Product School

Product Discovery 101 for Product Managers

Ellen Merryweather

Ellen Merryweather

January 09, 2023 - 7 min read

Updated: January 24, 2024 - 7 min read

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What is Product Discovery Anyway?

Product Discovery is the process of figuring out what needs to be built. It validates your vision, gives you a clearer picture of user needs, and gives you key answers to roadmap-building questions.

  1. Is the problem worth solving?

  2. Will our solution work?

  3. Will people pay for it?

If the answer to any of these questions is NO, you need to go back to the drawing board. Product Discovery is the process of working on your idea, asking questions of customers, until you get three big YES’S.

The ‘when’ matters!

Now you know what Product Discovery is, before we dive into the best practices and how to get it right, we need to talk about when to do your product discovery.

If you’re coming to this with your MVP already half-built, but you haven’t put the work into your discovery phase…STOP BUILDING!

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Before you spend precious time and resources building something, it’s absolutely key to find your product-market fit. What’s the point of building something that no one wants?

Even if you’re absolutely convinced that your product fills a need, before you build your MVP, Product Discovery will help you to build it the right way. Product Discovery also helps you to make the best, most informed decisions. Your product may well be a great idea, but Product Discovery will help you to make sure people are actually willing to pay for it.

Steps to Product Discovery Success

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1. Think about your why

Map out the goal of the product. Not just the vision for the product itself but how it fits in with the company goals. Make sure everyone involved is on board with this from the outset, as you’ll use The Why as a unifying force later down the road.

You can express this as creatively as you like, but something as simple as a powerful mission statement can be enough.

2. Think about your metrics

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Knowing how you’re going to measure success gives you a concrete goal to aim for, rather than chasing the more intangible ‘Why’.

How many paid users do you need to make growth sustainable? Set a timeline for where you want to be and decide what your milestones should look like.

Techniques like OKRs and KPIs are perfect for setting your targets and keeping your product accountable.

3. Decide what your limits are

Lots of things are limitless in a Product Management career. Potential, innovation, opportunity…

However, resources, time, and money are not limitless.

Sit down with people from different areas (design, engineering, marketing, etc) and go through the hard limits. Whether that be setting a launch date or allocating resources, it’s useful for everyone to know what they’ve got to work with.

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4. Identify what the risks are

You don’t want a crisis on your hands, but if that happens, the best thing you can do is be prepared for it.

With your team, think about what could go wrong, and how you might handle the situation. Some things will be out of your control, like a competitor product launching before yours, or even a natural disaster!

Break down your worries into two categories: things you have control over and things you don’t.

For the things you don’t have control over, write up a brief contingency plan. For things you do have control over, come up with steps for how to avoid them.

It might seem pessimistic to start a product’s journey like this, but you’ll be so glad you did if a crisis hits!

5. Get to know your users

This is perhaps the most crucial stage in Product Discovery. As a Product Manager, your customers mean everything to you. Buckle up, because there’s a lot involved…

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a. Conducting user research: for qualitative and quantitative data

You need both qualitative and quantitative data to get a full picture of your users and their needs.

You can gain qualitative, or ‘soft’ data, through surveys, interviews, focus groups, and reading user feedback. This is some of the most useful data for creating your product vision and User Journey maps.

With quantitative data, you’ll need to challenge your assumptions. These are the ‘hard’ numbers. What percentage of users work on a tablet versus a desktop? How many of your users make $50-60K per year? Use these hard, objective numbers to back up the assumptions you make based on quantitative data.

b. Make your maps

Once you understand your customers, you need to make sure everyone involved in development understands them too. There are two really useful tools for communicating your customer understanding with others; User Journey Maps and User Personas.

A User Journey Map shows the different points of interaction a user has with your brand/product. Using both quantitative and qualitative data, it paints a picture of the overall relationship you want with your ideal user, from discovery to adoption, to them becoming your #1 fan.

Your user personas help you to flesh out who you are building for, and they’re incredibly useful to keep as a reference. Split your users into segments like and decide how to best treat each of those segments. It’s useful to bring marketing in to this exercise, as they have both the skills to contribute and the need to use these segments in the future.

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c. Conduct user surveys

Online surveys are some of the best ways to conduct research, as they can be done remotely and require fewer resources than in-person interviews.

The best way to get useful feedback is to answer open-ended questions, allowing people to provide more details. This doesn’t mean that you should write or expect, long complicated paragraphs. Keep your answers simple. Rather than ‘do you like the homepage?’ ask ‘what do you like about the homepage?’

To keep it interesting, feel free to get creative. Use multiple-choice answers or sliding scales to add a little variety.

Top Tools for Product Discovery

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There are so many tools out there, and it’s very easy to find extensive lists of everything available. But that lacks the personal touch! So we’ve handpicked our favorites

  • Get organized with Productboard: Features include a user insights repository, prioritzsation scoring, user impact scoring, a feature voting portal, and much much more. It’s an all-in-one tool loved by product people across the board. (See what we did there?)

  • Create your strategy and roadmap with ProductPlan: Great products begin with great roadmaps. ProductPlan integrates with Jira, Slack, Trello, and other useful platforms to make communicating and updating your roadmap as smooth as possible.

  • Connect with your users with UserTesting: The best tool to gather user insights and actually speak with your customers. You can access their diverse panel of users, or target your own audience. Trusted by some of the world’s biggest brands, you can’t go wrong with UserTesting.

  • Build wireframes with Balsamiq: Built to be accessible to more than just tech teams, Product Managers from all industries use Balsamiq. If you can roughly sketch out your dream user interface on a napkin, you can use Balsamiq, it’s that easy! UI professionals also love it, as it’s fast and contains hundreds of built-in UI controls and icons.

  • Build your prototype with Invision: Invision is used by brands such as Airbnb, Amazon, HBO, Netflix, and IBM, so you know your prototype is in safe hands!

Want to know more about discovery, and all the other awesome phases of product development? Then we’ve got just the book for you! Our friends at UserGuiding worked with us to create the ultimate guide to take you from idea to launch. (When you get to your user-onboarding process, you couldn’t choose a better platform than UserGuiding.)

Updated: January 24, 2024

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