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Discovery Workshops: How We Ensure Alignment Between Your Vision and An Actual Product

Working with an outsourced team can be a challenge. Different locations and time zones, sometimes even different cultures. You are where the business is, working hard to move things forward, while your hired team is elsewhere, building something that will hopefully one day become your product.

How can you make sure that your vision is reflected properly in the finished product? How to best lay the foundation for a productive transfer of knowledge between yourself and the team?

We always suggest—insist even—that our clients take part in a discovery workshop, because the way you start a journey influences what happens later.

The discovery workshop is a time dedicated to unraveling the truth about your business and its needs. We are not experts in your particular field—you are. And you will be our gateway to your business.

After conducting many such workshops myself, I know that getting to know each other as people and achieving alignment together ensures smooth cooperation in the future.

Yes, it is possible to conduct such workshops purely online and we’ve done that in the past but it led to so many instances of miscommunication later that trust me when I say that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.

In this article, I will outline how we organize discovery workshops at Monterail, what you can expect to get out of them, how to prepare, and why you shouldn’t skip them.

Well, let’s dive in.

Example of offline exercise during workshops

Workshops Step by Step

The journey begins the moment you contact us. One of our Account Managers takes you under their care, sets up relevant calls, listens closely to get to know your idea, needs and requirements. This part varies greatly, as your specification can be written down in four forty-pages-long PDFs or one, highly condensed email (both real-life examples from our past).

Then, we enter the discovery phase.

The first part is called the initial scoping session. Based on our experience, the provided specification, and some quick research, we provide you with a ballpark estimation. This estimation is not accurate at all and can’t be. You say: “I want a car,” and tell us the color and all the other details, and we then tell you that it can cost from X to Y. Then, based on the style of our communication, types of questions we ask, and the price range we offered, you decide whether you want to proceed with us.

But to close the deal we need something more detailed.

In order to partner with you and validate business ideas alongside you, we need to understand you to the very core. We need to have real interactions and we use discovery workshops for that.

That’s when you and our team (designer, developer, business analyst, and project manager) meet for two days to achieve something, and this something is crucial:

  • common understanding of business goals, user needs, and technical feasibility
  • common understanding of groundwork for constant validation of the above.

During those two days, we try to unveil the truth about your idea and then start building the documentation.

To do the former, we are in constant inquiry mode and ask a lot of questions. Some may seem boring to you, but they’re really important to us. Some will be tough, but necessary, and it's easier to ask them face to face. There is much less space for miscommunication in a conference room than in email threads. Instead, it brings focus and sense of importance and urgency (two-day timeframe).

Discovery workshops at Monterail

Sometimes a workshop is just a compilation of necessary questions asked in particular moments in particular order.

Questions such as:

  • what are the goals of your business?
  • what are the goals of this product?
  • do the business goals support user goals?
  • why people should use your app instead of your competition’s?
  • what’s your monetization plan and how will it affect the user experience?
  • who are the users and what is their problem?
  • will the product solve that problem?
  • is it the right problem to solve?

etc.

The outcome is hopefully the following—we establish what your users’ problems are and how to solve them with your product.

Now, we need to address the latter: common understanding of groundwork for constant validation of business goals, user needs, and technical feasibility.

The answers to the above-mentioned questions and a sense of mutual understanding between you and your team is nothing without proper follow-up. Up to this point, we managed to establish what our destination is. Now, we need to map out the road that will get us there. We need a good documentation.

For that, we do a mash-up of sitemaps, user flows, user stories, and clickable prototypes. We don't do static wireframes or designs, because there is always movement in interface design. Always an origin and a destination. It's important to capture the journey, not the design of a particular screen.

Discovery workshops in software development

Workshops give us the unprecedented ability to visualize the whole system on a wall or a whiteboard. We get a few hours to document all the steps of the user and accompanying system actions and see them as a whole, looking for problematic areas and reacting.

We start the documentation during the workshop, but finish it in about a week after and send it to you with revised and detailed estimates.

What’s in it for you?

Here’s what you gain by doing workshops:

  • Save time and money. What we’re able to achieve together during those two business days would take weeks in an indirect way or would never be properly done.
  • A common understanding between you and your future team. We know what we want to build, when, and what costs will follow. We are aware of all the problems we aim to solve and have a solid plan for how to do it.
  • Discover the undiscovered. With our insightful questions that dig deeper into the business logic, you get a guarantee that the vision you have in your head will become reality and your product will be placed in the context.
  • A perfect occasion for clarifying the opinions of stakeholders. They might sometimes vary dramatically and lead to conflicts in further stages. Workshop time is the last call to decide on the unclear aspects and we’re happy to advise you on that.
  • Getting to know the team. A few hours together brings people closer than countless phone calls or emails. As a result, we cooperate smoothly and build mutual trust quickly. You can also experience firsthand the approach of our team, the quality of their work and their level of expertise.
  • Preventing mistakes and future problems. Due to the visualization techniques, we see the whole system in one picture and can look at it from different angles. This allows us to quickly and easily identify edge cases, potentially troublesome areas, and costly issues.
  • You get concrete process guidelines for the development of your idea based on our expertise and the experience we accrued working on over 100+ projects.

The idea of workshops is not only about the design, development or the process itself. It’s about embracing the human side of business and software development. In order to fulfill our mission, we create a relationship with our client and strive to deliver something true and authentic. This personal connection is crucial as people look for cultural fit with who they do business with. We always make sure to remember that. 

Love beautiful products? We do, too.

Work with us and make sure that the vision you carry in your head will become reality. Talk to our team and build a product you and your users will want to use.

 

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