Product Management

10 min read

6 Common Product Discovery Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)

Product discovery is a bit like walking a tightrope. 

It’s a delicate balance of trying to understand and delight customers while also meeting business goals. 

Even experienced product managers with the best intentions can make common mistakes while juggling all of these responsibilities. And these mistakes can lead to serious ramifications, like delays in product launches and customer dissatisfaction. 

The good news is that all of these product management mistakes are avoidable. You simply need to understand how to best organize and plan your product discovery process—and have the right tools to carry it out. 

Sidestep these six product discovery mistakes, and you’ll be well on your way to building products that delight your users.

1. Limiting Who Can Participate in Product Discovery

It's common to want to limit product discovery input so you’re not overwhelming your team with too many opinions. But siloing the product discovery process only hinders your ability to make the best decisions for your organization. The trick is to find a way to include stakeholders across teams in a meaningful way.

Silos Prevent You From Building a Better Product

Everyone has something to contribute to the product discovery process, but too many voices can lead to more of a cacophony than harmony. So it’s common to want to keep product discovery to a smaller group of people with clearly defined responsibilities. 

But product discovery doesn’t work that way. Each employee has different experiences with the product, so all teams—especially the ones outside of product management—have valuable insights to offer.  

Product managers will never understand industry trends like the sales team. And your team can't possibly be as tuned in to customers' pain points as the customer support team. 

Tap Into Cross-Functional Collaboration

To build a better product, every department needs to have a voice in product discovery. Every unique perspective adds to your holistic view of the product, your development process, and your customers. 

Instead of opening product discovery up to everyone in a chaotic way, clearly define roles with different levels of involvement.

A product management coach and consultant, Tim Herbig, recommends a case-by-case approach with three levels of involvement:

“Don’t get caught up in a rigid classification of who should participate in product discovery. Who should be permanently or temporarily involved should be based on the requirements and context of your challenge, instead of a one-size-fits-all definition. In my experience, it’s important to identify who will be permanently involved in the product discovery, who will contribute temporarily, and who are general supporters of the mission.”

That way, you have clarity and accountability without limiting product discovery to the product team.

2. Neglecting Team Alignment

Getting and keeping your team aligned is crucial. How well your team works together toward a common goal directly affects the discovery process—and the quality of your product. When a team isn't aligned, communication suffers. And that results in missed opportunities. 

For instance, the customer support team might have feedback that could help you develop the next product, but that feedback might never make it to the development team because there isn’t an easy way for these teams to share challenges and ideas. 

When you implement tactics for better team alignment, collaboration happens as part of the natural flow of work.

Misalignment Equals Missed Opportunities

Everyone is busy and trying to get through the day. Without someone actively working to make sure teams get and stay aligned, people will naturally fall out of sync with each other and share less. 

Alignment isn’t some mystical state of collective harmony; it’s the result of thoughtful processes and habits implemented to maintain an organized flow of ideas and collaboration. Alignment takes work, some dedicated time, and an understanding that team dynamics are an ongoing function of the process. 

Align Your Team on a Common Goal

To increase team alignment, build transparency into the product discovery process so everyone can work toward the same goal. And be sure those goals align with the company vision. Product initiatives, too, should always ladder back up to the original vision. 

Start by making time to regularly check in across teams and share updates. Things change fast, and if other roles don’t know what’s happening, they can’t support product discovery. Create a central repository for product feedback where everyone can see the data for themselves. That way, everyone can stay up-to-date with the latest insights. Continually review your alignment and tweak it to improve. 

Try new ideas for alignment as they come up, stick with what works, and toss the rest back. Each team is unique, and what works for you won’t necessarily work for another product team. Over time, your organization will develop a unique set of best practices to foster and maintain alignment.  

3. Letting Confirmation Bias Run Amok

Confirmation bias is the universal human tendency to believe ideas that already fit within your views. It's sneaky. We often don’t realize that we're falling for confirmation bias to make decisions. And it can lead you down the wrong path. To prevent it, you can set some guardrails in place to keep your assumptions in check.

Assumptions Stall Innovation

To put it simply, we humans tend to believe we’re right. When faced with something that contradicts what we already believe, we have a hard time accepting it. Our view of the world and everything in it is influenced by our unique lives: our past experiences and the knowledge we’ve gathered. And our beliefs were constructed over a long period of time through many experiences. It’s not easy to then just believe something that flies in the face of what we already “know.” 

Stay Curious and Ask Questions

To prevent confirmation bias, double-check your bias at every stage of the product discovery and product development process. That’s especially true when you encounter some user research that flies in the face of what you already believe to be true. Stay curious for unexpected answers that contradict your beliefs. Seek out information that challenges your assumptions. Read articles and books from opposing viewpoints or seek out opinions from different perspectives.

When considering a decision or reviewing, include points and counterpoints in your decision-making process to ensure that you are considering more than one perspective. Seek out feedback from others to help you identify blind spots and challenge your assumptions. By being open-minded and willing to consider alternate viewpoints, you can make more informed product decisions and avoid letting confirmation bias run amok.

4. Leaving Validation for the End

One of the most common mistakes in product discovery is leaving validation until the end. This approach treats validation as a mere stamp of approval rather than as a powerful tool for testing hypotheses. Instead, adopt an agile approach. To build the best new products possible, include validation early and often throughout the product discovery process.

Validation Reveals User Needs

Many product managers mistakenly believe that validation is a step that comes at the end of the process. They see validation as a way to confirm that they have built the right product rather than as a way to test their assumptions and hypotheses. This mindset can lead to wasted time and resources—not to mention a product that does not meet the needs of its users.

Make Validation a Continuous Process

The solution to this problem is to include validation in every step of the product discovery process. Much like continuous discovery, continuous validation is the key to managing today’s product development. This means involving customers and users in validation as early as possible. By soliciting continuous feedback from users, you can increase user engagement and ensure that your product meets their needs. 

Sharing your minimum viable product (MVP) as soon as possible is also crucial. By prototyping and getting an MVP out there, you can get valuable feedback and iterate quickly on the feasibility of the product. If you want to build a product that truly meets the needs of your users and stands out in a crowded marketplace, you’ll need to validate throughout the product discovery process.

Building a Product Validation Process

Building a Product Validation Process

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5. Falling for Vanity Metrics

Vanity metrics are numbers that make a product or business look better than it is. They’re metrics that lack context and do not provide meaningful insight into the performance of a product or business. Examples of vanity metrics include social media followers, page views, and app downloads. 

While these metrics may look impressive on paper, they do not necessarily lead to increased business or user engagement. It is important to focus on metrics that are clearly related to your launch or product strategy and provide meaningful insight into how users are interacting with your product.

Vanity Metrics Don’t Measure Product Performance

Metrics can be misleading, and it is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on metrics that do not provide meaningful insight into the performance of your product or business. 

Vanity metrics, like social media followers or page views, can be easily measured and may look impressive on paper. But these impressive numbers don’t necessarily translate to real business success or user engagement. People are drawn to metrics that make them look good rather than metrics that provide meaningful insight into the performance of their product or business.

Measure Outcomes and Growth

To avoid falling for vanity metrics, focus on metrics that matter—that is, metrics that are clearly related to your launch. User feedback is a good example of a useful metric. It can come in the form of feature polls or help desk tickets. Validating customer engagement metrics like retention and churn is also important. These metrics can provide insight into how users are interacting with your product and help you identify areas for improvement.

In addition to these metrics, it is also important to regularly review your product strategy. This will help you stay on track and ensure that your product is meeting the needs of your users. By focusing on the right metrics and regularly reviewing your product strategy, you can avoid falling for vanity metrics and make informed product decisions that drive growth and success.

6. Using Inadequate Customer Feedback Tools

One of the common mistakes made by product teams is using inadequate customer feedback tools or no tools at all. Without tools that can help you collect market research and understand user needs, you’ll struggle to create a successful product discovery approach.

Customer Feedback Is Vital to Product Success

Many product managers have never had access to the kind of feedback, product research, and collaboration features that facilitate great product discovery. As a result, they may rely on inadequate customer feedback tools or no tools at all.

Use a Tool Built for Customer Feedback

Keep customer feedback in a central place and make it easy for the whole team to access. Let everyone present ideas and then vote on them to decide which ideas have the most support. It’s also critical to measure the impact of ideas after implementation to identify which ideas are working and which ones need to be improved. 

With UserVoice, you can gather customer feedback, prioritize ideas, and measure the impact of implementing them.

To take your product discovery process to the next level, request a demo.

Kinjal Dagli

Senior Content Marketing