Month: October 2015

Ongoing Discovery in Process

Last week I wrote a post about the importance of discovery in process. More specifically, we considered why a business needs to formalize ongoing discovery if they’re to survive for the long haul. Today I’m going to focus less on the why and instead break down a few ways to put formal ongoing discovery into practice.

First of all, resist the urge to get lost in the details. Even if your core business offering isn’t web-based, our general access to web-driven data now allow us to hyper analyze the gritty details of our day to day like never before. This is thanks in part to increasingly robust customer relationship management tools. This intel can be immensely helpful, revelatory even. This tools allow us to streamline our processes and make our work lives ever-more efficient.

But here’s the rub!

The rigidity of these formal processes we develop can (and ultimately will) reach the point at which they close doors for new avenues of success.

agile-employeesIn web development, as with many industries, agility can be the victim of rigid process. Opportunities can be missed if processes like prospecting or even our approach towards servicing our existing clients are overly formalized. A balance must be struck between process and agility. It should go without saying that finding this balance is a difficult task; but you’ve already lost the battle if you don’t attempt to find that center of gravity between a streamlined process and the agility to tackle new, unforeseeable problems.

This is why a well designed process should leave room for the distinctions that make each project unique. It’s why a process for each new client or project should always begin with a Discovery Phase.

The Discovery Phase

This phase of work begins before a team even formally begins work on a project. But the common mistake is to confuse this phase with the prospecting phase; formal discovery comes after a project or client has been prospected. Discovery shouldn’t only be a matter of determining whether a project fits into your core services.

Avoiding this pitfall is where some digital agencies excel; their industry moves too fast to let evolving standards pile up before they’re noticed. And this brings us back to why slower moving industries might be able to learn quite a bit from their processes.

For projects to be developed in the web space, digital agencies approach each project as an opportunity to discover new solutions for even the most common challenges faced by our clients. It takes a sincere and formalized commitment to continued discovery to ensure that deliverables are built with the most up to date standards. Time needs to be formally allotted to research and discovery for every project, however cut and dry( or ‘standard’) the project might seem.

A Formal Process

Here’s where I can use Gulo’s process as a good example. The first stage of our Discovery Phase is our Strategic Brief. During this conference call with relevant stakeholders, we review project requirements in detail. This gives us a built in opportunity to begin thinking, at the highest possible level, about the web based solutions that might best service  a client’s mission and add value to their brand.

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The real meat of our Discovery begins with a Needs Requirement. And this is pretty cut and dry, really. You have a problem. We might have any number of solutions. But to start thinking more analytically about all our options, we take some time to understand this problem from your perspective.

How does this problem affect your organization’s bottom line?

How will your stakeholders interact with this proposed solution?

These are the broad questions that get the discovery ball rolling even before a service contract is signed. In less slowly changing industries, it could be way too easy to assume that you know your clients industry, not noticing all the slow moving changes that have piled up.

Yet another Uber as a ‘Market Disrupter’ Analogy

Uber is way too popular an example for market disruption. But here’s a new way to consider how they affected industries:

How many behind-the-scenes transportation administrators failed take take time to discover evolving payment processing standards?

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So what’s a good way to formally insert active discovery into your processes? Gulo has one method that you are free to steal.

Gulo’s Secret Sauce

Our ‘secret’ is simple, really. We allot time for research. For even the ‘smallest’ and most ‘cut and dry’ new projects are given at least two full hours of research-discovery.

This stage is where Gulo staff researches all available solutions, including new technologies. Part of this process can entail researching the solutions utilized by our client’s competitors. We also keep an eye out on the technologies utilized by other services that have not yet been applied to your unique niche. If such an option is viable, we’ll suggest this as an option.

Regardless of our specific findings, this research process forces us to stay agile. It puts new solutions to work whenever a project calls for an innovative approach.

time-management-schedulingResearch as a formal aspect of a discovery stage is a huge time suck, but its vital in our industry. Your industry likely requires less of a time allotment for you to stay ahead, but whatever time you may need, you ought to formalize it into your process.

Educational webinars, continuing education, time spent reading periodicals focused on your industry, none of these tasks should be optional activities. But these tasks also can’t fully account for an ongoing discovery process.

Put aside some time to formally research new support avenues with each new project. Each minute spent reevaluating your industry and taking in new, relevant info is insurance for your businesses future.

Fit ongoing discovery into your process. Or perish…

Eventually.

Discovery in Process

Every industry evolves

Service standards change across the board. It doesn’t even matter what your business might be, eventually development processes will be nearly unrecognizable to even your industry’s most veterans members. Whatever your service vertical, the urgency for new means to service your clients is likely there, even if small changes have to pile up quite a bit before they’re addressed.

Few industries are faced with such rapidly evolving standards as web development.

It can be a mine field of the unpredictable, even for well established firms like Gulo. To account for an ever-altering landscape, well constructed web development projects account for discovery as a requisite stage of the process. Indeed, this makes the discipline a model case study in agile processes.

It can be helpful to compare the building of a new web property with the construction of a new home or building construction-6

Web-based construction and physical construction projects each encounter countless complexities. Some of these challenges are quite a bit similar conceptually, if not in practice. Finding the impossible and utterly subjective balance between form and function is just one noteworthy challenge faced by both physical construction projects as well as those in the digital realm.

Of course, builders of corporeal structures face countless challenges all their own. But there’s at least one unique challenge in web-based building that is highlighted well by comparing the disciplines. Consider this:

unusual-buildings-36-pics_6What if completely different materials were used to construct buildings and homes every two years?

Been building homes with brick and mortar the past year?

Well this year many of your projects will be built with bamboo. Next year you’ll be building with clay! 

But what if it’s not just the materials that change rapidly! What if the tools used to build homes also changed?Strange-Building-Designs-cover

You’ve been using a saw and nails? Well, this project calls for scissors and glue!

Could you imagine what a challenge it would be for construction companies to keep up? The amount of continuing education they’d need? The non-stop search for material vendors and new partnerships? How often they’d have to hire new specialized employees, even?!

Welp, this example highlights the day to day reality for web builders!

In the digital realm, the building materials and the tools used to shape them are ever-changing. Indeed, coding and design standards evolve at an exponential pace. One thing is certain: in two years, the materials and tools used to build web properties will be strikingly different from what’s used most prevalently today.  This is an industry in which its painfully clear that you can never stop learning if you want to survive.

For Gulo employees (and those of a number of digital agencies) a number of educational courses are mandatory for all staff annually. Still, helpful as coursework can be, we learn our most invaluable lessons from the hands-on work of each new project. This is why we determined that constant discovery needs to be formalized into our process as we approach each new project.

So we need to make sure that we learn new lessons form each and every project we take on, regardless of how ‘general’ they might seem. But how can ongoing discovery be incorporated into a formal process?

Find out on Monday next week (10/26), when I’ll break down some time-tested strategies.