What do rapid market shifts mean for businesses looking to launch new digital products? The success of their endeavors hinges on how well it aligns with actual market needs of the niche you’re targeting. This alignment is not a matter of chance but the result of a deliberate process known as product discovery.
Far from being a mere preliminary step, product discovery is the foundation upon which successful products are built. In this blog post, we delve into why businesses should invest in product discovery, when they should do so and how to delve into the process well prepared.
We also explain how product discovery helps you fine-tune your product idea to meet the continuously-evolving demands of the market. Let’s cover the basics first.
What is product discovery?
Product discovery refers to the process in software development that typically involves a series of collaborative activities aimed at understanding user needs, exploring solutions, and validating ideas related to the new digital tool. At RST Software, product discovery includes a one- or two-day workshop, depending on the needs of an organization or the size and scope of the product.
Who can benefit from a product discovery workshop?
The workshop is designed to serve customers in the following scenarios:
- For customers who see the value in establishing a thorough understanding of the product before hiring a development company to move to the coding phase. Indeed - product discovery workshop isn’t solely for the client, but for the development team as well. It allows them to thoroughly understand the goals of the new digital tool, as well as the niche it is supposed to serve. The more thorough this understanding is among the team members, the better solutions they will be able to suggest (align them better with customer needs).
- For customers looking to build an MVP. Product development is designed to help teams establish what are the product priorities and what features and functionalities could be developed at a later stage, taking into account not only user needs, but also the bigger picture, such as the budget, timeline and competitors landscape.
- For customers who are looking to expand their existing product by adding new features or functionalities (we’re talking about larger features that require significant development work to be implemented). In such cases, product discovery will help to verify if a given idea makes sense. It will not only help to determine which will work but also how they should be implemented, i.e. what path should the user go through in order to achieve a specific goal.
Who should take part in product discovery?
Product discovery workshop is a collaborative process, therefore participation of relevant stakeholders from both the client and the development company is essential. In an ideal scenario, participants from the client side should include:
- CEO, who will share the details of the entire concept, will answer questions and provide insights regarding goals of the product;
- Product Owner (if they’ve already been selected), who will take care of the operational side of product development on behalf of the client;
- Industry expert; who, depending on the nature of the product, will provide relevant domain insights (for instance, an accountant, when we are building software with modules dedicated to accounting). Their participation is optional and depends solely on the nature of the product. This person can also join in from the side of the development company, if they possess the required domain expertise (we can offer a number of dedicated teams specializing in different industry niches).
On the other hand, the development team representatives should include:
- UX designer or Product Designer, who will take care of mapping the user stories
- Project manager/Scrum Master/Account manager - the person who will be responsible for the execution of the development project and acts as a liaison between the development team and the client;
- A software architect, who will be able to advise what is technically feasible and what isn’t and propose concrete solutions to identified issues. They will also take part in prioritization of features in accordance with the set priorities, goals, budget and timeline.
- A business analyst, who can assist in user research and determining the model persona, with the goal to validate and optimize the business model.
Why is product discovery important?
How does product discovery contribute to project success? What are the benefits of effective product discovery in Agile? for Agile teams?
Aligns the product with market needs
This is the main goal of the product discovery workshop: to ensure that the vision of the product is aligned with customer needs and market demands. As the team members gather to discuss the details of the project, they get to better understand what users actually want, leading to a product that is more likely to succeed in the market. We explain how this is achieved further below.
Helps to uncover areas for improvement
Often, the product discovery workshop helps to identify areas for further improvements or simplification. When discussing the vision and goals of the new digital tool or feature, the development lead may be able to identify areas which, for instance, could potentially be automated, or actions that could be further simplified by introducing new, simple functionalities. As technologies continue to evolve, our development team is always on the lookout for new capabilities and ways to implement them.
Helps you make the most out of your money
The goal of the product discovery workshop is to determine what the product actually requires to fulfill its role. This helps to avoid spending time and resources on developing features that are not valuable to users, ensuring your budget is exploited minimally.
This is where the participation of a technical lead is critical. It is usually at this stage that they can advise on what is technically feasible with regards to the timeline and budget allocated for the project. Usually at this stage businesses decide on the shape of an MVP, especially if they assumed they would proceed straight to building a full-fledged solution.
Facilitates better decision-making
Product discovery plays a crucial role in the product development lifecycle, facilitating better decision-making at every stage. It provides invaluable insights that inform these decisions, enabling teams to prioritize features effectively and adapt their plans in response to a deeper understanding of user needs and market conditions. This process is integral to creating a product that truly resonates with its intended audience.
Enhances product quality and UX
A digital product that is better aligned with customer and market needs boasts high quality and a UX that meets or even exceeds those needs. Since product discovery is oriented at refining the product to match them with market expectations, it allows the team to work out designs that maximize this fit.
Improves stakeholder engagement
The involvement of various stakeholders is another critical aspect of product discovery. The process requires that business leaders and development teams participate in the process, ensuring that all perspectives are considered, leading to a more effective product strategy.
Supports a customer-centric approach
A customer-centric approach is at the heart of product discovery: the purpose of aligning the development efforts with customer expectations is about maximizing customer satisfaction. This alignment is critical for ensuring that the product fulfills customer requirements.
Lays the foundation for successful product delivery
Lastly, product discovery provides teams with a clear vision and roadmap, laying the foundation for successful product delivery. The discovery workshop helps to maintain focus and alignment throughout the development process. This foundation is vital for guiding the product development from conception to completion, ensuring that the final product not only meets its intended goals but also stands out in the market.
Key steps in the product discovery process
Business leaders, dev team members and customers alike should be involved in the process whenever possible. This helps to leverage the different perspectives and ensure that the product truly aligns with market needs.
Step 1: User research & persona validation
The first step in product discovery, user research and persona validation, is pivotal in understanding the target users' needs, preferences, and behaviors. This is a collaborative step that should involve both the client and the development team. The client should have scoped the target audience prior to commencing the development process and identified their specific pain point they want to address.
The development team can further assist in this by arranging interviews during which they find out what would be the best way to solve these pain points. The pain reliever will subsequently be reflected in the design.
The primary goal of this phase is to cultivate empathy with the users. By comprehensively understanding their problems and needs, the product team can develop solutions that are not only technically feasible but also deeply resonant with the users' real-world experiences.
Market analysis is a critical step in understanding the client's landscape and involves a thorough examination of market trends, analysis of competitors, and identification of market opportunities. This process is integral in painting a comprehensive picture of the existing market environment. It helps the team uncover key insights about the current market dynamics, such as emerging trends, customer preferences, and the competitive landscape.
The market analysis is a critical step that must happen before moving on to product discovery. It is largely the client’s responsibility. The analysis is crucial for strategically positioning the product in a way that capitalizes on market opportunities and differentiates it from competitors. Without this step, businesses risk creating products that have identical counterparts on the market, significantly increasing the risk of failure.
Idea generation and brainstorming
Idea generation and brainstorming are crucial stages in the product development process, where the focus is on encouraging creative thinking to solve user problems. To facilitate this creative process, we employ different techniques that include design thinking and brainstorming sessions. Design thinking, with its emphasis on user-centric problem solving, guides teams to approach challenges from the user's perspective, ensuring that solutions are not just innovative but also relevant to the user's needs.
These sessions result in a range of different ideas, from which the most promising ones can be selected for further analysis and efficiency as pain-relievers. It’s a critical mechanism in ensuring that the product development journey starts with a solid foundation of innovative and user-centric ideas.
The feasibility study is an assessment of practicality of the proposed pain-relievers and features from both the users’ and business perspectives. This is done through visualizing user stories and journey mapping, often done using simple tools such as post-it notes.
User stories are about creating a visual representation of a user's interactions with the product. During product discovery workshops, participants will visualize specific features within an app by identifying key touchpoints and functionalities that must be implemented so that the users could perform specific actions.
Similarly, customer journey mapping provides a detailed view of the user's end-to-end experience with the product, highlighting the different touch points within the tool that can offer solutions to the user's challenges and his motivation.
Overall, the feasibility study is about establishing how the product will fit into both the user's world and the business framework.
Additionally, the feasibility study also involves an evaluation of the technical aspects of the proposed product. This includes assessing the technical requirements, such as the technology stack needed, compatibility with existing systems, and the skills required to develop the product. At this point, the development lead will also assess the skills, timeframe and budget required to implement the product.
Prioritization and roadmapping
Once the team has discussed the feasibility of specific aspects of the project, they can proceed to deciding what to implement. These will be strategic decisions that have to take into account:
- the value each feature brings to users
- the feasibility of implementing these features,
- how well they align with the overarching business goals,
- the available budget and timeline.
I think it’s important to highlight that what’s crucial about prioritization is ordering backlog items so that as a client, you make the best use of your resources. Indeed, teams often have to make tough choices when weighing the potential benefits of each feature against its complexity and the resources required to bring it to life.
Next, the team moves on to creating a product roadmap - a strategic document that outlines the development journey of the product. It’s a guide that illustrates the planned progression of the product over time: how the selected features will be developed and when.
This visualization helps in managing stakeholder expectations and keeping the development team aligned and focused on the agreed objectives. A well-constructed roadmap is flexible yet comprehensive, allowing for adjustments as new information becomes available or as market conditions change.
How to prepare for the workshop for maximum outcomes?
In order to make the most of the product discovery process, entrepreneurs should have a bit more than just an idea. We’ve written an e-book where we list 46 critical questions every CEO should answer before delving into digital product development. These questions will help you prepare the following items, which you should prepare or think through before proceeding to product discovery.
Having the business model thought through in advance is, in fact, indispensable for the successful outcome of the workshop. Why? Well, because, in case of the lack of the business model thought through, it often turns out that the idea a client comes with isn’t feasible from the business perspective, or that it simply makes no sense.
Entrepreneurs should think in advance about how they are going to profit from the digital tool, how they will monetize it, what budget is required to build it, what external partners or suppliers have to be involved. As a software development company, we can certainly advise how to offset some of the hidden costs related to product building, but figuring out how to make money off the digital tool is the owner’s job.
If you have doubts about these aspects of product development, an earlier article where I discussed how to choose the right business model for your tool may help. You may also want to take a look at the different pricing models available to you.
Analyzing the competitive landscape is an essential part of developing any new tool. WIthout this step, you may end up building something similar to what is already available and well established on the market, and you will subsequently struggle to sell it.
At the same time, if solutions that answer the need you also intend to feel are already available on the market, it doesn't mean you should abandon your idea altogether. You may still think about ways to build a better tool; to offer something that will differentiate you from those competitors. In any case, researching the landscape is critical to ensuring you build a solution that adds unique value that creates the potential to succeed on the market.
To build a successful product, you must build a user base. To build a user base, you need to establish who the product will be for. Researching your target group before product discovery is thus essential for ultimate market success.
You have to understand the users’ needs, preferences, and pain points, so that you can tailor your product to answer those. This customization should extend to features, functionality, user experience, and even pricing, ensuring that your product aligns with the expectations of your target market.
What are the outcomes of the product discovery workshop?
As mentioned, the client comes to the workshop with a vision for their product as well as a pre-defined business model and all aspects related to it; i.e. the unique selling point, target group, competitive analysis, etc.
In turn, product discovery serves to translate these goals and requirements into three items that suffice to proceed to product development. These include:
- User story mapping: the workshop will yield a complete mapping that identifies and organizes user stories, which are narratives describing features from the user's perspective. This will build a clear picture of the user experience, prioritized features and a cohesive product strategy.
- Prioritized backlog: a list of features, tasks, and user stories arranged in order of importance. Our experienced dev team lead will help to prioritize features taking into account factors like user value, business goals, and dependencies. It will serve as a roadmap for a development team ensuring that they focus on the most critical aspects of the product first. In case you decide to proceed with development with us, the prioritized backlog will allow them to begin development immediately.
- Cost estimation: we will determine a preliminary cost estimation for the development of the product. It will take into account factors such as the complexity of features, development time, and resource requirements. It will offer a foundational understanding of the potential costs associated with bringing the product to market.
What happens after the product discovery workshop?
We’ve decided to include this section as part of this article to clarify some of the misconceptions about the product discovery process itself. Some of our clients expected different outcomes from this part of the development process. Here are some of the aspects or activities of the product development process that take place only after product discovery:
- Prototyping and concept testing: these will allow the team to bring the ideas and to life through early versions of the product or its features. This phase is incredibly versatile, with prototypes ranging from simple sketches to intricate interactive digital models. No matter the approach selected, the prototypes serve a critical purpose: they are tools for gathering feedback, which is then used to iterate and refine the design.
- User feedback and validation: during this phase, the development team will collect insights on how users interact with prototypes or product concepts, and use the insights drawn from this investigation to refine the design and functionalities. Following this, a feasibility study is conducted to assess the technical and business feasibility of the proposed product or features.
- Hypothesis testing and experimentation: this stage involves formulating hypotheses based on user research and market analysis, followed by conducting experiments to validate these hypotheses. This scientific approach allows teams to make data-driven decisions, reducing the reliance on assumptions and guesswork.
- Risk assessment: risk assessment and mitigation play a pivotal role as well. In this phase, potential risks in the product development process are identified, and strategies are developed to mitigate them. This includes addressing both market risks and technical risks, ensuring that potential obstacles are anticipated and planned for.
- Data analysis: finally, data analysis and insights gathering are essential for informed decision-making. Using data and analytics, teams gather insights about user behavior, market trends, and the performance of prototypes or early product versions. This analysis is vital for understanding the impact of the product and for making informed adjustments to strategy and design based on real-world data.
RST can help you align your product with market needs
Our product discovery workshop serves a double purpose: (i) to help our clients prepare for building robust products that are closely aligned with the needs and expectations of the end-users as well as market demands; (ii) to help us understand your idea inside out. If you have any questions about this process or would like us to guide you through it as you materialize your vision, simply write to us via this contact form and we’ll take it from there.