You can address these changes with the continuous discovery approach.

Watch Jakub, our Product Manger, explain why Product Discovery is a continuous process:

 

What is a product discovery team?

As you’ll see later in the article, the process of product discovery is not only iterative, but also multiphase. Depending on the area, it will involve roles and activities.

Nevertheless, here are the roles that are essential for product teams to include.

  • Business founder
  • UX team (one or more people with the competencies of a UX researcher + UX designer). It should consists of a UX researcher (to conduct your user research) and a UX designer (to approach the solutions generated during discovery process design-wise). Apart from that, the UX team should be ideally more or less involved in all stages of discovery – serving as a connections between the product and its users.
  • Product manager – brings in their knowledge of the market and competitors, manages the product, and, ideally, participates in UX research.
  • Tech leader – gives feedback regarding the feasibility of the solution ideas and provides information regarding the technology that would be required to build them.

Build the RIGHT product. Why you must focus on product discovery

The product discovery process will help you answer three essential questions:

  • What is the right solution for the problem you want to address?
  • What solution are you able to provide?
  • How can you build it right?

With the answer to those questions, you can move forward confidently and be well-prepared to build your product. What’s more, as was mentioned above, you can use this approach not only in the discovery phase. You can also refer back to it and adopt it as a continuous process for improving your product in the development stage.

Using the presented workflow, you can maximize your chances of success and avoid unnecessary waste or costs. And avoiding unnecessary waste matters. Why? Because with money and time saved, you’ll be able to carry out more experiments, stick to a limited budget longer, learn more about your clients and market, and buy yourself time to get traction (and funding).

We’ve explained the entire product-building process in our free e-book, How to start a startup. Be sure to check it out!

Download how to start a startup ebook

What might happen if you skip product discovery?

In short, skipping product discovery increases the risk of building a product that is unwanted, unusable, unfeasible, and unsuccessful. Why is that so?

  • Not building the right product: Without a deep understanding of user needs and problems, you risk building a product that nobody wants or needs.
  • Missed opportunities: By focusing solely on internal ideas or assumptions, you may miss out on valuable insights from potential users. These insights could lead to better solutions and more successful products.
  • Misalignment with business goals: A product that doesn’t address a true market need or strong competition will likely struggle to achieve your desired business outcomes.

A product discovery workshop might seem like a thing to skip. In the end, you know what you want to do, right? Sure, you can leave it out – but you’ll probably have to get back to it anyway.

That’s what happened to Wiktor, Pragmatic Coders’ Co-CEO, as he was starting to build his own product:

 

How to do product discovery?

In this part of the guide, we’ll:

  • Discuss the types of product discovery processes,
  • Take a deep dive into the problem-solution product discovery approach,
  • Name useful product discovery techniques, tools, and frameworks,
  • Give you a few books and resource ideas to learn more about effective product discovery.

Product discovery process. What is the structure of product discovery?

Before you start building your product, it’s vital to go through the entirety of the product discovery process. So let’s go over what this process looks like, and what stages it involves.

There are two main ways to frame the phases of product discovery: a two-phase and a five-phase approach. Both emphasize different aspects of the process.

Five-phase approach

  1. Ideation: Brainstorming potential solutions based on initial ideas and observations.
  2. Research: Gathering user data through various methods like interviews, surveys, and usability testing.
  3. Prototyping: Creating low-fidelity or high-fidelity models to test and gather feedback on potential solutions.
  4. Production: Based on validated prototypes, this phase involves developing the final product.
  5. Launch & marketing: Finally, in this stage, you bring the product to market and acquire users.

Two-phase approach

  1. Problem space: This phase focuses on understanding the user’s needs and problems. It involves activities like user research, market research (we’ve got an automated MR tool for this one, by the way!), competitor analysis, and problem identification. You do your best to identify gaps in the market and learn as much as possible about your potential users. You then interpret all of your findings from the research and define the problem to solve or an opportunity to address.
  2. Solution space: The interpreted findings from the previous stage will help you come up with different solutions for your defined problem. Once you have brainstormed your solutions, you select the ones that you want to test. After the validation process of your solution idea (or ideas), you can start thinking about how to prepare for product development.

 

It’s important to note that both approaches are iterative, meaning you can revisit and refine each phase as you learn more throughout the process.

In this guide, we’ll concentrate on the two-phase approach.

In just a few seconds, we’ll take a deep dive in the problem-solution discovery & definition process. Again, we’ve explained it in great details in our e-book How to start a startup.

Problem-solution approach to product discovery

product discovery steps infographic

Now, let’s go through the following stages of the product discovery process:

The Part III. Outcomes segment you can see in the graphic above is the outcome of the previous phases. You use the solution generated, as well as research findings, to create your Lean Canvas, business model, pitch deck (if necessary), and product roadmap.

Problem discovery

The process starts with discovering potential opportunities by doing market research and competitor analysis. That enables you to sift through the gathered information and  check if there is something that you can move forward with. This is followed by UX research which allows you to learn as much information as possible about your users, their needs, and their pain points.

Problem definition

Once you compile enough information, you can analyze your findings and define the problem that you want to address

Solution discovery

Here, you focus on finding the solution to your selected problem by using the insights gained in Problem discovery & definition. Through various brainstorming methods, your team can come up with many solution ideas and then narrow them down to select a few.

Solution definition

After that, you can conduct a series of tests to validate and define a single solution idea and prepare it for launch.

Product Discovery Workshop

Product Discovery Workshop

Michał – Product Owner, product discovery team, and a bunch of sticky notes = a typical product discovery session at our office

A product discovery workshop session is a great way to get through the discovery process in a condensed and organized way. It’s the very first stage of the product development process. Ideally, it’s preceded by market, competition, and UX research. The findings that come from these analysis help generate and define problems users might have, which later translates into solution discovery and definition.

Initial workshops focus on clarifying the problem and potential solutions, followed by iterative validation and development. The key is to remain open to feedback and ready to pivot or adjust the direction based on new insights.

The integration of product discovery workshops and user experience research ensures that the team does not work based on assumptions but on validated needs and solutions. This approach helps in aligning the development efforts with the market demands and user expectations.

If you want to learn more about such ideation sessions, check our article on software product discovery workshops.

 

At the start of product development, it’s crucial to grasp the needs of partners by asking fundamental questions like “Why do you want to do that?” This curiosity-driven approach is applied equally to partners, clients, and team members to truly understand the rationale behind every product idea or goal.

There’s an emphasis on involving developers, designers, and all team members early to question the chosen direction. This ensures actions are in sync with real needs and add substantial value, fostering a culture of meaningful inquiry and collaboration.

The primary tools and methodologies in product discovery include:

  • Constantly focusing on understanding the needs of users and partners.
  • Engaging the whole team in the discovery process to leverage diverse insights and feedback.
  • Utilizing standardized tools and processes like the Product Vision Statement and Lean Canvas to structure the discovery phase and maintain high quality and value delivery.

Watch this episode of Pragmatic Talks, our tech talk series, where we had Jakub, our Product Manager, discuss Agile product management process (check timestamps: 2:10-6:32 for product discovery):

 

Product discovery toolkit

To empower your product discovery journey, a toolkit that equips you with the right tools, templates, and frameworks might come in handy. They will fuel your ongoing learning and decision-making throughout the entire product lifecycle.

This is by far no ultimate list, but it can be a great starting point. Let’s delve into some valuable resources to fuel your product discovery efforts.

We’ll divide them into three groups:

  1. Product discovery workshop frameworks, exercises, and tools
  2. Research resources
  3. UX research methods & artifacts
  4. Testing methods for solution validation

For more elaborate explanations of each method and examples of usage, check related chapters in How to start a startup.

 

Product discovery toolkit (1) Product management tools UX research tools

Product discovery workshop frameworks, techniques, and artifacts

Product discovery frameworks

Frameworks provide a structured approach or methodology for thinking about and addressing specific aspects of product discovery.

  • Impact Mapping: Guides the creation of software with real business benefits.
  • Opportunity Solution Tree: Explores and ranks different opportunities and solutions.
  • Product-Market Fit Pyramid: A framework to ensure that a product fits within a specific market.
  • Lean Canvas: A one-page business plan template that helps flesh out new business ideas.
  • Assumption Mapping: Spots and sorts assumptions for testing.
  • User Story Mapping: Visualizes the user’s path and necessary features.
  • Customer Segment Matrix: Identifies and clarifies various customer groups.
Product discovery techniques and exercises

These are specific activities or methods used to apply frameworks, generate ideas, or validate assumptions.

  • Paper prototypes: A technique for creating hand-drawn versions of a product to test and iterate design concepts quickly.
  • Proto-personas: A quick and simplified method to create user personas based on assumptions and any available data is often employed in the early stages of product discovery.
Product discovery tools

These are specific outputs or artifacts that result from applying frameworks or techniques.

  • Product Vision Statement: Articulates the long-term mission and goals of the product.
  • UVP (Unique Value Proposition): Defines the unique benefit provided by the product that makes it stand out in the marketplace.

Competitor & market research resources

For lists of useful tools, websites, and templates:

– Check our article on competitive analysis.

– Check our article on desk research.

Common UX research methods & artifacts

Research methods:

  • User interviews: Chatting with users to understand their needs.
  • Field research: Watching users in their daily environment to see how they behave.
  • Usability testing: Having users try tasks with a product to spot problems.
  • Surveys: Asking many users questions to get a big picture of their opinions.
  • Card sorting: Letting users organize info in a way that makes sense to them.

UX artifacts:

  • Affinity diagrams: Sorting feedback into themed groups to find patterns.
  • User personas: Creating profiles to represent different user types.
  • User stories: Writing short needs and goals from a user’s perspective.

Testing methods for solution validation

  • Wireframes & mockups: Sketches and detailed designs of what a website or app will look like.
  • Prototypes: Test versions of a product to try out ideas.
  • Button to nowhere: Seeing if users are interested in new features by how they interact with unavailable parts.
  • Tree testing: Checking if a website’s structure makes sense to users.
  • First-click testing: Observing the first place users click to complete a task.
  • 5-Second tests: Getting first impressions by showing a design for just 5 seconds.
  • Eye tracking: Watching where users look on a screen.
  • A/B testing: Comparing two versions to see which one users prefer.

Product management and product discovery resources worth checking out

Product discovery is the process of never-ending research and validation. There’s no single correct way to do it, and no perfect guide for product teams. That’s why we recommend these sources to uncover more insights that will improve your product strategy and your product.

  1. Top 10 management books by our CEO. Here’s a curated list of 10 books about software development, a 4-day workweek, productivity, non-violent communication, colonization of Mars, and other things to make you reconsider your management style. Fun fact: not all of these books are management books, but they all will make you a better manager.
  2. Recommended resources from Tomek Kłaczyński, Head of Product at Brand24, an AI-powered social listening tool, we head a pleasure to talk to in one of Pragmatic Talks episodes.
    1. INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan
    2. No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Erin Meyer and Reed Hastings
    3. Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm
    4. Lenny’s Podcast
  3. How to start a startup e-book
  4. Pragmatic Talks – our tech talk podcast. For product management, check especially these episodes:
    1. The World of Product Management. This time, we’re joined by Michał Kania—one of our seasoned product owners. Watch the episode and discover how a good product manager can help your business succeed, and what tools and methods Michał uses to deliver the best results,

       

    2. Build Winning Products: Secrets of Product Management at Brand24. We’ve talked to Karol Kłaczyński—Head of Product at Brand24. In this episode: Continuous Discovery Habits | The importance of testing and short feedback loops | Turning ideas into business goals | AI’s impact on product management | And more!

Modern product discovery in 2024. Conclusions

To sum up, let’s reiterate the key aspects of product discovery.

  1. Product discovery is an ongoing process of getting user feedback, validating the solutions your provide, and adjusting your product based on that. It complements and precedes product delivery.
  2. It’s versatile. It streamlines the work of product development teams across all industries, and applies to any type of software you want to develop.
  3. Product discovery provides value. It can help product teams build a product people want to use, stay aligned with business goals, and not miss any market opportunities. It gives you a good idea of whether your new product or feature will be used.
  4. Product discovery is applicable ALL THE TIME. Are you building a new product? Or, maybe, you’re improving an existing one, and want to add a new feature to your product? Product discovery helps do it right, whether we’re talking about creating a minimum viable product from scratch or modify a mature app.

Hopefully, after reading this guide, you’ll be fully-equipped to answer the question “What does an effective product discovery look like?”.

Need help with product discovery? Check our tailored product discovery workshops!

Personalized product discovery sessions