Product Design Process: Discovery Phase [UPDATED 2022]

Working with an outsourced team can be a challenge. Different locations, time zones, and sometimes even cultures. You're in one location, while your hired team is elsewhere, building what will  become your product.

How can you make sure that your vision is reflected properly in the finished product? Laying the foundation for productive knowledge transfer between yourself and the team is crucial.

Meet the secret weapon: discovery workshops.

We always suggest—insist even—that our clients take part in the discovery phase, because we know how we start our journey reflects the outcome.

Until recently, we've advocated conducting the Discovery Workshops on-site, but due to the current global situation and teams working remotely (ourselves included), we switched to organizing remote workshops with great success. 

The Discovery Phase is meant to unravel 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.

Being part of several workshops I've learned that getting to know each other as people and achieving alignment is the gateway to smooth future cooperation.

In this post, I'm going to outline how we organize Discovery Workshops at Monterail 100% remotely, what you can expect to get out of them, how to prepare, and why you shouldn’t skip them.

The Workshop, Step by Step

The Scoping Session

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 ideas, needs and requirements. This stage varies greatly, as your specification can be written down in four forty-pages-long PDFs or one, highly condensed email (we've seen it all).

This first phase is the initial scoping session. Based on our experience, your specifications, and some research, we provide a ballpark estimation.

This estimation is not completely accurate... because it can't be. You say: “I want a car,” and tell us the color and some other details, and we then tell you that the cost can vary from X to Y.

But to close the deal we need something more detailed.

The Discovery Phase

In order to validate your business ideas, we need to understand your objectives and have an interpersonal conversation—in comes Discovery Workshops.

That’s when you and our team composed of a designer, developer, business analyst, and project manager, meet remotely (we love using Zoom) for a few  sessions over two days to reach a mutual goal.

Workshop goals are crucial and defined as such:

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

Understanding business goals, user needs, and technical feasibility. 

During those two days, we try to get down to the nuts and bolts of your idea and start building the documentation.

Building the documentation, we are in constant inquiry mode: asking a lot of questions via calls or Slack.

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 during an online meeting.

There's less of a chance of miscommunication face to face than in an email thread. Plus, the two-day timeframe brings focus and sense of importance and urgency.

Seat Unique testimonial

Sometimes a workshop is just a compilation of necessary questions asked in the right time and 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?

The ideal outcome—we establish your users’ problems and how to solve them with your product.

Common understanding of groundwork for constant validation of business goals, user needs, and technical feasibility.

 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 proper documentation.

For that, we do a mash-up of sitemaps, user flows, user stories, and clickable prototypes using tools like Mural.

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.

Using Mural, which lets us collaborate remotely and acts like a virtual whiteboard, we can go through the notes and app workflow plan together. 

Mural.co workshop dashboard

Source: Mural.co

The workshop gives 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 participating in the workshop:

  • Save time and money. What we achieve during those two business days would take weeks in an indirect way or 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 that 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 the Discovery Phase 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. 


See what else impacts the final design of your product:

Unravel the truth about YOUR business 

During a 2-day Discovery Workshop, we'll discuss topics from design to choosing the tech stack and establishing the final project scope. Bounce your ideas off the Monterail team and make sure that your vision becomes reality.

Contact us to see how the Discovery Workshop would benefit your business.

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