Exploring the discovery phase and what is a discovery workshop is critical for understanding the goals and business needs of any new product or startup. In this article, I am explaining the importance of the discovery workshop and details on how you run one.
This article is part 1 in a five-part series about online discovery, product, and design workshops. Click the links below to go back or skip ahead to the next article.
The discovery phase is critical for understanding the goals and requirements of any new startup, business process, product or service. But just what is a discovery workshop, why is it important, and how do you run one? The market is saturated by digital products and services, and with so many ready-made solutions already available, understanding how yours is different, and how it is intended to succeed, are the keys to real growth.
The discovery phase is the most important step in any business or project development process. During this time, you define the basic goals of the project, requirements like budget, staff, and funding, functional specifications such as tech stack and end-user platform, logistical expectations, and more. The types of questions you ask and output generated during the process will vary depending on the type of company, or project, and its business goals, but there are best practices which apply to any discovery session.
A discovery workshop is a specific activity of the discovery phase that aims to put key stakeholders in a room together for the specific purpose of ideating and defining the project objectives, requirements, and expected outcomes. Ideally, these workshops are held over a minimum of several days, once or twice a day, for a minimum of 1-2 hour sessions. You should come away from these sessions with a clear, actionable project plan that can be implemented by a product developer in order to achieve a minimum viable product (MVP).
We’ve already discussed the basic goals for discovery, but let’s dig a little deeper. When organizing a project discovery workshop, there are specific outputs which you should expect in order to help you move forward into the pre-production stage of development. Let’s break down a few of the most important expected outputs from one of our client sessions:
- Definition of your MVP
A product development plan for investors
Identify end users, create user personas & stories
List of key product features for prototype development
Pros & cons of stakeholder expectations/ideas
Early financial estimate for development
Estimated project timeline
Competitive analysis (comparison of the product with market solutions)
Any of these can be expanded and explored ad nauseum, but at the very least you should have clear ideas and documents generated to cover these important topics after leaving the discovery workshop.
A startup workshop and a discovery workshop follow essentially the same process, with a few important distinctions. A startup workshop is meant to help prospective founders define their company, product or service and get market validation for their product idea. Creating functional digital products requires a lot of time and money invested, and you don’t want to waste either of those on a new company or product without a clear path to success.
Established companies run discovery workshops to validate new ideas, internal platforms, products, or services they are interested in exploring. In the case of a discovery workshop for an established company or successful product, factors like brand recognition, existing capital, and human resources such as staff & leadership, are working for you already.
At DO OK, we use a variety of tools and techniques with business founders and product owners that have proven effective with many clients over thousands of hours of application, process refinement and follow-up review. With our new online workshop offering, for example, we use the following main strategies:
Inspired by Bain & Company’s Elements of Value, we work with you to create value-driven documents that reflect not just the purpose and values of your company and stakeholders, but the real and perceived value of your product for consumers. For instance, the popular Fitbit personal fitness tracker has identified the inwardly-focused element of motivation as core to its product offering.
Working with one of our clients, a fintech company from Finland, we’ve defined hope as a core value for their new payment terminal product. As the client said:
"I not only understood my company better, but also myself."
The Lean Canvas is an alternative template for business plans, created by Ash Maurya, which helps you break down your idea into key assumptions, and replaces elaborate business plans with a one-page business or product model. If you are beginning from scratch with a new startup, writing a business plan can be one of the most daunting tasks you face. The Lean Canvas method eliminates all that stress & anxiety, by outlining your business purpose, stakeholder values, financial assessments and more on a single page.
Event storming is related to brainstorming but calls on all the knowledge and expertise of stakeholders for collaborative exploration of complex business domains. By visually representing all the expected steps and outcomes in given user journeys, execution of a software program or business process, stakeholders can react to specific points or the process as a whole, giving themselves and everyone else in the room a clear idea of how stakeholder and user values align.
A key step in developing a new company or product is creating a backlog, which can be thought of as a map or timeline of features needed to achieve an MVP, or to uplevel an existing product. For software development, creating a product backlog means listing changes to existing features, bug fixes, backend infrastructure upgrades or other activities for a project team to deliver the desired outcome. Backlog mapping, like event storming, uses sticky notes to outline user stories, or use cases, related to existing and proposed features of the business, product or service.
The four key results of a successful workshop are:
The Value-driven Pyramid, which reflects stakeholder and customer values, condensed into one readable pyramid. This will be the primary source for writing your competitive advantage.
The Value-driven Backlog, which maps values to core features on emotional and functional levels. Craft successful products to respond on a high level to customers’ needs, and break out key segments for further improvement.
An initial plan which divides the backlog into phases or milestones, and helps prevent scope creep for untested ideas. Phases could include market research, product design, or user experience (UX) testing.
List of crucial assumptions & ballpark, which covers both the dependencies and risks which need to be considered when implementing the new idea. The ballpark estimate addresses the level of quality and approximate value of the investment needed for execution. To achieve appropriate estimation, we suggest using the Story Points method.
Seen as a whole, the final deliverable from the discovery workshop will provide you with everything you need to kick off the development of your new idea. You can also use the output as a foundation for additional discovery workshops, refinement of the backlog, or deeper dives into your company’s core values, such as brainstorming about innovation processes, or growth hacking.
If you’re in the early stages of development, participating in a discovery workshop is the best way to test ideas, investigate potential markets, and evaluate risks or other contingencies.
After completing the workshop exercises, your team will have a clear perception of how every product or service your company offers contributes to every value your stakeholders and customers hold.
In the next article in our series on Understanding the Online Workshop: How to Run a Product Workshop
, I will share more information about these workshops, including a step-by-step guide for conducting your own!