The Hitchhikers’ guide to Product Discovery

Photo by Karl Solano on Unsplash

When I joined Cozero (last December), one of the key challenges as a Lead Product Designer was to address the need of introducing product discovery to the different teams and try to come up with a process that would allow us to work collaboratively on that. This article is a result of that research work and shows a process that is now fully implemented as a cross-team combined effort.

What is product discovery?

Product discovery isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. Shops can use it to find a scalable business model. New startups with an idea to validate can use it to find the right product-market fit for their startup. Even the biggest companies like Salesforce, Google, and Amazon have teams dedicated to continually finding new products.

Product discovery is an ongoing process. Sometimes, you might have to start discovering at a certain time to deliver the value that your customers need now. Other times, product discovery is something that you do early on in the life of your product or startup to understand your market, generate ideas, and define a vision for a given feature or even the entire product.

The product discovery goal is to build the right thing as opposed to building the thing right (which is also important but happens at a different product cycle stage). Product discovery comes first for us to reflect on how we allocate our time and efforts between the problem space and solution space.

? Overall product discovery aims to:

  • Develop a profound understanding of customers.
  • Using that knowledge to create the features our customers need.

Main challenges of product discovery

The challenge with discovery is not just about understanding users’ problems so you can best improve your product. It’s also about understanding how users behave, the context where they interact with the product, and how they usually work are also variables that you should consider during the product discovery process so that you can also optimize the product and its marketing and sales and make sure the different teams are aligned.
This way you can say the main challenges in the product discovery process are:

  • Create a shared understanding of Product Discovery without constraining teams.
    The idea shouldn’t be constraining the process, the idea is to split the work more easily and make sure that despite different teams owning different methods you should be all on the same page.
  • Based on principles rather than tasks and tactics.
    By identifying and solving the right problems you will improve our future process of finding solutions.
  • Make sense of everything you collect and apply it.
    By documenting and reporting our research findings you’ll be able to create a shared understanding of what you need to improve in our product.

This is where documentation and report play a big role because with regular reporting you can make sure everyone is up to date regarding the insights you gather and what do you need to do next to improve our product.

Product discovery phases

One of the goals of this article is to present a series of methods and tools that you can use to enrich our product discovery process, but also try to identify the best way to collaborate between teams, especially within the product, marketing, sales, design, and development. The ultimate goal is to bring all the different teams’ perspectives all together and create a common vision as well as helping to translate user research into actionable opportunities to improve our product.

Disclaimer: these discovery phases aren’t linear. They can happen simultaneously or not, before start designing a feature but also right after creating a prototype of a product part.

We can clearly say that the first two phases (discover opportunities and usability testing) ideally happen before building a feature and the last one (quantitative measuring) happens after you have built the feature by measuring the existing product experience and the new features you’re adding.

Let’s deep dive into what the different phases mean.

1. User and Competitor Research

Methods & Ownership:

  • User interviews, Contextual Observation (Design, Product, Sales, Marketing)
  • Competitor analysis (Design, Product, Sales, Marketing)
  • Domain Knowledge Research (Sometimes this is done by a specific team, other times the product team also owns this knowledge)
  • Surveys (Design, Product, Marketing, Sales)


  • Usually done before a project starts.
  • Done regularly (with prospects, clients, and non-clients with different backgrounds).
  • Especially advantageous when researching complex systems or working processes.
  • The best phase is to find new opportunities (pain points, specific contexts, behaviors).

Main questions:

  • What’s relevant?
  • What are the main needs/ pain points users are facing (Product aside)?
  • What is their context of usage?
  • How others are trying to solve the same or similar problems
  • How do customers discover our product? What are they looking for when they discover it?

2. Usability testing

Methods & Ownership:

  • Usability testing — Platform and/or Prototypes (Design, Product)
  • Preference tests with mockups.


  • Understand if the feature is viable.
  • Testing a feature before implementing it (reducing time/money costs of the implementation).
  • Discover existing problems in our Product.
  • Learn about how users think/behave when interacting with a feature.
  • Creating a script: guide users through the same flows and questions because it let us discover patterns in behavior and choices. When not following a script takeaways can get messier and hard to compare/digest.

Main questions:

  • Can users achieve their goals with the product?
  • How much effort is required to complete a task/achieve the goal?
  • Do users get frustrated trying to achieve their goals?

3. Quantitative measuring (feature retrospective)

Methods & Ownership:

  • A/B testing (Design, Product)
  • Event tracking (Product)
  • NPS and NPQ (Product)
  • Support requests (Product)
  • Task completion (Product)
  • Onboarding cost (Sales, Product)
  • Subscriptions (Sales, Product)
  • Screen recordings and Heatmaps ( Design, Product)
  • Brand awareness (Sales, Marketing)


  • Quantitively measuring the ROI of UX (User Experience)
  • Evaluating the impact of improvements and recently added features.

Main questions:

  • Have you achieved success?
  • What do you need to improve?
  • Measure how your product is performing.
  • Discover new opportunities (through analyzing the different methods mentioned above).

Ideally, all teams could use the same research repository as a way to organize all research initiatives to make historical insights easily discoverable by anyone.

Reporting and Visual Mapping

“the key benefit of mental representations lies in how they help us deal with information: understanding and interpreting it, holding it in memory, organising it, analysing it, and making decisions with it.”

Teresa Torres

By mapping visually the results of research, you can get a better sense of it and start grouping information that is relevant/most common.

Building documentation together or creating and sharing all the information you’ve collected is important so you can all visualize the takeaways and be on the same page.

It is also important to show regularly what you’ve discovered from quantitative or qualitative research, by creating reports that can give us insights about what you can improve.

Advantages of applying visual mapping

  • Help us structure and relate information and work together on shared documents.
  • Visualize and understand patterns.
  • Capture group memory and create meaningful learnings.
  • Digest a great amount of diversified information and create opportunities from it.

How do use discovery insights to impact the product?

— and how to allow the different teams to collectively work on that?

Opportunity solution trees

An opportunity solution tree is a structure that helps us visualize and chart the best path to our desired outcome (key results).

Image used on a team workshop at

How do you structure them?

  • First, you need to define what success looks like — OKRs
  • List opportunities (previously gathered from research)
  • Find solutions (brainstorm possible ways for solving the problem)

Following the example below you can identify that you’ve only explored a few number of identified opportunities. By looking at the tree you can also realize that you need to do more research to uncover more opportunities to improve our onboarding time. An opportunity solution tree can live forever (while you have improvements to make) and be a source of shared knowledge between teams, where each one can actively contribute and have an impact on the desired outcome.

If a company uses OKRs to define the product roadmap then you can simply start an OST with one of its Key Results. The idea is to keep documenting the opportunities related to each Key Result so you never lose track of what you are doing / need to do still.

Key results help us to define the desired outcome.

Then you can list the opportunities you found through all the different research methods you have in place and that are distributed across the different cozero teams.

Solutions can and should come from everywhere (as long as they are bounded by an opportunity).

When you start to approach our work using the opportunity solution trees you might improve our understanding of why you are working on some Key Results (from OKRs) rather than others. Also, it might be easier for the teams to understand their impact on the solutions you’re making.

Ideally, you should only start a project you have a more complete sense of the opportunities that you need to cover.

Our job is not to address every customer opportunity. Our job is to address customer opportunities that drive our desired outcome. — Teresa Torres

Product Discovery is not necessarily about shipped features. Identifying the right problem space to explore and genuinely understanding that problem is extremely valuable for any company. Reducing the uncertainty by making sure we are solving the right problems by developing a group of nonlinear activities that are done by a cross-functional team is the value of adopting a solid and regular product discovery process.


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Dizparada is a senior product designer looking forward to better understanding humans. She loves sports and getting lost in nature.