Software Product Discovery Workshops: How to Ensure a Successful Digital Project Kickoff (Free Step-by-Step Agenda Inside)

17 min read

Business, Agile, Product Design
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Do you remember the time when all it took to create a software product was a great idea and an empty garage for an office space?

Well, those days are long gone now. Great ideas aren’t nearly enough to make for great products. Rather, what you need is:

  • sound evaluation,
  • proper design,
  • strict planning.

The right way to start building your digital product is to rely on the knowledge and experience of those who develop software projects on a regular basis.

But how do you go about using that expertise to your advantage? We recommend going through discovery workshops.

Read on to learn:

  • What are discovery workshops? What can you expect from the process?
  • Why should you take part in discovery workshops? What are the benefits for you?
  • What are the best practices for discovery workshops? What questions should you ask to get the most out of them?

Table of contents

I. Software product discovery workshops: Summary

II. What are the risks of skipping software product discovery workshops?

III. Overcoming analysis paralysis with software product discovery workshops

IV. Software product discovery workshop artifacts and deliverables

V. How do we run software product discovery workshops at STX Next?

VI. Who are software product discovery workshops for?

VII. Final thoughts on software product discovery workshops

Get your free step-by-step agenda for a successful digital project kickoff

I. Software product discovery workshops: Summary

Long story short, turning an idea into a fully operational digital product is a massive undertaking that requires skill, knowledge, and experience—just to name a few. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a team of professionals to see a software project through to completion.

Assessing the potential of your product is just one of many crucial steps to take before you kick your project off. Discovery workshops can be a great help whether you’re only considering developing your idea, preparing a teaser for potential investors, or planning out a detailed implementation.

What are the key problems you can avoid thanks to properly conducted, upfront discovery workshops?

  1. Underestimating the development costs of your product, which can prevent you from completing the project.
  2. Releasing a product with no market potential.
  3. Implementing a product that doesn’t meet the needs of the users.

What results should you expect from participating in discovery workshops?

Product discovery workshops focus on various layers of project planning, but drive the process in a way that gives you tangible deliverables at the end.

Going through the workshops should, at the very least, leave you with:

  • a well-defined set of your business goals;
  • tech stack recommendations and software architecture overview;
  • an initial evaluation of your product’s implementation costs;
  • a precise description of your core target audience and their perspective;
  • the initial scope and strategic roadmap of your product, complete with an MVP definition (the Minimum Viable Product is a version of your product with just enough features to gather validated learning).

Additionally, interface concepts of the final product may be drafted during discovery workshops. You can then use those concepts to craft a clickable prototype of your product in the next stage of project development.

What kinds of businesses stand to gain the most from discovery workshops?

Businesses with the greatest potential to benefit from discovery workshops can be grouped into three main categories:

  1. companies expanding digitally and considering the implementation of complex products that seek innovation and increased customer loyalty but need concept evaluation and proper resources assessment;
  2. organizations looking for external funding;
  3. startups with great ideas but little implementation potential.

At STX Next, we’ve held numerous discovery workshops for clients from all over the world—USA, UK, Australia, France, Canada, and many others—helping them build successful software products.

There’s a lot we’ve learned about running the workshops over the years; for instance, what you’re risking if you decide to skip this step of the development process altogether.

Read on if the TL;DR section above wasn’t enough to satisfy your curiosity and you wish to dig deeper into the subject of software product discovery workshops.

Case studies

II. What are the risks of skipping software product discovery workshops?

There’s a concept in computer science called “GIGO,” which stands for “garbage in, garbage out.” It means that bad input will always give you bad output. In other words, starting your project off right is a factor that can make or break your entire development process.

Going the extra mile by doing discovery workshops at the very beginning is bound to pay dividends in the long run. Not doing so and jumping straight to implementation is a temptation you should resist—or face the potentially dire consequences later on.

Don’t believe us? Here’s what you’re risking if you decide to skip the workshops:

1. Underestimating the project implementation costs

Don’t fall for the trap of thinking your idea is simple.

A very common mistake is assuming that since your solution seems straightforward, implementing it will also be so.

The reality, however, is that the more obvious your idea appears, the easier it is to underestimate your project implementation costs. This is the reason so many projects end up unfinished and abandoned: running out of money to complete the work.

Simplicity is one thing, but you also shouldn’t overlook the underlying technology and development techniques or processes necessary to bring your product idea to life.

The digital product landscape is getting ever more complicated these days. It’s possible, even likely, that the only way you can properly assess your project is with the support of someone familiar with the areas of business, design, and development.

2. A great product for no one

Unfortunately, funding isn’t the only problem you may encounter.

Even when you have enough money to invest in your product, there’s still a very real possibility you simply won’t find anyone to sell it to. Digital products usually suffer from a lack of users when the ideas aren’t validated up front.

In order to correctly evaluate each of your solutions, you should consider, among others:

  1. the market potential,
  2. the cost-to-profit ratio.

Both are crucial to see if there’s money to be made from implementing your product. Defining your idea precisely and getting it ready for market validation are a must.

It should be noted, however, that discovery workshops don’t include market validation. Instead, we help you specify your ideas and possibly suggest a way to validate them through a prototype or an MVP.

3. A comedy of errors

Whether or not you’re a software developer, you’ve probably heard the joke about the design process of a swing in some form or another:

The design process of a swing
Source: https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/tree-swing-cartoon-parodies

The meme’s an obvious exaggeration, but it paints a decent picture of what can happen when you don’t translate your idea into your product correctly.

If you don’t want key details to get lost in translation, you need to plan the process out right, ensuring all the features you expect to be developed are covered in the product’s roadmap.

It’s a good idea to do this as early as possible, since the expected functionalities determine the development techniques—not the other way around. Start with discovering the most suitable implementation techniques for your project.

Also, just to be clear, you’re not risking only one of those things happening when you don’t do the workshops. If your luck is bad enough, your project may suffer from two or even all three of the aforementioned risks. Think about it!

III. Overcoming analysis paralysis with software product discovery workshops

When you have a great idea, but you’re overly aware of the issues you may come across during and after implementation, you may fall victim to a phenomenon known as “analysis paralysis”—overthinking your course of action to the point where you get no work done.

Realizing your idea’s potential is one thing; actually going about its execution is something else entirely. The whole undertaking can seem especially difficult if you have little to no experience implementing digital products. This all the more applies to ideas with greater potential that may turn into larger projects.

What can help you break this vicious cycle of not taking action is refining your idea in a way that allows you to take the first few steps into your project. This is where discovery workshops come into play.

When you break it down to the bare essentials, discovery workshops are a process of gathering information about your business, goals, and ideas, then turning them into a plan.

Let’s take a look at the process step by step.

1. Defining the business needs and goals

The first crucial step is verifying your business needs and goals. You should really cover all the bases here and look at this from every necessary angle.

Even when it seems like all the parties involved are in agreement, discrepancies  between the plans and expectations of different stakeholders sometimes come to light later on in the development process.

Those plans and expectations should be made clear and taken into account from the start, lest you end up with an inadequately designed and developed product.

2. Testing the product idea against the business goals

Once you properly define your business goals, it’s time to get a grip on the potential of your product, and how it aligns with your goals to serve its purpose.

This is where actual product functionality needs to be derived from your expectations and ideas. At the same time, substantial knowledge of building software is required here.

The idea testing stage isn’t just about implementation. During the process, you also need to:

  • prioritize the functionalities according to your product goals,
  • allocate sufficient time for implementation,
  • divide the functionalities into manageable phases (including the MVP),
  • assess the product delivery costs.

Important conclusions are often reached at this point. For instance, you may find that your scope needs adjusting or your product won’t be profitable, since the implementation costs far exceed the potential profits.

3. Visualizing the product’s potential

Last but not least, discovery workshops should give you a visual representation of your product’s potential. Having your deliverables visualized is a great way to tell your idea in the form of a story, making it easier for you to express both your concept and your assumptions to the stakeholders.

Once you visualize the potential of your product, you should consider transforming your idea into a clickable interface prototype, though developing such a prototype doesn’t happen during discovery workshops, since it’s a separate product.

Regardless, the prototype is the next organic step of the process that allows you to further validate your product and helps you attract seed investors. Your investors will expect a solid business plan from you, along with a chance to see how the proposed functionalities would work firsthand; a prototype is perfect for just that.

The key benefit of having a prototype is the ability to verify your core product idea with potential users. Whether you plan on using your product internally or selling it on the market, getting feedback on the features from your end users is essential to unlocking the product’s true potential.

Software development

IV. Software product discovery workshop artifacts and deliverables

To sum up, well-prepared and well-conducted discovery workshops should give you:

  • a comprehensive definition of your business goals and needs;
  • an overview of your software architecture and tech stack recommendations;
  • a strategic roadmap and scope of your product, plus an MVP definition;
  • an initial costs evaluation of implementing your product;
  • a solid production plan for the next steps in the process.
Software product discovery workshop artifacts and deliverables
Software product discovery workshop artifacts and deliverables

With this output in hand, you should be more than ready to make the right decisions in moving forward with your product idea.

V. How do we run software product discovery workshops at STX Next?

Over the years, we’ve held 50+ discovery workshops for clients from every corner of the world that spanned across a total of 128 days.

Each time, we start off by assigning three whole onsite days for the workshops. We then invite the client to our offices and make sure they feel welcome here.

Once the three-day workshops are done, it takes us an extra couple of days to refine the deliverables and convert them into a shareable form.

What should you prepare up front?

Most of the work before the actual workshops is done by us. We try to prepare as much as we can by researching the client’s industry and business domain.

To leave no stone unturned, we often ask our clients to give us access to any documentation they have that could help us better prepare in their opinion. Outlines of current processes, business goals and strategy, market potential research—all of these can be very useful to us.

However, you don’t have to provide us with anything. In fact, we’ve had cases where we needed to take a step back during the workshops and revalidate a strategy, even though it had been delivered to us ahead of time.

No two workshops are the same and what works for someone else may not work for you at all. As always, it’s enough to use your best judgment in deciding what to share with us before we kick the workshops off.

Who are the parties involved?

All of our discovery workshops involve three people on our end, each responsible for keeping a different perspective in mind throughout the process:

  1. Product Strategy Consultant, who represents the business perspective;
  2. Product Design Lead, who represents the user perspective;
  3. Tech Expert, who represents the technology perspective.

From the client’s side, we always ask for a corresponding team that also represents the business, user (or marketing), and technology perspectives. The technology perspective here may not necessarily mean digital product knowledge, but rather your area of expertise.

In addition, we make it a point to recommend getting either direct or indirect input from all the stakeholders who should get involved in your product-building process. Direct input in this instance would be the one you’d get on the go, during the workshops.

What is the process?

We approach each of our workshops individually, without one-size-fits-all solutions. Every client gets a different treatment. The process works so well in part because it’s so flexible.

Whenever we plan a workshop out, we take a number of factors into account:

  • the product life-cycle stage,
  • the specificity of your product,
  • the input you give us at the start.

Here’s an example of the process for a brand-new project, at the ideation stage.

First, we divide the workshops into three distinct modules. Depending on the product complexity and workshop goals, the early hours are all about your product vision and strategy.

We create a vision statement with you, map all the user groups and partners critical to bringing your product to life, then verify the unique advantage that distinguishes you from your competitors.

During the second part of the day, we identify the potential users of your product. Understanding and meeting the needs of your target audience is imperative for the success of any product.

On the second and third day, we focus on actual product planning, dedicating that time to:

  • building the roadmap,
  • defining the MVP,
  • mapping the features,
  • drafting the interface,
  • outlining the architecture.

Toward the end, we also perform an initial assessment of your product’s implementation costs.

After the workshops, we take a couple of days to put our notes and deliverables into a format you’ll be able to easily access later on. A presentation that sums up all the outcomes, accompanied by the roadmap and interface ideas, is created for you to use internally or share with potential investors or developers.

Keep in mind that participating in discovery workshops held by a company like ours doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have to take the next steps with us, too. All the deliverables, including your product architecture, are prepared in a way that makes it easy for you to take your development to any team of your choosing.

Project estimate

VI. Who are software product discovery workshops for?

Businesses that stand to benefit from participating in discovery workshops the most can be easily broken up into three categories.

All of them are in a position to use their workshop deliverables to make better, more informed business decisions about their products.

1. Organizations planning to implement complex projects

First off, we have companies expanding digitally and planning sizable investments into new products. They often have their own in-house development teams and typically seek:

  • innovation,
  • concept evaluation,
  • increased customer loyalty,
  • costs assessment,
  • further project validation.

All projects need a funding plan, but this is especially true for complex undertakings that require more resources. Putting those together when you underestimate your project scope becomes that much harder.

2. Companies looking for an investor

Discovery workshops can make all the difference when you’re after external funding.

In this particular instance, we tend to approach idea validation from a slightly different angle, placing extra focus on emphasizing the product’s full market potential to the investors.

Securing funds for your software project is no small feat and no amount of preparation is excessive. You will need numbers, specifics, and, most of all, a well-defined production plan.

The workshops will provide you with all of those.

3. Startups

The thing about a great deal of startups is that they have fantastic ideas, but little to no development experience or resources. Refining and visualizing your concept is the key to deciding on your next steps.

It actually doesn’t matter whether your idea is already being turned into a project or you’ve only just come up with it—you stand to gain just as much from (re)evaluating its potential.

Understanding your business goals and needs in order to boost your product is beneficial at any stage before you enter development.

VII. Final thoughts on software product discovery workshops

Discovery workshops are a great idea when you need to move efficiently from planning to releasing the first version of your product or a major new module.

The workshops:

  • refine your concept,
  • make it easier to understand the challenges for your business and developers,
  • give you enough room to introduce necessary changes or even completely redefine your project.

What you should keep in mind is that discovery workshops don’t give you a full project plan—that’s not their purpose. The deliverables you arrive at during the workshops are meant to help you later on, as you plan each short implementation stage—sprint—and adjust it to your existing or updated requirements.

Flexibility is one of the main advantages of working Agile, since it allows you to modify the next steps of your project on the go to deliver a great product. The quality of the product is what matters the most, and discovery workshops are the key to an efficient project management process.

If you’d like to learn more about the discovery workshop process, or better yet, how to prepare for them, we highly encourage you to download our free step-by-step agenda using the form above or below.

And if you’re looking to double-check your project plan, hoping to secure external funding for your project, or aren’t sure how to proceed with releasing your product to the market—we are here to help!

Get your free step-by-step agenda for a successful digital project kickoff

Author

Paweł Jurdeczka

Product Strategy Consultant

Author

Adam Stempniak

Content Specialist

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