What is product discovery and why is it more than a buzzword?

It doesn’t matter how pretty or easy to use your software program is. Without offering value to users, it’s unlikely to make it off the starting blocks. Usability doesn’t breed utility. This is what makes product discovery so much more than a buzzword.

Product discovery is a core process when coming up with a new product idea. Yet with so much emphasis placed on usability, lean start-ups and minimum viable products, product discovery is all too often overlooked.

We think it’s time to change that. So, what is product discovery, and why is it such an important step in your product development process?

What is product discovery?

Product discovery refers to the process of determining the market need for your product idea. That is, it answers the ‘what should we build’ question. It’s a key part of idea generation, yet it’s often overlooked.

When deciding what to build, the temptation is to put too much emphasis on usability (how easy it is to use a product). This means that not enough emphasis goes to utility (how useful the product is). The result is a multitude of applications, tools and products that, while easy to use, have no real reason to exist.

So, what is product discovery? It’s a way to make sure the product you want to build is useful. It ensures that your program solves a real need or smooths an existing pain point. It’s evidence that shows you aren’t falling foul of incorrect assumptions about consumer needs and desires. 

Why is product discovery important?

When answering the ‘what is product discovery’ question, it’s worth explaining why it’s so important. 

Without gathering evidence that a solution has market value, companies risk wasting time building products that nobody wants or needs. The idea sounds like a good one, so the development team sets off coding and designing. All before validating that the product is something that consumers want or need.

As the program and its developers enter further and further down the rabbit hole, these teams fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy. Even when they realise that the program isn’t useful, they dig deeper, developing more and spending more to try to fix the product, code or feature set. Because they don’t have value, many of these products never strike gold.

With a solid product discovery process integrated into your project strategy, you avoid wasting time on dead-end products and features. When it’s a step left neglected, meanwhile, the result is a rise in useable — yet ultimately useless — programs and products. It’s wasted resources and lost time.

When should you complete it?

Product discovery is a step that should happen before you develop your MVP, right at the start of your project. This step should be a core part of your decision process when deciding what your product is going to be.

What is product discovery, then? It’s one of the first steps you should take when starting a new project. But this step shouldn’t start and end in the initial planning phase of your project. Rather, product discovery should take the form of an ongoing review.

As you develop a software product, you’ll begin to learn more about it. It might be that you learn more about the code in question, the problem you’re solving or other technology available. You might find more suitable features or a better course of action.

In this way, the answer to the ‘what is product discovery’ question is that it’s about both building the right product and building the product right.

Tips for conducting product discovery

Conducting product discovery effectively means questioning every part of the project before you start developing. So, you might consider questions such as:

  • What problems are we solving?

Determining what product to build is about identifying opportunities to fix problems. So, start by identifying the problems or pain points that you want to solve. Once you’ve identified that problem, focus on it (not the solution).

This means that you need to cultivate as much understanding about the goal you want to achieve as possible. This helps you be open to new information and perspectives. So, if another product idea that better solves the problem in question is found, you can recognise it.

  • What kind of customers does this project target?

If you’ve found a problem, question who suffers from it. These are your potential customers. With this, you can start to write user stories. This helps you get an idea of who your product is valuable to.

  • What makes for a good solution to the problem?

User stories can also give you an insight into the features and functions that your target market most want solving. When focusing on the problem you’re solving, you might find several ways you could solve it. So, you need to consider how you’ll tell which solution will most benefit your future customers.

Confirming value

It’s easy in the product development phase to fall in love with a given solution. Or to lose sight of the end user. When this happens, it’s possible to end up with a product that no one needs.

Bringing product discovery into the forefront during the development process means focusing on the problem you want to solve. It means not wasting time on extraneous features, or products with no value to consumers.

So, have you considered the product discovery step in your project?

Useful links

Is your software idea worth developing?

The sunk-cost fallacy: is your code worth the effort?

What is a user story, and why should you be writing them?