From unknown to clarity: User experience in the product discovery process
When thinking about a new product or wanting to improve an existing one, it’s important to ensure that we’re solving the right problem for our customers. At dunnhumby Media, we’ve come up with our product discovery framework when starting a project from scratch or as a part of continuous delivery. This article will focus on the User Experience aspect of it.
What is product discovery?
Product discovery is a critical step used to determine if and why a product should be developed in the first place.¹ It is a multidisciplinary field where, among others, Product Management and User Experience (UX) join forces to make sure the right product is going to be built for the customers. This helps to reduce time to market by focusing only on the problems that are validated by users.
Product discovery aims to validate existing assumptions about the product by answering questions like:
- What is the problem space that the product is solving?
- What is the value proposition of the product?
- Who are the target group and what are their needs or pain-points?
- What are the competitive features that might differentiate the product on the market?
- What are the business goals, and what metrics should guide the success of the product?
Who should be involved?
Product discovery is a collaborative effort which, among others, includes people from Product, UX, User research, Engineering, Customer support and Sales and Engineering leads.² Having people from different backgrounds in the process helps in building consensus in what to build and prioritise throughout the product lifecycle.
How does UX fit into product discovery?
User research is an integral part of the product discovery in that it uses tools and techniques to collect user feedback in a structured way, which helps to uncover the underlying customer needs. These techniques include customer interviews, focus groups, observation studies, competitor research and other. Design artefacts created as a part of discovery process are usually:
- Product vision board
- Empathy maps
- User personas
- User journey maps
Our product discovery approach
At dunnhumby Media, the UX team is an integral part of the Product team, and we help our product managers in discovery as well as agile development of their products. We work closely together with them to facilitate user interviews and summarise findings into actionable insights.
This process can take a different amount of time, according to the product complexity and maturity. The process is also iterative and can happen in parallel with agile sprints. Only after the product assumptions have been validated, the development can start.
There are usually six key points we undertake from the User research and design perspective to validate our assumptions about the product as part of the product management framework:
1. Discover phase
- Identify problem space by building consensus on what problem space we are looking into and what are our assumptions about the product.
- Validate assumptions by preparing and conducting user interviews in order to learn about opportunity areas directly from users.
2. Define phase
- Make research synthesis to summarise raw data collected from user interviews, detect and prioritise findings.
3. Design phase
- Create low- or high-fidelity clickable prototypes and test them with users in order to validate features. This can be done in several iterations if needed.
4. Develop phase
- Collaborate closely with engineering and apply any new learnings to deliver the product.
5. Deliver phase
- Introduce continuous feedback cycles to keep gathering feedback from users and stakeholders.
The steps are going to be explained in more detail below.
1. Discover phase
Identify problem space
Design artefacts: product vision board, product hypotheses.
When defining what the product needs to accomplish, it’s important to unearth customer needs and explore them as much as possible.
To start this process, we use the product vision board³ to map out and align on the overall vision, target users and their needs, as well as to list product ideas and desired business goals. This is used to capture all our assumptions about the product and to guide us through the user interviews for the product discovery.
Since this exercise includes people from Product, Design, Engineering as well as other stakeholders such as Data Science team, we found it is also a good approach in building consensus for the project among different stakeholders.
We then use the findings from this exercise to form our product hypotheses, usually in a form of:
We believe that [business outcome]
will be achieved if [user]
Design artefacts: raw interview notes, video recordings.
With assumptions formed, we then create a testing plan with an interview script aimed at our target users. We make sure that the interview questions cover our assumptions in a non-biased way, by asking open-ended and example-based questions. A comprehensive guide on how to form the interview questions can be found here and here.
We set up interviews either in person or over a recorded call, and make sure to have two interviewers conducting it — one person as an active interviewer and other as note-taker and observer. After each interview we compare our notes and discuss any new findings, which also helps when transitioning into the Define phase.
2. Define phase — Research synthesis
Design artefacts: affinity map, user journey map, workflow diagrams
Common pain-points and needs get discovered by collaboratively synthesising the interview notes into an affinity map.⁴ We use the findings to create a user journey map⁵ for target user persona, which enables us to see all user actions, needs and pain-points mapped out through time. This is an iterative process and the data can change whenever new key learnings are discovered.
Additionally, we sometimes create the workflow diagram that maps all actions that are relevant for the problem we are trying to solve. This might include mapping out how multiple user personas interact with each other, to get a deeper understanding of the dynamics between different roles involved in daily work.
The product team can then use these findings to clarify the vision and mission of the product, scope it, and come up with the business metrics that will track the success of the product.
3. Design phase — Prototype and feature validation
Design artefacts: hi-fi clickable prototype, raw interview notes and summary, video recordings
After key learnings have been discovered, the product manager together with UX designers defines high level requirements for the product. UX designers then design low- or high-fidelity for specific scenarios, in order to validate some technical and UX assumptions about the features of the product.
The usability testing interviews covering the testing scenarios are set up and conducted with users in more iterations. The findings can cover findability, content or feature usability issues and are used to help the product team to decide on the final set of requirements for the MVP or a specific feature, but also to validate some UX flow assumptions. This prototype later serves as documentation for development.
4. Develop phase
Design artefacts: Clickable prototype, User stories
When developing the product, UX designers work closely with engineering to keep the user-centric point of view in everything we do. During the development process, UX designers facilitate knowledge sharing sessions and workshops to transfer user viewpoints to the team on a day to day tasks.
5. Deliver phase — Continuous feedback
Design artefacts: maintaining and regularly updating any of the above.
After the initial discovery cycle is done, it actually marks just the start of the continuous feedback cycle for the product. As a part of product launch preparation, we first launch a pilot phase to early adopters to catch any other outstanding issues before rolling out the product to wider user groups.
After the release, we make sure to keep in touch with users on a regular basis to find out if anything has changed in their needs or behaviour. Collecting user feedback can also happen at any stage and by using different tools and techniques such as surveys, interviews, analytics of user activity or usability and user acceptance testing.
Product discovery process helps to bring more focus and clarity by gathering evidence of user needs, and thus making the decision making and prioritisation as part of product management easier.
We are adjusting the framework as we go along, and sometimes might change how and when we conduct certain steps — some steps can often be done in parallel. The important thing for us is that product and UX teams work closely together in defining the problem as well as finding a solution. Key benefits that we found with applying this collaborative approach are:
- All team members are on the same page; there is no need for repeating or explaining, as there is already a mutual understanding of the topics in place,
- Product MVP is faster; it prioritises only the features that matter and are validated,
- Stakeholder management is more upfront, as they are pulled in from the start and have a say in the product direction.
-  Pichler, Roman. “Product discovery tips”. https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/product-discovery-tips/
-  Herbig, Tim. “Product discovery: Practical guide for agile teams”. https://herbig.co/product-discovery/#tve-jump-1713aeba7d7
-  Pichler, Roman. “The Product Vision Board”. https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/the-product-vision-board/
-  Pernice, Kara. “Affinity Diagramming for Collaboratively Sorting UX Findings and Design Ideas”. Nielsen Norman Group. 2018. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/affinity-diagram/
-  Gibbons, Sarah. “Journey Mapping 101”. Nielsen Norman Group. 2018. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/journey-mapping-101/