Discovery is not a process

It’s pretty common for people who are new to product development to think that product discovery is a process, but we need to understand that’s incorrect. The correct definition is:

Product discovery is a set of tools to help us mitigate the risks of product development.

First, we need to understand that product discovery has a very clear objective, risk mitigation of product development. Why? Because product development is a very expansive endeavor. Normally, this team is a big part of the company’s costs, so we need to be as sure as possible that we are investing their time in developing things that will help the company reach its objectives while will solve a problem or will address a need of the customers.

Risks of product development

What types of risks are we talking about? If we search for types of risks in business on Google, we will find many types of risks. Some articles are even talking about ten types of risks. Marty Cagan talks about four types of risks:

  • value risk: whether customers will buy it or users will choose to use it.
  • usability risk: whether users can figure out how to use it.
  • feasibility risk: whether our engineers can build what we need with the time, skills, and technology we have.
  • business viability risk: whether this solution also works for the various aspects of our business.

Even though I understand this need to categorize the types of risks of developing a product, the type of risk is not as crucial as it is the risk’s priority, i.e., knowing which risk has the biggest potential to be a significant obstacle to the success of the product. Remember, we want to develop a product that will help the company that owns the product reach its objectives while solving a problem or addressing a need of the customers of that company. That’s what it means to build a successful product.

Discovery as risk mitigation tools

For this reason, we need to identify and prioritize the risks. After prioritizing the risks, we use Product Discovery as the set of tools that help us mitigate these risks. I explained that Product Discovery has two sides, problem discovery, and solution discovery. Let me give you some examples.

  • Problem discovery: Back in 2011, I had an idea to create a calorie counter app that informed me not only the number of calories of each food but also the quality of the calorie with a simple red, yellow and green color system, where red calories, like candies and cakes, should be avoided, yellow calories, like rice and meat, could be eaten moderately and green calories, like lettuce and spinach, could be eaten without restrictions. The first thing I decided to test was if there was any demand for such an app. So, before building the app, I decided to create a landing page for the app and then build a Google Adwords campaign to send some traffic to this page. The page explained the product I was planning to build and how much it would cost. I tell the full story of this app in my book Startup Guide: How startups and established companies can create profitable digital products. This is a typical problem discovery risk mitigation, i.e., I was trying to mitigate the risk of knowing if it was a problem worth pursuing. For those who don’t read Portuguese, I’ll translate the page contents below the image.
Page describing the app I was planning to build

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Solution discovery: Here’s another example, now a solution discovery example. Richard and Maurice McDonald, known as the McDonald Brothers, were American entrepreneurs who founded the fast food company McDonald’s. Their story was told in the movie The Founder, and there’s a very interesting scene where the McDonald brothers explain how they figured out the best kitchen layout to speed up order processing. A very interesting solution discovery process:

As we can see, we can be very creative when it comes to discovering how we will mitigate a certain risk. The important thing is that we know the main risks and then discover how to mitigate them as fast as possible.

Summing up

  • Product discovery is not a process. It is a set of tools to help us mitigate the risks of product development.
  • There are different ways to categorize the risks of product development. More important than knowing the type of risk is prioritizing the risks so we know to which risk we should apply product discovery techniques.
  • There are many product discovery techniques available, and we can be creative and develop a new technique for the risk we want to mitigate. The important thing is to mitigate the risk as fast as possible.

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