Product Discovery Techniques: Importance and Application | TCGen

A framework for Product Discovery

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In this guide, I’ll draw on my years of work in product strategy to help you understand the product discovery process and the techniques teams use to develop valuable insights that lead to innovative products. 

More and more, organizations are looking to innovate—and fast. There is enormous pressure from consumers and stakeholders to come up with something (anything!) new. 

But the best product teams use carefully crafted continuous product discovery techniques to create genuinely innovative products—not just “novel”—products. I’ll explain these techniques below, along with a process and framework to help you better understand product discovery methods so you can position your teams to create industry-leading products.

Product Discovery Techniques

Feel free to contact me with feedback or questions about my work in product strategy consulting.

Product discovery checklist

  • Idea is aligned with the strategy
  • Increases revenues
  • Leverages the brand
  • Leverages distribution
  • Team staffed for success

Product discovery can be a significant investment for any company. Before you launch a team into the discovery process, ensure that the idea is one where you can win and is worth it. The effort should leverage what the company is known for and use existing channels. Ensure the team is entrepreneurial and has a precise product owner.

What Are Product Discovery Techniques?

Competitive pressures, dynamic information, and new technologies commonly drive market changes. Companies must respond to these changes. It is often the first to field a new product that captures market share and profits. 

Goals of Product Discovery

  • Conduct customer visits
  • Perform user observation
  • Create Journey Maps
  • Create Prototype – Test Idea
  • De-risk concept

Product Discovery is a way for companies to assess a product’s market worthiness. In startups, it’s common to use product discovery techniques to determine a minimum viable product (MVP) or to iterate on the MVP.

The primary purpose of Product Discovery is to understand product/market fit. 

There are many techniques teams use in Product Discovery, including:

  • Conducting customer interviews and running focus groups
  • Observing users as they use clickable prototypes or interact with mockups to discover better and understand real user needs and behavior
  • Creating user journey maps based on user research (also referred to as story mapping)
  • Prototyping and usability testing the viability of the product (a/b testing being a well-known example)

Product Discovery is essential to innovation. Most companies come at it from these three tiers, and in all of them, you need to use Product Discovery techniques (along with a discovery process and framework, as you’ll see below) to innovate your products.

Many firms create a balanced innovation portfolio with three tiers: 

  1. Products that speak to your company’s core business model
  2. Products that expand on that core into adjacent product markets 
  3. And brand-new offerings

Product Discovery is problem-oriented, not solution-oriented; it works best with a full-stack product team, including Marketing (Product), Engineering, and UX. It is agile and fundamentally involves users (current customers, potential customers, and even lost customers).

Why Use Product Discovery Techniques? 

Very simply because you want to get early feedback on product-market fit without investing much resources and time. 

This allows you to be agile and adjust the concept to the market. It is fundamentally problem or need-based, not solution-based. It gets companies out of the “solution mindset” and into the “problem space mindset” of prioritizing early work on problem definition and then working out the best solution.

Why Customer Feedback Is Important In Product Discovery

For several reasons, user feedback is integral to product discovery. The most important and apparent reason is that they help you understand the actual need. You cannot imagine the depth and specificity of user challenges until you walk in their shoes. To walk in their shoes, you need to experience what they experience in the context of actual user stories. This is sometimes called “Contextual Inquiry.”

Second, the customer is part of the innovation team (even though they don’t know it)! They help define a language to give potential solutions context and immediacy. Their constraints and view of the customer problems help shape “the art of the possible” and provide clues to possibly hidden aspects of a required solution for real problems. 

Using minimum viable product (MVP) solutions, including wireframe prototypes, can also indicate whether your product has customer appealㅡseeing what customers do with a product prototype or a simple landing page is vital in understanding product success in a market. They might even suggest partners, participants, or other types of user interviews needed in a solution.  

Finally, they help prioritize the need for space. They clarify the personas that would be part of the decision and consumption lifecycle and help you put dimensions and quantify the essential questions of “where are the pain points, how tedious, how big” are these user problems. After getting this kind of feedback on a qualitative dimension, quantitative feedback can (and should) be used to confirm the broader customer needs. Customer experience management software could help you collect and analyze customer feedback efficiently. 

Why You Also Need Product Discovery Technique Frameworks

Product Discovery is more than a process; it includes three important factors to manage your validation of product market fit:


Get the right leaders and stakeholders to the table and have them understand the process, financial investment, and roles. They need to allocate capital to the product portfolio.


Create a specific investment level for Discovery and approve it in a yearly budget. Make it large enough to start at least three projects (for example, in a B2C tech company, about $10M).


Establish a process for the intake of ideas, understand how Product Discovery is managed, and know how to successfully transfer to development for execution and product delivery while ensuring desirability.

To ensure that teams, product managers, and the governance body understand the Product Discovery activities and rules, create Entrance and Exit Criteria to move new ideas in and development-ready projects out of your backlog. 

  • Entrance Criteria: Ensure strategic fit, significant market potential, capable leader
  • Exit Criteria: Verify the business case, budgeted in development, and development plan

What Is The Product Discovery Process?

Product discovery techniques are used within a process. This Discovery process is a protected space for early-stage product idea concepts.

Discovery offers the protected space that shields the teams from process and bureaucracy so they can assess product-market fit, usability, and technical feasibility for new product concepts.

Once companies have organized their investments and assessed their risk tolerance, they typically look at the potential of new products with new features, and if they fit the right product portfolio, move them into a Discovery process and then into development. 

Product Discovery offers the protected space that shields the product teams from bureaucracy so they can assess product-market fit and technical feasibility for new product portfolio concepts, be they incremental improvements or startling innovations.

Discovery Is Not A Milestone Process—it Is Agile

While projects within development have gates, roadmaps, and timelines, companies should manage the front end of development (Discovery) in a very different fashion. 

A usually messy (and that is OK) innovation process has clearly defined funding and allocation stages. It has a few rules within it. 

An innovation process ensures that:

  1. The right product lines are funded, and 
  2. The cross functional team in the Discovery space is protected so the firm will maximize innovation while ensuring product/market fit.
Product Discovery Process
Product Discovery Process

Protected Space for Product Discovery with Criteria

This protected space is defined only by fit and potential at the start and by demonstration of technology and product/market fit at the end. Use entrance and exit criteria to allow ideas to enter and leave the protected space or, if necessary, die off. This is also an excellent way to continually analyze ongoing product portfolio management strategies.

Entrance Criteria 

Move from idea/concept into Product Discovery (protected space)

  • Ensure that product decisions and ideas are congruent with the vision
  • Ensure the team is free to innovate and iterate
  • Ensure there is product/market fit
  • Ensure the technology is tested and ready for development
  • Ensure that projects are adequately staffed with the right resources, using a template to guide the allocation process.
  • Ensure that projects are free from anything that impedes fast and iterative development
  • Ensure that there is a meaningful commercial potential

Exit Criteria

Move from Product Discovery into Development

  • Have tested for product/market fit
  • Have vetted the technology
  • Have defined use cases
  • Have estimated Development stage costs
  • Have confirmed commercial potential (including pricing and profit potential)

These Entrance and Exit criteria are summarized in the graphics below:

Product Discovery - Entrance Criteria
Entrance Criteria
Product Discovery - Exit Criteria
Exit Criteria

A Product Discovery and any product portfolio management methodology also includes a related set of deliverables that proposed programs (products, technologies, metrics, and investigations) must pass through to ensure that the team is ready to hand off (or continue with the intact team) into development.

Our product development consulting team helps with this handoff in many engagements.

A Great Product Discovery Process Leads To Product-Market Fit

“Use the least amount of process, but no less.”

The preceding list of deliverables should be minimal and situational. Product Discovery aims to show product-market fit and commercial potential and estimate the development cost. If vague concepts populate the pipeline, the result too often is unclear, undifferentiated offerings—created at a considerable expense. 

By placing gates around hypothesized programs with a few deliverables, product teams, decision-makers, and stakeholders clarify whatever can be known about them. This approach to Product Discovery reduces risk, refines markets, and generates more predictable results to increase market share by bringing a measure of prioritization and precision to the front end. 

Simply put, an innovation process will help load your company’s pipeline with the very best—and only the best—product concepts.

As the early-stage ideas move into the Product Discovery process, executives can assess their fit with the current product strategy, choices that involve judging the potential and fit of new products within the portfolio. The Product Vision and workflow ensure that only the best ideas are funded, that the portfolio in Discovery resembles the corporate vision, and that there’s a clear business case. 

The Product Vision and Entry criteria should also consider the company’s existing brand, reputation, and capabilities. We’ve also found that it helps if the team leader for the project has signs of potential CEO-level leadership talents. 

Why Are Teams So Important In Product Discovery?

Accountability is one of the significant benefits of organizing around teams. Consistent use of teams is a proven way to accomplish any corporate objective that requires multiple disciplines to produce an accountable result. These teams are assembled to create a specific result quickly and efficiently. Technology always includes Product Management, Development, and User Experience. 

For technology programs, they are full stack, and they are small and dedicated. Non-tech must include a small team (2-5) representing the critical functions required for innovation, market proof, and concept and product development.

Product teams may also become a hothouse for design thinking, brainstorming, and innovation. Innovations often come from combinations of disciplines. These teams often exceed expectations because of the catalytic nature of putting talented minds together and being in a protected space that allows them to focus on one specific challenge. Cross-pollination can occur when distinctions from one domain port to another. It is a stretch to assert that the product team organizations cause it, but cross-functional collaboration often enables innovation. 

In the case of a product development process, cross-functional product teams can reduce time to market and increase product throughput and efficiency. A product development team is just one example. Many examples have different functional compositions: IT, construction, marketing, finance, and Human Resources. A traditional marketing, development, or sales team can benefit by adding core functions outside marketing and sales.

In teams, subject matter experts work together as part of a cohesive group with shared common business goals, a social milieu that many people find uniquely rewarding and engaging. More engaged employees perform better, make decisions faster, and work longer and harder, with satisfaction. Cross-functional teams are a way to get the most out of your people.

This also concentrates resources and improves their efficiency. Team leaders ensure process and functional bureaucracy don’t get in the way. They use resources in a targeted way that employs them and then release them when the project does not need them further.

How To Help Product Teams Do Product Discovery

Sometimes, it is hard to pry away team members from their workplace, or worse yet, the corporate Slack channel and the endless sea of corporate emails. One technique we have found very useful is creating virtual co-location using a technological firewall, protecting them from the overhead, distraction, and constant burden of being part of a mid-size or large company. A technical firewall creates virtual co-location and helps the product team with the product delivery portion of the product portfolio.

You accomplish this by creating a new Slack messaging space and new email accounts for the Discovery Teams. This has made an incredible difference if you can’t create a physical space for the team. We recommend that the Discovery teams not attend town hall, staff, communication, and departmental meetings. They need to focus to be successful, and it is management’s responsibility to protect them.

TCGen Principal & Founder

John Carter

John Carter specializes in product development, from the strategy and innovation processes to product definition, execution, and launch. He has helped companies cut time to market, rapidly scale their product program, and improve innovation with customer-led insights. His work leads to greater profitability, reduced costs, and improved customer satisfaction.

John currently serves on the Board of Directors of Cirrus Logic (CRUS), a leading supplier of mixed-signal semiconductors. He is involved with company strategy and sits on the Compensation and Audit Committees.

Before starting the consulting firm TCGen, John was the Chief Engineer of BOSE Corporation. John is the inventor of the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones and shares the original patent with Dr. Amar Bose. He was one of the initial contributors to BOSE’s entry into the automobile OEM business. He led the product and business development of BOSE’s patented noise reduction technology for the military market.

John Carter, TCGen Principal & Founder