How to nail the Discovery Phase of your project?

Design Thinking

It is a very exciting moment for each team member when the project they are to work on has a well-defined scope and is well-estimated.

Predictability is increased, unexpected project expenses are lowered, and what’s more, the development team can focus on product quality and not on how to determine business logic.

Is there a method that can give you a better chance of achieving all that? Of course, there is. In this article, I will show you how to use it.

In my previous article, I mentioned the importance of architecture and how it can positively influence the project outcome. However, before creating the architecture, there is a significant step that determines the success of your project. It’s called Discovery Phase.

Key points:

  • Why is Discovery Phase so important for your project?
  • What is Design Thinking?
  • How to get started?

What is Discovery Phase?

Simply put, the Discovery Phase is a process where you collect and analyze information about your future project. It can be its scope, budget, expected profitability, and timeline, but the most challenging and crucial part is a deep understanding of the business reason.

For instance: you want to create a cloud strategy for your organization. The first thing you need to do is analyze and gather requirements regarding the benefits you can get from that transformation. How do you go about that? You have two options:

  • You can do it the old-fashioned way – lock yourself up in a room, think about what the new cloud product or service should be like and communicate ideas via e-mail.
  • Or you can organize a Design Thinking workshop – use a modern and efficient method to complete all activities in a few days.

You have probably guessed that the second option is much better but before we jump into details, let’s think about what you need to do during the Discovery Phase to make sure you will get your desired outcomes:

  • Defining the vision: defining the goal is crucial to understanding which direction your team should choose. It helps you make important decisions and validates the vision with the stakeholders.
  • Working on business processes and requirements: understanding the entire business process can be an almost impossible task. When defining a new process (or modifying an old one), use expert knowledge that can help you find gaps and bugs. At this stage, only group work can lead to satisfactory results. That result is understanding the scope of your new idea and how it impacts other areas of your business. The engagement of the Development Team is also recommended here.
  • Preparing timelines and milestones: When you have a well-defined product or service, planning becomes easier than ever. Thanks to this, your team supports you from the very beginning and understands the business context, and your team members can better plan their work and give you more accurate estimates.

Why organize workshops?

Achieving the outcomes above can be tough and demanding work, but without it, the entire project may go astray. Yes, you can use the old-fashioned way, but then all the work is on you. This approach does not require the organization of any workshops and interactions between you and other people, however, you may lose:

  • Synergy effect (1+1=3) – cooperation and idealization of ideas with others give greater results than the sum of the ideas (from single emails or calls).
  • Focus on the work – during a workshop, everyone is focused on resolving the workshop goal (no interruption from urgent calls and emails).
  • Being on the same page – everyone knows the scope of the new initiatives and is familiar with the challenges.

Of course, leading and working with a group requires good coordination, planning and experience in reacting to situations that are unexpected (a clash of different visions can cause a conflict that a good facilitator should handle effectively). However, with the right, competent facilitator in place everything should go smoothly.

Luckily, there is one method that will help you organize effective workshops and create products or services designed to resolve real-life business problems where the client is at the center of attention.

What is Design Thinking?

One of the approaches that you can use to collect all the crucial information is Design Thinking. It aims at answering critical business questions through five steps:

  • understanding,
  • sketching,
  • deciding,
  • prototyping,
  • and testing ideas.

After 2 to 5 days, you get a tested prototype that is based on your clients’ actual needs.

Design Thinking workshop: five steps

Step 1. Understand

Focusing on clients’ actual problems is crucial. Thinking only about your revenue (that you may receive from this product or service) can be a trap. Your clients don’t care about your profit because they want to resolve their problems. At this step, you must discover and understand what clients really need and define their real challenges.

Step 2. Sketch

If you have a problem that you want to resolve, the Sketching step helps you with idea creation and spawning. Inspiring ideas enable the drafting of future concepts that can solve a particular problem.

Step 3. Decide

At this step, you can have many ideas about how to resolve the problem you defined, so it’s time to decide which of them are worth developing and testing (probably not all of them can give the desired WOW effect)

Step 4. Prototype

At this stage, you will produce the physical representation of your new idea that should bring about a WOW effect for your client.

Step 5. Test

This step is about testing the prototype and summarizing the whole Design Thinking workshop. The outcome is a validated solution prototype.

Why Design Thinking adds so much value

Let’s look at some benefits:

  • It enables shortcutting the endless debate cycle and compressing months of time into a single week.
  • It identifies the right challenge – especially if there is a big problem to resolve or a completely new product to be deployed.
  • It utilizes most of your team’s knowledge – a diverse team ensures that all viewpoints are taken into consideration.
  • All stakeholders have a common understanding of the challenge they are facing thanks to visualization and full communication.
  • Teams will improve their capability of elaborating ideas and making the right decisions in future challenges.
  • It delivers a usable, reliable, realistic prototype with the lowest effort possible.
  • It reduces the project risk and effort – providing the necessary information within a maximum of 5 days.
  • It clarifies the vision of the idea.
  • It tests ideas in the real world.
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Design Thinking: typical mistakes

Based on my experience, I have come to recognize some common mistakes that negatively and significantly affect the workshop outcome. However, the fixes are relatively easy to apply.

1. Not sticking to the workshop goal
Each stage of Design Thinking has a different goal to achieve, but they all should relate to the workshop objective. It must be short and easy to understand.

2. Lack of a wider agenda
My last Design Thinking workshop took 4 days, and without good planning, it would have been a nightmare to manage it effectively. I generally spend an entire day organizing such a meeting.

My preparation for the 4-days Design Thinking workshop

My preparation for the 4-days Design Thinking workshop

3. Not including the development team
Achieving common understanding also requires the inclusion of the development team in the workshop. Usually, a developer doesn’t have the chance to question or clarify some of the requirements since he doesn’t see the big picture or the business context.

4. Lack of a dedicated facilitator
An experienced facilitator who does not have any personal stake or emotional relations to the idea is a must.

Design Thinking promises a lot of what you can achieve in the discovery phase. However, for everything to work, you need to have a well-structured action plan and fully commit to the role or look for another facilitator. If you’re having trouble finding the right person to lead the workshops, contact us, we’ll be happy to help.

Key takeaways:

  1. Discovery Phase helps gather and understand all client requirements, and when done properly, the project success is within reach.
  2. Design Thinking is an approach in collecting infromation necessary to launch a succesful project as it asnwers all critical business question through five steps.
  3. By adopting the method, it is easier to start a new project equipped with a well-defined scope and crucial inside knowledge for the project team.