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Product discovery, why even bother?

Why should you invest time, effort, and money into something seemingly so elusive? In the end, everyone judges the outcome, so moving fast to delivery is a way to go for most. 

Even though customer centricity has become a nagging buzzword (a while ago), too many product teams still practice YOLO-product delivery. Some succeed (statistics and luck), but most fail, at least partially. 

And you know what, a little product discovery never hurt nobody.  

Product discovery aims to decide what you should build, while product delivery is all about building it. Although they seem inseparable, there is still a visible imbalance between the priority each of them is given—in favor of delivery, of course. 

Read on to see how continuous discovery can be a powerful tool in minimizing product failures, finding the real friction points, prioritizing the right features, and saving you bags of money on development.

Table of contents

What is product discovery?

Product discovery aims to uncover what you should build and validate your product ideas by including your users’ perspectives throughout the process. Importantly, all this takes place before anything gets built. 

Product discovery is a concept strongly promoted by Marty Cagan, founder of Silicon Valley Product Group. In his own words:

“The purpose of product discovery is to address these critical risks:
Will the customer buy this or choose to use it? (Value risk)
Can the user figure out how to use it? (Usability risk)
Can we build it? (Feasibility risk)
Does this solution work for our business? (Business viability risk)”

Marty Cagan, "INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love – 2nd Edition"

A point we keep on repeating: digital products are never finished, and so is the process. Continuous product discovery is a framework for habitually using customer insights during consecutive product iterations. 

As Teresa Torres, the author of “Continuous Habits Discovery,” puts it, continuous discovery is

“At a minimum, weekly touchpoints with customers
By a team building the product
Where they can conduct small research activities
In pursuit of a desired outcome”

Yes, it means regular customer catchups to discuss your product, validate ideas, and test hypotheses. You can do it in a variety of ways, such as regular customer interviews, product analysis, usability tests, or online surveys. 

No matter the technique, the core lies in making it a regular part of your product team tasks. 

How is continuous product discovery different from project-based discovery?

Project-based discovery is a finite process. You need to get from point A to B, where A can be a feature request from one of your stakeholders and point B is releasing this feature. Rings a bell? 

Using this process doesn’t mean you don’t do user research—you still might run user interviews or surveys for the research deck. The problem lies in the fact we focus on the solution and not the problem underneath. This makes it a closed cycle instead of iterating on an infinite loop of customer feedback proposed by a continuous product discovery framework. 

Companies often approach discovery in a very project-led manner. They have an idea and usually go quite far, including validating it is good through surveys or interviews. This includes several biases because they've already committed a lot to one idea, and therefore, it's difficult to sort of rule that back. What usually happens next is people validating whatever the result is and interpreting the data in a way that tends to validate their initial idea.

Sandrine Veillet, VP Product, Medscape

How can continuous discovery benefit your product development process?

It will save you money

Let’s start with the tangible biggie. Rebalancing the effort between discovery and delivery will eventually reduce your expenses. It’s common sense. The better you pinpoint the opportunities, so the customer pain points, needs, and desires, the better your product will align with them. Your development team will spend less time bringing it live, and in their case—time is money. 

There is also less space for failure regarding critical risks (value, usability, feasibility, and business) as you validate your assumptions before anything is actually built.

It will help to build features that matter

The continuous discovery habits enroot your customers at the center of your process, so you never lose them from sight. On the other hand, they also keep you grounded with your desired business outcome.

By aligning your business value with customer needs, you step on the path of a meaningful product development journey. Focusing on outcomes, not outputs, will give your teams the flexibility to reach the best solution, not fixating on one just because someone said it was the best one.

It will cut down the guesswork in product development

The more your product team knows about customers, the more confidence they have in how to shape your digital product. The customer-centric approach goes a long way in designing a product roadmap that simply works with product outcomes that stick.

The continuous mindset and diligent interviewing of your customer base will reveal patterns, or opportunity space, that will ease the risk levels of your product managers.

Product discovery process

Let's examine the typical steps of product discovery. The main goal is to gain a deeper understanding of your customers in order to design a product that will accommodate the business outcomes we expect while bringing superb value to your customers.

With continuous discovery, you aim to make this process routine throughout the product lifecycle.

Discover and understand

Start by diving deep into your users' needs and pain points. Approach this phase with curiosity to uncover users' real problems, needs, and desires. Conduct thorough research using customer interviews, user surveys, competitor analysis, and product analytics. The goal is to gather as much relevant information as possible without bias.

Define and decide

Next, refine the feedback you’ve collected into user stories, identifying the most recurrent issues. Use the five ‘whys’ technique to drill down to the root cause of each problem. This will help you form a well-defined hypothesis about what your product should address.

Ideate and prioritize

Gather your team to brainstorm and refine potential solutions. Employ prioritization techniques to decide what to tackle first. Engage with users to get their input on how the product should look, its pricing, and whether they would actually use it. This step ensures that the solutions you’re considering are both feasible and desirable.

Prototype and test

Develop a wireframe, prototype, or minimum viable product (MVP) to share with potential users. Conduct usability tests to gather actionable insights. Use this feedback to iterate and improve your product. The goal is to validate your ideas and ensure that the product effectively meets user needs.

By following these steps, you can systematically discover and address user needs, leading to a more successful product.

Getting started with the continuous discovery

Assemble the product trio

No great adventure can start without an apt team. You may not need a whole fellowship of the ring to run continuous discovery, but you need to build your product trio(s).

Marty Cagan first introduced the concept of having a Product Manager, Designer, and Software Engineer together during customer interviews. However, Teresa Torres, founder of Product Talk and a renowned product discovery coach, developed it and made it non-negotiable for continuous discovery.

Positions that form the product trio can be tweaked—it can be a design lead or tech lead, for example. Other members of the product teams might contribute to those trios as well. Nonetheless, this is the basic setup.

Even though each product trio member brings expertise to deal with potential risks, Teresa Torres argues that they should be responsible and accountable for all of them, so again, business viability, customer value, usability, feasibility, and ethical risks. Such an arrangement opens to dialogue instead of fighting for their own rights, for example, pushing certain technological solutions to combat the feasibility risk without taking consideration of usability.

Product trios perform research together to discover opportunities (customer problems, needs, and desires), generate assumptions, and finally test them.

Align your team's mindset

You can have the best product team and cutting-edge tools, but you won't get far in the continuous discovery process without the right mindset.

💎 First, stop focusing on outputs and start thinking in outcomes. Outputs confine product teams to a fixed way of thinking, usually coming from the business stakeholders. "We need feature X by the end of Y"—no pressure, of course.

A clear outcome shifts the weight to finding the best solution for your customers and business instead of pushing for a fast delivery. This way, you stay flexible and ready to throw away (some of your) ideas to reach the best one.

💎 Prioritize the customer-centric approach. Ultimately, you create products to satisfy customer needs; otherwise, they just won't stick.

💎 One of the fundaments of continuous product discovery is its collaborative nature. It starts with the product trios, but it goes beyond that. Continuous discovery activities require putting the product over teams' silos. By doing so, you'll empower product teams to surpass their basic responsibilities into a synergic effort to leverage their knowledge and expertise best.

💎 Torres also encourages product teams to go visual and physically map the opportunity space as a helpful method of involving spatial reasoning in the process. A particularly useful tool is the opportunity solution tree, which maps the desired outcome, standing for how your team can create business value, along with opportunities—customer needs, desires, and challenges—that, when addressed, will lead to the given business outcome.

💎 Along with that, teams should work as scientists—gather evidence and identify underlying assumptions.

💎 And now, for the wrap-up, the continuous mindset. It binds all of the other aspects in a process of continuous learning and iterating to achieve customer and business value simultaneously. Your teams have to internalize the fact that a continuous product discovery process is not an A to Z project but an endless iteration that will repetitively bring new answers but also new questions.

Continuous discovery research methods

You've got the team, their continuous mindset's settled down—let's bring out the research methods because continuous discovery offers plenty to choose from

Customer interviews

Customer interviews are the core of Torres' framework, "at a minimum, weekly touchpoints with customers"—they even made it to the continuous discovery definition. The thing is, you don't want to ask them for a solution.

"If I asked customers what they wanted, they would've said 'a faster horse!'"

Henry Ford

You want to continuously explore customer needs, pain points, and desires—in Teresa Torres' words—"opportunities to intervene in our customers' lives in a positive way." In tiny bits, though. As per the repeated and continuous nature of these interviews (the weekly basis), you can limit them to discuss one particular aspect of your customers' experiences. What's important, it must be relevant to them.

"We use Survicate to recruit users for interviews. So we'll usually have like one question popping up on the site or on the app to ask users if they would be okay to spend 30 minutes with our product manager.

Sandrine Veillet, VP Product, Medscape

➡️ Read the whole Medscape's story

Medscape uses pop-up surveys to recruit for this kind of interviews. The short survey appears contextually, in a place that a product trio is currently researching, this way narrowing potential interviewees to those truly interested in that particular feature.

💡 Use them for ➡️ Discover and understand stage


They're a great method to source targeted research participants, but they're equally useful for conducting small research activities on a particular element of your digital journey. Contextual inquiries, such as in-app surveys will not overwhelm your users, and bring you a good volume of customer feedback.

💡 Use them for ➡️ Discover and understand stage

Email surveys

Sometimes, though, you may have more questions. As you do not want to disrupt the user experience, you can pivot to a middle ground between a microsurvey and a customer interview—an email survey.

It gives you an opportunity to dive deeper into your customers' thoughts, asking more thorough questions, but also for assumption testing with unmoderated tests.

Medscape used Survicate email surveys to test their risky assumptions on translating its medical monograph repository.

“We translated one of those condition monographs and recruited users for a survey to understand if the content could stay as it was—a pure translation, but with the right disclaimers.”

Sandrine Veillet, VP Product, Medscape

It helped the product team to quickly make a decision, disproving their initial doubts and validating the most cost-effective assumption.

💡 Use them for ➡️ Discover and understand, define and decide stages

Product analytics

Product analysis is a powerful reference of how your customers navigate the product, and including a regular checkup of your product analytics tools will give you the big-picture context for your continuous discovery process.

Before you dive in, set up the goals and customer engagement metrics that reflect your users' behavior and your product initiatives. Democratize access to tools, and make it into a routine to analyze trends and changes.

💡 Use them for ➡️ All product discovery stages

Usability testing
If you want to learn how your customers evaluate your product in terms of ease of use, go for usability testing. The same goes for your website's navigation, for the record. It's a great way to gather insights (including negative feedback) on different scenarios or versions, and it can show you how users interact with a product or feature.

💡 Use them for ➡️ Prototype and test stage

Employ surveys in your continuous discovery process

One of the most important principles of continuous discovery is to learn fast. Small research activities like in-app surveys can help you discover opportunities and validate assumptions quickly. And that's important when you work on several of them every week.

Feedback collection through surveys triggered at a specific moment will rapidly test the positions in your opportunity solution tree, providing continuous customer input necessary for this framework. Surveys will not substitute interviews, but they will help you draw a better picture for your decision-making process.

So, why not give Survicate a try and test it in action? Our 10-day free trial gives you access to all Business Plan features. Sign up now!