Demystifying Product Discovery In Empowered Product Teams
5 min read

Demystifying Product Discovery In Empowered Product Teams

More and more teams are talking about product discovery. But where does it fit into your current process? Where does it start? Where does it end? Who is involved? What is really happening during product discovery?

Product discovery is all about achieving a desired outcome. It describes the process of finding the problem and corresponding solution that have the biggest impact on the outcome.

Product discovery is a fluent and continuous effort. The end-to-end product discovery process looks at a near-term time horizon addressing one outcome at a time. Avoid spending time on problems or solutions that you are not ready to solve yet, or are not the highest priority.

Product Discovery is a team sport.

The product manager is accountable for identifying the right problem and solution. But in empowered product teams, product management, design, and engineering have a shared responsibility to achieve the desired outcome and build solutions customers love. That means finding the right problem and the right solution that will meet this outcome and bring value to customers.

Different roles and people are involved to a different extent throughout the discovery process. But a close collaboration among the product development teams is consistent throughout.

What feeds into product discovery?

Where does product discovery sit in existing processes? The product discovery process sits between your desired outcomes and the user stories that you put on the product backlog. It aims to ensure that whatever you move into delivery has the biggest possible impact on your outcome. Tackling a problem your customers wouldn't spend time or money on can set you up for failure no matter how well your solution works.

There will be lots of customer needs, pain points, desires. You need to look at these through the lens of your strategy and objectives. Your strategy, i.e. strategy documents, Amazon 6-pagers, OKRs, ... all frame and limit your problem space. They give you focus. But you should not start with product discovery for all your objectives at the same time. Pick the one that is most important, that you believe you can impact most. This is the input for your product discovery. Focusing on one objective/outcome at a time will speed up how fast you can go through the process, ship the first thing, and see results. Remember you are not saying no to the other goals; you are picking one first, for focus and speed.

Product Discovery Process

1. Problem Discovery:

Input to problem discovery is a single desired product outcome. This provides the filter to the vast problem space and ensures the right level of focus. This helps with boundaries for the research and prioritization.

Problem discovery consists of 2 phases:

  1. Go wide: Exploring and mapping the problem space. Creating a visual map of problems to solve that might impact the desired outcome. These are needs, pain points, or desires of the customer. The team uncovers these through customer interviews, surveys, and insights from customer feedback and behavioral analytics. These insights can be obtained from your support team and customer feedback software (like a community forum, productboard, UserVoice, ...) and are best mapped out with a digital mind-mapping tool (e.g. Miro, Whimsical, ...). This gives you a visual and complete picture of the different paths you could go down when prioritizing.
  2. Narrow in: Prioritizing a single crisp problem to solve first. The visual map of the problem space allows to compare and contrast the problems to find the biggest opportunity to impact the outcome. More customer and stakeholder feedback might be necessary to identify the right problem.

Who is part of problem discovery?
The product manager and product designer lead this process. The tech lead and developers contribute and participate. You want to have all functions take part so you can build a shared mental model of the customer needs, pain points, and desires. This will make finding the right solution more effective. It also provides the foundation for empowered development teams to make customer-facing decisions. The product manager is accountable to have a prioritized list of problems at the end of this step.

What to expect as an output?
A single prioritized high-impact problem to move into solution discovery. This can also be a prioritized list of problems, but there should be a single problem to start with. The problem should have additional context on customer segment, constraints, and desired customer outcomes. Without that, it will be difficult for anyone who gets involved to get up to speed quickly and contribute effectively.

2. Solution Discovery:

Identifying the best solution to solve the chosen problem from problem discovery. Best in terms of best for the customer and best for the business.

Solution discovery consists again of 2 phases:

  1. Go wide: Identify potential solutions to solve the problem. Capture assumptions around desirability, usability, feasibility, and viability for these solutions. Exploring many solutions at the same time reduces the risk of confirmation bias. When chasing only a single idea, it is harder to drop it and admit that it is not working.
  2. Narrow in: Mapping and identifying the critical assumption based on confidence and importance. The critical assumptions are the most uncertain and at the same time most important. If these turn out to be false your solution won't work. Test critical assumptions first. With the learnings from the experiments narrow it down to a single solution that will work and solves the problem best.

Who is part of solution discovery?
Historically product managers and product designers handed over designs to engineering. In an empowered product team the tech lead and development are involved in the problem-solving process. They are equally responsible for finding the right solution. This means coming up with potential solutions, identifying assumptions, and running experiments. These experiments will be executed by the designer, product manager, or engineers as part of the regular development cycle. These can be UX tests, code prototypes, landing page tests, concierge tests, etc.

What to expect as an output?
The output of solution discovery is a desirable, usable, feasible, and viable solution. To start with, the solution gets broken down as small as possible (think MVP - Minimal Viable Product/Feature). This can represent itself in form of a requirements document, epic, user stories, etc. ... depending on the development team's process of planning a new feature.

What's after product discovery?

From there regular planning takes over. User stories will be prioritized on the product and sprint backlog. High-fidelity designs are created. Engineers will plan and break down the user stories into tasks for execution. The regular stuff.

Download the Product Discovery Process onepager