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What is product discovery and why it should come before the MVP?

Deirdre Clarke
Deirdre Clarke
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One of the most important jobs as a product manager when launching a new product is knowing when you are on the right track. With so much emphasis on building an MVP, minimal viable product, and “The Lean Startup”, one would think it would be as easy as building a simplified demo version of an idea and then talking to customers to see if they like it, and more importantly, if they will buy it.

But hold on a sec. Before we waste our time on building anything, shouldn’t we first validate that a market even exists for it? How do we ensure that our future customers will be so excited, that they can’t wait to get their hands on it? How do we test out our theory that this is a good idea? That, my friends, is product discovery.

This year, our product team participated in an in depth session on “How to Create Products Customers Will Love”. There were a ton of valuable lessons that I learned in those 2 days, but the biggest takeaway for me was taking a step back, before building the MVP, and instead iterating through a product discovery process. During this phase, it is purely about validating that the problem we are trying to solve, really is a pain point and that the solution we are thinking about is one in which our customers would be willing to pay for.

Let’s talk through an example of how this would apply to a new idea in the B2B world. The background is that employees in offices communicate on their desk and mobile phones every day as part of their daily job. They communicate internally with their co-workers, as well as externally with customers. The product hypothesis is that those employees want an easy way to have a conversation, no matter where they are or which phone they are on. So how do I go about performing product discovery for this?

So, I made it all the way through. I have pretty much successfully validated that there really is a problem that my product can solve, and that there is a market for it.  Bingo. So am I poised for product stardom?

Maybe.

Seriously? Why not yes? Didn’t I just prove that my idea is a hit? Yes, but now I must prove that my solution will be a hit as well.

It is now time to move on to building the MVP, the minimal viable product. It is the simplest form of my proven hypothesis and a version of the solution. For me, it might be an app that simply allows me to add my desk and mobile work phones and have a conversation start on one and end on the other. I now have to prove that this simplified version of how to solve the problem is going to be the beginnings of an awesome product – the golden ticket to their happiness and one that they will love and buy.

This blog is the first in a series of blogs that I will be writing around “How to Launch a New Product.” In future blogs I will be talking about iterating on an MVP, beta testing, creating the right product marketing materials, educating and empowering internal teams, declaring official “product”, and scaling & growth. In the meantime, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on product discovery. Cheers.