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What is product discovery?

Product discovery is a process typically undertaken by product teams, UI/UX researchers, UX designers, UI designers and company stakeholders.

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Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash

The process is performed to define a problem, explore potential solutions and build a working prototype that will present value to customers. Modern product discovery and validation is essential to startup success, for example, those utilizing the outcome-driven innovation framework see an average product success rate of 86 percent.

What is discovery in product design?

  • In order for a startup or an enterprise to achieve success, new products must be brought to the market that fill a consumer need. Uncovering what that need is and determining the most efficient way to provide a solution is what is known as product discovery.

Product discovery is typically undertaken by diverse teams of stakeholders from throughout an organization, such as product teams, UI/UX researchers, data analysts, product designers, executives and others who are closely aligned with customer needs and insights. This helps create a link between the customers and the business before any work is done, ensuring that the intended product will be useful and not fail due to a lack of adoption and users.

The roots of modern intentional product discovery and validation can be traced back to the 1990s, when Steve Blank created the customer development philosophy and published the book, The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win. Eventually, Blank’s methodology facilitated the start of the lean startup movement where customer development is considered a main pillar. Simultaneously, Anthony Ulwick developed CD-MAP, which would eventually set the course for the creation of outcome-driven innovation and the jobs-to-be-done theory.

What are the key elements of product discovery?

  • A few key elements of product discovery include the journey map, empathy map and consumer persona.

When conducting product discovery, it is first important to ensure that empirical user research is done so qualitative and quantitative data can be gathered. This allows discovery teams to challenge their own assumptions about what a user needs and gather data on potential product use cases and customer pain points. From there, teams can form design artifacts that allow the data to stay top of mind and be easily referred back to throughout the discovery and development process. These artifacts often include journey maps, empathy maps and consumer personas.

Journey maps are a set of actions that the user is expected to take to achieve their goal. The actions taken are marked as “locations,” and the product is expected to reduce the amount of actions needed to accomplish the goal. Journey maps must be based on empirical user research to accurately determine what the product will accomplish. Empathy maps are a four-quadrant diagram that are used to record what customers think, hear, say and see in regards to their challenges and the product’s opportunities to present a solution. This helps companies understand user feelings on products and services. Consumer personas are an approximated segment of users that come to be known as target customers. Personas are named and matched with demographics, psychographics and behaviors that help identify a potential customer.

What are product discovery techniques?

  • Techniques for product discovery include identifying risks, understanding underlying user needs and identifying the optimal solution.

Product discovery is all about identifying solutions to customer challenges. By doing so, companies seek to build products that provide continuous value to both the user and the business. This requires risks to be clearly identified before teams can begin building a prototype. These risks include: value risk, or whether customers will adopt the product; usability risk, or whether users will know how to utilize the product; feasibility risk, or whether it is capable to produce a product with the allotted time and resources; and business viability risk, or whether the solution will also work for other aspects of a business.

Once these risks are identified, stakeholders have a better understanding of user needs and can create an optimal solution through ideation, prototyping and testing processes.


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