Discovery Diaries: Gathering and synthesizing data [As a PM]

There’s a misconception with PMs, that they know everything and then can instantly deliver perfect solutions to solve everyone's problems.

In reality, they rather uncover a problem, define the problem and then validate the solution to solve the problem.

This is called ‘Product Discovery’ and this is the ‘Discovery Diaries’.

What is product discovery?

Building successful digital products requires two things: building the right product, and building the product right.

The former is ‘product discovery’ and the latter is ‘product delivery’, according to product guru Marty Cagan.

Where do you start?

It all starts with gathering as much data as you can about problems users are facing.

This may already be a known problem or this may be a newly discovered problem which has been prioritised.


There are a number of ways you can source your data to start understanding what problems your users are facing:

User Interviews

  • It's an obvious route but also usually a very useful one. Speaking to your customers is highly beneficial and should be done through carefully constructed user interviews with tailored unbiased questions. You can also reach larger audiences with surveys which are also very helpful.

Market Research

  • One should always look to the market with some robust research. This will allow you to reidentify your target customers and underserved their needs. This information will allow you to redefine your value proposition and understand whether you are still solving problems worth solving or whether the market has moved on.

Competitor Analysis

  • It's always very useful to look to competitors to see how they’re approaching problems, acquiring users and providing value. This might let you know whether there is a gap in your product or whether customers are happy to utilise your competitor's solutions. If customers are happy to switch to a competitor then you might have a problem.

Internal Teams

  • The customer support teams always have great insight into user needs or problems customers face on a daily basis, therefore speaking to the team on a weekly basis to get an up to date picture would also be very insightful. Depending on the business model, the sales team is also a great source of data within the business.

Data Analytics

  • Another go-to would be to look at your analytics dashboard to see if you can spot any anomalies, trends or patterns. It’s always great to segment your data into various categories to get different views or angles: user types, locations, platforms, dates

Other Tools

  • A lot of PMs always have a number of tools at their fingertips allowing them to gather various types of insights. A good example would be ‘Hotjar’ which would allow you to see where users get frustrated with your product. Using these types of tools could give you non-biased insight into your product and how users are interacting.

These are just a few ways to gather data. I’m sure there are many more sources and tools which I haven't mentioned.

I’ve gathered the data, whats next?

Once you’ve gathered all your data, it's now up to you to consolidate all your data, synthesize it and try to make sense of it.


Fragmenting is his term for reducing complex things into stand-alone insights that then can be rearranged. Essentially making your data modular to allow for flexibility in the data.

This can be done by highlighting insights in all your notes, documents or analytics and then copying them onto notes. It seems straightforward and boring but it's amazing what reordering can do as well as what insight it can give you into your users.


Another classic approach which is not difficult. You just put post-its with similar post-its. No rhyme or reason beyond your gut feeling.

By organising data with similarities, you can start to understand themes and insights by groups which you cant get when comparing in chronological order.

You can also do chunking by frequency and timeline which will also give you a different angle on your insights. It's great to get a variety in your analysis.

Empathy Maps

Again, quite a common approach which is highly effective is the empathy map. Understanding why customers make certain decisions at certain points across your product.

If you can understand the user's thoughts, emotions and motivations, then you can understand how to better predict users' actions in the future.

We’ve got so many things to work on, but which one do you choose?

It's really up to PMs to make a decision around which user problems are worth exploring and which can be scrapped. In the past, I’ve created a ‘Problem Backlog’ which is a great way to manage all your current problems over time.

But which user need or problem do you work on first?

When thinking about whether to work on a problem, you can use a number of prioritisation frameworks with complex weighting and scoring, but I find when thinking about early-stage problems I ask myself simple questions:

  • How valuable is this opportunity?
  • Can we experiment to learn and de-risk?
  • How long will this take?
  • Is a solution possible?
  • Do we know how to solve it?

Once prioritised, you can then proceed to ideate your chosen problems.

Thanks for reading — 👏 if you want more. Follow me on Twitter!



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