The New York Times Product Discovery Activity Guide

The Product Discovery Activity Guide is intended to inspire Product Managers, Product Owners, Product Designers, UX Researchers or anyone who is interested to innovate and collaborate together with teams in smarter, leaner ways.

Initial Product Discovery, Lean Startup and Agile combined

This collection consists of tools, techniques, methods, practices, and activities that can be used in various combinations, tailored to your team’s specific goals.

Many of these activities were inspired by game-like exercises and the creative and design thinking approaches used by many technology start-ups.

Pick the goal you would like to achieve:

Understand the Opportunity

Opportunity Assessment Review Review the Product Opportunity Assessment with the team and stakeholders to ensure that everyone understands the problem, the context, and how we will measure success.

⏰ 1 hour and more

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Business Model Canvas Visualize a new business model idea—or rethink your company’s current business model—to highlight key drivers and create a shared understanding.

⏰ 15 minutes to several days
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Lightning Demos Take a look at how competitors’ products are solving similar problems.

⏰ 10 minutes
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Review Industry & Macro Research Know your markets, competitors, customer wants and needs, and what it takes to be competitive in your market.

⏰ 10 minutes
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Understand the User

Proto-Personas Develop a set of quick, ad hoc personas that depict your customers (or those who are encountering this situation or problem).

⏰ 1 hour
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Empathy Map Understand your customers within a given context by creating their profile based on what they think and feel, see and hear, and say and do.

⏰ 15-20 minutes
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Pain-Gain Map Capture your users’ pains and gains to understand what motivates and influences their decisions.

⏰ 10-15 minutes
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Value Proposition Canvas Map, think though, and discuss your value propositions and how they match your customers’ needs.

⏰ 45-90 minutes
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Customer Journey Map Illustrate the steps your customers go through when engaging with your product or the company, and how they feel at various points along the way.

⏰ 10-15 minutes
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Job Stories Identify opportunities for growth by deconstructing a job that customers are trying to get done. 

⏰ 1 hour
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Ethnographic Field Studies Sit back and silently observe customers use your product in their natural environment. 

⏰ weeks
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Contextual Inquiry Interviews Observe users interacting with your product or prototype, asking probing questions into the how and why of their actions. 

⏰ weeks
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Diary Studies Ask customers to keep a daily diary of not just how they use your product, but also their digital lives and habits.

⏰ weeks
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 Focus Groups Have a conversation between you and a group of your customers to understand their attitudes toward your product. 

⏰ days
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Site Intercept Surveys Present customers in the midst of using your product with a short, engaging survey.

⏰ hours
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On-the-Street Surveys Hit the streets as a team and ask passers-by to take a moment out of their day to fill out a short survey.

⏰ hours
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Moderated Usability Study Pose tasks and questions to your users to see how successfully they can interact with your product or prototype.

⏰ days
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Unmoderated Usability Study Record users interacting with your product or prototype through webcam or screen recording to see how well they can perform tasks.

⏰ days
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Understand the Problem

Problem Hypotheses Determine and state your most important assumptions about the user problem.

⏰ 45-60 minutes

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5 W’s Answer the key questions of who, what, where, when, and why to understand the context of the problem you’re trying to solve.

⏰ 30- 90 minutes

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Draw the Problem Do quick drawings to define the problem in a simple, clear, and compelling way. 

⏰ 20-30 minutes

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Fishbowl Focus on listening to have a more meaningful conversation—one group discusses the problem, while the other group listens and observes. 

⏰ 40-45 minutes

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The Five Whys Discover the root cause of a problem by drilling down below the surface to relate it to its context. 

 1 hour and more

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Challenge Cards Identify and think through challenges, problems, and potential pitfalls in a product, service, or strategy, then match them with solutions. 

⏰ 30-60 minutes

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Poster Session Communicate ideas and core concepts using images in a poster format to summarize a challenge or larger topic for further discussion. 

 20 minutes

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SWOT Analysis Evaluate your team’s likelihood of success relative to an objective by examining strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, dangers, and conditions that may affect your future. 

 1-2 hours

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Post the Path Define your group’s existing process at a high level and get a better understanding of the current process. 

⏰ 30-60 minutes

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Value Proposition Canvas Map, think though, and discuss your value propositions and how they match your customers’ needs.

⏰ 45-90 minutes
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Confirm the Problem

Tree Testing Find gaps between your product’s current navigation and what your users actually expect.
⏰ days

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Stakeholder Interviews Reach out to stakeholders to uncover the varied business needs and motivations involving your product.

⏰ days

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Go/No-Go Decision Discuss and decide whether the problem is a valid one to pursue further.

⏰ 1 hour

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Identify Possible Solutions

Mind Mapping Take your ideas, mix them with notes you’ve taken, and loosely organize them on paper. 

⏰ 10-15 minutes
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Post-Up Generate ideas individually about a given topic on sticky notes, then quickly present them to the group.

⏰ 10-60 minutes
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6-8-5 Sketching Create 6 to 8 sketches in 5 minutes to get down initial ideas, generate many ideas, and iterate on the best ones.

⏰ 30-60 minutes
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Brainwriting Generate multiple ideas individually, share them with each other, and then build on them together.

⏰ 30-45 minutes
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Start, Stop, Continue Examine the current situation, goal, or product by brainstorming what you want to start doing, what should be stopped, and what works well now.

⏰ 10-60 minutes
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The Anti-Problem When the team is running out of ideas for solutions for a problem, get unstuck by identifying ways to solve the opposite problem.

⏰ 30-45 minutes
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Storyboarding Take the ideas you’ve generated so far, and sketch how a user would move through part of a user story.

⏰ 10-20 minutes
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Elevator Pitch Use mad libs to create a compelling elevator pitch for your product, service, or idea.

⏰ 90 minutes
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The VC Pitch Imagine you’re entrepreneurs pitching your idea to venture capitalists—present your key selling points, how the idea can make money, and why people will buy it.

⏰ 30-90 minutes
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Participatory Design Bring your customers into the building to collaboratively build their perfect product with the team.

⏰ weeks
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Narrow the Field

Silent/3-Min Critique Converge on the most promising storyboards using an individual critique followed by voting. 

⏰ 5-10 minutes
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Identify Conflicts Comb through your storyboards and look for conflicts—where there are two or more different approaches to solving the same problem. 

⏰ 30-60 minutes
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Design the Box Make focused decisions to design the package for an idea, which communicates information about its important features. 

⏰ 1 hour plus
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Affinity Map Discover embedded patterns of thinking by sorting and clustering information into relationships and similar categories. 

⏰ 45-90 minutes
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Impact & Effort Matrix Map and evaluate possible actions based on: 1) effort and cost required to implement, 2) potential impact (long-term vs. short-term payoff). 

⏰ 30-60 minutes
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Planning Poker Planning Poker is an estimating technique to quickly gain team-consensus as to which possible solutions to prototype and which to toss out. 

⏰ 15-30 minutes
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Forced Ranking Make decisions as a group to determine a prioritized list, by ranking items relative to each other. 

⏰ 30-60 minutes
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20/20 Vision Get clarity around which projects or initiatives should have higher priority based on their perceived benefits. 

⏰ 30-90 minutes
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Dot Voting Agree on ideas that resonate most within the group to narrow down and prioritize a large amount of possibilities. 

⏰ 15-30 minutes
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Fists-to-Five Voting Quickly determine what each person’s opinion is when a group is discussing a possible solution. 

⏰ 15-30 minutes
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New-Useful-Feasible Test Evaluate the reality of proposed ideas by having everyone rate them on how New, Useful, and Feasible they are. 

⏰ 15-30 minutes
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Stakeholder Interviews Reach out to stakeholders to uncover the varied business needs and motivations involving your product. 

⏰ Days
Read more


Contextual Inquiry Interviews Observe users interacting with your product or prototype, asking probing questions into the how and why of their actions. 

⏰ Weeks
Read more

Create Tests

Define Assumptions The solution to be tested contains implicit assumptions about users that must be accounted for before testing commences.

⏰ 45-60 minutes
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Operational Definition After defining assumptions about your solution or your users, quantify how your team will prove or disprove those assumptions.

⏰ 45-60 minutes
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Live-Data Prototypes Create a prototype to test with live users at a statistically significant scale.

⏰ 30 minutes or days
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Validate with Users

Contextual Inquiry Interviews Observe users interacting with your product or prototype, asking probing questions into the how and why of their actions.

⏰ weeks
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Concierge Testing Guide potential customers through a proposed product and determine their willingness to adopt it.

⏰ days
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Concept Testing Leverage concept sketches and interface designs to judge how well a product direction attracts your potential users.

⏰ days
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Desirability Study Put your prototype’s visual design and layout to the test with potential users and their preferences.

⏰ days
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Card Sorting Let your potential users group and organise the building blocks of your product to validate navigation and taxonomy.

⏰ days
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A/B Testing Test different solutions against each other in your product’s production environment to see which performs the best.

⏰ weeks
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Demand Validation Tests Determine whether there is a desire among users for your feature or product.

⏰ weeks
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Wizard-of-Oz Tests User test a complicated product or feature without actually building it by pulling strings behind the curtain.

⏰ 1-2 hours
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Moderated Usability Study Pose tasks and questions to your users to see how successfully they can interact with your product or prototype.

⏰ days
Read more


Unmoderated Usability Study Record users interacting with your product or prototype through webcam or screen recording to see how well they can perform tasks.

⏰ days
Read more

Pivot on Learnings

Synthesize Results Synthesise your user testing results to draw conclusions about the prototype you tested.

⏰ 1 hour plus
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The Five Whys Discover the root cause of a problem by drilling down below the surface to relate it to its context.

⏰ 1 hour plus
Read more


Dot Voting Agree on ideas that resonate most within the group to narrow down and prioritise a large amount of possibilities.

⏰ 15-30 minutes
Read more


Pain-Gain Map Capture your users’ pains and gains to understand what motivates and influences their decisions.

⏰ 10-15 minutes
Read more


Brown Bag Sharing Session A short, informal group discussion designed to promote learnings and shared understanding among other teams and colleagues.

⏰ 30-60 minutes
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Go/No-Go Decision Discuss and decide whether to move a solution to production, pivot, or scrap the idea altogether.

⏰ 1 hour
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What is Initial Product Discovery?

A structured way how to come up with solutions that solve the right problems. 

In addition to the above, we can use variety of the following methods to run discovery workshops:

  • Double Diamond (Design Council, Stanford)
  • Design Sprint (Google Ventures)
  • Value Proposition Canvas (Lean Startup)

It usually takes 2-5 days to execute it based on initial conditions and expected outcomes.

The discovery team typically includes these roles:

  • Product Manager/Product Owner
  • User Researcher
  • Design Communicator
  • Prototyper
  • Technical and Business Domain Experts

Why is the Initial Discovery Essential?

Initial Discovery helps to Identify and Solve the right business opportunity. It produce value by balancing Business Viability, Peoples Desirability and Technology Feasibilty.

Design Thinking - feasibility, desirability, viability

The Benefits of Initial Product Discovery are:

  • Value driven approach
  • Solving the right problems
  • Better ways how to frame problems
  • Risk of failure gets decreased
  • Continuously involves stakeholders
  • and as a side effect is innovation

Credits: The New York Times Product Discovery Activity Guide was created by Jim Lamiell, Al Ming, Priya Ollapally, Josh Turk and Christine Yom of the Product Architecture Group.

Source: https://www.slideshare.net/almingwork/nyt-product-discovery-activity-guide