In a software development kingdom not so far away, a team of ambitious engineers and designers set out to craft a revolutionary application. Inspired by their grand vision and buoyed by their technical prowess, they dived headfirst into development, fueled by the belief that their genius would be enough to carry them through.
Their passion and dedication were admirable, but they overlooked a critical element — the voyage of Product Discovery. In their eagerness to create, they skipped the step that would have connected them intimately with their target users, their pain points, and the unique challenges they faced. Instead of charting a course through uncharted territories, they charged forward, banking solely on their assumptions about what the users needed.
As the project sailed forward, cracks began to appear on the ship they had hastily built. The application they envisioned didn't resonate with their audience as expected. User engagement was low, and frustration ran high as users struggled to find value in the offering. Features that seemed innovative on paper turned out to be confusing or irrelevant in practice. The team found themselves stuck in a whirlpool of rework, desperately trying to salvage a sinking ship.
The time they saved by skipping the discovery stage came back to haunt them in various ways. The user interface, which had been designed based on internal assumptions, clashed with user preferences and habits. Features were misaligned with real-world needs, resulting in a bloated application that provided little utility. Time and resources were squandered on building functionalities that failed to contribute meaningfully to the user experience.
The team soon realized that they had not only jeopardized their product's success but had also led to a permanently strained relationship with their target audience. Trust had eroded, and the reputation of their once-promising organization was now tarnished. The hard lessons learned during this tumultuous journey drove home the undeniable importance of Product Discovery — a phase designed to illuminate the path ahead, mitigate risks, and ensure that every effort expended is purposeful and impactful.
In the world of product development, where innovation is the compass and user satisfaction the destination, the role of Product Discovery stands tall as the guiding star. The story of this ill-fated product serves as a reminder of the indispensable role played by the Discovery stage towards the fate of a product. It is a tale that underscores the necessity of intimately understanding users and their needs before embarking on the creative process.
Join us as we delve deeper into the realm of Product Discovery and share tips around the type of questions to ask to uncover real user pain points ensuring that the product is well-prepared for the uncharted waters ahead.
Why is it important: The biggest mistake that you can make as a product manager is spending too little time understanding the problem and heading directly into the solutioning stage. This question helps identify the gaps and pain points that users are experiencing. It forms the foundation for tailoring your solution to real user needs. What you should be looking for: Specific challenges and problems users are facing within the product category. In terms of ‘jobs to be done’, try to understand the underlying jobs that the users would hire your product to do.
Why is it important: Understanding current solutions reveals user behavior and their preferences, shedding light on areas where existing solutions fall short or where your product can offer a more efficient and effective alternative.
What you should be looking for: The workarounds, methods, or other tools users are using to address their challenges. Identify the products that the users currently use to do those jobs. These could be from entirely different industries altogether (e.g. Coffee and Kale).
Why is it important: This question helps prioritize features based on user preferences, ensuring that the product's development aligns with the most critical user needs, and that you're not wasting resources on less important features.
What you should be looking for: Specific functionalities or capabilities that users consider essential for addressing their pain points.
Why is it important: Understanding users' success criteria allows you to align your product's north star with what truly matters to your target audience. It guides the product development in the right direction and helps with prioritization.
What you should be looking for: Clarity on the outcomes and goals users expect to achieve by using the product.
Why is it important: Knowing how widespread the problem is can provide insights into the market demand for your product. It also helps validate the problem's significance and the potential for user adoption.
What you should be looking for: An estimate of the problem's prevalence in the user’s personal or professional circle. Try to understand the personas / roles of the people facing the same issue. For example, if a person is facing a problem in a professional setting, having an understanding of the hierarchy of other people facing the same issue (peers, managers, reportees, C-level layer etc) would help you understand the scale of the problem and also help build a targeted persona for your primary user.
Why is it important: Is your product going to be a vitamin or a pain killer? As a product manager, it is important to understand the stark difference between what the customers want vs what they would be willing to pay for. This question will help answer the million dollar question of whether it is even worth it to build the product in the first place.
This question would also help differentiate the primary user vs the buyer of your product and give you an opportunity to understand the needs of both.
What you should be looking for: Understanding of the perceived value and pricing expectations users have for a solution.
Considering the professional setting example from above, would they be able to get funding from the top management to solve this problem? Who would be paying for this?
[for existing products only]
Why is it important: Many times, you would be actually surprised by how the customers build unique use-cases for your product. There is a famous story of Nitto Denko, a Japanese manufacturer of electrical insulation tapes. They saw a sudden uptake in sales in South Asian countries amongst the younger audience, which was never meant to be their intended audience. Upon further investigation, they found that a user segment in these countries had found use of their insulation tapes over the tennis balls used in Cricket.
What you should be looking for: Insights into the user's interaction with the product, including usage patterns, behaviors and workarounds to address frictions in the product. If possible, try to monitor the users using your product in a live environment.
Why is it important: This question uncovers unmet needs and potential opportunities for innovation, ensuring that your product evolves to meet user expectations more comprehensively. It will also give you an opportunity to compare with other products that the user might be using.
What you should be looking for: Look for any other similar problems in their lives that might be aligned with your vision. It is important to note that the users will always give you a laundry list of requirements. You do not have to build anything that doesn’t align with your product vision and strategy, but it is still important to grasp everything they mention without getting overwhelmed.
[for existing products only]
Why is it important: This question is often used to calculate the Net Promoter Score for your product and serves as a nice and quick measure of user satisfaction and likelihood to promote the product.
The Net Promoter Score (NPS) provides an indicator of user loyalty and satisfaction. High NPS scores suggest a strong product-market fit and potential for organic growth. Low NPS scores indicate a low potential for organic growth and suggest more work to be done to achieve product-market fit before heading into the growth phase.
What you should be looking for: An answer on the scale of 1-10. If possible, try to explore the reasons behind the answer as well.
They say there are no stupid questions, but during a discovery call, there most certainly are. You have to be extremely cautious of your customer’s time and prepare your questions in advance.
It is important to involve other key stakeholders from cross-functional teams in the product discovery process. By including diverse perspectives, product managers can gather comprehensive insights and ensure buy-in from all relevant parties.
In order to get the most out of the discovery cycle, PMs must avoid leading the users by presenting their own opinions or including parts of the answer in the question itself. It is often very tempting to get Yes/No answers when you want a decision to be made. However, it is important to focus on open-ended questions to encourage in-depth answers. This allows users to provide valuable insights and ideas which you will most definitely miss with Yes/No answers.
Whenever you see there is more information that can be extracted, use follow-up questions to clarify and dig deeper. Use the "5 Whys" technique which can be valuable in understanding the underlying reasons behind certain responses.
Most importantly, do not go into a discovery call with a preconceived notion about the problem. Product discovery is an iterative process, and being receptive to new insights and feedback is crucial for success. Stay flexible and open to pivoting based on new information.