Tools and Methodologies of Product Discovery

March 17, 2021

Kerlea Joseph

While there are a variety of tools you can use throughout the process, according to Dan Brown and his book Practical Design Discovery product discovery can be broken down into 4 primary phases:

  1. Gathering Phase
  2. Processing Phase
  3. Opportunities and Constraints Phases
  4. Focusing Phases

Also, there's a pre-stage before you move into the full-blown process, called the Framing Phase. As you go through the different stages, you and your team should picture yourselves as detectives trying to solve a crime.

In the Framing phase, this is where you are trying to define the initial problem. At this stage, the product owner might do an activity like a value proposition or a business model canvas to identify issues. Continuing with the detective analogy, for product owners, this is the point where you first come upon your crime scene, and you're trying to put together an initial explanation of what's happened. Starting with the framing stage is essential as a well-framed problem is a problem half-solved.

Next is the Gathering phase, where you, as the tech partner, work on gathering the information you need to start working on the problem. A vital component of this phase is active listening. You need to pay attention to the company culture of the product owner. What are their values and company mission? How do they operate? Are they forward-thinking or more traditional? In this phase, think of yourself as a detective doing the investigative groundwork for your case. You're looking for clues that will help you understand the problem so you can begin solving it. Some tools that can help you during this phase include:

  1. Stakeholder or User interviews
  2. Competitive Analysis
  3. System Audit
  4. Usability Testing

Then in the Processing phase, you take all the information gained in the last stage, and now you can begin analyzing it. At this point, you want to put your knowledge into chunks so you can see what patterns and links exist between those chunks. In our detective analogy, at this point, you'd be back in your squad-room at the big board with all the crime scene and evidence photos pinned up. You'd look at your clues with your fellow detectives, trying to figure out how they fit together while looping some red string around related pieces of evidence. Tools to help you during this process are:

  1. Affinity Diagrams
  2. Customer Journey Map
  3. Storyboards

Fourth is the Opportunities and Constraints phase. In the detective analogy, this is where your team is establishing a motive and profile for the perp. In other words, you're trying to understand what areas for opportunity and growth exist for the product. You also want to identify what factors could be obstacles and hinder development. Remember, constraints aren't always bad. In fact, they can often fuel innovation by forcing you to look at something from a new angle. Some techniques for this phase include:  

  1. Brainstorming  
  2. Sitemaps  
  3. Mood boards  
  4. Body-storming

At RedBit, depending on the project, we'll reduce this phase. We include it as a new section on a customer journey map.

Finally, once you're in the Focusing phase, you should be honing in on a direction for the project. In the detective analogy, this is where you've narrowed things down to a shortlist of suspects for questioning. Some helpful methods for this phase include:

  1. Prioritizing your ideas and insights
  2. Revising your thoughts and reviewing how well they serve stakeholders and the product

Once you've gone through all the stages, you'll need to capture your findings into a Discovery document. This document should be clear and detailed enough that the product owner will have a strong foundation to base future decisions. If you're a product owner, you'll want to make sure that your tech partner has outlined all the technical possibilities. You want to make sure you feel confident moving forward.

Further Reading:

Practical Design Discovery by Dan Brown

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