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The Discovery Phase - the key to a successful digital project

Tristan Fraud
Jul 15 ∙ 5 mins
The Discovery Phase - the key to a successful digital project

New software projects can be a daunting endeavour, beginning with choosing the right technology firm to partner with. According to a McKinsey study, 17% of IT projects turn out so badly, they cause the collapse of the company, whereas 45% of digital projects exceed the allocated budget. Those are some scary numbers, to be sure. But luckily, there are ways to eliminate the risk of taking a wrong turn (saving you time, money, and possibly your sanity).

At Osedea, we’ve found that the key to avoiding the aforementioned unfortunate events is to kick things off with a Discovery Phase. Our unique Discovery process ensures we're helping our clients to solve the right problems with their new digital product, using optimal solutions, with a human-centric approach.

A Discovery Phase will make your software projects significantly more efficient and enjoyable. Our approach is based on Design Thinking principles, the Design Sprint Methodology, and our extensive experience in the arena of facilitating digital transformation.

In this two-part article series, we’ll walk you through the origins and importance of our Discovery Phase, while showcasing our approach. We’ll do this by highlighting the insights that came from the Discovery Phase we went through while conceptualizing and developing Aïdi, a project management software application that is currently revolutionizing the construction industry.

P.S. If you’re the kind of person who prefers video, you may want to take a look at our latest webinar detailing our Discovery Phase process, hosted by our Chief of Innovation, Martin Coulombe.

Digital projects aren’t a walk in the park

As stated at the beginning of this article, it’s just a fact of life that IT projects can cause major issues for any organization. The main problems we’ve observed are as follows:

  • When a project begins, there often isn’t enough information to effectively plan the project. This results in a lot of back-and-forth, delivery delays, and/or rapidly skyrocketing costs.
  • Too often, a company will identify desired features and requirements for the digital product without truly putting themselves in the user’s shoes. This means that the final product won’t solve the right problem, nor generate the desired results.
  • The proposals that companies receive for the development of their digital solutions can vary widely. One supplier’s quote could be double the others’, making it difficult for decision makers to select the best option for their needs.

For example, with Aïdi, the original vision was to create a general construction project management software that would be used by contractors. During the Discovery Phase, however, we realized that the owners of construction projects (the teams initiating and paying for what’s being built) had been left out in the cold. They didn’t have their own solution that would give them easy access to project data while helping them to effectively manage their budgets.

By learning about the struggles of the owners through the Discovery process, we ultimately were able to create a piece of software that solved major pain points for them, and made Aïdi a highly appealing product that prospective customers can instantly see the value of.

A brief history of Design Thinking and Google Design Sprints

To overcome the common issues encountered during IT projects, and to ensure the creation of a successful web or mobile application, a Discovery Phase approach inspired by Design Thinking and Google Design Sprints is the way to go.

Design Thinking was commercialized by the team at IDEO (a global design and innovation company) in the 1990s. They came up with a process to facilitate innovation, involving certain key steps, methodologies, and specific tools. Today, many companies use Design Thinking to better integrate human-centric design into their products and services. You can find out more about this approach here.

The Design Sprint methodology, actively used and promoted by Google, takes the idea of Design Thinking one step further. The gist of it is fairly simple: You put together a small multidisciplinary team and task them with a problem to solve, using a specific process to guide them through coming up with possible solutions. Each “Sprint” is simply a period of work that focuses on exploring a specific idea, or a particular set of product features. You can learn more about the Design Sprint from the Google Ventures department of Google here.

Our Discovery Phase approach and its benefits

Over the years, inspired by Design Thinking and the Design Sprint concept, we’ve combined these methods with our knowledge and experience to create a unique Discovery Phase process that we take our web and mobile clients through.

Our Discovery Phase generally lasts from three to six weeks. You can review the full detailed approach that we take in our Discovery Phase here, but below is a quick summary.

  1. Understand the project requirements and challenges. With the Aïdi project, we conducted interviews with key stakeholders in the construction industry (including owners, architects, general contractors, etc.).
  2. Define the problem, in consultation with key project stakeholders. With the Aïdi project, we realized that all the preexisting software solutions in the market were designed to make things more efficient and profitable for the general contractors only, leaving owners out in the cold. We knew this was a big problem that was begging to be solved!
  3. Sketch out a wide-ranging set of ideas. With the Aïdi project, we sketched out ideas to help us better understand how we could bring value to the owners, and which features were the most important to them.
  4. Decide on the solution and vision. With the Aïdi project, it was clear to us by this point that there were very specific pain points we could easily solve for owners, making their lives much easier and transforming the status quo in the construction industry.
  5. Prototype the solution and validate it with potential users. With the Aïdi project, we listed and prioritized all the key features to enable the creation and launch of a Minimum Viable Product that we could iterate on.

Aside from mitigating the risks of digital projects, a solid Discovery Phase has the following benefits :

  • Solving the right problem. Through different activities and workshops with the key stakeholders of a project, you better understand and define the business challenges you’re trying to solve. And by attacking the right problem, you’ll have a superior solution. Without a well-thought-out Discovery Phase, it’s almost impossible to tell whether you’re attempting to solve the right problem by building a digital solution.
  • A validated prototype. Through the Discovery Phase, you’ll be able to gather feedback and insights from potential users, and apply it directly within the prototype. The prototype is a basic but functional version of the end product that gives you invaluable information about how people will interact with the solution. If you don’t know what steps to take to validate your prototype, it will be easy to THINK that your product is solving the problem you’re trying to solve, but you could still end up with unpleasant surprises later, after launch.
  • Specific deliverables to ensure a successful development phase. After your Discovery Phase, you’ll have a rock-solid prototype, as well as a robust technical development plan and detailed cost analysis. Now you have the tools to confidently move forward with the execution phase.

To go back to the example of Aïdi, today they are enjoying an incredible level of success in the marketplace, because the software was built strategically, on the right foundation, from the get-go.

Want to know more about our Discovery Phase process, or simply want to chat about a potential project? Contact us today.

Inspiration article: https://hbr.org/2018/09/why-design-thinking-works