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Product Discovery – Fill The Product Gaps for Your Startup

March 22, 2024

‘Product Discovery’ – possibly the most thrown around term in the Product world. In short, it means to carry out a set of tasks to better understand the vision behind the product that requires development.

In long, it can mean a lot of different things depending on who you are and what you are trying to build. But for how I do things (a contractor’s perspective):
Discovery involves exploring the uncertainty behind your idea
Exploring the problems you can solve with your product
Figuring out the right solutions for your audience
Analyzing all the aspects for the market
Exploring visions and goals that drive your business
Documenting everything that will lead you to execution – faster.

So then, the most common question founders have is, why the heck would I need a discovery session?
My basic breakdown for that question always is:

Product management is all about working at the fronts of Ideation, Planning, Design, Development, and Launch of your Product or Business idea.
Diving one step further, every one of these stages has an important part that is usually led by the Product person. That one critical thing in my humble opinion is:

For Ideation its Discovery and Market Research
For Planning its Prioritization & Documentation
For Design its UI/UX Mapping of Features
For Development its Build Process & Project Management
For Launch and beyond its working on Go To Market and Continuous Discovery

I plan to detail all of these out in future articles, but for today, we will take a look into conducting effective Product Discoveries.

The Breakdown of Product Discovery

Discovery efforts can be divided into two stages – exploration (of the problem) and validation (of the solution).

Depending on your product, both or one might be the important aspect to focus on. The main outcome you are looking for after a discovery engagement is to find out the following:

– A deep understanding of what your users require
– Understanding how the business will integrate into your product
– Working on the Product ecosystem understanding
– Basic understanding of what tech to use and how to get to launch
– And in case of offering it as a service – getting on the same page and making sure you (my client) understand everything laid out in the outcome of the discovery service.

Table of contents

My Process of Carrying Out a Product Discovery Session

As a partner working for you, the validation stage only happens once we can have a complete understanding of the exploration phase. For purposes of this article I will go over my process when conducting a discovery session for an end to end engagement.

We start, first and foremost, with a kickoff call. The outcome of this call is for me to ask questions laid out in my framework to get a basic understanding of the idea you are working with.

Typically questions will involve subject areas such as: 

  • Can you explain the business aims, vision and goals in a summary?
    • To test how well you have your plans laid out.
  • What are the key categories of users for your product?
    • To understand any existing research you might have done.
  • Who are your main competitors?
    • To understand the market you are trying to launch in.
  • What kind of team setup do you currently have?
    • To understand the dynamics of my role as a contractor in your organization.
  • What are some of the pain points you are trying to solve?
    • It’s all about problems and solutions, this is to see if you have them in writing.

Once the kickoff call concludes, I will send over a detailed summary and next steps – that usually entail

  1. Filling out a discovery questionnaire.
  2. Requesting access to all existing documentation and information.
  3. 2X-4X discovery workshops, covering:
    1. Product & Business understanding.
    2. Product Market Fit Foundations.
    3. User Segmentation and Experience Mapping.
    4. Execution Strategy.

Execution Focused Product Discovery Workshop Structure

With the details having been laid out in my prior communications to you, we get to conduct the workshops. The bread and butter behind my process, refined over working with 20+ startup founders.

Phase 1: Product – Business Understanding

The purpose of this stage of the workshop is to get a better idea behind the business that will be running the product. Having a general idea of the vision and value you bring to the table with your business is effective to any product success.

In the workshop we will go over what is the high level vision for your business, what problems you are setting out to solve with your product, and what the solution might look like for the market.

Standard agenda:

  1. Business Vision and Goals
    1. Writing down the long term and short term goals of the business in your words.
    2. Identifying specific aims, risks, challenges, and success metrics the business the performance of the business will be based on.
  2. Product Value and Unique Selling Proposition
    1. Working on what makes your business and your product unique.
    2. Discussing market differentiating features and how to present them.
    3. Listing out the core values the business wants to stand behind.
  3. Problem and Solution Statements
    1. Listing down problems are being solved with the product.
    2. Discussing how we solve pain points with the features of the product.

Phase 2: Product Market Fit Foundations

Eventually, a Product Market Fit is the goal for every product out there. This stage of the workshop deals with setting the right foundation for your product in regards to the market. As your product evolves, a lot will change, features might get added or removed, design will change, priorities will change – but what must remain the same is your larger vision. Understanding the market is the key behind getting off the right foot.

With the right team, anything can be built
With the right product, anything can be sold
AND With the right market, anything is successful

Standard agenda:

  1. Understanding the Competition
    1. Listing the main competitors and the key takeaways for their product.
    2. Listing the indirect or secondary competitors (if available) and the key takeaways for their offering.
    3. Doing the one thing check – One thing you definitely want to adopt, One thing you never want to adopt, One thing you want to do differently.
  2. SWOT Analysis and Pitch
    1. Discussing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in the market for the product. 
    2. Brainstorming an elevator pitch for your product based on the framework For, Who, Our, Provides, Unlike, Product definition.
  3. Market Differentiation and Product Positioning
    1. Discussing the general complexities of the market you are trying to break in.
    2. Working on messaging strategies to differentiate in the market.
    3. Noting down positioning and differentiation synergies to stand out from the competition.

Phase 3: User Segmentation and Experience Mapping

Having a good user experience makes or breaks a product. And hence it is next on the list. In this session we make sure we have a good understanding of our audience, what their needs and wants are, and how we can possibly map the solution out to match their expectations.

Standard agenda:

  1. Understanding User Groups
    1. Segmenting out the various user groups your product has.
    2. Defining the demography, habits, tech savviness and any existing feedback.
  2. Understanding User Pain Points
    1. Listing out all pain points for the various user groups from a problem standpoint.
    2. Detailing out any and all frustrations with the current tech available in the space.
  3. User Journey Mapping
    1. Planning possible journey flows for the various user groups from discovering your product to learning how to use it.
    2. Linking out the opportunities with the pain points previously detailed.

Phase 4: Execution Strategy

Last but not least, having gone through all the phases for the discovery – the last part is to discuss execution. All planning without action – is a failure of execution. In this session we will go over the resources, technologies, team requirements, for the next 90 days of your Product.

Standard agenda:

  1. Tech Stack Overview and Ecosystem Understanding.
    1. Mapping the ecosystem for the various platforms and channels.
    2. Identifying internal and external factors for user interaction.
    3. Tech stack suggestions for the path ahead.
  2. Resource Planning
    1. Team requirements for execution and delivery.
    2. Resources required to get to GTM.
    3. Listing primary and secondary high level objectives.
  3. Feature Mapping & MVP Draft
    1. Feature mapping in terms of priority of must have, should have, and could have. 
    2. Assessing risk based with features required to be developed.
    3. High level MVP discussion.

Deliverables of a Product Discovery Session

Depending on what level of service you opt for, the outcome of the workshops will be a detailed Discovery Findings document. The purpose of this document will be the synthesis of the Discovery Workshops and analysis of all the discussions that took place prior. 

The document will aim to give a clear direction for the next steps ahead. Along with a clearer understanding of the short term and long term product and business goals. Lastly, this document will serve as your one source of truth for your future reference.

Once the discovery document is ready, I will send it over along one last call to review all the findings.
Below is a summary of what you should expect as a deliverable for each of the phases of Product Discovery:

Business Vision and Product Space Evaluation

This section of the report will largely go over all the pertaining information when it comes to the following key areas:

  • Major issues faced by the current market
  • Solutions that can possibly solve the challenges with existing products
  • Unique selling propositions that will make the product stand out
  • All the associated risks with a product in the specific problem space
  • Values the business behind the product should stand for

These outcomes will help you work on the larger direction of your business while you are building the app. Findings like the USP, values, and risks will help you cater your messaging in your marketing and sales collateral. A deeper understanding of the problem and solution space will help you be clear on what needs to be done in order to meet the expectations of your users.

According to Marty Cagan, Founder at SVPG, We have always had, and likely always will have, two essential problems in software: we need to figure out the right product, and then we have to build the product right.

Competitor Analysis and Market Understanding

As mentioned before, launching in the right market is critical when aiming to reach a PMF as fast as possible. This section of the discovery document goes over what you need to look out for in terms of your competitors. And how to position yourself for success in the market.

Quick tidbit before we get into it – did you know market differentiation and product positioning are not the same thing?

Ah yes, semantics! – but it can be important.

Basically it’s a perspective difference – 
Product positioning involves shaping how potential consumers perceive a product.
Market differentiation, or product differentiation, occurs when a company employs strategies to demonstrate why its product features surpass those of competitors.

That being said, here is what to expect for these deliverables:

  • Details for your direct, indirect, and/or secondary competitors
  • Key takeaways on what you should adopt
  • Strategic input on gaps in the market
  • Market trends summary for your product
  • SWOT analysis to consider for your product
  • Samples pitches to draw inspiration from

These deliverables will help you gauge the current status of the market and allow you to prioritize progress based on learnings rather than guess work. Things like the SWOT analysis and the elevator pitch will unlock new ways to position yourself in the market. Whereas the competitor analysis and the identified gaps can help you look further into new opportunities as the product grows.

User Experience Documentation

Here’s a fun question – what comes first? Having Users or Having a Product?

Chicken and egg really. This is probably where you need someone with decades in the industry to help you out. The most important factor when discovering a product.

Mapping out the users for your eventual product is much like forecasting the price of Tesla stock. Will shoot up? dive down? Your guess is as good as mine. But when it comes to mapping out the user experience – I am your guy.

Fail jokes aside, it’s not all guess work. We have the technology (says in Patrick’s voice) to figure out to a pretty good extent what you should be building for. 

How you say?

By using time tested frameworks, data, tools and over a decade of experience I have delivering products for the right users. This deliverable will help you:

  • Segment all your users based on needs
  • Document what expected journeys users will take
  • Highlight all the pain points to look out for when solving problems
  • Additional opportunities to consider down the road
  • Understanding at a high level, what behaviors to optimize your product for

Having this done for you means you will never have to rely on a guess to remember WHO you are building your business and product for. The customer is always right – in matters of taste – so you better serve what has an appetite.

Detailed Execution Roadmap

Now we get to the exciting part – putting everything in a plan for execution. A design plan, a development roadmap, a SRS, a PRD, a SOW – many names this has. But the goal is simple, you should know what to do next.

In this case, one size DOES NOT fit all. The execution plan is always tailored to the resources we have, the budget we have, how much time we have, so on – so forth.

This part of the discovery document entails everything that should end in action and in what order to act upon it. Expect the contents to go over information like:

  • List of modules that the product should have
  • Features that are high priority vs high risk
  • What should be the general team responsibilities – including yours
  • Drafting out the structure for the MVP
  • Overview of the GTM aspects for your product

With all the phases combined, you will now have unlocked an holistic approach towards developing your product in the near future.

“I already have an MVP ready to ship” – Why would I need Product Discovery?

See, the reason this article exists is to give you an inside look into the world of Product Discovery. For what you should have seen so far, the discovery is an exercise in exploration and validation.

No matter what stage you are at as a startup, the discovery can still apply to you. I have done product discoveries for products from scratch, for refreshes, for V2s, the list goes on.

Simply put – Product Discovery is the journey that will help you get to a destination. 

If you are reading this as a founder, tell me you haven’t had second guesses on what you are doing. You feel someone should be validating your concerns. You feel aimless with nowhere to turn.

All these pain points are meant to be solved by having a product discovery engagement.

Which finally gets us to:

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Should You Consider a Product Discovery Engagement for Your Startup

The way how I conduct this engagement is based on what you really need. I don’t plan, or even like charging for unnecessary ‘services’ so to say. Depending on our initial kickoff call, I will determine what level of service you should consider and what you should set aside for now.

In addition to that, we only do the phases that are absolutely necessary and skip over what might already be clear or needs no improvements.

Do this quick exercise, see the list of questions below, and if all are Yes – then perhaps you don’t need more to be discovered. Get right to execution. But if you’re being honest, and have doubts with any one of them – you need one. Now or later.

  1. Do you clearly understand at least 3 core problems you are trying to solve?
  2. Do you have detailed solutions for all of the problems listed above?
  3. Do you understand who you are solving the problems for?
  4. Do you understand your users’ needs and what is being met by the market?
  5. Do you have evidence of having worked out your unique selling proposition? Is it just unique? Or is it also useful?
  6. Do you know what kind of resources are required to execute on your vision?
  7. Do you understand the importance of having a clear vision and consistent values throughout your business and product offering?
  8. Do you have evidence that your product will be usable?
  9. Do you know how to prioritize between desired features, viable features, and feasible features?
  10. Lastly, do you know how you will measure success for your product?

With that, good luck finding your fit in the market.

With or without my help – I wish you the best.

As your business matures, you need someone to come in and offer diverse help

  • You need someone who knows enough to “execute faster”
  • You need someone who “gets the job done”
  • You need someone who adapts to “how you work”

I am your best bet for quicker results.
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