Product discovery process in Agile

Posted on January 4, 2024
6 min read


When your teams have a revolutionary software project on the horizon promising a positive business impact, it can be tempting to dive headfirst into developing the idea into reality. However, before development begins, it's essential that any product team gains a thorough understanding of the problem the software aims to solve, identifies the target audience, and aligns the product with users' needs.

The product discovery process in agile methodologies is an essential phase to stand out from the competition. It involves understanding user needs, defining product goals, and identifying potential solutions. It's the necessary link between conceptualization and realization, enabling your organization to evolve a stellar idea into a successful product. 

What is Agile?

Agile is a type of approach in software development that prioritizes flexibility, collaboration, continuous improvement, and customer satisfaction. It's a set of values and principles originally outlined by a team of software developers in the Agile Manifesto. Agile's basic tents emphasize:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change before following a plan

Agile methodologies provide specific frameworks and practices that allow teams to implement the agile principles. While these practices can vary depending on your product and industry, some common characteristics of many agile practices include:

  • Iterative and incremental development: The product team breaks down the development process into smaller, manageable iterations or increments, which allows for continuous improvement and flexibility in responding to changes.
  • Cross-functional teams: The process encourages collaboration among individuals with different skill sets—developers, testers, and designers—who work together as part of a cohesive product team.
  • Emphasis on feedback and adaptation: It's essential to facilitate regular feedback loops with users, stakeholders, and other key players so your team can know how needs are evolving and where to make adjustments.
  • Continuous improvement: The team must regularly reflect on the product discovery process to identify areas for improvement and implement changes to the product. This enhances the product's overall quality and effectiveness.

Using the agile approach as part of the product discovery process can help any team create the best possible version of the final product.

What product discovery is and why it’s essential

Product discovery is the initial phase in the product development lifecycle. This phase involves understanding the target audience's needs, exploring potential solutions to their problems, and defining the scope and direction of a product. Essentially, product discovery is about identifying objectives before jumping into building a solution. Here's why product discovery is essential.

Understanding user needs

What team wants to build a product that doesn't meet the needs or expectations of its target users? Product discovery allows teams to better understand their target users' needs, pain points, and behaviors. By empathizing with users, teams can create products that genuinely address the users' problems and provide them with real value, which leads to higher user satisfaction.

Validating assumptions

Product discovery helps to validate assumptions and hypotheses about the market, user behavior, and potential solutions. Through research, testing, and prototyping, teams can verify whether their ideas align with user expectations and market demand.

Minimizing risks

Exploring and testing different ideas and concepts early on can help you mitigate risks associated with building the wrong product. Product discovery enables teams to identify and address potential issues before they invest significant resources into development.

Fostering innovation

Product discovery encourages creativity and innovation by investigating various solutions to the determined problem. The process allows your teams to generate multiple diverse ideas and approaches, which promotes a culture of continuous iteration and improvement within the team.

Encouraging alignment and focus

The product discovery process helps to align teams and stakeholders around a shared understanding of your product's purpose, goals, and target audience. It enables better focus on what matters most to users and your organization.

Securing efficient resource allocation

You can allocate resources more efficiently by focusing on understanding user needs and iterating on potential solutions. This prevents wasting resources on building features or functionalities that users might not find valuable.

The Agile product discovery process

Agile's typical phases of the product discovery process are often iterative and not strictly linear. Because agile methodologies emphasize flexibility and adaptation, the product discovery team can revisit and adjust its approach based on new insights or changing requirements as the project progresses through these phases. Agile product discovery phases can vary based on specific frameworks and approaches but often include the following steps.

1. Research and problem identification

This phase involves identifying and understanding the problems or challenges that users are facing, which the proposed product will aim to solve. UX research can fit seamlessly into an agile product discovery process. There are two main types of research that every team should consider undertaking to gather insights into user pain points, needs, and expectations: quantitative and qualitative.

Quantitative research is any test, experiment, or investigation to gather and analyze numerical data. The metrics that measure quantitative research depend on the topic under examination.

Some examples of quantitative research methods to use during agile product discovery may include:

Qualitative research is more subjective and seeks non-numerical data, such as language, opinions, and sentiments. Researchers conduct qualitative studies in product development by studying test subjects in their natural environment to understand how they interact with a product or by interviewing them with well-thought-out questions. 

There are many different kinds of qualitative research techniques teams can use during the problem-identification phase of the agile product discovery process. For example, you can leverage:

In many cases, the best research combines both quantitative and qualitative methods to collect the most comprehensive UX data. Some of these methods are appropriate to use during the problem-identification phase, while others may be more useful when the team is ready for real users to test their prototype.

2. Idea generation

Once the product discovery team has identified the problem at hand, it's time to generate ideas for potential solutions to address the issues. Methods such as brainstorming sessions, design thinking workshops, and collaborative discussions can help to generate diverse ideas.

3. Prototyping

During this stage, the team creates prototypes or mockups of potential solutions. These could range from simple sketches to more detailed wireframes or semi-functional prototypes. Prototyping can help you visualize concepts and gather valuable information about your product’s feasibility early in product discovery. 

4. Validation and testing

In this step, real users test the prototypes, allowing your team to validate assumptions and collect feedback. Some of the aforementioned quantitative and qualitative research methods may come into play during this step — but this time, rather than identifying problems and product ideas, you’re researching how people interact with your solution. The testing phase often involves usability testing, A/B testing, user feedback sessions, and other testing methods.

One excellent method of validation is creating a UX roadmap, which is essentially a game plan that can help the product team achieve its goals. Even though agile methodologies are all about being adaptive and changing on the fly, it's still important to have an overarching plan—an agile product roadmap—to guide the product discovery process. 

5. Iterative refinement

Using the feedback your team receives during testing, you can refine the product's features, functionality, and design. The team makes changes, improvements, and iterations to the prototypes or concepts to better align with user needs and preferences.

6. Feature prioritization

Next, your team assigns priorities to the product's features and functionalities based on user feedback, business value, technical feasibility, and other criteria. Feature prioritization helps in determining what the team should work on next, and in what order.

7. Documentation and stakeholder communication

Throughout the product discovery process, it's crucial to document your findings, insights, and decisions. The importance of stakeholder buy-in during product discovery can't be understated. Effective communication with stakeholders, team members, and other relevant parties fosters transparency and alignment with organizational goals.

8. Development

Once your team completes the product discovery process, they can begin to implement the validated and refined ideas. Remember, product discovery is a process that requires ongoing iteration, and testing should continue throughout every stage of development, including after your product has launched.

Get the most out of Agile product discovery with UserTesting

Product discovery is an essential part of any successful product development. By enabling invaluable insights from real users, UserTesting can allow your agile teams to make the most of the product discovery process. Through our Human Insight platform, you can test your ideas and products with real users, observe their insights, and gain direct feedback.

With firsthand UX data—both quantitative and qualitative—your product teams can gain a deeper understanding of your target audience's behavior, pain points, and preferences. That way, you can align your product with user needs and organizational goals. Take advantage of user feedback today so you can optimize your product discovery process in agile.

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