A Deep Dive into Discovery Workshops: From Idea to Roadmap
Ever been on the edge of launching a project with a standout agency, but caught between excitement and a tight budget? We've all been there. Join us as we decode the steps from project requirements to realization. Discover the backstage magic of turning visions into reality.
Chapter 1: What happened to my product idea?
Picture this: You’ve finished negotiations with an agency, and they’ve won you over in working with them. You’re impressed with their portfolio, and can’t wait to get the ball rolling on your new project. But there is one important thing to consider. You’re on a tight budget with a product launch just around the corner.
Sound familiar? Let’s be honest, I’m sure you’ve been in this scenario before.
So, what happens next? You send over your requirements and the team you’ve hired figures out the best way to interpret them. Every project is unique, and every product idea is going to be at a different level of refinement. Either way, the brief is interpreted from a design and development perspective, an estimate of the work is provided to you, and the project can commence.
Depending on what was agreed upon, from your side you might have done some or even no research on the product itself before the design phase can begin. For argument’s sake, let’s assume at least some research was done which might involve things like a competitive analysis or synthesizing a user persona. Perhaps you conducted a few interviews with your audience. But given you’re on a tight deadline, the design work goes straight into working on designing screens in what we can call the “user experience” phase — which involves sketching out rough drawings of the functionality and usability of the product itself. What will the content consist of? What will the main features be? How are users going to use the product?
A few problems could show up.
Problem #1: Product Features
While the team you’ve hired works through the UX solutions to bring your product to life, it may be tempting to change the script and rethink or add new features to the product.
Now, this is of course a normal and part of the iterative process. But unfortunately what can end up happening here is that these new ideas could fundamentally change the original set of features you agreed upon at the start of the project.
Are these changes inherently bad? Definitely not. In fact they can be incredibly beneficial to the final product. But these big changes to the core product can (and probably will) mean more work and more hours not only during the design phase, but critically to the development phase down the line. And that can have a big impact on two things we all care about: the project timeline and the budget.
Problem #2: Project Scope
So back to our scenario, the UX work continues and the original brief is looking much less useful than at the beginning. But fair enough — new features are brought to the table and are worked into the product. As the design phase shifts from low-fidelity wireframe sketches (which define the logic and functionality of a product) to high-fidelity prototypes, the workload begins to increase given that not only has the complexity of the features themselves expanded, but the design work is now being done at a much more detailed level.
At this point, the all-too-often “scope creep” phenomenon can occur, which ultimately can leave both you and the agency dissatisfied. Why? On one hand, you’ll be receiving a product different than what you had originally imagined; on the other hand the team will be working harder to meet the needs of the project without a transparent agenda or understanding of the product as a whole.
A clear project scope is something that both parties should always aim to get as accurate as possible — and when unintended project scope expands, both parties can end up taking a big hit.
Problem #3: Timeline & Budget
As mentioned earlier, probably the biggest concern for anyone investing into a product is going to be the project’s timeline and budget.
With our scenario in mind, let’s now imagine that the design work is finally completed and handed off to development. The development work, similar to the design work, at this point is working on a different scope and a different timeline given the complexity of the needs of the project. The timeline has shifted on a large scale and most likely the original deadline will not be made.
What’s arguably the biggest concern in all of this? The budget. No one likes a surprising price tag, yet it’s something that happens many times if technical requirements aren't properly assessed in advance and clear goals aren’t set at the start of the project. It's not just about the initial cost, but also about the long-term costs of making changes down the line — and is unfortunately something often overlooked.
(Image source: nngroup.com)
Is there a way to avoid this scenario?
The good news is, yes! There are different ways to avoid this particular outcome — but a great place to start is with alignment.
And the best method we’ve had success with many times over has been through what we call a Discovery Workshop.
So let’s dive into the details and see how conducting a Workshop would have changed our scenario at the beginning of this post.
But before we get to that let’s take a look at the basics.
Chapter 2: What even is a Discovery Workshop?
Great question. Every agency most likely has a slightly different idea or definition of a workshop like this, but here at Cinnamon we define a Discovery Workshops as such:
From a bird’s eye view we see it as being a crucial part of the initial project planning process — it’s intended to define the detailed scope of a given project, to set goals, and to ultimately align viewpoints and expectations between us and our clients.
But a Discovery Workshop is more than just a planning meeting. It's a series of intensive sessions that involve research and design activities led by our team. We work closely with our clients to extract all the necessary information and gain a deeper understanding of their expertise and viewpoints. Through hands-on research, user experience, and design activities we set firm foundations and mutual understanding of all involved parties before kicking off the project.
And if you’re wondering whether others have seen success in this format, well, high-profile companies around the world such as Google Ventures, IBM, Airbnb, Dropbox, and more, conduct discovery workshops as a critical part of their design process.
In summary, we see a Discovery Workshop as a clear, agreed upon blueprint for the entire project and ensures everyone is on the same page and ready to tackle the work ahead.
Why the format of a workshop?
"In a discovery workshop, we seek to understand the user, the problem, and the desired outcomes. It's an opportunity to challenge assumptions and find new insights that can drive innovation." - Google Ventures
Workshops are collaborative and cross-functional — they involve individuals from every important vantage point that’s needed for a product’s success. They can involve stakeholders, CEOs, developers, designers, project managers, and others. This creates a setting with the goal that every voice is heard and that everyone's expertise is leveraged. A lot of products fail simply because the same group of people are trying to solve all the problems. And the reason we bring everyone together is exactly to avoid this!
Workshops are carefully planned and facilitated, whereby a facilitator from the team at Cinnamon maintains structure and relevance of the topics discussed. It’s the facilitator’s job to guide the participants through research-backed activities designed to collectively understand the complexities and needs of the product, but also to create some healthy pressure to actually arrive at key decisions that will shape the product’s future.
Do I really need a Discovery Workshop for my product?
The answer is usually yes! While on the surface it may seem workshops are unnecessary — the truth is that not having a clear understanding of your product's goals and requirements can unexpectedly cost you a lot of time and money down the road.
A Discovery Workshop is designed to foster high-level discussion and decision-making among all stakeholders involved in the project, ensuring that everyone is on the same page before any design or development work begins. This helps to identify potential "knowledge gaps" and ensure that the product is actually relevant for its intended users.
Workshops are organized under six successive activity groups: Discovery, Empathy, Features & Prioritization, Usability, Design, and Evaluation & Critique.
Let’s briefly go through each to understand what’s happening and why they’re categorized as such.
While the workshop itself kicks off during the introduction session (in which team members get to know each other, all current knowledge is run through, questions are asked, and goals are set), this is where the tangible work begins.
During these activities, we focus on gathering all relevant factors of the product, the interconnectedness of those factors, and flagging any knowledge gaps or assumptions we might have. The overall goal is to create a broad bird’s eye view of everything that’s important to note about the product itself. The more we include, the better — even if ideas might not seem relevant — this is the moment to brainstorm every possible trajectory.
Creating a product for people means focusing on users. During this next phase, we shift our perspective from “features-first” to “users-first”. This allows for gaining clarity on users’ needs, motivations, and behaviors. In sum, we want to ensure we build empathy for our audience.
This is a great time to interview existing or potential users, to ensure we aren’t guessing or assuming what users will do — but instead to collect actual and relevant user data. Namely their thoughts, experiences, pain points, and desires. The information learned from them will then be organized in activities such as Empathy Mapping (where we sort through and categorize users’ collective responses — what they do, feel, think, say, and so on) and/or Journey Mapping (plotting out all the stages and touchpoints that the user will go through when engaging with our product).
The end goal of these workshop sessions is to produce a User Persona — a synthesis of all the data we gathered, in order to better understand our common user target.
Features & Prioritization
So now that we have a clearer picture of both the existing knowledge of the product and the users’ needs — we can move on to the product's features itself. During these workshop sessions, the team works in tandem to decide which features are the most important and how they will be prioritized. This is a key step in balancing feature overload, avoiding scope creep, and deciding on the most relevant features.
Several things can be accomplished here: a Competitive Analysis of competing products, a Feature List, Feature Prioritization, and more.
The advantage of doing these activities as a group is that the expertise of each individual involved is leveraged.
For example: while the team is evaluating and brainstorming which features should be included in the product, a business analyst might be present who understands the market landscape. This in turn will help shape which features will be more relevant/and or successful when launching the product. Another scenario might be when the team is determining the complexity and effort required for each feature, a lead developer or CTO might be present, who will be able to give accurate information from a technical vantage point.
The main goal in the Usability phase (once the features have been brainstormed and determined) is to create a logical and functional structure of all the gathered features.
It’s here that the product begins to take tangible shape.
Some of the core activities covered are mapping out one or more User Flows, which will determine the steps a given user takes while using the product. This will not only help in determining the logic of the product but will also help determine the amount of work required in designing and developing the amount of screens needed.
The features are also revisited through a Feature Sorting activity which brings the team together to categorize and consolidate all of the said features into relevant and logical groupings. You can think of this as the first step in determining what sections an app might have. The result of this work is a detailed Sitemap which serves as the architectural information blueprint for the entire product.
All of this brings us to what arguably might be the most interesting part — sketching out low fidelity (low detail) wireframes of key screens in order to flesh out what the product will actually look and behave like. It’s encouraged to start at the low fidelity level because this allows plenty of room for iteration, sharing ideas, and quickly trying out various layouts without costing too much time.
During these sessions, all members of the team engage in rapidly generating and discussing ideas from various perspectives. Including brainstorming specific design challenges, taking advantage of perspectives outside of design, and fostering shared ownership of the end-product.
A few of the ways the design begins to come alive are through sketching low-fidelity (or high-fidelity) wireframes. This can be done on paper, or digitally, but the idea is the same — to quickly synthesize what has been learned and to put those insights into visual form. Each individual will have the opportunity to sketch and share their ideas for how they see the product and the team will then vote on and discuss the strongest ideas.
Another method used to establish visual direction is through a moodboard. In this activity, participants will gain the chance to share what feeling they want to invoke through the user interface look and feel. This is a useful step in finding the general tone of what the design will eventually look like. Alongside this, team members also share examples of similar products and/or competing solutions.
Finally, depending on the complexity of the product, the designers on the team will take the findings from the wireframe and moodboard activities, and begin to create user interface designs of key screens, while the remainder of the team expresses their opinions and thoughts on direction. These will serve as a potential blueprint for when the actual design phase commences.
Evaluation & Critique
The final phase of the Discovery Workshop is dedicated to reflecting and evaluating on all the outcomes reached thus far.
During this time, usability tests might be conducted of the created prototypes to confirm or deny the team’s assumptions and research. And to round out the entire workshop, a pre-mortem activity can be done in which the entire team goes through a series of questions to understand and anticipate future events. Questions such as “What could cause us to miss our deadline”, “What are we worried about?”, or “What lessons have we learned from past projects?” are just a few of the points that are discussed.
Chapter 4: What are the key benefits of a Discovery Workshop?
Had our original scenario-project kicked off the project with a Discovery Workshop, here are a few of the benefits we would have gained before anyone started putting pixels to the screen or writing a single line of code.
Reducing the Price
Without proper understanding of the product or a clear brief, there's a risk that an estimate may be too high, leading to an unnecessarily inflated budget — which is exactly what happened at the beginning of this blog. Through the workshop, however, you as the client can prioritize features and functionalities, which can lead to a reduction in the number of hours required for design or development. This in turn not only ensures that the final solution is of higher quality, but also potentially cheaper.
Speeding up the Project
By defining every aspect of the project, we can create a solid plan for executing the project, including a detailed timeline, task allocation, and milestone definition. This helps to avoid any unexpected roadblocks along the way. Investing time in a workshop can save you weeks of delays during the initial phases of the project.
During the workshop, we'll dive deep into all the important aspects of your business and identify any potential issues, pain points, and possible problems that may arise during the project execution. This way, we can minimize risk and ensure that the project runs smoothly.
Getting to know the Team
By participating in the workshop, you'll get to know the team that will work on your project. You'll have the chance to share your business strategy and vision for the project directly with them, which will help eliminate any misunderstandings or misinterpretations. We'll work together to come to a consensus and make the entire development process a lot easier.
Detailed Project Roadmap
At the end of the workshop, you'll receive documentation that includes key conclusions, plans, a timeline, budget, and materials that you can use for presentations to stakeholders during the project. This roadmap will give you a clear picture of what to expect and will help keep everyone on the same page.
During the workshop, we'll help turn your idea into a tangible product. We'll also identify any possible problems and opportunities you may not have thought of and add new features to improve the product. Additionally, we'll define the MVP of the product that you can use for presentations to stakeholders and as a showcase.
Chapter 5: What are some real world examples of projects that benefited from a Discovery Workshop?
To round things out, here are a few actual examples of projects at Cinnamon that benefited from utilizing a Discovery Workshop.
The music industry: From rough ideas to MVP blueprint
A client with a music investment platform came to Cinnamon with clear business ideas, but without a clear vision on how to execute on them. Through a multi-day series of collaborative workshop sessions, we defined a clear scope of what the product was to be — narrowing down the user audience and focusing only on the core features that allowed them to shape their MVP.
Professional audio: From complex requirements to straightforward tool
A client had a vision and robust technical understanding of how to fill a gap in the professional audio engineering space. Through their collaboration with Cinnamon’s team and our Discovery Workshop sessions, we successfully translated their idea into a usable, understandable, and straightforward product, all while retaining the inherent high-level complexity of their features.
Aviation education: From large ambitions to clear-cut product
A client came to Cinnamon with a desire to transform the aviation industry by providing up-to-date and high-quality educational material to aviation professionals and students. Through a series of intensive Discovery Workshop sessions, we were able to focus on the highly specific needs of users in this industry, which lead to design work that resulted in a product with clarity and ease of use.
Want to learn more about Discovery Workshops?
Reach out to us! Our team is happy to discuss how Discovery Workshops can benefit your business, and to make your project a reality.
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