How to Prepare Your Questions for Product Discovery Interviews

Artem Loginov
Product & Quality
December 21, 2023
Preparing your questions for a successful product discovery user interview


Welcome back to our deep dive into the 50 Shades of Product Discovery. In our journey so far, we've laid the groundwork in "Introduction to Product Discovery", and we've highlighted the crucial role of customer conversations in "Product Discovery Interviews: A Startup's Guide to Idea Validation". We've also talked about the significance of validating your startup idea in "The Importance of Validating Your Startup Idea". Now, in this article, I'd like to focus on one of the most important aspects of the discovery process: the art of asking questions.

Product discovery interviews are not just about the questions you ask but about crafting a dialogue that unlocks truths and challenges assumptions. The right questions can be the key to discovering valuable insights, but knowing how to ask them is a skill in itself. As we've discussed previously, these conversations are foundational in validating your idea and ensuring it resonates with your target audience.

In this article, we'll explore how to construct questions and foster a dialogue that cuts through surface-level information and delves into the core of your customer's needs and desires. It's not just about filling out a questionnaire; it's about engaging in a meaningful exchange that drives your product vision forward with clarity and purpose.

So, whether you're preparing your first set of interview questions or looking to refine your approach, I hope you will find this article helpful and that it will help you get valuable insights for your product discovery.

Setting the Scene for Product Discovery

We set ourselves up for a successful dive into the customer’s world in the preparation stage.

First, it’s about clearly understanding what we want to learn from these interviews. Are we looking to understand pain points, test a feature idea, or gauge usability? Having this clear in our minds shapes the questions we're going to ask. It’s not just a chat; every question has a job to do.

Then, we need to think about who we’re talking to. Pinning down the right participants is just as important as the questions themselves. They should be a slice of the market we aim to serve, not just any willing volunteer.

Now, let’s talk about the setting. We want our interviewees to feel relaxed and ready to open up. So, whether it's a coffee shop, their home, or a video call, the space needs to feel right. It’s about making sure they're comfortable enough to share what's really on their mind without any filters.

Lastly, let’s remember to have everything we need at hand. From a notepad and pen for the old-school among us to the latest recording tech—being prepared means we can focus 100% on the person and our conversation.

Types of Questions to Uncover Deep Insights

In product discovery interviews, the type of questions you ask can make all the difference. Here are a few types and how to use them to get the insights you need.

Open-Ended Questions

These are the essentials of discovery interviews. They let the person you’re talking to give you more than just 'yes' or 'no' answers. For instance, instead of asking, 'Do you like this feature?' you could ask, 'How does this feature fit into your daily routine?' The first question gets you a simple reaction, while the second gives you a story and perhaps the reasoning behind their preferences.

Hypothetical Questions

These invite people to imagine a scenario and can reveal what they might do or wish for in a given situation. A question like 'What would you do if you had unlimited access to this product?' can help us understand how they value different aspects of your offering.

Probing Questions

Don't be afraid to dig deeper when someone gives you an interesting response. If they mention something is 'frustrating,' ask them to explain what exactly is frustrating about it. For example, 'You mentioned the checkout process is frustrating. Can you walk me through your last experience with it?' This helps you get past generalities to the specific issues.

Each question type serves a purpose. Open-ended questions are great for starting conversations and getting narratives. Hypothetical ones can help you understand priorities and desires. Probing questions let you dig into details that can reveal pain points and opportunities.

Mixing these question types gives you a rich, detailed picture of your users' experiences, needs, and wants. And that's what product discovery is all about.

Constructing the Dialogue

When it comes to product discovery interviews, it's not just what you ask, but how you engage in the conversation. Structuring the dialogue is about creating a flow that feels natural and encourages openness.

Start with the Easy Stuff

Begin the conversation with simple questions that help your interviewees feel at ease. Questions about their job role or daily routines related to your product area can help warm things up. It's like making a new friend; you start with the basics.

The Comfort of Common Ground

Find a topic related to your product that they're comfortable with, and use it as a starting point. For example, if you're developing a new app for foodies, you might start by talking about their favourite cooking podcasts or cuisines. This not only breaks the ice but can also provide valuable context for your questions.

Guide, Don't Lead

As you move into more specific questions about your product, try to guide the conversation rather than steer it. Your role is to listen and learn, not to influence their opinions with your own. Keep your language neutral and your responses non-judgmental.

Encourage Stories, Not Just Answers

Prompt interviewees to tell you stories. When they talk about experiences, they reveal more than just their preferences—they show you their world. A question like, 'Tell me about a time when...' opens the door to rich, detailed information.

Keep It Conversational

While you have an agenda, try not to let it dominate the conversation. Be flexible and allow for deviations if they're productive. Sometimes, the most insightful comments come from those unplanned moments.

By structuring your interviews to be conversational, you create an environment where interviewees are more likely to share frankly. They’re not just responding to questions but engaging in a dialogue that can deliver the deep insights you're looking for.

Avoiding Biases and Leading Questions

Getting unbiased and genuine feedback is crucial in product discovery interviews. To achieve this, it's important to be aware of how your own assumptions can shape the questions you ask and to avoid leading your interviewees to particular answers consciously.

Recognising Your Own Biases

We all have biases, but being aware of them is the first step to overcoming them. Reflect on your own expectations and beliefs about the product and consciously set them aside. Your aim is to uncover what your users think rather than to confirm what you believe.

Steering Clear of Leading Questions

Leading questions suggest a particular answer. For example, 'Don't you think it's easy to make transactions in our app?' assumes a positive answer. Instead, ask: 'How would you describe your experience with making transactions in our app?' which doesn't imply a right or wrong response.

The Impact of Leading Questions

Leading questions can give you skewed data. If you lead someone to agree with you, you won't find out what they really think, which can send your product development down the wrong path. It's like using a map with the wrong landmarks; you'll end up lost.

Check for Understanding

Finally, check your understanding of their answers without inserting your own opinion. A simple 'What I'm hearing is... Is that correct?' can ensure you interpret their feedback accurately.

By avoiding biases and leading questions, you'll collect valuable, authentic feedback that truly reflects your users' experiences and needs. This will help you make informed decisions that are truly based on your customers' perspectives.

Active Listening and Follow-up

Active listening is a fundamental part of any product discovery interview. It's not just about hearing the words; it's about understanding the full message behind them. This means being fully present, showing empathy, and responding in a way that encourages the interviewee to open up even more.

The Art of Active Listening

Active listening involves paying close attention to what's being said and how it's being said. Watch for non-verbal cues like facial expressions and body language. These can often tell you more than words alone. Reflect on what you're hearing to confirm your understanding and show that you're genuinely engaged.

Follow-Up to Flesh Out

When an interviewee mentions something noteworthy, don't let it slip by. Use follow-up questions to get to the core of the subject. If they say something is 'interesting,' ask them to elaborate on what makes it so. These probing questions can lead to revelations about user needs and preferences.

Encouraging Elaboration

Sometimes, all it takes is a simple 'Can you tell me more about that?' to encourage someone to provide more detail. Show that you value their input by giving them the space and time to expand on their thoughts.

Going Beyond the Script

While you should have a set of prepared questions, be ready to go off-script when the situation calls for it. If the conversation takes an unexpected but relevant turn, follow it. The insights you gather this way can be invaluable.

By mastering active listening and asking the right follow-up questions, you'll gather more nuanced insights and build a rapport that makes the interviewee more willing to share. And in the world of product discovery, the more you know your user, the better your product can be.

Practical Examples of Product Discovery Dialogues

Let's explore example dialogues that could occur in product discovery interviews for a digital service aimed at simplifying dental appointment bookings. These conversations highlight the effectiveness of different question types.

Example 1: Understanding User Frustrations

Interviewer: "Can you describe the process you usually go through when booking a dentist appointment?"

Interviewee: "Well, it’s a bit tedious. I have to call during work hours, and I often get put on hold."

Interviewer: "How does that make you feel?"

Interviewee: "It's frustrating because it interrupts my day and it's such a hassle to find a convenient slot."

Breakdown: The interviewer invites a narrative that unpacks the user’s current experience, revealing pain points with the traditional booking system. The follow-up question elicits an emotional response, providing insight into the user's dissatisfaction and the inconvenience they face.

Example 2: Identifying Desired Features

Interviewer: "Imagine a feature that allowed you to book appointments directly through an app at any time. How would you see yourself using it?"

Interviewee: "That sounds great. I could book without calling and maybe even reschedule without the back-and-forth."

Interviewer: "What specifics would you look for in such an app?"

Interviewee: "Well, seeing the dentist's availability in real-time would be a game-changer."

Breakdown: The hypothetical question helps the interviewee consider a new, more convenient solution, indicating a preference for direct and flexible booking. The interviewer's probing question about specifics provides concrete details on desired app functionality.

Example 3: Prioritising Product Improvements

Interviewer: "If there was one thing you could improve about making dentist appointments, what would it be?"

Interviewee: "I wish I could compare different dentists’ prices and reviews before deciding."

Interviewer: "How often do you compare before booking?"

Interviewee: "Every time. But it’s time-consuming to do it manually."

Breakdown: This direct question highlights the user's desire for comparative features within the booking process. The follow-up question quantifies the importance of this feature, suggesting that integrating comparison tools could significantly improve the service.

These dialogues are valuable for product development by uncovering users' specific needs and preferences when booking dental appointments. The insights gained can inform a more user-friendly booking system, leading to a product that's truly designed with the user's experience in mind.

From Insights to Action

Gathering insights from product discovery interviews is just the first step. The real challenge is translating these insights into actionable steps that can steer your product development in the right direction.

Catalogue and Analyse Feedback

Start by organising the feedback from your interviews. Create a catalogue of responses, categorising them into themes, such as 'usability issues' or 'desired features'. This can help you visualise patterns and find things in common across your interviews.

Identify Key Takeaways

From this organised data, distil key takeaways. What are the most frequent pain points? Which features are users most excited about? These takeaways become your signposts for what to tackle in your product roadmap.

Prioritise Based on Impact and Feasibility

Not all insights will be equally actionable. Prioritise them based on the potential impact on the user experience and the feasibility of implementation. This might mean addressing critical usability issues before adding new features, for instance.

Integrate Insights into Your Roadmap

Take the prioritised insights and integrate them into your product roadmap. This might involve adjusting timelines, reallocating resources, or redefining your product's scope to ensure you deliver value where it counts.

Close the Loop with Your Users

Finally, it's crucial to close the feedback loop. Let your interviewees know how their input has influenced your product. This builds trust and loyalty and lays the groundwork for future engagement.

By following these steps, the insights you've gained from your product discovery interviews can directly inform and improve your product development process, ensuring that your product not only meets but exceeds user expectations.

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