Product Discovery: Definition, Benefits, and Techniques

Learn about the five phases of product discovery and key techniques to optimize your discovery process.

Best Practices
April 5, 2024
Image of Pragnya Paramita
Pragnya Paramita
Group Product Marketing Manager, Amplitude
A team using product discovery techniques

Product discovery is a process that helps you decide what products and features to prioritize and build. It involves researching customers to understand their pain points and ideating and testing solutions to ensure you create products that meet their needs and solve their problems.

Key takeaways
  • Product discovery helps you determine which features or products to build.
  • Product discovery helps you make decisions based on what customers want rather than intuition and assumptions.
  • With product discovery, you can better understand customer needs, so you build products with a great user experience and avoid wasting resources on unsuccessful features.
  • There are five main phases of product discovery: understanding users, defining a user problem, ideating a solution, creating a prototype, and testing and refining the prototype.
  • Product discovery techniques include interviewing customers, analyzing behavioral data, brainstorming, and creating a minimum viable product.

What is product discovery?

Product discovery involves understanding what users need and want to determine the best products and features to build. Once you’ve identified the fundamental problem a product or feature should solve, the next step is developing a potential solution and testing its validity to ensure it’s the right product for the target audience.

Although product discovery is often associated with building something new, it should be an ongoing process of listening to users. Your customers’ habits and expectations are ever-changing, and continuous discovery enables you to tweak and update products to maintain and increase their satisfaction.

Benefits of product discovery

Without a product discovery process, you risk developing a product that doesn’t solve your customer’s needs and will go unused. In short, product discovery:

  • Saves time and money: The insights gleaned ensure you only develop products that solve a real customer problem, which reduces risk and mitigates useless resource spend.
  • Helps create lovable products that are good for business: A robust product discovery process can help you create a more sticky product or feature, resulting in reduced customer churn—which is good for business.
  • Stops reliance on intuition and assumptions: If you skip or rush product discovery, you risk making product decisions based on what you assume customers want rather than what they actually want.
  • Guides product roadmap and build: Clarity about the user problem you’re solving makes you more effective throughout development. You can refer to the information you gathered during discovery when making a product design decision.

The product discovery process, step-by-step

Product discovery is all about understanding customer needs and validating potential solutions before investing resources into product development. There are five key phases, each with distinct activities that enable you to complete each step effectively.

1. Understand your users.

Creating customer-centric products requires research and talking to your customers and target audience to determine their needs.

Conduct customer surveys and interviews

The quickest way to find out what customers want is to ask them directly. Start your discovery process by listening to them via surveys and user interviews.

A customer survey is a quick and easy way to gather customer data. However, because your existing beliefs will shape the questions you ask, a survey can often limit your discovery.

To increase completion rates and ensure respondents give detailed and high-quality answers, limit the number of questions and aim to create a survey that people can answer in 10 minutes or less.

Interviews and focus groups, in contrast, allow for wide-ranging discussions. They’re more time-consuming than surveys but let customers give more detailed responses. Plus, you can immediately ask any clarifying questions.

Keep the mood of the interviews informal and ask open-ended questions to encourage people to express themselves freely. Run focus groups with around five to 10 people. That way, everyone has time to share their insights, but you still have enough people to generate a range of opinions.

Ask customers about:

  • Themselves: Build customer personas for your audience by learning their industry, work level—for example, individual contributor or manager—and habits.
  • Their pain points: Get more detail about their problems by asking about the most challenging issue they face, what makes it so frustrating, the solutions they’ve already tried, and why solutions failed.
  • Your product: If you have an existing product, ask your users why they chose it, how they’re using it, and what they’d change about it.

Analyze customer behavior

Customers can’t always articulate what they want or need. If you have an existing product, behavioral analytics can give you objective data about how people use it. You can mine that data to discover why and how customers use your product and identify potential unmet needs.

For instance, if you discover customers use your product for a specific use case, consider expanding its functionality or building a new feature tailored to that use case.

Or imagine you have an app that enables people to track to-do lists and habits, and you discover that many customers also use it to create meeting agendas. In this case, you could make an agenda feature or add a specific agenda template to your to-do list templates.

You can also use the behaviors associated with customer churn to spot friction points in your app. You can build something new or update an existing feature to address areas of your product that result in a poor user experience.

2. Define the user's need or problem.

Pull a pain point from your user research and work it into a single problem statement for each product or feature to guide your development process.

Condensing the problem your new product or feature will solve into a single customer problem statement will help create a shared understanding for everyone on the team. That way, everyone knows what they’re working towards.

To start, pull out the most common theme or pain point you identify in your research. The more precisely you can state the problem, the better. Keep your statement concise, but make sure it includes:

  • What the problem is
  • Who faces the problem
  • Why the problem exists
  • The impact of the problem

Problem statement examples

Below are two examples of fictitious customer problem statements.

  • Social media analytics solution: Social media marketers want to track the impact of their social media posts, but since they post across multiple channels, it’s time-consuming and complicated to retrieve and compile the data. Doing this task manually is frustrating because it takes time they could spend doing more impactful, creative work like brainstorming new post ideas.
  • Online meeting scheduling app: Sales teams want to share a calendar link so people can book meetings with them. They’re happy to have internal calls with people in their org at any time during their working day, but they only want to have sales calls during specific hours. Our current platform only allows them to share the same availability with everyone, leading to them canceling sales calls or having the calls at less-than-optimal times, which is stressful.

3. Ideate a solution.

A successful product or feature solves a customer problem. In the ideation phase, you brainstorm to develop multiple product ideas and prioritize the most effective ones.

Run a brainstorming session

Brainstorming sessions help people think freely to develop more innovative solutions.

In the session, focus on quantity over quality. The more ideas you develop, the better your chance of finding the perfect solution. Plus, you’ll trim down and refine your list of ideas later.

For efficient brainstorming, keep the session focused on your problem statement and make it time-bound—aim for around 30 minutes. Gather team members from different departments in your organization to the session, like UX, design, and analytics. Each will add distinct skill sets and perspectives to your ideation.

Apply the ICE framework to prioritize solutions

Now that you have a list of possible solutions, you need to choose one. The Impact-Confidence-Ease (ICE) framework is an effective way of grading ideas to find the best one.

Sean Ellis developed the ICE framework to help startups grow. The framework considers how the product will impact users and the feasibility of creating it. For each of the solutions, assign a score from 0-10 for its:

  • Impact: How much will it help the user solve their problem? Or, if you're deciding between multiple issues, which problem will have the most impact when resolved?
  • Confidence: How confident are you that it will work?
  • Ease: How easy will development be?

Multiply the three scores together to get the overall score for each solution. Then compare the scores of the different solutions and take the highest-scoring to the prototyping stage.

Even though the framework doesn’t give you an objective answer—because impact, confidence, and ease are subjective measures—it’s a quick way of prioritizing solutions.

4. Create a prototype.

A prototype or minimum viable product enables you to test if your solution works for customers without spending excessive time or money building the entire product or feature.

A minimum viable product (MVP) is a concept from agile software development that enables you to validate your solution without investing time and resources into building it entirely. Create a version of your solution that requires as little effort as possible while still being high quality enough for customers to assess it accurately.

Typically, an MVP should take around three months to complete. As far as possible, exclude the most time-consuming elements to build.

Airbnb’s MVP involved a simple website with only one listing, which was enough to validate their solution—people can book to stay in strangers’ homes as an alternative to hotels. However, it didn’t include complex features like a database of several listings or an online payment system.

5. Test and refine.

Tests help you learn what to change or update about your solution before building the final product or feature.

The simplest way to conduct usability testing is to solicit customers to try your MVP and provide feedback. As with the initial research stage, collect qualitative data from customer interviews and surveys. Analyze behavioral data to see how users interact with the product and if you’ve reached the desired outcome.

Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation (RITE) is a type of usability testing in which you immediately act on feedback, update the product, and re-test. The advantage of RITE is that because you go through several rounds of testing and iteration, you can be confident that you’ve got a successful product before you launch. You can move to the product development process once you’re satisfied that your product or feature solves your customer problem statement.

The best product analytics tools include experimentation capabilities to make this process more efficient. For example, Amplitude Experiment enables you to track and analyze the impact of the changes you make to your product so that you can make product decisions based on customer data. With Experiment, you can take rapid action against those insights by planning, executing, and analyzing sophisticated experiments to make better decisions that drive impactful results.

Take your product discovery to the next level

Within this framework, each organization's product discovery process will look different, and product management expert Tim Herbig recommends developing your custom process to fit the needs of your team.

However, all organizations do have one thing in common regarding product discovery: Amplitude can make the entire process more efficient, reliable, and agile.

Ready to take your product discovery to the next level?

Get started with Amplitude’s free plan to unlock insights into customer behavior and experiment solutions today

About the Author
Image of Pragnya Paramita
Pragnya Paramita
Group Product Marketing Manager, Amplitude
Pragnya is a Group Product Marketing Manager at Amplitude. Here she leads the go-to-market efforts for data management products. A graduate of Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, she is passionate about working at the intersection of business and technology and when time allows, cooking up a storm with cuisines from all over the world.