Discovery research: Your guide to the best methods

4 min read David Renwick

Discovery research prior to the design and development of products, services and features nearly always leads to better results, whether that means a better reception from your target audience or product/market fit.

But you already knew that.

You’re likely well aware that this all-too-important research phase helps you to gather a broad range of insights about the opportunities in front of you, better define exactly what problems you need to solve and get stakeholders and other parties involved early on.

With this in mind, which methods should you use to generate the best discovery outcomes? Let’s find out.

Interview your stakeholders

You’ll no doubt be familiar with the process of interviewing your users, but it’s now time to apply that same skillset to the stakeholders of your project. This is a fairly common user research practice, and can give you a good idea of the following:

  • Organization goals: What problems is the business trying to solve?
  • Constraints: What factors could stand in the way (whether technical or otherwise)?
  • Current insights: What do your subject matter experts already know about the problem you’re trying to solve, and what do they know about your users?

Stakeholder interviews are an excellent place to start if you’re planning to build an entirely new product or build a substantial new feature for a product that’s already being used.

Analyze business data

You don’t always need to go outside of your organization to gather information about the problem space. Chances are (especially if you’re in an established company) that there are already reams of useful data just waiting for the right analytical eye.

When we talk about business data, we basically mean any data that the organization already has about the product or feature that you’re working on. This could come in many forms, for example, qualitative anecdotes from customer service teams, or quantitative data about usage from development teams. Analyzing this sort of quantitative and qualitative data will give you useful context about key stakeholders, user pain points, opportunities and even broader issues such as alignment. 

Depending on when you start this process, you may find that digging into business data is also a good opportunity to introduce yourself to the stakeholders most closely aligned with the data.

Carry out competitor analysis

Competitive analysis is the process of comparing the products and services of one company (typically yours) with those of another company. You carry out competitive analysis by comparing different types of data. For example, when we here at Optimal Workshop redesigned our blog, we carried out a significant amount of discovery research, which included a large amount of competitive analysis of other blogs. We focused on things like functionality, types of content, target audience and design.

Competitor analysis is a great way to work out where you stand alongside your competitors. You can get an idea of opportunities that they’ve missed, things they do well and potential areas of innovation for your own organization.

Run user interviews

User interviews are a research method designed to get qualitative information directly from your users. Typically, user interviews involve asking people questions related to how they use a particular system, their behaviors and their usage habits.

This research method is useful across the lifecycle of a product, but it’s particularly relevant in the discovery phase. At this point in time, you can use the results of user interviews to build your customer journey maps and personas and segments.

Host a diary study

In a diary study, users log activities of daily activities as and when they occur to generate contextual information about their behaviors, wants and needs. You can then use this data to better understand feature and product requirements.

This method has obvious advantages when used in the discovery phase of a research project. By casting a wide net and having at least 10 participants involved, you can get a broad range of insights over a long period of time. Once you’re finished, you’ll have access to useful self-reported information about usage behavior, usage scenarios, habits and more.

Wrap up

Hopefully, this guide has given you a good introduction to some of the methods that you’ll want to use during your next discovery project. Once you’ve wrapped up your discovery work, you (and your team) should have a clear understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve as well as the opportunities and potential areas of innovation. Oh, and stakeholder alignment of course!

Keep in mind that it’s OK if the outcome of a discovery project is a dead-end – or a completely new direction. Discovery now helps you to avoid running into those issues after you’ve built a new product or feature. 

Happy discovery!