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A step-by-step guide to the product discovery process

Outstanding product discovery is the first step to outstanding product delivery. 

But too many product teams deliver products based on guesses about user needs and business opportunities. 

Companies then find themselves trying to convince customers that they need their product—instead of creating a product based on what the customer already needs.

Last updated

31 Jan 2022
Product discovery hub process

Product discovery is the art of engaging in continuous research and user validation techniques to ensure you're building the right products to solve your customers’ problems. 

Excellent product discovery cuts through assumptions and ensures companies funnel resources towards building products customers need and love. 

While discovery processes vary from company to company, following the framework will help product teams uncover key user insights you can use to support product design and delivery.

Use Hotjar for customer-centric product discovery

Feel confident that you’re building the right product for your users by tapping into product experience insights

The problem space and solution space 

So what does product discovery look like? 

There are two key phases:

  1. The problem space, where you try to reach a deep understanding of your users’ problems

  2. The solution space, where you develop, test, and refine solutions that effectively address these problems through your product

A common pitfall seen in product discovery is jumping too quickly into the solution space before fully understanding your customers’ problems. 

Learning (and re-learning) what your users want to do and what’s blocking them should come first. 

In continuous product discovery processes, the problem and solution spaces inform one another, which means that even when you’re focused on finding or prototyping a solution, you should always keep the problems you’re trying to solve in mind.

And when you start to grasp the problems your users have, keep one eye turned towards potential solutions.

Product discovery is a wonderful way of trying to understand your customers so that you can develop products that satisfy their needs. 

Product discovery helps product teams prioritize and build features and products while also setting the stage for product excellence. 

Daria Maltseva
Head of Product, KeyUA

8 steps to effective product discovery

Understanding the principles of product discovery is a good start—but what’s really important is putting them into practice. 

Follow this step-by-step guide to improve your product discovery process. 

1. Set up your product discovery crew

First, decide who should be involved in the product discovery process. 

Go beyond the standard product management team structure, here: cross-functional collaboration between product, design, and engineering team members is key to ensure technical viability and user focus.

Product teams should encourage as many engineers as possible to take part in the process of product discovery, because engineers possess unique skills that can drive better product discovery results.

Steven Walker
CEO, Spylix

It’s also important to include stakeholders from business and marketing departments for a holistic view of the product, userbase, and business targets. 

Involving different stakeholders makes confirmation bias less likely in your product discovery process. Getting a range of different perspectives can help you challenge the assumptions of any single department, team, or individual.

But too many different contributors can also make product discovery chaotic and unwieldy. Put together a core product discovery crew who’ll own the process, then strategically involve additional stakeholders as needed. 

The main discovery crew usually consists of: 

  • PMs

  • UX and user research reps

  • a frontend and backend engineering lead

Once you’ve got your product discovery leaders, decide who will be on the second-tier. These are the people you’ll keep updated on how the product discovery process is going, and you’ll bring them in to collaborate during particular stages. They usually include: 

  • marketers

  • sales reps

  • developers

  • customer support or success reps

  • other product team members and engineers

Pro tip: use tools that make it easy to share product discovery learnings with your core product discovery crew and other stakeholders. 

Hotjar Highlights let you share the most important product experience insights without bombarding your team with too many details. 

For added impact, use Hotjar’s Slack and Zapier integrations to feed stakeholders regular insights on the communication channels they already use.

2. Do exploratory research on user needs

Once you’ve got your product crew sorted, it’s time to learn about user problems. 

Try to put your assumptions—and your product ideas—aside, and just get to know your users or potential users. As product discovery guru Teresa Torres says, ​​“customers know more than we’ll ever know about their needs and context.” 

So talk to them—learn what they do and about their jobs to be done (JTBD). Find out who they are, and create user and product personas to bring demographics to life and cultivate deep user empathy.  

Use specific techniques like customer interviews, user stories, surveys and incoming feedback widgets, and session recordings that show you how users behave and experience your product or other similar products. (Remember: Hotjar's tools can help!) 

When surveying customers or running interviews, remember that you’re trying to explore at this stage rather than validate fixed ideas you already have. Ask open-ended questions and give them a chance to tell you things you don’t already know.

Pro tip: there’s often some variance between what users say and how they behave

To get a clear picture and bridge the gap between thoughts and actions, combine objective information on how they act (quantitative data) with their subjective opinions and feelings (qualitative data). 

Product experience (PX) insights software like Hotjar offers a mix of quantitative and qualitative data for thorough product discovery.

3. Define the problem

Now that you’ve gathered user data, it’s important that you take the time to analyze it properly and turn the data into actionable insights. 

Map out user stories to identify patterns or topics that are repeated again and again from different users and user sources. Refine these topics into key user problems and use them to develop broad and specific discovery questions and hypotheses

For example, an automated subtitling software company might ask: 

  • How can we meet our users’ need to integrate our solutions into their wider workflow? 

  • Why aren’t our users using our new video editing feature? Is their external video editing program solving their problems better—or are they just reluctant to adapt to a new tool? 

Test these hypotheses to confirm they accurately describe what your users are thinking and feeling before moving on.

Product discovery can be used to learn how users make decisions. For instance, you can try to find out what’s holding your prospects back from starting a free trial. 

Try scroll heatmaps of your landing page to figure out what information most people are seeing and missing. Then, use an open-ended survey to ask users if they have questions and find more insights.

Adam Korbl

4. Come up with possible solutions

Only once you have a strong sense of user problems should you start thinking about solutions. 

Be as creative as possible in brainstorming solutions. Use mind mapping and storyboarding to get your team to think outside the box, and encourage even unworkable ideas to get the creative juices flowing—you can always refine them later. 

It’s good to involve as many cross-functional roles as possible in the brainstorming process to innovate potential solutions from different perspectives. 

When the team has generated too many ideas to consider, you can vote on them to narrow down the shortlist before deciding which to validate. 

5. Validate and prioritize proposed solutions

Next, engage in internal and external validation processes to check whether the solutions you’re considering are viable and feasible.

Validating ideas internally may involve consulting with different stakeholders to determine the usability, feasibility, or technical solutions. You may also want to do some opportunity mapping—by using a value curve, for example, where you compare your solution to the market—to determine whether your solution will meet business goals. 

It’s also critical to validate ideas with current or potential users. You can do this through user interviews and surveys, or run A/B tests to choose between possible solutions (for example, analyze heatmaps for both solutions to see where users clicked and engaged). 

Consider fake door testing, too, where you put a link to a product or feature that doesn’t exist yet on your product or webpage. By seeing how many people click on the link, you can gauge user interest, then use incoming feedback widgets to ask them why they clicked. 

Validating ideas can show you which ideas to proceed with and help you prioritize the  most important initiatives. 

6. Prototype and test

To compensate for possible discrepancies between how users respond to a product idea and how they experience the product, test it using mockups and prototypes. 

For example, maybe users tell you they want new video editing features on the dashboard of your subtitling software—but when you put the new features on the dashboard, it clutters their view and prevents them from having a streamlined product experience. You won’t know this until you test. 

There are different ways of doing this: you can build mockups or clickable prototypes, or even observe users as they use similar products, seeing what does and doesn’t solve their problems. Work towards developing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) you can run more tests with. 

Again, Hotjar can support you here with Heatmap and Session Recording tools, and Surveys and Incoming Feedback widgets that collect and organize product experience insights. 

The best way I have found to test product ideas during discovery is to prototype a solution idea as cheaply as possible and have real customers try the prototype. When I start hearing them say ‘when can I have this?’ I know I have solved the pain.

Chris Redrich

7. Get aligned with stakeholders

Once you’ve rigorously tested possible solutions, you’ll need to present them to a range of different stakeholders. 

If you’ve followed all the steps, you should have a wealth of data on user needs and responses to back up your proposals. 

Communicating a rich range of quantitative and qualitative data is the best way to make a compelling case for stakeholder buy-in.

Show statistics that demonstrate how your ideas will contribute to user satisfaction and business objectives, and include qualitative VoC data like customer quotes from surveys and user feedback. 

Use effective product storytelling techniques and stakeholder analysis to get your message across. 

8. Infuse the design and delivery process with continuous discovery

Product discovery doesn’t end once you start—or even finish—product development and delivery. 

To ensure your product meets your users’ deepest needs, you should engage in continuous discovery throughout the entire product lifecycle. 

Create regular touchpoints in the design and delivery process to check in with users and stakeholders and validate each iteration as you go for agile product management.

Continually testing your assumptions and learning more about your customers will result in happier users, more confident priorities, and a stronger product-market fit.

Product discovery isn't something you do at the beginning. Throughout the process, you'll find new hypotheses to test as well as data that question previous hypotheses.

Adopting a continuous discovery mindset means your team will be able to utilize these occurrences rather than let them slip by because they don't fit your process.

Nate Tsang

Why communication is key to effective product discovery

Nailing the product discovery process is a crucial part of building stronger connections with your customers and business stakeholders. 

Communication is at the heart of successful product discovery and product management. 

Pinning down users’ problems—and what will solve them—is all about being curious, listening deeply, and asking the right questions at the right stage in the user journey.

Hotjar can help by providing a constant stream of product experience insights that help the whole company understand what users want at varying levels of detail.

Hotjar Highlights are a great solution for stakeholders who need a quick overview, while the core product discovery crew will likely use Highlights as a jumping-off point but dive deeper with Heatmaps, Session Recordings, and Surveys responses. 

By involving the whole team in the product discovery process, you’ll promote ownership, pride, and the motivation to build brilliant products that customers love.

Bonus reading: take a look at our Hotjar use cases to learn how Hotjar supports product teams in product discovery and more.

Use Hotjar for customer-centric product discovery

Feel confident that you’re building the right product for your users by tapping into product experience insights

FAQs about the product discovery process