A 4-step guide for day-to-day product discovery

How much time you spend on discovery vs delivery will have a big impact on customer happiness

But first: why is product discovery so hard to implement?

My hypothesis is that product delivery gets far more attention than discovery because it’s comparatively easier to set-up delivery structures. Just look at the number of branded frameworks like SCRUM or Kanban which exist.

A 4-step guide to successful product discovery

Four industry and product-agnostic steps to get your product discovery right

Step One: Outline your discovery toolbox

There are two stages to product discovery:

  1. Identifying an opportunity for a product improvement (and therefore understanding the problem ‘space’)
  2. Identifying the most promising solution for the given opportunity (narrowing down the solution ‘space’).

Step Two: Plan how every team member can contribute

In my opinion, product discovery requires active participation from everyone in the team. It’s a collective responsibility, not a task for selected members.

  1. Have a lead engineer, or engineering manager, take up an active role with notable time invested in your discovery work.
  2. Identify those engineers in your team who are interested in taking an active role in discovery. They can then get involved in your discovery work either on a rotating basis or split up by initiatives.
To make sure everyone contributes effectively, make sure people understand their ‘perspective’

Step Three: Consider how to continually involve customers

Product discovery is about identifying the gap between what a customer would consider a great product, and what your product currently does. This requires customer involvement.

Step Four: Set your ways of working

Product discovery requires alignment, good decision making, and joined-up problem-solving. How can you best facilitate these three?

  1. Run reviews and retros on both discovery and delivery work:
    When doing so, it’s important to get comfortable with failure. Discovery is all about learning and there is no learning without failure. Get people to celebrate and talk about hypotheses that could not be validated, ‘failed’ experiments, and things they have stopped exploring.
    Make sure everyone understands that this ‘failure acceptance’ is in contrast to delivery work where you would never release a failing feature. By failing in discovery we avoid failing in delivery. This is something to shout about, so SHOUT ABOUT IT!
  2. Give discovery updates in your daily
    While this may add five minutes to each daily, it gives your discovery work the attention it deserves. It also allows everyone in the team to contribute with questions and ideas (don’t forget the lessons I outlined in step two of this guide).
  3. Announce upcoming discovery work during sprint planning
    You’ll want to keep this meeting short and efficient. So, instead of doing the discovery planning in it, have a plan ready and announce it to the team before you get to the detailed delivery planning. Knowing what is coming up, and where certain engineers might be required to help, will put delivery work in perspective.
An example discovery board which some of my teams are using to track discovery work

That’s your lot (for now)

There is no standardized way of doing continuous product discovery. However, the above four steps are ones I think every team should go through. Start with them, set something up, then stay agile and constantly improve your discovery workflows and structures.



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Sophia Höfling

Sophia Höfling


Entrepreneur & product leader writing about product, life-centered design, & leadership. Formerly CPO & Co-founder @Saiga, HoP @Babbel & Head of CX @NavVis.