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.