Managing Product Ideas for Product Discovery

Ehsan Abbasi
10 min readNov 8, 2023


Where do product Ideas come from?

We’re going to start with four techniques that focus on observation. They help us to learn actively by finding problems around us that we might have already developed some interest in, passion for, or experience with.All of these techniques are also helpful to adopt as ongoing mindsets that will help you to notice problems and opportunities around you in the future.

  • Solving your business problems
  • Productizing your own life experiences
  • Insider ideas
  • Vision-based ideas

Solving your business problems

Solving your problems is arguably the best way to find ideas for startups. As Paul Graham, the founder of YCombinator says: “At YC we call ideas that grow naturally out of the founders’ own experiences ‘organic’ startup ideas. The most successful startups almost all begin this way.” With this technique, we’re going to create a matrix that helps to extract such ideas from your work experiences (for personal experiences check out the next technique).

Step 1: List things that you’ve worked on

These could be projects or roles; something you do in your day job, as a freelance gig, or in your spare time. For example:

  • Building a website for animal adoption with my friend.
  • Managing a coffee shop.
  • Developing an iPhone app at my full-time job.
  • Crafting wooden standing desks and selling them on Etsy as a side gig.
  • Running a three-person UX design agency.
  • Publishing an indie magazine.Managing a team of three junior interior designers at work.

Step 2: List inefficiencies

Look at this list and ask yourself:

  • What did you spend a lot of time on?
  • What did you spend a lot of money on?
  • What processes frustrated you?

The first two questions are especially powerful. People always find value in paying for something that helps them to make more money or save time. When your service costs $30 and allows the customer to earn more than $30 (or save time that they feel is worth more than $30), there are a few reasons for them not to buy your product.

Step 3: Explore intersections to find problems

Now fill out a matrix, answering these questions on each of the projects or roles, and looking for opportunities to build products that would solve these inefficiencies

Insider ideas

Similar to the previous technique, this relies on and exploits your existing knowledge, but it focuses on your observations inside organizations.

Step 1: Internal processes of organizations

List the internal processes of organizations with which you’re familiar List organizations (companies, non-profit, universities, military, etc.) you’re familiar with, including their internal processes. Most probably these will be:

  • organizations you were part of (which you worked for, studied at, served at, etc.)
  • organizations your close friends are working for or running (and where they wouldn’t mind sharing the internal processes).
  • organizations you’ve consulted for.

Step 2: List the opportunities these organizations didn’t pursue

For a big company, some opportunities are too small and so not worth pursuing. However, these opportunities might be big enough for you. For each of the organizations from Step 1, list the following:

  • Internal products that would have value outside of the organization.
  • Audiences and niches that the organization ignored because they were too small for them (often corporations or VC-backed companies choose to focus only on big markets).
  • Processes that the organization routinely outsourced.
  • Products or features that the organization eliminated for reasons that weren’t necessarily related to the lack of traction (i.e. a change of company priorities or restructuring).

Step 3: Explore the product ideas that emerge

Consider the list of opportunities derived from Step 2 and whether they are interesting and viable. There are many examples of this technique being used by startups. Asana (with a $1.5b valuation and plans to go public later in 202010), a task management tool, was created by Dustin Moskovitz after he developed a similar internal work management tool while working for Facebook.11The idea behind the network security company, Check Point (with a $15b market cap in 202012), emerged while the founder, Gil Shwed, was serving in the Israeli military, where he worked on securing classified networks. When the internet emerged in the early 90s, he applied similar technology concepts to those he used to work on in the military to build his product for IT security.

Vision-based ideas

I like how Erika Hall defines design: it’s the gap between what currently exists and what you’re aiming for.14 I’d say that this definition would also work well in describing entrepreneurship. A great way to start thinking of product ideas is to define what you’re aiming for.

Step 1: Define your vision

Think of how you believe the world should look in the future, compare this image to how it is now, and fill in the gaps with your product or service. Your vision will probably belong to one of two categories:

  • Bring something positive closer e.g. make healthcare more accessible; make pets live longer; and teach kids to be more creative.
  • Move away from something negative e.g. reduce smoking in developing countries; reduce microplastic pollution in the ocean; and help people to have less physical pain in their workspace. You might already know what problems you’d like to tackle. Otherwise, if you’re looking to make a positive impact but not sure how here are three resources to help you do that:
  • Eighty thousand hours is the number of hours in your career, and this non-profit explores how you can best use these 80,000 hours to help solve the world’s most pressing problems.
  • The UN Sustainable Development Goals15 are a plan for building a better world for people and our planet by 2030. These goals include ending poverty, improving health and education, reducing inequality, and spurring economic growth — all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.
  • Project Drawdown16 explores solutions17 for climate change and prioritizes them by impact, measured by gigatons of equivalent CO2 reduced. By tackling the problems listed in these resources, you can be confident that your effort will count.”

Step 2: Find the reasons the vision is not a reality”

After defining the vision, we know where we are going. Now we need to build a list of reasons why we’re not there yet. We can discover the reasons by asking ourselves questions depending on the type of vision:

  • Moving away from something negative — What causes this problem?
  • Bringing something positive closer — What prevents it from happening?

These reasons will be the problems we’re going to focus on solving.

For example, your vision might be preventing microplastics from getting into the ocean. They end up in our food chain and cause serious illnesses in humans and animals. This is a “negative” vision, which means we’re trying to move away from it. The good thing about trying to find ideas that help to solve global problems is that a massive amount of effort has been put into researching and understanding the problems already. On the topic of microplastics in the oceans, we can find reports18 showing an exact breakdown of the causes of pollution and the percentage of their contribution to the problem:

  • Laundry of synthetic textiles — 35%
  • Car tires — 28%
  • City dust — 24%
  • Road markings — 7%
  • Marine coatings — 4%
  • Personal care products — 2%”

Step 3: List ways of solving these obstacles

Once we have listed the problems, we can come up with ideas for possible solutions. Below are some examples. Microplastics in the oceans LANGBRETT is a small, sustainable clothing company in Germany that is founded by a group of surfers. They are passionate about protecting nature and they looked in detail at the issue of

microplastics polluting the oceans. They took that primary cause, outlined above — laundry of synthetic textiles — and invented a laundry bag that could be used in home washing machines that filtered out microplastics. They raised about $30,000 in their Kickstarter campaign and later received a $100,000 grant from Patagonia for the research and development of their product.19 Today the laundry bag is sold by Patagonia, H&M, ARKET, and many other sustainability-minded online shops.

“Physical pain in the workspace One of my visions is the prevention and reduction of the physical pain people might be having in their workspace. One of the reasons people are having pain is bad workspace ergonomics. Long hours spent sitting might lead to various disorders, including pain. There are many causes and obstacles to solving this problem, and I’ve tackled two of them: Lack of accessibility to ergonomic solutions — I responded to this problem by producing the most accessible, high-quality standing desk in Israel. Lack of workspace ergonomics awareness — By producing custom-branded laptop stands used by companies like Samsung and Sketch as free giveaways at conferences, I’ve provided thousands of people with free ergonomics improvement for their workspace and greater awareness of the issue.”

“Reducing waste With a vision of reducing waste, you might list common problems like home appliance waste and electronic waste. One of the causes is these product’s low durability. Today’s products don’t last as long as they used to.20 In Germany, the percentage of new appliances sold to replace defective ones (as opposed to first-time purchases) increased from 3.5% to 8.3% between 2004 and 2012.21Information concerning the durability of products matters to consumers: in one study from Alanus University in Germany, consumers weighted price and theoretical product lifetime as nearly equal factors when deciding whether or not to purchase an item (33% and 31%, respectively).22Collecting such information and making it accessible to the public could help reduce waste and desirable for consumers. There are several possible sources for gathering durability data: manufacturers, external product review companies (Wirecutter, iFixit, Consumer Reports), repair businesses, and the consumers themselves. Durability reporting would help consumers to make sustainable (and also economically viable) choices, decreasing waste and encouraging the purchasing of products that are less likely to quickly end up at the landfill.

What’s idea management?

Ideas can come from anywhere. But how do product managers ensure they’re working on the ones that result in customer-driven products? By tapping into the insights offered by customer feedback, of course. And how do product managers collect, organize, prioritize and align teams on these ideas? Using the right process.

Idea management is just a fancy umbrella term for the process of collecting customer feedback and consolidating it in one place, turning that feedback into sorted insights, prioritizing the ideas generated by those insights, and then committing to them on the product roadmap.

Customer feedback comes from different customer-facing teams working on a product. It comes from sales, support, customer success, product, and even design and development. It comes in every format: Zendesk/intercom messages, emails, and social noise. An idea management system acts as the repository where everyone in the organization can submit feedback and organize it in a way that’s visible and easy for the product team to find.

Ultimately, by housing that information in a dynamic knowledge base widely available to the entire product team, an idea management system facilitates building products that are customer-focused and customer-validated.

The right idea management process helps product teams see that there is

  1. Tangible, validated evidence (feedback) that confirms the need for any given feature
  2. A prioritized list of ideas organized by themes, segments, and parts of the product
  3. A set of committed roadmap items coming down the development pipeline

Where do ideas come from?

When product managers enter the space of product planning, they come into it with a deep, empathetic understanding of the users, the market and the ecosystem the product exists in.

What some call the product manager’s instinct (their ability to make good decisions for the direction of the product) is a combination of hyper-niche knowledge: user research, market and competitive research, and business research.

Without all that context, customers don’t know the product the way a product manager does. However, customers still possess a unique type of vital knowledge that can only come from their experiences with the product. In some companies, like in places where product managers can’t even dogfood the tools they build, this feedback is indispensable to the long-term health of the product.

Types of customer feedback

Customer feedback, within the context of idea management, comes from two types of sources: structured and unstructured feedback.

  • Structured feedback is the kind that requires planning, having a hypothesis, and asking intentional questions that dive into a specific part of product usage and user behavior. It’s more strategic than the unstructured kind because it requires intentionally approaching specific segments, personas, or types of customers to get their specific feedback.
  • These are your…
  • Surveys
  • Polls
  • Feedback portals and forms
  • Interviews (via email, phone, and in person)
  • Unstructured feedback is the unprompted, unrequested kind gathered by everyone on the team who works in a customer-facing capacity. This feedback can fall under a spectrum that goes from complaints about the current product all the way to feature requests and suggestions. It can come from anyone, so PMs are more discerning with this type of feedback.
  • This is the type of feedback that comes in via…
  • Support emails
  • Zendesk/Intercom messages
  • Social noise and forums
  • The listening bit in idea management involves more than just collecting all the feedback that exists and centralizing it in one place. It also requires one of the most pivotal skills in a product manager’s toolkit: knowing what problems and needs are worth solving and which ones aren’t.
  • Product success is relative to the amount of time a PM spends understanding that bigger research context that requires a lot of information originating in hundreds of different places.

Questions to ask about the feedback you receive

All feedback is important, but not all feedback should be treated equally. Feedback is only good if it comes with the necessary context needed to decide if it’s something to act on or something to put in the backlog. That’s why it’s good to ask these questions about every piece of feedback as it comes in through the pipeline:

  1. What customer segment does the user giving the feedback belong to?
  2. Why are they reaching out? What are they hoping to achieve if we build what they request?
  3. Are they using our product the right way? Is the problem something that can be solved using an existing feature or tool?
  4. How much of a headache (time, effort, cost) is this problem for this user?

Finally, on the margin between organizing feedback into accessible categories and prioritizing it, product managers have to ask themselves three table stakes questions about each potential idea before it even gets quantified with a prioritization method:

  1. Is it viable? Will we get a good ROI on this idea? Will it contribute to the long-term growth of the product and the business?
  2. Is it feasible? Do we have the technical and people resources to build this idea?
  3. Is it desirable? Does this solve the right user-validated problem/want/need?

The next step in the idea management process is team prioritization, stakeholder alignment, and buy-in.



Ehsan Abbasi

Technical Product Manager with 4+ years experience applying data-driven mindset to build successful solutions for startups and enterprises.