How to Conduct the Perfect Technical Discovery Session
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January 4, 2022
App development projects often overrun budgets, overshoot deadlines, and overwhelm stakeholders. But there is a way the top players use to avoid all that and deliver value: Technical Discovery.
The importance of technical discovery
According to a recent McKinsey report, 17% of all IT projects fail, only 7% are delivered without a delay, and almost 50% of them exceed the budget!
If you’re a startup, every one of these is a company killer. And if you’re with a bigger company like a Fortune 500, this could be the worst outcome for your department.
That’s why, in an age of shifting user needs and personas, technical discovery is the crucial separator between a good app and a great one. Discovery brings trust and alignment to everything you do.
And it’s absence can be an absolute nightmare.
Every dev team’s worst nightmare
Picture the following scenario.
Your team gets a high priority requirement. The pressure from the stakeholders is piling on the project manager. The scope needs to get out to them pronto but your development team isn’t too sure how to get it done. But under pressure, they just wing it. The PM takes this and arrives at a deadline with the stakeholders.
When work starts, the dev team realizes they dug themselves into a deep, deep hole. Everything is harder than they thought. The deliverables are mounting. Although they hate to do it, the devs have to inevitably compromise on quality.
The next time round will be even worse. Developers artificially expand the estimates. PMs artificially tighten the deadlines. Retrospectives become uncomfortable blame games. This cycle of mistrust goes on.
If you’ve been in this situation before, you can relate to how confusing and difficult it is to right the ship.
But there’s a way out: Discovery.
What is discovery?
Technical discovery is how you come to terms with the work you have on hand. You explore its scope to the fullest, map out each individual step’s requirements, and assign an internal weight to it. In other words, a healthy discovery defines every aspect of a product’s design and delivery.
By the time you’re done, you’ll know exactly how much time each step will take and how you need to allocate your resources. It’s the surest way to win every stakeholder’s trust before you start work.
Getting started with discovery
The best start to the discovery phase is lining up the right people. This fetches you early attention as well as buy-in from the high-level execs who matter — including the C-levels.
Winning over this audience internally increases your project’s success potential because they add crucial energy and visibility by articulating their vision and goals. This clarifies your mission right at the start.
At this stage, the questions you need to ask are:
What is being proposed?
How will it be built?
What will it cost?
How long will it take?
Who are the target users?
What value will the solution bring to the user?
Tip: Right at the start, make sure you assign ownership for managing the project/product. Influential decision makers within your company should not only understand what your project will accomplish but also what its design and development entails. After all, discovery is all about alignment, perspective, and expertise. It’s how you win trust.
The handy discovery phase template
If your discovery process doesn’t cut corners, you will chart out a defined course of action or roadmap. Your roadmap should have milestones and checkpoints to realign your focus and calibrate your efforts as and when priorities arise.
To help you get started, here’s a broad list of typical checkpoints I use when I’m running a discovery workshop.
Sites Along the Discovery Roadmap
Your business goals and KPIs
Budgetary and timeline considerations/expectations
Project scope, definition, and estimations
Initial designs, UX/UI
Future maintenance requirements and management
Technical architecture framework
Security and compliance requirements
These items don’t have to be in order. They can even happen simultaneously. But bear in mind that skipping even a few of these checkpoints can result in an increased risk for failure to develop.
Roadmaps like these get you started with building a backlog that captures 80% or more of the work that needs to be done. Here’s a helpful list of templates by the University of Chicago’s Project Management Office to get you started!
Keep stakeholders happy with milestones
Roadmaps give stakeholders insight into potential ROI. Prototypes, both low and high fidelity ones, allow them to give crucial feedback.
But in the absence of KPIs, metrics, and a solid proof-of-concept (since Discovery is tough to quantify), milestone releases become your tokens of accomplishment. They promote trust, confidence, enthusiasm, and fetch more buy-in for the creative discovery process.
Making discovery pay for itself
Discovery is where you perform R&D in the form of user research. A 4-6 week commitment at this stage aligns stakeholders and defines priorities — helping you save weeks or even months on product development — and paying for itself in the process.
I have a better idea after discovery is over. What do?
Every business has a grey area between discovery and execution where they start to second-guess their vision or come running into the room with fresher ideas. In almost every case, the correct way to proceed is sticking to your original plan.
Your roadmap took multiple opinions and timelines to materialize. It’s a delicate house of cards. One touch and it can all collapse in a heartbeat.
So stop paying too much attention to your competitors at this stage. Don’t compulsively pick a fresh direction. Dig in your feet and stick to your plan. There will be plenty of time to iterate later.
And remember, every moment you spend second-guessing your plan is another moment you give your competitors to increase their market share. Use your discovery to act with confidence.
Ever since we opened doors in 2009 as an app development house, we have worked with several Fortune 500s like Nike, Walmart, Builders FirstSource and reputed international companies like Audi and The Economist to build high-quality apps that consistently stand out for how attentive they are to user concerns.
And the key to our success over the years is a healthy discovery process. Short of the actual launch, It’s the phase we enjoy the most because it’s when you get to have freewheeling conversations with your client, brainstorm ideas, discuss approaches, and nail down a bullet-proof plan.
Take it from an insider: Few things are more satisfying than a discovery done well.
If you have an idea for an app, platform, or service, why not reach out to us here and schedule a personal conversation with a member of our team? It’s free with no strings attached and we can even sign an NDA to ensure your idea stays confidential!