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Ultimate Guide to Product Discovery
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Ultimate Guide to Product Discovery

Ultimate Guide to Product Discovery

Saviour Egbe
June 28, 2023

All too often, companies set out to build products they think are absolutely amazing without checking if their users feel the same way.

Even companies as big as Google have fallen prey to this bias. Remember Google Glass? Priced at $1,500 and not actually solving any user needs, the product was shut down within 2 years of launch.

The Google Glass effect happens when companies make high risk assumptions about their users without testing them throughout the development process.

Key assumptions only get tested after the engineering team has spent months building the product. Needless to say, that’s an expensive way to learn what your users don’t want.

Product Discovery is the process of learning about your user needs and testing key assumptions early in the development process. It’s the cheapest way to de-risk your product development process.

What exactly is product discovery? 🤔

Product Discovery is the process of unearthing valuable insights about your users and their needs to inform the creation of your product. It's about delving deep into the minds of your target audience to understand what makes them tick.

Why is Product Discovery So Important?

Product Discovery helps you learn about users needs’ and test assumptions without needing to build features and products. As a result, it comes with some amazing benefits:

  • Avoid costly mistakes: Product discovery sets the foundation for success by helping you avoid costly pitfalls. By understanding your users upfront, you can identify and address potential issues before investing time and resources into developing a product they don’t want or need.
  • Build user-centered solutions: By investing time and effort into product discovery, you can create products that truly solve your users' problems. 
  • Gain a competitive edge: In today's fast-paced market, understanding your users better than your competitors can give you a significant advantage. By conducting thorough product discovery, you can uncover unique insights and create products that stand out from the crowd.
  • Adapt to evolving user expectations: User preferences and expectations change over time. By continuously engaging in product discovery, you can stay ahead of the curve and adapt your offerings to meet evolving user needs, ensuring your products remain relevant and valuable.

Who can run product discovery research?

Depending on your team size, discovery may be taken on by different people.

At early stage startups for example, discovery is and should be led by the Founders. They need to deeply understand their users in order to guide the company and product in the right direction.

Fair warning: Founders are prone to confirmation bias—you want so badly for your idea to work, that you hear what you want to, which can lead to expensive mistakes. Here’s a founder-friendly guide to running customer interviews based on The Mom Test.

At slightly larger companies, this task may fall to the Product Manager or Designer. Whoever owns discovery, it’s essential to make it a collaborative process across your product trio (product, design, engineering) so there’s deep alignment on the problem you’re solving.

At even larger teams that can afford specialized hires, User Researchers may be running discovery research. While researchers are well trained in the art and science of conducting research, if you’re a user researcher you need to ensure that your research findings are being tied back to key business goals that your stakeholders care about. Otherwise, you risk them being ignored.

Before you begin

Before you even get started with discovery, you should check a few things off your list:

#1. Do you have any bias coming into this process?

Product Discovery is not going to be helpful if you’ve already decided what your users need. Identify any biases you have before you get started so you can keep them in check. 

Make sure you don’t ask leading or hypothetical questions (e.g., would you use X feature?) and look for concrete evidence that users are spending real time, money, or effort solving the problem you think exists.

If you need a quick refresher, here are some common biases you should be aware of.

#2. Who are you looking to run discovery with?

Do you already know who has the pain point you’re trying to solve? Are you still exploring multiple personas’ pain points?

If you’re interested in solving for college students looking for jobs—great, you already know your audience! You just need to learn more about them and their process for job hunting.

If you’re trying to solve for job hunting in general, you have multiple audiences to consider—college students, mid-career folks looking for a new role, people graduating from bootcamps. You may want to talk to a substantial number of each group before you narrow down on one specific audience you want to work with (probably the one with the biggest, most urgent pain point—what we call a “hair on fire” problem). 

#3 Are there key assumptions you need to test?

Most often you want to test that the problem you’re looking to solve is the #1 problem a person is facing. For example, closing a sales deal is the number one thing a salesperson is thinking about. If your product can 10x their ability to do that—voila, you have a winner!

Other assumptions you may want to think about depending on your use case—does your user have the money to pay for a solution, is this a recurring problem, and what frequency does it occur at. These data points will tell you whether you can build a business around solving this pain point. 

How to Run Product Discovery

Step 1: Choose a method & build a hypothesis 

Depending on the stage you’re at, the method of product discovery you’ll use will vary. At the earlier stages of product development (when you have no or few existing customers), you’ll rely more on qualitative methods of discovery. 

If you’re iterating on features and products that are more mature with an existing user base, you may rely on a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods.

Here are some key methods to consider:

  • User interviews: The easiest and most common way to run discovery research is with user interviews. It is exactly what it sounds like—conversations with your target audience to understand their needs, ask plenty of follow-up questions and build your hypotheses. 
If you’re starting discovery user interviews, here’s a handy template of questions you can use to get started.
  • Surveys: Surveys can help you gather larger volumes of data faster. I like to use them if:
    1. A larger volume is required:
    If a decision you’re making is really dependent on the volume of people in a market who do one behavior or another, a survey can help you gather this data. How you sample data here becomes really important—is the set of people you surveys representative of your actual user base?

    2. To help me figure out where to focus my qualitative work:
    If I’m not sure whether I want to work on problem A or B and I need to know which is more prevalent in our user base, I may use surveys to see if there’s a clear dominant problem to focus on, before I start running interviews to deeply understand that pain point.

    3. For categorical information:
    Sometimes you just need to know something categorical about my users—like what tools they use (e.g., Zoom vs GMeet vs Teams). I may turn to a survey if I can’t find this data in secondary research first.
  • Secondary Research: Don’t overlook the power of good ol’ Google! While it’s really important to conduct your own research, some of it may have been done for you. Industry reports or surveys may already have gathered data on which tools are used by your target audience, and many times they offer their raw data for free.

The above methods can be used to build your early hypotheses—what’s the story that’s forming here? Is there a real problem worth solving?

Once you have this, you’ll head to the next stage: ideation

Step 2: Ideation and Conceptualization

Once you’ve uncovered early hypotheses on customer pain points, you’ll want to start ideating on potential solutions for them.

A brainstorming sessions can be a particularly useful tool here.

This is when you’ll bring your team together to explore ideas—there’s no wrong answer! In fact, you should encourage participants to think outside the box and explore unconventional ideas. Sometimes, the craziest notions can lead to groundbreaking innovations.

Think of ideas at this stage like “experiments”. This is what you think could solve your users’ problem, but you don’t really know. You’ll want to prioritize experiments based on the ones you think are most likely to meet the users’ needs, and document the rest to come back to if this experiment fails.

Step 3 - Validation and Iteration

Once we’ve aligned on ideas and experiments we want to prioritize, we need to make sure we test them as quickly and effectively as possible.

This is a key step that could easily have shown Google that their assumptions were wrong and that Google Glass isn’t useful to users before they rolled it out in a large public launch.

By testing their solution at an early prototype stage, Google would’ve identified major issues with their experiment (the Google Glass product). They could've gone back to the drawing board to either learn about their users more effectively (build a hypothesis) or choose a different solution (iteration).


Below are some of the fastest, cheapest ways for you to validate product assumptions.

  1. Prototyping: This is a representation of what your product or solution looks like.
  • Create a tangible representation: Craft prototypes that showcase the key features and functionalities of our product. It can be a basic mockup, a clickable prototype, or even a fully functional prototype.
  • Seek simplicity and clarity: Keep the prototype focused on the core value proposition and user needs. Don't get lost in unnecessary details at this stage.
  • Iterate and refine: Use feedback from usability testing (more on that below) to iterate and improve the prototype. Each iteration brings us closer to a refined and delightful user experience.

Prototyping allows us to bridge the gap between abstract concepts and tangible experiences. 🛠️💡

  1. Usability Testing: Usability testing is our trusty compass for ensuring our product meets the needs and expectations of our users. It helps put our prototypes to the ultimate test.

Here's how we navigate the waters of usability testing:

  • Define test objectives: Clearly outline the goals and objectives of our usability test. What specific aspects of the product do we want to evaluate? What questions do we want to answer?
  • Recruit diverse participants: Gather a diverse group of participants who represent our target user base. This ensures we capture a wide range of perspectives and insights.
  • Prepare test scenarios: Develop realistic scenarios and tasks that reflect how users would interact with our product. These scenarios help us observe users' behaviors, challenges, and successes.
  • Observe and gather feedback: Conduct the usability tests, observing users as they navigate the prototype. Encourage participants to think aloud, share their thoughts, and provide honest feedback.
  • Analyze and iterate: Analyze the data collected during usability testing and identify areas for improvement. Use this feedback to iterate on the design, making adjustments and enhancements based on user insights.
Here’s a tactical guide to help you run usability tests effectively.


Product discovery is a crucial stage in the product development process that helps  teams understand their users and create solutions that meet their needs. It involves researching, ideating, prototyping, and testing to ensure that the final product is viable, desirable, and feasible.

Without product discovery, your team will risk building products that no one wants or needs, wasting time and resources on features that don’t provide value. By investing in product discovery, you can reduce the risk of failure and increase the chances of creating successful products that delight your users.

Through the lens of product discovery, we've learned that understanding our users is the compass that guides us towards creating exceptional products. Let's recap the key takeaways from each stage:

  • Product discovery is the process of learning about user needs and testing assumptions early in development.
  • It helps avoid costly mistakes and build user-centered solutions.
  • It provides a competitive edge and enables adaptation to evolving user expectations.

Clearly Product Discovery comes with some amazing benefits and prevents you from flying blind in product development.

But how do you do it? 

Step 1: Choose a Method & Build a Hypothesis:

  • Different methods, such as user interviews, surveys, and secondary research, can be used for discovery.
  • Build hypotheses based on insights gathered to form a clear understanding of the problem worth solving.

Step 2: Ideation and Conceptualization:

  • Brainstorming sessions can foster creativity and help you generate potential solutions.
  • Treat ideas at this stage as “experiments” and prioritize the ones you think will be most successful. Be careful not to get overly attached to your solution though! You won’t know if it works until step 3 👇 

Step 3: Validation and Iteration:

  • Prototyping helps create tangible representations of the product you can put in front of potential users. 
  • Usability testing involves putting your prototype in the hands of users and testing your solutions from Step 2 in the real world. 

Ready to get started with product discovery? Check out these resources to hit the ground running: 

  1. To help you run great usability testing studies, here’s a list of 50 must-have interview questions.
  2. Are you struggling to recruit participants for your research? Check out this list of tools to ease your research process
  3. Once you’re ready to test, use this tactical, step-by-step guide for running your usability tests.
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