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Running a Successful Discovery Workshop

Kick-off your project with this agile workshop in order to inspire and align your team behind a common vision.

With a well planned and rounded discovery workshop you can prioritize what’s needed to create a product that your customers will love. Move step-by-step from discovery to development in the space of a day.

What is Product Discovery?

There are many questions we want answers to throughout the design thinking process, but Discovery is where the general direction is set, and has some tough questions that need to be asked and answered. Among the many things a discovery workshop will help you uncover, these following questions are the most important:

  • How will your product make the world a better place?
  • Who are your customers and how will this product improve their lives?
  • What is your differentiator? What sets your product apart in the market?  
  • What is success to your company?
  • What will your customers want and expect to do with your product and how can you split this up into workable pieces?
  • Lastly, how you are going to deliver your product as a team. 

It is our duty as designers to build product customers will love to use, come back to, and recommend. 

Who is it for? 

Running a discovery workshop is for anyone who is planning an agile project discovery workshop; like a Product Owner or project lead, Scrum Master, Agile Coach or other types of facilitator, developers or stakeholders who want to prepare for a workshop and even when developing software or some other product, policy, plan, resource or research programme.

Step-by-Step Process

There are a beautiful array of techniques that can be used and planned into a Discovery Workshop day. As a facilitator, it is your job to know which are going to be the most useful in any given situation.

Create an Agenda

A tentative agenda for a whole day of discovery can look like this:

Who should be there?

In order for your discovery workshop to be well rounded you need to combine expertise and insights from different points of view to truly understand your consumer needs. Your discovery workshop crew should include: the Product Owner and stakeholders. Customer experts such as: call centre, help desk, front-of-house, sales, marketing and research, or even real love customers if possible! Other high-influence colleagues interested in the project in order to set expectations, and limit the team to everyone needed to do the work with no one who does not. 

It is of utmost importance that everyone participating is engaged, open to new ideas, and is ready to contribute. As a facilitator you need to set this space. 

Presenting The Product Vision

The product vision presentation is a chance for the Product Owner to present the vision(solo or with the chief executive or another senior leader) to inspire the team and show them a future which can be achieved together; essentially giving them a destination with motivation. 

The Future: A better world.

The product vision explains the why of “why you are building your product”. What problem in this world are you tackling by creating it, how will the product improve the lives of your consumers and how will this benefit your organization. 

What’s Next?

The next activities should help the team better understand the benefits the product will bring and let the team flesh out the vision. You can run either one or both of the following exercises: The Press Release and the Elevator Pitch.

The Press Release goes into more detail and focuses on benefits for both the customer and the company. While the Elevator Pitch sums up in a single statement your product’s unique selling point in the marketplace. If you have a whole day for this workshop we suggest fitting them both in since every new structure can end up to a different and better answer. 

Press Release: Imagine Success and Work Backwards

⏱45 min.

The Press Release exercise is a really fun way to get the team engaged in creating a shared view of the project’s purpose and what success would look like. 

In this exercise we should imagine that the project is complete and this is your headline story. The benefit of doing this exercise is that it expands on the vision, as well as builds a shared understanding of your objectives. 

In order for this exercise to be successful it needs to draw out any different viewpoints and 

highlight the product’s benefits for your customers and company. Then try to create a picture of what the product will look like in the real world, either with words or images. The outcome is a team that is excited about the difference you’ll make and makes the goals real and obtainable. 

Running the Activity

Set the scene: imagine a world where your product has gone live and this Press Release is meant to get the reader excited. It celebrates the success of the project and highlights the way it’ll make the world a better place. Urge your participants to be creative! After all this is a headline story and should be something people would want to read.

Ideally this activity works best in small teams of 3-4 of mixed disciplines. Each team should get one sheet of paper and colored markers as well as copies of the press release templates you can download here along with instructions on how to use them. Describe what is needed in each section and give them around 20 minutes to work. Remind people if they get stuck that you’re not looking for the perfect press release; the conversation and ideation is as important as the final product. 

What to do with your Press Releases?

Give each group a couple of minutes to present their team’s release to the workshop and discuss what you’ve learned. Here is where you should observe any common themes, new opportunities, surprises, differences and even potential features. 

If you have a number of releases and none of them stand out  truly as a unified candidate, then you can distil them into a single vision using the Elevator Pitch. This activity also helps the team understand how the product will be positioned in the marketplace. 

The Elevator Pitch

⏱30 min.

You have 30 seconds to pitch your idea: 

  • What is it that makes you different? 
  • What gives you edge? 
  • Who are you in the market place? 

These are the questions that this exercise will help you define and compose into a clear and concise value proposition to set you apart from your competitors. The general format of this elevator pitch is;

  • For (target customers)
  • Who are dissatisfied with (the current market alternative)
  • Our product is a (new product category)
  • That provides (the product’s key problem-solving capability)
  • Unlike (the product alternative)
  • Our product (describe what the product does, its key features)

In order to run this activity successfully you must help the team understand what you are looking for in each part of the statement, then have the teamwork together to generate ideas for each one, and go through them all before finalizing each individual element. As a facilitator, you need to engage, understand and reach consensus among the ideas that are being given. Remember to not get hung up on the perfect wording, make sure to give the conversation a main focus and then come up with later (and better) drafts. 

Once you are done with this product section it is a nice bridge into clarifying the project steps.

Success Sliders

⏱20 min. 

A simple way for a team to outline project priorities is using Success Sliders. This idea was introduced by Rob Thomsett in his book Radical Project Management. Success Sliders state the fact that your project has finite resources and give you a transparent way to make the necessary trade-offs. 

This is a short exercise that will help the whole team visualize the success factors, and decide how to prioritize by giving each factor a numerical value. The set up is quite simple:

  • On a poster or whiteboard, draw a grid of 6 rows by 5 columns.
  • Label the 6 rows with your success factors. In the example below we’ve chosen common factors for software development projects.
  • Number the columns 1–5.
  • The more important the factor the higher of the number of the column it sits under. (You can have more than one post-it in each column.)
  • Total value of all factors must equal 18.

This means that if you raise the value of one factor you’ll have to lower the value of another, putting a limit on the total value is to reflect constraints in the real world. By having The team agree on how to balance the values for each factor to stay within the magic number it allows you to start your project with agreed priorities.

Once your team has agreed on the priority of your success metrics you can decide who your priority customers are, and how your product will improve their lives.

Putting Customers at the Heart of Your Product

Pragmatic Personas is an activity that uses consumer insights to quickly and collaboratively turn them into memorable characters that the team can design the product for. It converts you from the notion that your product is for generic users, and turns them into characters whose traits you know and whose needs you understand. It is a fun way of keeping the customer top of mind during the discovery workshop.

What makes these personas pragmatic? 

We turn dense consumer insights into quick, collaborative, accessible and actionable characters that the team can easily refer to as they work. If you do not have enough research then you can and should base it on the collective wisdom of the group!

While everyone could conceivably be a customer, brainstorm your key customer types and pick the top three to five. If you try to build a product for everyone, you won’t satisfy anyone.

Using a Template

Check out this template based on Jeff Patton’s approach. 

Pass around the template or draw it on the whiteboard. Describe what’s needed in each section. If you have multiple personas, split into groups and tackle one persona each. Once each group is done give them time to present each persona, try to capture them visually in some way so that it is easy for stakeholders to come back and identify them later.

Tips on Filling Out Your Personas

Name

Alliteration helps make the names memorable. For example if you had an app for dog walkers you could call your persona Doglover Dave. 

Picture

You might find people start out anxious about their artistic talent but imagining what a persona looks like helps bring it to life. 

Context

Keep the Context section down to a few bullet points. You can put more detail into the About section.

About

Only list characteristics of your persona that are relevant to the design of your product.

Implications

Do not start listing your products’ features here, keep it brief.

What’s Next?

Rank your user personas as a group in order of importance. Consider who your most valuable customers are and who will get most benefit from the product. Keep these in mind; now you know who you’re building the product for, so you can start building up a more detailed view of what you’re going to build for them. 

User Story Mapping 

⏱90 min.

This is a way to brainstorm all of the work you need to do to build the product and help break it down into a manageable structure. This exercise is meant to get you to start writing a short description of what your user will be doing when engaging with your product – a user story. Then it results in a map or visual chart showing the structure of each story. These stories and this structure will guide the development work. The process may seem a bit complicated at the start but will get easier as you go along. 

If you want a comprehensive step by step method to performing a User Story Mapping session check out this article from our friends over at Boost! 

Prioritize User Stories

⏱30 min.

Prioritising your user stories lets you do the most valuable work first by identifying the business value of each story. This is an agile discovery session and should be done fast. So get to picking the ones that are set to deliver the most value. Here you are trying to find the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that will be valuable, and will let you gather valuable feedback from your customers. You’ll then be ready to write the user stories for this MVP. These stories should guide the development of the first iteration of your product. 

Use your user personas! Identify which stories mainly benefit one persona that you have already ranked by priority. Straight away you’ll be able to see which stories offer the most to your most valued personas.The secret to prioritising user stories is to be ruthless, the critical question is whether a customer can still achieve their goal if you don’t do a particular story.

Next up is writing user stories. You only want to create stories for the “musts”. This minimises the work you have to do before you start developing.

User Stories

Writing requirements from the users point of view is essential in order to understand what your MVP is. You have to capture the customer benefits inside the user stories, by using the following (or similar) template:

  • As a (persona) I want (action they would use your product for) so that (achieve desired benefit). 

This statement of the customer benefit is the core of the user story. You can add more detail throughout the iteration as you discuss the story with the team. At this point in time you know what it is that you will be working on. The next step is to decide how you will be working. 

Build a Better Team: TOGETHER

⏱20 min.

The only way to create a tight-knit team with shared commitment is to jointly decide on the method by which you will be working together, which can be done through exercises like the Team Charter. Not only is it an activity that will establish a shared understanding and commitment to the work, but it is really a bonding exercise for the team.

A team charter can include numerous things such as values, behaviours, meeting details, technical practices, communication tools, roles and responsibilities. And should not include anything related to the product, tech choices and when you are “done”. A good rule of thumb is that your charter should be short enough to remember off the top of your head. 

For this part you only need to have the team present who will be working, the product owner and the facilitator, you do not need all other stakeholders since this is more about the process of work being done internally. It is advised to make the team charter visible, large, ensure that it is agreed upon and understood. Then get an electronic copy that will be always accessible. This charter is a roadmap of how you work together as a company as well as a standard on how work is to be done.

What’s Next?

So at this stage, you know why you are building the product, and who it’s for, as well as how your team is going to work together. You know your priorities and can get started on delivering a working solution that can be tested and tweaked into the product your consumers can’t live without. So what are you waiting for? Let’s go!

Laura Brazay

Laura Brazay

Digital branding specialist with experience in social media strategy, and a background in Business Administration, who sees life in the full spectrum of colours. I spend my free time taking long walks exploring the city with my pup.

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