Developing and launching a new software or application on the market is a complex process that requires not only a good idea, but above all a lot of planning and active involvement on the part of many project stakeholders.
For this reason, complex IT projects should start with discovery workshops, which help to refine the product concept so that the Client can be sure that it meets both the expectations of future users and the company’s business goals.
What is the product discovery phase in IT project management?
The product discovery stage in an IT project is of key importance, as it is when the pbasic roject goals and requirements should be defined, such as budget, team composition, functional specification, business expectations, etc.
The types of questions and analysis results will vary depending on the type of company and project, but there are a number of good practices that apply in every discovery phase, regardless of the specifics of the software.
First of all, the main goals that we want to achieve through product discovery should always include:
- defining and systematizing the customer’s requirements for the product,
- defining the target group and analyzing its needs,
- estimation of the market potential of the product and the business legitimacy of its development,
- specifying the duration of the project and its costs,
- determining the expected return on investment.
As you can see, the product discovery stage is the process of collecting and analyzing data used to specify the purpose of the project, its potential and limitations.
A well-conducted discovery phase, thanks to the support of a partner such as SOFTIQ, makes it possible to verify whether the planned creation and implementation of the product is justified from the business point of view.
In this article, we will focus on discussing one of the tools useful at the product discovery stage, which is the discovery workshop.
What are discovery workshops and what are their goals?
The role of discovery workshops is to gather key stakeholders together with representatives of the software house project team to discuss and specify the goals of the project, requirements for the contractor and expected results to be achieved.
The exact length of workshops depends on the company’s needs and the complexity of the project, and they can be conducted both online and offline.
The effect of a well-planned discovery workshop is a clear, realistic action plan, which is the starting point for developers and is often used at a later stage to develop a version of the product in the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) model.
The main goals of discovery workshops include:
- defining the product and its functions,
- preparation of a product development plan,
- defining end users, creating user personas and user stories,
- developing a list of key product features,
- analyzing and evaluating ideas and expectations regarding the product,
- calculation of the initial project budget,
- preparation of an estimated project schedule,
- analysis of the competitive environment.
Each of these points is then detailed, but thanks to the discovery workshops, we have a coherent vision of the product, which is a good starting point for further work.
What are the additional benefits of discovery workshops for the Client?
As we mentioned, the main goal of the discovery stage is to refine your idea and turn it into an action plan that takes into account the business needs of your company.
However, it is worth remembering that working together with representatives of a software house allows you to get to know the people that will be responsible for the future of your project. During discovery workshops, it is much easier to assess the team’s experience with similar projects by asking for specific examples of solving various problems.
It is also a good opportunity to get to know the work culture of the software house, the technologies it uses and the approach to remote cooperation.
In addition, bearing in mind that work on the project may take several months, depending on the complexity of the product, discovery workshops are also a good opportunity to assess the aspect of communication between you and the contractor’s team. Efficient organization of workshops, during which you will receive clear and comprehensive answers to your questions, may be a good sign for further, efficient cooperation.
Who should take part in the discovery workshop of a new IT project?
The number of people participating in discovery workshops is not strictly defined and should be adapted to the specifics of the project. A well-diversified group of experts and stakeholders, each of whom brings a different perspective, allows you to look at the project from different angles and analyze many aspects that are important to both the Client and the software house.
Most often, the team during discovery workshops includes:
- facilitator – representative of the software house, with extensive experience and knowledge of all aspects of the project, from design, through development, business perspective and end-user requirements,
- members of the project team – incl. UX/UI designers and software architects who can answer questions about the design phase, as well as refer to the feasibility of the proposed software elements,
- members of the development team – their participation in discovery workshops helps to refer to the individual functional requirements of the product, confirm their feasibility and answer any questions regarding the technical aspects of the project,
- Customer representatives – the team delegated by the company should be able to present and discuss the business goals that are set for the created product, as well as the requirements and technical limitations specific to the company,
- user representative – it can be a person who understands the needs and expectations of end users, or is part of the group to which the product is addressed.
Thanks to the joint work of teams composed in this way, it is possible to get to know the company and its needs better, as well as the software house expectations regarding the product.
In turn, the Client’s representatives can get to know better the way of thinking and the vision of the project team, thanks to which they can assess at an early stage to what extent it meets their expectations.
It is important for the Client to include stakeholders who will make decisions related to the project in the later stages, so that they can express their doubts and get comprehensive answers to them at an early stage of work.
What are the stages of discovery workshops?
Often, before workshops, Clients ask us how much time they will have to spend on them. It directly depends on the type and complexity of the project, but it is worth remembering that the work of the representatives of the software house and the Client during workshop sessions is not everything. In addition to the meetings themselves, in order to fully use the potential of discovery workshops, it is necessary to plan additional activities.
Regardless of the type and scale of the project, a well-planned and conducted discovery workshop includes the following stages:
1. Preparation for the workshop
This phase involves both the software house and the Client’s representatives. At this stage we obtain all materials regarding the company, product vision and the current stage of the project.
These materials are used to properly prepare the workshops, so that the work is as effective as possible and brings the best results.
A brief for a software house is often useful at this stage, if it has been previously sent by the Client.
2. Workshop meetings
With simple projects, 1-2 meetings may be enough, with more complex ones, even a few days of workshop work are needed, during which we create a common vision of the product, define and describe its most important functionalities and make sure that it meets the needs of the market.
3. Software house’s work after sessions
Based on the material collected during the workshop sessions, we refine the functionalities and create a product specification, along with the required sketches and mock-ups.
4. Feedback session
We present the developed materials to the Client and verify whether they have been prepared in accordance with their expectations.
5. Creating and presenting a report from the discovery workshop
We prepare a full report containing all the materials developed at each stage of the discovery workshop. Depending on the specifics of the project and the plan for the discovery phase, they may include:
- product vision,
- project roadmap,
- technology stack,
- product development strategy,
- sketches and mock-ups,
- list of key functionalities,
- initial project budget,
- project timetable.
Properly prepared and conducted discovery workshops provide all the materials that can be used to start further work on the product, being sure that both the representatives of the Client and the software house understand in the same way the idea and business goals that the software is supposed to achieve.
What are the potential consequences of ignoring discovery workshops in the software development process?
Among people dealing with information systems, the concept known as GIGO (“garbage in, garbage out”) is popular, according to which, regardless of the team’s competence, if the input data used in the process is incomplete or incorrect, then the the conclusions or developed solutions will be of the same quality.
The main goal of discovery workshops is to make sure that the assumptions and data, on the basis of which the decision to start the project and choose product functions was made, are correct. This will translate into the final effects of the entire team’s work.
Ignoring the discovery phase and workshops in the project may have negative effects, among which 3 are the most common:
1. Underestimation of project costs
In the case of many systems or applications, the very idea behind them is quite simple. Because of that many customers fall into the trap of thinking that it will be just as easy to develop a system based on their idea.
In fact, often, the more obvious your idea seems, the easier it is to underestimate project costs. For this reason, many projects, especially those planned by startups, are abandoned – there are simply no funds to complete the work.
You should remember that a simple idea needs to be translated into a real product, using various technologies and devoting a certain amount of time to it, which means real costs.
That is one of main reasons why the support of an experienced software house during discovery workshops has a direct impact on an increased chance of success of the entire project.
A team of analysts, programmers and designers is able to assess, optimize and properly price individual functions, thanks to which the Client knows the project budget before work starts and is able to secure necessary funds.
2. Creating a perfect product that no one needs or wants
In the case of systems or applications created for the internal use of the company, this problem practically does not occur, but it is of key importance when the new product is addressed to external users and is supposed to generate a profit.
According to the data published on the Statista.com portal, in 42% of cases the reason for the failure of startups that created mobile applications was the lack of market need and user interest.
As one of the key goals of discovery workshops is to identify end users, create user personas and user stories, we might definitely say that ignoring this stage in the process increases the risk of failure of the entire project.
3. Important functionalities missing or incorrectly described at the design stage
Another frequently occurring problem that can be avoided thanks to discovery workshops is the imprecise definition of product requirements, which may result in the omission of important functions or their incorrect design.
During the workshops, the software house team will be able to help your company’s representatives translate the project idea into the language of technical requirements, and will also help verify which functionalities will be crucial from the point of view of future revenues as well as the expectations and needs of end users.
Then, the design and implementation of individual functionalities will be reflected in the project schedule, so that there is enough time not only to develop them, but also to test them properly.
Other forms of IT consulting provided by SOFTIQ
Discovery workshops are a great way to move from the planning phase to the development of the software or application. In most cases, however, they are carried out after the contractor has been selected and are not the optimal option for companies that want to verify and refine their idea before making the final decision which software house they will finally choose.
With such Clients in mind, SOFTIQ has prepared an offer of IT product consulting sessions in three options:
1. “Snapshot” – one day counseling session
This form of strategic consulting works best as the initial stage of most small sized projects.
Thanks to the specialist knowledge of our consultants, you will learn, among other things, how to choose the right technologies, optimal for optimizing the costs of your project.
We will discuss with your team the critical requirements for the project, as well as provide key tips for long-term planning of its development.
At the end of the one-day counseling session, we will provide you with a report containing the most important guidelines and best practices.
2. “Product Workshop” – two days of consultations
It’s a classic software development workshop, addressed to companies struggling with more complex technical problems or medium sized IT projects.
We focus on the analysis of key business challenges, proposing the most optimal solutions in terms of usability and costs.
Great emphasis is placed on the aspect of further development of the project and its scalability.
As a result of the work of our team of consultants you will decieve a detailed, technical report, created with the business analysis methodology and containing precise guidelines.
3. “Deep Dive” – individually planned, in-depth consulting sessions
This consulting option is addressed to companies planning to build and implement non-standard solutions from scratch, or preparing for large, complex digital transformation projects, both on a local and global scale.
Extensive “Deep Dive” consulting sessions are held with the participation of our most experienced specialists with many years of consulting experience gained while working on complex projects and enterprise-scale solutions.
Thanks to full flexibility in planning the length of consultations and the possibility of ensuring the participation of a group of experts with diverse competences, we are able to comprehensively plan your project strategy.
As a result, you will recieve an extensive report, containing a full range of indications necessary for the successful planning and implementation of your project.
As mentioned, discovery workshops are an effective way to start working on a successful system or application that will not only reflect the creators’ idea, but above all respond to the real needs of users and stand out among competing products.
Regardless of the size and type of product that you want to design, taking the time to conduct well-planned workshops will always translate into reducing the risk associated with the project.
Verifying the idea at such an early stage and understanding the needs of users is one of the key steps on the way to creating a product that will provide real value, which will translate into its market success.
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