Product discovery

The iterative process of truly understanding your target users' needs to deliver software applications they love.

Last updated: May 7, 2024

What is product discovery?

Product discovery is the iterative process of understanding your target audience’s needs, challenges, and desires to inform the development of successful software products. It’s about going beyond assumptions and validating your product ideas through continuous research and experimentation.

Think of product discovery as a treasure hunt where you’re constantly seeking insights about your users to unearth the “gold”—and then deliver features and solutions that truly resonate with them.

Why is product discovery important?

It’s a sad (and expensive) fact that 80% of software products are rarely or never used, translating to a whopping $29.5 billion wasted in R&D spending each year. Getting product discovery right is crucial for building software that resonates with your users. If you don’t, you’re throwing money out the window, not to mention failing to achieve your business goals.

It’s common sense that if you simply listen to users, they’ll “tell you” what to build. However, there’s nothing simple about it. The big challenge for product teams has been to collect, mine, and act on what, how, and when users provide feedback in a timely manner. Just obtaining useful input can seem a painful (and thankless) chore. Questionnaires, meetings, focus groups—there must be something more efficient! Then, once you finally get the user feedback, how do you efficiently utilize it before user sentiments shift again and render it obsolete?

Here are a few benefits of product discovery that make every minute and every dollar you spend worth it:

  • Reduces wasted resources: By identifying real user needs early on, you avoid investing time and money into features nobody wants.
  • Increases user adoption and satisfaction: Products built around validated user needs are more likely to be adopted, used regularly, and deliver a positive user experience.
  • Boosts innovation: Product discovery helps you uncover hidden opportunities and unlock new avenues for product development.
  • Improves competitive advantage: Understanding your users better than competitors allows you to create differentiated products that stand out in the market.

Where does product discovery fit in the product lifecycle?

Product discovery shouldn’t be a one-time event. It must be an ongoing process throughout the entire product lifecycle to be effective. Here’s a breakdown of how it integrates with different product lifecycle stages:

  • Ideation: Product discovery helps you identify user problems and opportunities to inform your initial product ideas.
  • Prioritization: Through user research, you can prioritize features based on their potential impact on users and your business goals.
  • Development: Product discovery findings guide and help refine the development process, ensuring you build your product with user needs in mind.
  • Launch and beyond: Product discovery should continue through user feedback and usage data analysis even after launch. This ongoing process helps refine your product and keep it relevant over time.

How is product discovery different from traditional product development?

Traditional product development often relies on the intuition and internal assumptions of product managers and their teams. Product discovery flips the script, focusing on user research throughout the process. Instead of building products in a silo, you rely on continuous and current user input before, during, and after development. 

Product discovery ensures you’re building what users actually need, not features gathering dust because someone “thought they knew” what users wanted. It achieves this through:

  • User-centric research: Understanding user needs through interviews, testing, and data analysis.
  • Continuous feedback: Gathering user input throughout the entire development lifecycle, not just at the beginning.
  • Data-driven decisions: Validating features with user research and experimentation.
  • Flexibility: Adapting the product roadmap based on ongoing user feedback.

This user-centric approach minimizes development risk and leads to products with better market fit and, thus, happier users.

What are some pitfalls of skipping product discovery?

Skipping product discovery can lead to several costly mistakes:

  • Building features nobody wants: Without user research, you risk developing features that solve non-existent problems or don’t resonate with your target audience.
  • Poor user experience: Products built without user input often have clunky interfaces and functionalities that frustrate rather than encourage or even delight users.
  • Wasted resources: Investing time and money into features that ultimately fail is a recipe for financial strain.
  • Missed opportunities: Focusing on internal assumptions can close your eyes to valuable opportunities to innovate and meet unmet user needs.

What are some common approaches to product discovery?

Here are some typical approaches to product discovery:

  • User interviews: Conduct in-depth conversations with target users to gain qualitative insights into their needs, behaviors, and pain points.
  • Usability testing: Observe users interacting with your product prototype or existing software to identify usability issues and areas for improvement.
  • A/B testing: Experiment with different versions of features or designs to see which ones resonate best with users and deliver the most desired outcomes.
  • User journey mapping: Visually map out the steps users take to achieve specific goals within your product, helping you identify potential roadblocks and opportunities for optimization.
  • Data analysis: Analyze user behavior data (e.g., clickstream data, usage data) to understand how users interact with your product and identify patterns.

Each of these approaches can benefit from product discovery tools that allow and encourage direct user feedback from right within the app, not to mention tracking and analyzing user behavior to identify where users are having trouble.

How is product discovery different than UX design?

While both disciplines are user-focused, there are some key distinctions:

  • Focus: Product discovery focuses on understanding user needs and validating product concepts, while UX design translates those needs into an intuitive and user-friendly interface.
  • Stage: Product discovery typically happens earlier in the product development process, while UX design often takes place during the development and refinement stages.
  • Deliverables: Product discovery might deliver user personas, problem statements, and prioritized feature lists, while UX design deliverables could include wireframes, prototypes, and usability testing reports.

What is critical is that UX design does not proceed on mere assumptions before product discovery is underway to validate (or challenge) those assumptions.

What are the key elements of effective product discovery?

Here are some core tenets of successful product discovery:

  • User empathy: Cultivating a deep understanding of your users’ needs, motivations, and frustrations is crucial. Imagine yourself in their shoes and see the world through their eyes.
  • Continuous learning: Product discovery is an iterative, continuous process. (Beware: Many product teams make the mistake of assuming “once-and-done” user input is sufficient.) Be prepared to learn from your research, adapt your approach, and continuously refine your understanding of user needs.
  • Collaboration: Effective product discovery requires collaboration across different teams: product managers, designers, developers, and user researchers.
  • Prioritization: With a wealth of user insights, you’ll need to prioritize which problems to solve and features to build based on their potential impact and feasibility.
  • Metrics and OKRs (Objectives and Key Results): Define clear metrics aligned with your product goals to measure the success of your product discovery efforts.

What is continuous product discovery, and why is it important?

Unlike one-time product discovery focusing on research before development starts, continuous discovery integrates user research and data analysis throughout the product lifecycle. This iterative approach ensures your product stays relevant, adapts to changing user needs, and identifies ongoing improvement opportunities.

Benefits include reduced development risk, increased user satisfaction, improved product-market fit, and greater innovation. Think of continuous product discovery as a constant feedback loop that keeps you user-focused and drives better product decisions.

How can I implement continuous product discovery?

Unlike one-time product discovery that relies primarily on user research and input before commencing development, here are some steps to get started with continuous product discovery:

  1. Establish a user research plan: Define your research goals, target audience, and preferred methodologies (e.g., user interviews, surveys).
  2. Integrate user research into your workflow: Schedule regular user research sessions throughout the product development lifecycle.
  3. Collect and analyze user data: Utilize user feedback tools, website analytics, and in-app data to gather valuable insights. Consider using a product discovery platform like Pendo Listen to streamline this process.
  4. Prioritize and iterate: Based on your research findings, prioritize features and iterate on your product based on user feedback.
  5. Communicate and collaborate: Share user research insights with stakeholders and foster collaboration across different teams.

What are some real-world examples of poor product discovery?

We won’t name any names, but you can imagine (and may have even experienced) situations like the following when companies—large and small—aren’t thorough in their product discovery efforts.

  • A social media platform launches a new feature based on internal assumptions about user behavior, only to find that users dislike the intrusive nature of the feature and engagement plummets.
  • The product manager of a well-known productivity app overlooks user research indicating a need for mobile accessibility, resulting in a clunky and frustrating mobile experience that alienates a significant portion of the target audience.
  • A music streaming service prioritizes flashy new features over core functionalities and the ease of use desired by its subscribers, leading to user frustration and churn.

What are some examples of effective product discovery?

Conversely, instead of delivering software apps that miss the mark, these examples show what effective product discovery can accomplish.

  • The dev team of a fitness app conducts user interviews and A/B tests to understand user preferences for workout routines. Based on the findings, they develop a personalized workout recommendation feature that significantly boosts user engagement.
  • An e-commerce platform team prioritizes user research to identify pain points in the checkout process. They implement a streamlined, frictionless checkout flow based on user feedback, leading to increased conversion rates.
  • A travel booking app leverages user data to identify popular travel destinations and user preferences. They use this information to develop targeted recommendations and personalized search filters, enhancing the user experience and driving bookings.

Imagine what these and other product teams could accomplish if they leveraged an integrated user experience platform like Pendo and the user feedback tools, website analytics, and in-app data included with Pendo Listen. 

Why is product discovery especially critical for software products?

While product discovery applies to all product types, it can be even more critical for building software solutions than physical products. When developing software apps, user research takes on added significance due to several factors:

  • Rapid evolution and adaptation: Software user needs and technology trends shift rapidly. Continuous product discovery is critical to ensure your software stays relevant and solves users’ evolving problems.
  • Focus on user experience (UX): Software products live and die by their user experience. User research through product discovery helps you design intuitive and user-friendly software. Users want software to feel like an extension of themselves, not a frustrating puzzle to solve.
  • Data-driven insights: Software platforms generate valuable user data on behavior, preferences, and pain points. Product discovery leverages this data to inform product decisions and measure user behavior with high accuracy.

How can I improve my product discovery process?

Here are some tips to refine your product discovery process:

  • Clearly define your target audience: Who are you building your product for? Understanding your user personas is crucial for effective research.
  • Utilize a mix of research methods: Don’t rely solely on surveys or interviews. Combine quantitative and qualitative data collection methods to gain a well-rounded perspective.
  • Focus on actionable insights: Don’t get bogged down in data. Translate your research findings into actionable insights that guide product development decisions.
  • Involve stakeholders: Keep stakeholders informed about user research findings and ensure everyone is aligned on product goals.
  • Embrace a culture of experimentation: Be willing to test your assumptions and iterate based on user feedback.

Perhaps most importantly, leverage a comprehensive user experience platform like Pendo with Pendo Listen. Pendo Listen contains features that help teams build a continuous discovery process. Listen enables you to use the insights generated from feedback to prioritize work with confidence, consistently, and at a massive scale. 

How can Pendo Listen help me with product discovery?

Pendo Listen empowers you to implement a continuous product discovery process for your software products, whether for consumers or internal users. It provides tools to streamline user research, analyze data, prioritize features, and ultimately build products users love. Pendo Listen allows you to:

  • Gather user feedback: Conduct user research directly within Pendo Listen. You can:
    • Create and launch user surveys to gather quantitative data on user preferences and pain points.
    • Facilitate in-app user interviews with features like screen sharing and note-taking to capture rich qualitative insights.
    • Set up A/B tests to experiment with design elements or feature variations and see which resonate best with users.
  • Analyze user behavior: Go beyond simple feedback collection. Pendo Listen offers robust analytics capabilities to understand how users interact with your software, including:
    • Session replays to allow you to observe user journeys firsthand and identify areas of confusion or frustration.
    • User actions tracking and clickstream data to understand user flows and identify potential drop-off points.
    • Utilize heatmaps to visualize user attention on specific areas of your software interface.
  • Link feedback to ideas: Pendo Listen helps you bridge the gap between user feedback and actionable product ideas. You can centrally manage both user feedback and product ideas within the platform. This allows you to easily link specific feedback items to relevant ideas, helping you see the “why” behind an idea and ensure it’s genuinely addressing user needs.
  • Prioritize features: Don’t get overwhelmed by too many ideas at once. Pendo Listen helps you prioritize features based on user research data. You can analyze the sentiment and frequency of user feedback to understand which issues are most pressing for your users. Additionally, the platform allows you to consider each feature’s business impact and feasibility, enabling data-driven prioritization decisions.
  • Measure success: Track key metrics within Pendo Listen to monitor the impact of your product decisions and continuously refine your product strategy. For example, you can track user engagement metrics (e.g., time spent using a feature) to see if a new feature resonates with users.

In addition, Pendo Listen’s AI-powered features include machine learning to automate tasks and generate insights from your data. For instance, it can automatically categorize user feedback by theme or suggest relevant ideas to link to specific feedback items, saving you valuable time and effort.

Pendo Listen also fosters communication and collaboration between product managers, designers, and developers throughout the product development lifecycle. Everyone can access and share user research data within the platform, ensuring everyone is on the same page and working towards a user-centric product vision.

Can Pendo help me prioritize what goes in my next software release?

Pendo Listen is a suite of tools designed to help product teams implement a continuous discovery process. It goes beyond simple feedback collection and offers functionalities to analyze that feedback, prioritize solutions, and communicate plans with stakeholders. Here’s a breakdown of the core functionalities within Discover:

  • Feedback: This is where you gather and categorize all your customer data, including requests, NPS scores, usage data, and session replays. Pendo Listen utilizes AI to help you categorize and analyze this data, making it easier to identify trends.
  • Validate: Once you better understand user problems, Validate helps you prioritize solutions. You can use Validate to conduct in-app tests to present users with different options and gather their feedback to see which solutions resonate most.
  • Roadmaps: The Roadmaps feature helps you visually communicate product plans and priorities to stakeholders. You can use it to sequence initiatives, link them to relevant feedback and data, and create a clear roadmap for product development.

Where can I learn most about effective product discovery?

Continuous product discovery is critical for building successful, long-lived software applications and tools. Pendo Listen offers a comprehensive suite of tools to streamline this process and ensure your software is user-centric and delivers exceptional value. By combining user research, data analysis, and collaborative planning, Pendo Listen empowers product teams to build—and keep building—products that users love.

See how Pendo Listen helps you optimize your product discovery process.

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