How to do product discovery: process, frameworks and techniques

How to do product discovery: process, frameworks and techniques

In today's rapidly evolving market, successful product development requires a thorough understanding of customerferences, and pain points.

However, a staggering 70% of product development projects fail during the development stage.

How to do product discovery: process, frameworks and techniques

This alarming statistic highlights the critical importance of product discovery — a systematic approach to understanding customer needs, defining the right product strategy, and minimizing the risks associated with product development.

In this article, we will delve deep into the world of "what is product discovery process" to explore the step-by-step process to conduct effective discovery. We will also highlight common mistakes to avoid at every phase, and introduce you to powerful frameworks and techniques that can turbocharge your discovery efforts. 

So, fasten your seatbelts as we embark on a thrilling journey to master the art of product discovery and jump in!

What is product discovery? 

Product discovery is the initial phase of the product development process, where teams focus on understanding the market, customer needs, and defining a clear product strategy. 

It involves conducting research, gathering user feedback, and generating ideas to inform decision-making throughout the product development lifecycle. 

In a nutshell, discovery aims to reduce uncertainty, validate assumptions, and align the team on a shared vision for the product so you know what you're developing, for who, how, and why. All of which are crucial questions to answer for any product's success. 

That's a general introduction, now let's dive deeper into when you need it and why.

How to do product discovery: What is product discovery?

When is product discovery needed? 

A discovery phase is essential in various scenarios throughout the product development lifecycle. While it must always be the first step to approach any development or digital transformation project, here are some key situations where discovery becomes a critical component of your strategy:

1. New product development

When starting from scratch to develop a new product, product discovery is a fundamental requirement. It helps you gain a deep understanding of the market landscape, target audience, and competitive landscape. 

By conducting thorough research, analyzing customer needs, and identifying market gaps, you can create a product that meets the unmet needs of your target customers.

2. Existing product improvement

A discovery phase is not only relevant for new products but also plays a vital role in improving existing products. As customer preferences, technology, and market dynamics evolve, it is crucial to stay ahead of the curve and continuously improve your offerings. 

Conducting discovery allows you to assess customer satisfaction, identify pain points, and uncover opportunities for enhancement. This enables you to make data-driven decisions and prioritize product updates that will have the most significant impact on user satisfaction.

3. Entering new markets

Expanding into new markets can be both exciting and challenging. 

Product discovery becomes crucial in this scenario as it helps you understand the unique needs and preferences of the new target audience. 

By conducting market research, analyzing local competitors, and identifying cultural nuances, you can tailor your product to meet the specific requirements of the new market. This reduces the risk of launching a product that fails to resonate with the local customers and increases the chances of market success.

The outcomes of a product discovery process  

The outcomes of a discovery process are crucial in determining the success and viability of a software product. When done right, you can expect 4 key outcomes that result from an effective discovery phase (with examples of big brands that utilized them!)

Determined product-market fit 

Product-market fit refers to the alignment between a product and its target market's needs, preferences, and demands. A successful discovery process helps organizations identify and understand their target audience, ensuring that the product meets their expectations and solves their problems effectively.

Example: Slack

Slack is a widely successful team collaboration and communication tool that exemplifies product-market fit. Through extensive user research and product discovery, Slack identified the pain points of remote teams struggling with scattered communication across different platforms. By focusing on creating a centralized, efficient, and user-friendly messaging platform, Slack achieved remarkable product-market fit and became a go-to tool for teams worldwide.

How to do product discovery: Determined product-market fit 
Slack history timeline

Risk mitigation 

Product decisions are inherently uncertain, which is why conducting product discovery is crucial. The purpose of a discovery stage is to minimize risks associated with building products by ensuring alignment with user needs. By neglecting the discovery phase, there is a significant risk of creating products that fail across a spectrum. 

Here are the 4 major risks discovery mitigates:

  • Value Risk: This risk pertains to whether customers will be willing to buy or use the product. Conducting discovery ensures that the product addresses a real market demand and offers compelling value to customers.
  • Usability Risk: Usability risk refers to the challenge of users being able to understand and effectively use the product. A discovery stage helps uncover user workflows and organizations can ensure that their products are intuitive, user-friendly, and deliver a seamless user experience.
  • Feasibility Risk: Feasibility risk revolves around the question of whether the product can be successfully built within the given constraints, such as time, resources, skills, and technology. By understanding technological limitations during product discovery, developers can make informed decisions.
  • Business Viability Risk: This risk relates to whether the proposed solution aligns with the overall business strategy and goals. Discovery ensures that the product not only meets user needs but also aligns with the organization's vision, revenue model, and market positioning.

Example: Netflix

Netflix's product discovery played a significant role in mitigating risks and achieving success. The company started as a DVD-by-mail service but recognized the emerging trend of digital streaming. By conducting thorough market research and understanding customer preferences, Netflix transitioned from physical media to an online streaming platform. This proactive discovery approach allowed them to mitigate the risk of being left behind in an evolving market and paved the way for their dominance in the streaming industry.

How to do product discovery: Risk mitigation
Netflix history timeline

Validated assumptions 

During discovery, organizations often make assumptions about their target audience, market demand, and solution viability. Validating these assumptions through user research, testing, and feedback is crucial to avoid building products based on inaccurate or misguided assumptions.

Example: Spotify

Spotify, the popular music streaming platform, underwent robust product discovery to validate its assumptions. Initially, Spotify assumed that users wanted access to a vast library of music on-demand without ownership. By offering a freemium model, conducting user testing, and collecting feedback, Spotify validated its assumptions, leading to a successful product that disrupted the music industry and gained millions of users worldwide.

How to do product discovery: Validated assumptions
Spotify history timeline

The feature fit 

Building software products with the right set of features is critical to ensure user satisfaction and avoid unnecessary complexity. The discovery process helps organizations identify and prioritize features based on user needs, enabling them to build products that provide value while avoiding feature bloat.

Example: WhatsApp

WhatsApp, a widely used messaging application, excels in feature fit by focusing on simplicity and user-centric design. Through extensive product discovery, WhatsApp identified that users primarily desired a lightweight, reliable, and user-friendly messaging experience. By avoiding excessive features and maintaining a clean and intuitive interface, WhatsApp established itself as a leading messaging platform with billions of active users.

How to do product discovery: the feature fit 
WhatsApp history timeline

How to conduct product discovery: step-by-step 

The product discovery steps can be divided into two main categories: exploration and validation.

Exploration is focused on gathering information, generating ideas, and evaluating potential solutions. Activities within the exploration phase include research, ideation, and evaluation.

Validation, on the other hand, is a series of activities aimed at testing and validating the assumptions made during the exploration phase. This is achieved through prototyping and testing, using data and customer feedback to assess the viability of the concepts.

While there may be variations in the naming or division of stages, or the approach of every unique team, the overall framework remains consistent. With that said, here's a step-by-step guide on how you can conduct an effective product discovery:

Step 1: define goals and objectives

Start by clearly defining the goals and objectives of the product discovery. What problems are you trying to solve? What are your expected outcomes? This step sets the direction for the entire discovery process.

Encourage your team to brainstorm without limitations initially, and gradually narrow down to the best ideas. Don't forget, the key to a good discover process lies in understand user problems and developing a valuable solution.

Consider using filters to assess the viability of each idea, such as alignment with business goals, relevance to the target audience, feasibility, user demand, and potential impact. Prioritize the ideas based on scores for predicted value and feasibility using a prioritization framework.

How to do product discovery: example of goal vs objective

Step 2: conduct user research

It's all about immersing yourself in the world of your users. 

The foundation of the entire discovery process is to gather as much information as possible about their needs and pain points until clear patterns start to emerge. This stage requires extensive communication with users, focusing on understanding the broader problem or group of problems that your product aims to solve.

Engage with your target audience through interviews, surveys, or user testing sessions to gather insights about their needs, pain points, and preferences. This research helps in understanding their behaviors, motivations, and expectations.

How to do product discovery: conduct user research
User persona example

Step 3: analyze competitors and market trends

As an extension of the user research stage, market research and analyzing the competitive landscape can also provide valuable insights for your product and allow you to plan around what's working in the industry at the moment and what's not. 

This doesn't only apply to coming up with a never-heard-before product but also one with a saturated competitiom. For example, if you're building another designing platform, identify gaps, trends, and potential opportunities to differentiate your product.

The biggest competitor would be Adobe, so dive deep into what's missing and what more you can offer (like Canva did and succeeded!) This applies to almost any software product you can possibly develop! 

How to do product discovery: analyze competitors
Feature market template example (click to use in FigJam)

Step 4: create user personas

User personas are created for product discovery by compiling and analyzing data gathered through user research. (all the stages before this are necessary)

To briefly explain how you can create user personas, the collected user data is analyzed to identify common patterns and characteristics among users. These insights are used to create fictional representations of target users, including demographic information, goals, needs, and preferences and represent different segments of your target audience. 

Personas help in humanizing your users, making it easier to empathize with their needs and design the right solution.

How to do product discovery: create user personas
User persona template example (click here to use in FigJam)

Step 5: define problem statements

Prioritizing understanding the problem space is crucial, rather than rushing into generating specific solutions. While it may be tempting to immediately jump into ideation sessions, taking the time to clearly define the problem you aim to solve is essential.

Using the insights gained from user research, identify and define specific problem statements that your product aims to solve. Ensure that the problem statements are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

While most professionals understand the SMAR of it, Time can be a bit tricky with discovery. So we don't suggest setting a casual deadline, but establishing a timebox can help create a sense of urgency and motivate the team to make their best efforts in the process.

How to do product discovery: define problem statements

Step 6: ideation and solution generation

This is your time to finally put all that research and thinking into practical ideas. Start with brainstorming potential solutions to address the defined problem statements and encourage cross-functional collaboration and diverse perspectives to foster creativity. 

The key here is to focus on aligning around the problem rather than specific features. 

It's important to distinguish between solution-focused alignment and problem-focused alignment. Problem-focused alignment requires a clear commitment to solving the user's problem, rather than pushing predetermined solutions.

How to do product discovery: stages of ideation

Step 7: prototype and validate

Prototyping can range from low-fidelity paper sketches to interactive digital prototypes. Creating prototypes or minimum viable products (MVPs) to simulate and validate your ideas is usually seen as the end of discovery. However, it's not.

This step allows you to gather feedback from users and stakeholders, iterate on your concepts, and refine your solutions before investing significant resources into development.

Step 8: test and iterate

With a prototype done, it's time for testing and bringing user feedback onboard again.

Conduct usability testing and gather feedback through MVP development. Iterate and refine your solutions based on the insights gained during the testing phase. This iterative process ensures that your product aligns with user expectations and delivers a seamless user experience.

The testing cycle can go on for much longer until you've figured out all the features, user behaviors, and functionality. Keep tweking and getting feedback!

Step 9: develop product roadmap

Based on the validated solutions and market feedback, the final step is to develop a product roadmap that outlines the features, enhancements, and timeline for development. The roadmap serves as a guide for the subsequent phases of product development.

How to do product discovery: develop product roadmap
Product roadmap example

Mistakes to avoid at every product discovery phase 

Now you know it all. But even equipped with all that knowledge and sometimes even years of experience, there are some very common mistakes during product discovery phases that get overlooked.

So here's a complete breakdown of mistakes you must avoid! 

Exploration phase mistakes

  1. Insufficient user research: One of the most common mistakes is failing to conduct thorough user research. Skipping or minimizing this step can result in a poor understanding of user needs, pain points, and preferences. It is crucial to invest time in user interviews, surveys, and observational research to gather valuable insights that inform the product development process.
  1. Ignoring market and competitive analysis: Neglecting market and competitive analysis can lead to a lack of awareness about industry trends, competitive offerings, and potential market gaps. Understanding the market landscape and analyzing competitor products is crucial for identifying opportunities, differentiating the product, and ensuring its market viability.
  1. Premature solutioning: Jumping to solutioning too quickly without a comprehensive understanding of the problem can lead to ineffective or misguided solutions. It's essential to resist the temptation to rush into solutioning and instead focus on thoroughly exploring and defining the problem space before generating potential solutions.

Validation phase mistakes

  1. Neglecting Prototyping and Testing: One common mistake during the validation phase is not investing enough effort in prototyping and testing. Prototyping allows you to gather valuable feedback and validate assumptions before investing significant resources in development. Failing to prototype and test can result in building a product that does not meet user needs or lacks market viability.
  1. Ignoring User Feedback: Disregarding user feedback or dismissing negative feedback can be detrimental to the product's success. Users provide valuable insights that can help identify potential issues, uncover hidden opportunities, and refine the product's direction. Actively listening to user feedback and incorporating it into decision-making is essential for a successful discovery process.
  1. Failing to Iterate and Learn: The validation phase is all about learning from the feedback received and iteratively improving the product. Failing to embrace an iterative approach and continuously refine the product based on user insights can lead to missed opportunities and a product that fails to meet evolving user needs.

Procedural mistakes

  1. Lack of Cross-functional Collaboration: Collaboration between different roles and departments is crucial throughout the discovery process. Failing to foster effective cross-functional collaboration can result in miscommunication, misalignment, and missed opportunities. Encouraging collaboration and fostering a culture of open communication is vital for successful product discovery.
  1. Overlooking Stakeholder Collaboration: Another mistake is not involving relevant stakeholders in the exploration phase. Stakeholders, including product managers, designers, developers, and business representatives, provide valuable perspectives and expertise. Collaboration with stakeholders helps ensure a holistic understanding of the problem space and facilitates buy-in and support throughout the discovery process.
  1. Not Balancing Data and Intuition: Relying solely on data or intuition can lead to biased decision-making. It's essential to strike a balance between data-driven insights and the intuition and expertise of the product team. Data provides valuable evidence, while intuition helps guide creative problem-solving and decision-making.

Learn from failures: the case study of a failed product discovery process

A large-scale example of a software product that failed due to a poor discovery phase and a lack of understanding of its target audience is the Google+ social networking platform.

Google+ was launched by Google in 2011 with the intention of competing with popular social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. However, despite the significant resources and efforts invested by Google, the platform failed to gain traction and was ultimately shut down in 2019.

One key mistake was that Google+ focused heavily on differentiating itself from Facebook rather than truly understanding what users desired in a social networking platform. The product lacked a clear value proposition that resonated with users, and many of its features were seen as mere imitations of Facebook rather than innovative additions.

While everyone expects more from IT giants like Google, this shows how easy it is to fall for the temptation of 'developing' a product without proper market research, understanding of user sentiment, and an imbalance of data vs. intuition.

How to do product discovery: google UI
Google+ UI

Product discovery frameworks and techniques 

Product discovery techniques and frameworks provide structured approaches to guide the process, ensuring a systematic and effective exploration of user needs, problem-solving, and solution validation. 

Let's delve into some popular product discovery methods:

Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a human-centered approach that emphasizes empathy, problem-framing, ideation, prototyping, and testing. It involves understanding user perspectives, defining the problem, generating ideas, and validating solutions through rapid prototyping and iteration.

Design Thinking encourages cross-functional collaboration, encourages creativity, and focuses on delivering meaningful user experiences.

How to do product discovery: design thinking process

Lean Startup

The Lean Startup methodology advocates for rapid experimentation, validated learning, and iterative product development. It emphasizes building a minimum viable product (MVP) to test hypotheses, gather customer feedback, and make data-driven decisions. 

The Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop is at the core of Lean Startup, allowing teams to validate assumptions and iterate quickly.

How to do product discovery: lean startup


The Jobs-to-be-Done framework focuses on understanding the underlying motivations and goals that drive customers to use a product or seek a solution.

It aims to identify the "job" or problem that customers are trying to solve and uncover the desired outcomes they seek. By understanding the job-to-be-done, teams can design products that fulfill those needs effectively.

How to do product discovery: jobs-to-be-done examples

Hire the right product discovery team for ultimate success! 

For organizations aiming for successful product discovery, hiring an experienced team for discovery can significantly enhance the outcomes. 

COAX Software is a team of professionals that bring expertise in user research, data analysis, prototyping, and validation techniques. Our experts have a deep understanding of product strategy and market dynamics, ensuring that the product aligns with user needs and market trends.

Our leading professionals bring all the benefits of efficient product discovery and more to the table including: 

  • Years of specialized knowledge and experience in conducting effective discovery, ensuring best practices are followed throughout the process.
  • Efficient resource allocation to a dedicated team, so you can optimize your budget, time-frame, and priorities to focus on other critical aspects of your business.
  • Unbiased perspectives from industry specialists challenging existing assumptions and bringing new insights to the table.
  • Faster time-to-market by avoiding common pitfalls with our team supporting you to make informed decisions based on thorough research and validation.


What is product discovery in agile? 

Product discovery process in agile refers to the process of exploring, understanding, and defining a product idea or concept before development begins. It involves conducting research, gathering user insights, validating assumptions, and defining the product vision, goals, and features. It helps ensure that the product being developed aligns with user needs and market demand.

Why is product discovery important? 

It's important because it reduces the risk of building products that do not meet user needs or market demand. It helps teams gain a deep understanding of user problems, preferences, and behaviors, allowing them to create products that provide meaningful value. It also promotes collaboration, reduces rework, and ensures that resources are invested in building the right product.

Who is responsible for product discovery? 

It's a collaborative effort that involves multiple stakeholders, including product managers, designers, engineers, and other members of the product team. While the product manager often takes a leading role in driving the discovery process, responsibility is shared among the team. Cross-functional collaboration and input from different perspectives are vital for a successful discovery phase.

What are the key steps in a product discovery process?  

The key steps in a discovery process typically include conducting research and gathering user insights, defining the problem or opportunity, generating potential solutions, validating those solutions through prototyping and user testing, defining the product vision and features, aligning with stakeholders, planning for execution, iteratively developing the product, and continuously learning and adapting based on user feedback and data.

Subscribe for our newsletters
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong
Arrow icon

Featured news