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Countless brilliant minds around the world start companies with the vision to turn their ideas into tangible and profitable products. Recently, together with our Global Innovation Partner Rootquotient, we dived into the essentials of product discovery. Rootquotient’s Product Director Moshe Mikanovsky hosted a global online workshop with the Founder Institute, where he guided the participants through the main steps of this process.

Moshe has been involved in digital product development for many years, starting his career as an engineer before transitioning to product management. Over the past two decades, he has worked with various organizations, including loyalty programs for airlines such as Alitalia and Virgin Atlantic, banks like TD Bank and BMO, and even Bloomberg on financial risk information. 

In addition to his role at Rootquotient, Moshe launched a podcast called Beyond Product, which features founders of startups building innovative solutions using technology. 

Watch the full workshop on product discovery here

Below is a summarized version of his online workshop on mastering product discovery.

Why Product Discovery?

Product discovery is crucial because there are numerous unknowns that we must be humble enough to acknowledge. We don't know what we don't know, and understanding these gaps is vital. Here are some key reasons why you should master product discovery:

  • Uncovering Unknowns: We need to explore and identify the things we don't yet understand to make informed decisions.

  • Reducing Risks: By understanding potential pitfalls, we can mitigate the risk of building the wrong product.

  • Achieving Product-Market Fit: Discovery helps us find the elusive product-market fit more efficiently.

  • Speed to Market: Continuous discovery can significantly reduce the time it takes to bring a product to market.

Going through all these aspects allows for strategic decision-making based on evidence rather than assumptions, minimizing risks and maximizing the potential for product success.

Types of Discoveries

There are two main types of discoveries in product management:

  • Problem Discovery involves identifying the right problem to solve. Are we spending our time and resources on the most significant issue? For example, before jumping into developing a new feature, we should ensure that the problem it aims to solve is a genuine pain point for users.

  • Solution Discovery focuses on finding the best solution to the identified problem. Is the solution we're building actually going to solve the problem? It's about validating that the proposed solution is effective and will be adopted by users.

Both types of discoveries are iterative and ongoing processes. They require continuous engagement with users, testing hypotheses, and refining approaches based on feedback and data.

Mitigating Risks

To effectively mitigate risks, we need to understand the different types of risks involved in product development. Marty Cagan, a partner at Silicon Valley Product Group, identifies four primary risks:

  1. Value Risk: Is there value in what we are creating for our clients? 

  1. Feasibility Risk: Can we build it? This pertains to the technical and operational feasibility of the product. 

  2. Usability Risk: Can the user understand and use it? This risk focuses on the user experience and whether the product is intuitive and easy to use.

  3. Viability Risk: Can our organization support it and sustain itself? 

Understanding and addressing these product risks is critical to the success of any product development effort. It requires thorough research, user testing, and iterative development.

The Four Discoveries

We can conduct four types of discoveries to address these risks:

  • Feature Discovery: To mitigate value risk. This includes exploring and validating the features that will deliver the most value to users.

  • Technical Discovery: To address feasibility risk. It focuses on assessing the technical feasibility of the product and identifying any potential challenges.

  • Creative Discovery: To tackle usability risk. It’s about designing and testing the user interface and user experience to ensure it is intuitive and effective.

  • Business Discovery: To reduce viability risk. It evaluates the business model, market potential, and overall viability of the product.

These discoveries are interrelated and often overlap. For example, insights gained during feature discovery can inform technical and creative discoveries and vice versa.

The Product Risk Radar

To visualize and prioritize these risks, Rootquotient developed a tool called the Product Risk Radar. This tool helps to plot all the risks in one place and get a clear picture of where to concentrate our discovery efforts next.

Value Risks

  1. Pain to Remedy: Understanding the real pain points of users and ensuring our solution provides real remedies.

  2. Users to Clients: Identifying the right users and converting them into paying clients.

  3. Testers to Promoters: Finding users to test our product and turning them into promoters.

Case Study: For instance, Quibi, a short-form streaming platform for mobile devices, failed primarily due to a misunderstanding of the user base's needs. Despite significant funding and high-quality content, users did not find enough value in the service to justify its cost and complexity. 

Viability Risks

  1. Legal to Compliance: Ensuring we are working on a legal problem and our solution is compliant with all regulations.

  2. Market Size to Business Health: Understanding the market size and ensuring our business model is healthy.

  3. Ethical to Brand: Ensuring our problem aligns with our values and our solution is seen as ethical by others.

Usability Risks

  1. User Constraints to User-Centric: Identifying user constraints and ensuring our solution is user-centric.

  2. Frustration to Ease of Use: Addressing user frustrations and ensuring our product is easy to use.

  3. User Psychology to Design Know-How: Understanding user psychology and designing accordingly.

Case Study: Google Plus is a prime example of usability failure. Despite its integration with the broader Google ecosystem, users found the platform confusing and difficult to navigate. The innovative features intended to differentiate it from competitors instead resulted in high user frustration and low engagement, ultimately leading to its discontinuation.

Feasibility Risks

  1. Fail Fast to Build Lean: Ensuring we can experiment and fail fast, building products quickly.

  2. Emerging Tech to Standard Tech: Identifying if the technology we need is emerging or standard.

  3. Tech Ecosystem to Tech Know-How: Be familiar with the tech ecosystem and ensure we have the know-how to build the solution.

Case study: Apple's Project Titan aimed to revolutionize the automotive industry with a fully autonomous vehicle requiring no human intervention. Despite significant investment and a talented team, the technical challenges proved insurmountable, and the project was eventually shelved. This highlights the critical importance of aligning technological feasibility with ambitious product visions.

When to Conduct Product Discovery

Product discovery is not a one-time task but an ongoing process that should be embedded into the lifecycle of product development. These are some key moments when product discovery is essential:

  1. Initial Product Concept: Before developing your first product, conduct thorough discovery to validate the core problem and potential solutions. This way you start on a solid foundation.

  2. Feature Enhancements: When adding new features or making significant changes to an existing product, revisit discovery to confirm that these additions address current user needs and market demands.

  3. Market Shifts: If there are changes in the market landscape, such as new competitors, regulatory updates, or shifts in user behavior, use discovery to adapt your product strategy accordingly.

  4. Quarterly Reviews: Regularly, at least quarterly, plot your Product Risk Radar to assess current risks and prioritize discovery efforts. This helps maintain a proactive approach to product development.

  5. User Feedback: Anytime you receive substantial user feedback, whether positive or negative, engage in discovery to understand the underlying issues or opportunities and refine your product.

  6. Post-Launch: After launching a product, continue discovery to gather user feedback, monitor usage patterns, and identify areas for improvement. This helps iterate and enhance the product.

Implementing Product Discovery for Startups

For early-stage startups facing time constraints and the pressure to be first to market, the key is to streamline the product discovery process. Focus on identifying the most critical value proposition and rapidly testing assumptions to validate the product concept.

  • Prioritize High-Impact Problems: Identify the most significant problem your product aims to solve. Concentrate your initial discovery efforts on validating this core value proposition.

  • Rapid Prototyping and Testing: Utilize lean methodologies to develop quick prototypes and conduct user testing. Gather feedback to iterate and refine your solution.

  • Focus on MVP: Develop a Minimum Viable Product that addresses the primary pain point. Avoid feature creep and concentrate on delivering a functional solution that can be tested in the market.

  • Leverage Existing Tools and Frameworks: Utilize available playbooks, templates, and methodologies to guide your discovery process efficiently. Tools like the Product Risk Radar can help prioritize and visualize risks.

Who Owns Product Discovery?

Product discovery is a collaborative effort involving multiple roles. In a well-structured product team, responsibilities are typically distributed as follows:

  • Product Managers: Focus on value and viability risks.

  • Designers: Address usability risks.

  • Engineers: Tackle feasibility risks.

While the CEO may initially take on these roles in early-stage startups, it’s necessary to build a dedicated team as the company grows.

The Product Team Triad

A well-structured product team often consists of a product team triad, where three key roles collaborate to drive product discovery and development:

  • Product Managers: Responsible for identifying and validating the value proposition and ensuring the product aligns with the overall business strategy. They focus on the value and viability risks.

  • Designers: Focus on the user experience and usability, ensuring the product is intuitive and meets user needs. They address usability risks by designing user-centric interfaces and conducting user testing.

  • Engineers: Handle technical feasibility, ensuring the product can be built efficiently and effectively using available technologies. They tackle feasibility risks, assessing the technical challenges and potential solutions.

This triad works collaboratively, leveraging their combined expertise to navigate the complexities of product discovery and development. 

For more detailed guidance, get our Product Discovery Playbook for free. It’s packed with tools, templates, and methodologies to help you conduct effective product discovery.

Download the Product Discovery eBook

Watch the full workshop on product discovery here

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