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What is Product Discovery?

Product discovery is the front end of the product development process. During the discovery phase, teams assess the product-market fit, the usability, and the technical feasibility of new product concepts. 

Ideally, the product discovery phase establishes a protected space that shields teams from bureaucracy and allows ideas to grow organically. The primary purpose of discovery is to understand product market fit. 

Product Discovery is a way for companies to assess the market worthiness of a given product concept. The discovery process ensures that your concept will mature into the right product for your customers and markets

A successful product concept is in an area where you can win. Your concept should also leverage what the company is known for and use existing distribution channels. Ensure also that the team is entrepreneurial and that there’s a clear product owner.

Deep dive into the customer experience

Product Discovery involves above all, a deep dive into the user experience. It’s not a solution-oriented process; it’s about the customer’s pain points. 

Product Discovery often consists in the following activities:

  • Conducting customer feedback interviews and running focus groups
  • Observing real users and potential users as they interact with prototypes or with mockups, to better understand their needs and behavior
  • Creating personas and user journey maps based on user research (also referred to as story mapping)
  • Prototyping and testing the viability of the product
  • Performing A/B testing of UX and performance 

Product Discovery: Importance of User Feedback

There are several reasons that user feedback is an integral part of the discovery process. The most important and obvious reason is that it helps you understand the customer’s true needs. 

You are unable to imagine the depth and specificity of user needs until you walk in their shoes. You need to experience what they experience in the context of actual user stories. 

Also, although they don’t know it, through a customer-centric Product Discovery process, customers become part of the discovery and development team. They help define a language that gives solutions context and immediacy. By their constraints and view of the problem they help shape “the art of the possible” and provide clues to possibly hidden aspects of a required solution.  

Creating a minimum viable product (MVP) can also provide indications regarding your concept’s customer appealㅡseeing what customers do with a prototype of a product, or even a landing page, is key in understanding product success in a market. They might even suggest partners, participants, or other types of customer interviews needed to develop a total solution. 

Product Discovery Process

From Product Discovery to Release

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 in a different fashion. 

However, a Discovery process does have a related set of deliverables that proposed programs must pass through in order to ensure that the team is ready to hand off or continue with the project into development. The discovery process has clearly defined funding and allocation stages but it has few rules or metrics beyond that.

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

First, establish a process for the intake of ideas, understand how Discovery is managed, how to do the validation. The next stage is to transfer concepts successfully from Discovery to Release, for execution and product delivery. Think of this as an Agile, iterative process: Discovery and Release are followed by further Discovery and Release 

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

  • Entrance Criteria: Ensure strategic fit of the concept, large market potential, capable leader
  • Exit Criteria: Verify the business case, budgeted in Development, development plan in place

Entrance Criteria 

Move from idea/concept into Discovery (protected space)

  • Ensure that product decisions and ideas and 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 staffed properly with the right resources
  • Ensure that projects are free from anything that impedes fast iterations
  • Ensure that there is a meaningful commercial potential

Exit Criteria

Move from Product Discovery into Development and the Release

  • Have tested for product-market fit
  • Have vetted the technology
  • Have defined use cases
  • Have estimated Development stage costs
  • Have confirmed commercial potential

Product Discovery: A Team Process

Teams are a hothouse for ideation, design thinking, design brainstorming, and innovation. Innovations come from combinations of disciplines. Discovery teams often exceed expectations because of the catalytic nature of putting talented minds together in a protected space that allows them to focus on a specific challenge. 

For technology programs, these teams are full stack, small and dedicated. Product discovery teams in the tech space usually include Product Management, Development, and UX Design. Non-tech teams tend to be smaller (between two and five people) representing the key functions required for innovation, market proof, and concept development.

Product Discovery and Product Portfolio Management

Another aspect of Product Discovery is product portfolio management. At the early stages, ideas move into the Discovery process and executives have an opportunity to assess their fit with the current product strategy, choices that involve judging the potential and fit of new products within the portfolio. 

Your Product Vision should ensure that only the best ideas are funded, that the portfolio of concepts in the Discovery phase resembles the corporate vision, and that there’s a clear business case. 

Some companies use a methodology that creates 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 Checklist

Product discovery helps load your company’s pipeline with the very best—and only the best—product concepts.

Whether you’re a startup or a long-established firm, product discovery is a way to ensure that your product portfolio achieves its business goals. It is a way to hit the ground running with new product concepts that gives the information product developers need to know that their concepts meet customer needs and have market potential.

Here’s a short Product Discovery checklist to begin to help you tune up your early stage innovation process. 

Discovery

  • Is your Discovery scoped (not too broad or narrow)?
  • Is the focus of Discovery aligned with your product roadmap?
  • Is your Discovery process “solution-free”?
  • Will you seek input from non-customers as well as from existing ones? 
  • Do you plan to do quantitative research after qualitative research?

Concept

  • Is the product idea aligned with strategy?
  • Will it materially increase revenue (or stem declines)?
  • Does it leverage the company’s brand position?
  • Does it leverage your Go To Market approach?
  • Is the company behind you with a budget and a team staffed for success?

TCGen's Product Management Experts

John Carter

TCGen Principal & Founder

Nolan Myers

TCGen Principal

John Sadler

TCGen Principal