Chapter 4

8 Product discovery methods for user-aligned product development

In this guide, we’ve talked about how product teams should approach research, what processes to follow, and the key principles to product discovery.

Now, we’ll look at the best product discovery methods to use at each stage of your workflow. Of course, there are tons of different techniques to choose from—the ones you opt for depend on your research objectives, business resources, and product strategy. Let’s get started.


What are the steps of product discovery?

The main steps to product discovery are all anchored in getting to know your users: understanding what problems they have, how they'd like them solved, and evaluating how your product achieves this.

This research can inform early product concepts and result in launching a new product or feature—but isn’t necessarily limited to this. Continuous product discovery happens throughout the product lifecycle—it doesn’t end when you launch your product. Instead, the process starts over or jumps between phases depending on your research needs. This way, your product is informed by genuine user insights continuously, every step of the way.

In chapter one, we covered the four steps of the product discovery process in detail. Let’s do a quick recap:

  1. Learn & understand: Get to know your users' needs and pain points. During this exploratory phase, approach users with maximum curiosity to identify their real problem, instead of looking for ways to validate a pre-formed idea. Conduct research using customer interviews, competitor analysis, and product analytics.
  2. Define & decide: Refine feedback and identify the most recurrent problems collected in user stories. Determine which issues you’ll try to solve with your product, then conduct a five ‘whys’ experiment and turn it into a well-defined hypothesis (more on this below).
  3. Ideate & prioritize: This is your first attempt to try and solve the problem. Get your team together to start brainstorming and refining potential solutions. Use prioritization techniques to choose what to work on first. Then, speak to your users—ask how the product should look, how much it should cost, and if people actually want it.
  4. Prototype & test: Build the product and get customer feedback. This means developing a wireframe, prototype, or minimum viable product (MVP) that you can share with potential users to get real insights. Conduct usability tests at this stage, then circle back to iterate based on your results.

Start creating a truly user-centric product with Maze

Empower your team with the right user product discovery tool to align research goals and elevate your customer experience.

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8 Valuable techniques for continuous product discovery

To help you manage each step of the product discovery process, we’ve got eight recommended techniques for your consideration—plus expert advice for how to use them. These will inform how you gather insights and make data-informed decisions throughout each phase.

Check out the table below for an overview of each method, then we’ll go into detail on:

  1. Customer interviews
  2. Product analytics
  3. Competitor analysis
  4. The five ‘whys’ technique
  5. Brainstorming
  6. Prioritization techniques
  7. Prototyping
  8. Usability testing
What’s it for? Stage of the product discovery process Templates and resources to start testing today
Customer interviews To get to know the user and identify motivations and pain points Learn & understand Maze Question Bank
How to ask research questions
Product analytics To review product and user data to inform decision-making All stages How to use product analytics to determine new features
Competitor analysis To see what others are doing and the options your users have available Learn & understand Miro’s competitive analysis template
Aha!’s competitor analysis template
The five ‘whys’ technique To identify the root cause of problems and write a hypothesis

Learn & understand
Define & decide

Miro’s five ‘whys’ template
Mural’s five ‘whys’ template
Brainstorming To come up with ideas and serve the user better Define & decide Ideate & prioritize Leading brainstorming sessions using data
Prioritization techniques To determine what to focus on first, and help take solutions to users fast Define & decide Ideate & prioritize Smartsheet priority matrix and project Prioritization templates
Prototyping To visualize and test products and features prior to launch Ideate & prioritize Prototype & test Test your prototype with Maze
Run a wireframe preference test on Maze
Usability testing To assess your product’s usability and improve intuitiveness Prototype & test Test a feature’s usability with Maze
Get your system usability score (SUS)

1. Customer interviews

The simplest way to find out what your customers need is to ask them directly. With customer interviews, you can do just this and also ask follow-up questions and gather context in real-time.

Unlike other product discovery methodologies that provide quantitative data, customer interviews offer qualitative results, letting you understand customers’ motivations and struggles. For example, learn what your users’ day-to-day looks like, the language they use, and the things they value.

The downside of customer interviews is that they take time to organize, conduct, rewatch, and take notes. If you’re providing an incentive or interviewing in-person, it can also get expensive. Once you start speaking to a customer, it’s vital to make the most of this time.

Here are some quick tips for running interviews:

  • Write a list of questions: Use these research questions as conversational prompts rather than a strict script to follow. Make adjustments as you chat with your customers, but refer back to your list to verify you’ve covered all the important points.
  • Leave your ideas aside: It’s important to let customers express thoughts in their own words. Avoid suggesting solutions before they’ve described the problem and try not to state the problem for them. For example, ask “Was it easy to make a purchase? Why?” rather than “Do you think having the checkout button on the left makes you less likely to make a purchase?”. For 350+ free question ideas, check out our Question Bank here.
  • Start simple, then go deeper: People open up more when they feel comfortable. Begin the interview with some warm-up questions, then gradually direct the conversation towards discussing specific pain points.

If you found speaking to certain users particularly useful, don’t be afraid to reach out to them again. “I remember we met with one customer probably every two weeks,” explains Diego Sanchez, Senior Product Manager at Buffer, who shared that he likes to form a core group of users to guide product development. “They really helped us shape our early assumptions.”

When to use customer interviews for product discovery

Use customer interviews during the learn and understand phase of the product discovery process. However, conducting interviews to learn more about the user and understand them better can happen at any stage of the product lifecycle. This means you can conduct interviews:

  • Before launch
  • Right after users tried your product
  • When they’re trying it for the first time
  • After they’ve used your product for a long time
  • When they’ve decided to churn

2. Product analytics

Quantitative data coming from product analytics is often used to measure performance after launch. However, it can also provide inspiration for prioritizing new products, features, and changes—and inform decisions throughout the lifecycle. By delving into product analytics, you can validate what customers are saying in interviews or surveys with quantitative metrics about how they interact and use your product.

For example, let’s say you have a social media app that allows users to edit and upload pictures. During interviews, users tell you they use a different app for editing their photos. You can compare that insight to data by checking the percentage of users that use editing features. If you see that the results aren’t representative, then you might focus on improving something else instead.

When you build user-centric products, you need to make decisions based on user data to avoid being influenced by cognitive biases, or assuming what’s best for your users without having clear data. “If you don't have analytics in your product, add them ASAP and start using data to help inform your product decisions,” emphasizes Sam Tardif, Senior Engineering Manager at Atlassian. “Otherwise you're making important decisions in the dark.”

Pro tip 💡

Quantitative data on its own can be interpreted in many different ways. To get a clearer picture, always compare insights from data analysis to what your users are telling you—use qualitative and quantitative data to provide context for one another.

When to use analytics for product discovery

Use analytics at all stages of product discovery. You should look at your data to inform decisions as you:

  • Learn and understand your user’s pain points and motivations
  • Define and decide what’s most important to them in a product
  • Ideate how the product will look like and prioritize which features to include
  • Build a prototype and test it with real users

3. Competitor analysis

Learning how users feel about your product has a lot to do with the options they have. That’s why you should take a close look at the market and find gaps in the solutions currently available.

For example, Meta is great at conducting continuous competitor analysis. Every time a new social media app gains popularity, they find out exactly what its users are enjoying from the other app and develop a similar feature—like when people started sharing TikTok videos on Instagram, so Meta launched Instagram Reels.

Competitor analysis also lets you dig deep into the problem you’re trying to solve. Remember that your competitors have gone through product discovery themselves, and their solution is a reflection of what they learned. So even if you’re already broadly aware of what’s out there, get truly familiar with their product, and evaluate it from a user’s perspective.

Create a free account, analyze user journeys, and take screenshots. Once you’ve done this with a few competitors, you can build up a map of strengths, weaknesses, and feature lists of your competitors. Use this to spot gaps in what’s available on the market. Borrow what works and conduct further research to develop a solution that fixes what doesn’t.

When to conduct competitors analysis

Competitor analysis is formally conducted during the learn and understand stage of product discovery. This can happen at any phase of the product lifecycle, for example to:

  • Inform product changes
  • Prioritize features
  • Adjust pricing

4. The five ‘whys’ technique

This method helps you reach the root cause of problems by asking ‘why’ five times. It’ll help you funnel down to the real problem, and develop a hypothesis that can be tackled in a holistic way, rather than fulfilling individual feature requests without a clear overall product vision.

Your customers will give you unique insights into specific features that are missing from your product, but they can’t tell you the best solution—that’s a job for your design team. The search for a solution starts with reframing the problem.

For example, let’s say your customers are requesting a feature to assign tasks to their team members:

  • Why? Customers have to leave our app to distribute tasks among themselves on Slack
  • Why? Our customers can’t collaborate directly in our app
  • Why? We didn’t build in-app collaboration features
  • Why? We haven’t prioritized team collaboration in our roadmap
  • Why? We weren’t aware that collaboration was important to our customers

From a minor feature request, your product team can reach a much more important question to answer: would a suite of collaboration features complete your product? This could form the basis of a good hypothesis—and might even lead to a whole new part of your product being developed.

Going through the five ‘whys’ as a team, we reach a mutual understanding of what question we need to answer and what the best approach to answer it would be. This allows us to fully leverage the research study for questions we don’t already have answers to and can’t be answered by product or data science.

Phoebe Dyloco, Research Lead at Asana.

When to use the five ‘whys’ technique

Use this method during the decide and define stage to get closer to a hypothesis and problem statement that you can further test through other methods. Implement this every time you prioritize features, make changes, or think about what’s truly important to your user.

5. Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a straightforward, tried-and-tested way to come up with ideas. Invite your team and key stakeholders to a call or in-person meetup, communicate the session’s objective, and mention the problem you’re looking to solve. Then, give your team some uninterrupted thinking time and post-it notes, break them into groups, and wait to see what happens.

Brainstorming sessions usually end with an ideas-sharing round. You’ll probably notice consistent themes emerging between post-its. Group similar notes until you have a backlog of potential solutions. Highlight the ones that are viable with your business model and will have the biggest impact on key metrics.

These sessions can happen live or asynchronously depending on where you host the session. “I’ll create a FigJam for the team to use and freely discuss what we want to learn, and the type of questions we think will help us get clarity on our learning goals,” explains Phoebe.

“Then, I sort and group the stickies into two categories: research questions and user interview questions, which helps the team get a better understanding of the types of questions that fall under each.” Phoebe wraps it up when she believes the team is confident enough to continue the work on their own.

When to use brainstorming sessions

Brainstorming can happen at all times. It’s usually the go-to method during ideation and prioritization, but it touches all parts of the lifecycle. Use brainstorming sessions whenever you need to come up with product ideas or solutions, or simply want to listen to different opinions on a topic.

A complete list of when to host these meetings would be endless. Brainstorming might be useful if you want to::

  • Come up with a list of features
  • Design the chosen features (after user experience (UX) research)
  • Make a list of research questions
  • Analyze interview answers

6. Prioritization techniques

Prioritizing what to work on first is a major part of product management. There are multiple frameworks to properly set priorities. These include:

  • The MoSCow template: Helps categorize features or changes by assigning one of four levels of priority—must-haves, should-haves, could-haves, and won't-haves.
  • The Kano model: Allows you to identify and prioritize product features based on their impact on customer satisfaction. It categorizes features into five groups—must be, one dimensional, attractive, indifferent, and reverse.

Depending on why you’re conducting product discovery, you might not need such complex prioritization frameworks. You can also move forward with development using a simple technique to rank potential solutions in terms of feasibility and viability, such as:

  • Value vs. complexity matrix: Create a graph with predicted ‘value’ for customers on one axis, and the ‘complexity’ of building it on the other. This will help you separate quick wins from more major development projects.
  • ICE framework: Score each solution out of 10 for the following categories, then compare average scores to get a prioritized list:
    • The impact (I) you think it will have on your business
    • The confidence (C) that it’ll solve the problem
    • The ease (E) of building it

Then compare the average scores to get a prioritized list

When to use prioritization techniques

Working on product development means prioritizing all the time. While these techniques are mostly used during ideation and prioritization, you should learn how to categorize your work in order of urgency and importance for every stage of product discovery. For example, it’s useful to know how to prioritize questions to ask users during interviews, in case you run out of time.

7. Prototyping

Every iteration starts with a prototype, rather than a perfectly designed and developed product. Remember that the goal of product discovery is to validate a hypothesis before you start the development process. So the quicker and more straightforward it is to build your prototype, the better.

A paper prototype or low-fidelity sketch will work perfectly for new features or initial product designs. You need your prototype to be easy to tweak, iterate, or scrap if needed, based on customer feedback.

With a prototype, you should be able to make all required edits before you spend money on actually developing the solution. Use prototype testing to identify how your users interact with early versions of your product and review data to make improvements.

When to use prototyping

Use this technique during the prototype and test stage. You can also use it anytime you need to understand how your users will interact with your tool—whether that’s testing navigation or assessing usability—before spending too much money and time on development.

8. Usability testing

This method is used to evaluate how easy your users find it to use your product or website. During a usability test, present your users with test scenarios and tasks they need to complete on your platform. Gather insights based on behavior and comments to make usability improvements.

The earlier you start usability testing, the better. Even if you don’t have the time or resources to arrange many usability tests for product discovery, there are still rapid ways to get user feedback on your early concepts and ideas:

  • Remote usability testing: Observe how users interact with your products from the comfort of their own homes
  • Unmoderated usability testing: Get your participants to complete tasks without a session moderator but record their audio, video, and screen to get quantitative and qualitative results
  • Guerilla usability testing: Take your product to the street and ask people to try it while you observe and take notes
  • Live website testing: Invite users to complete tasks on your live website and gather results in real time

When to use usability testing

Conduct these types of tests during the prototype and test stage, i.e. whenever you launch a new product or feature, or implement design changes. It’s also good practice to conduct usability testing regularly as part of continuous product discovery.

The best time to use product discovery methods

Each product discovery method can help you remain anchored to user-centricity throughout various stages of the product lifecycle. As you talk to your users, remember to use methods that are aligned with your research objectives and business goals.

The best products are, unsurprisingly, the ones that solve user problems—so make the most of your customer interviews, analytics, and competitors' analysis to identify pain points. Determine the root cause of issues with the five ‘whys’ techniques, brainstorm and prioritize to outline a hypothesis, then prototype and run usability tests to determine whether or not your product is easy to use.

Build these steps and techniques into your continuous discovery process to ensure every product decision is informed by real user input.

Now, you need a proper tech stack to start testing your platform. Read our next chapter to review potential product discovery tools to try.

Start creating a truly user-centric product with Maze

Empower your team with the right user product discovery tool to align research goals and elevate your customer experience.

user testing data insights

Frequently asked questions about product discovery techniques

What are product discovery methods?

Product discovery methods are techniques product teams implement to gain a deep understanding of customer needs and pain points and come up with potential solutions. Product discovery examples include:

  • Customer interviews
  • Products analytics
  • Competitor analysis
  • The five ‘whys’ technique
  • Brainstorming
  • Prioritization techniques
  • Prototyping
  • Usability testing

What are the five key elements of an effective product discovery process?

The five key elements of an effective product discovery process are:

  1. Learn and understand who the user is and what are their struggles
  2. Define and decide which of those issues you’ll solve with your product
  3. Ideate a hypothesis and prioritize what to work on first
  4. Prototype and test an early version of your product
  5. Continuous learning and iterating on the product throughout the lifecycle

What are the advantages and disadvantages of product discovery?

There are multiple advantages and a few disadvantages to product discovery.

Advantages of product discovery include:

  • Building user-centric products
  • Minimizing user adoption risk
  • Frequently iterating and innovating
  • Gaining competitive advantage

Disadvantages of product discovery include:

  • It can be costly
  • It might delay development
  • You might not always have certainty about decisions

What is A/B testing?

A/B testing is a usability testing method to compare two or more versions of a feature, web page, email, or other marketing or product elements and spot which one performs best—for achieving a specific goal.

What’s the most common product discovery method?

One of the most common product discovery methods is a customer interview. By talking directly to your customer or potential user you get to identify how they speak, what they value, and the type of solution they need.

What’s the difference between product discovery and product development?

The difference between product discovery and product development is that the first one is a way to understand the target market and the latter is when you actually build the product. With product discovery, you get to talk to the user and come up with ideas to potentially solve their problems. Product development is when programmers take the research insights and turn them into a tool.