Whether you have an internal team, work with a consultant, or engage with an agency, the first phase of any proposed development project – often referred to as a ‘concept’ – is likely to be the Discovery phase. In this article, we’ll focus on the discovery of a new concept, as the process differs in several ways for discovery when developing a new version of or redeveloping, an existing tech product. Whilst each business will have a different process of discovery, the primary focus is on taking what is the kernel of an idea and expanding it into documented research, some supporting evidence and outline financial planning that allows you to make an informed decision on whether this is something that should be considered for development. Oftentimes, discovery can be enough to help you make an informed decision on whether a concept should be taken further and into the creation of a proof of concept, but this can also require an accompanying costed project scope, particularly when working with an agency before a decision can be made.

Outline Your Concept

Discovery starts with an outline of the proposed concept, sometimes referred to as your product vision. In many cases, this is taking your idea and putting it onto the page in a structured way for the first time. This section of discovery can feel somewhat similar to a business plan in that you should cover:

  • What the proposed concept is,
  • Who it is aimed at and brings value to,
  • The problem(s) it aims to solve,
  • How it aims to deliver a measurable return on investment – is this a sellable product where sales value can be tracked, or automation that saves your business time to reinvest elsewhere, for example,
  • An estimated budget for how much can be invested into exploring this concept,
  • An ideal timeline for delivering a usable version of the concept, should it be commissioned.

Define Your Success Indicators

During your outline, you’ll have hopefully been able to cover the key return on investment measurables that your concept would have. Your core ROI metric will likely take some time to gather data and measure effectively, which is where success indicators step in and serve as a barometer for success on a smaller, more focused scale. As an example, your concept may focus on developing a new automation tool to save your staff time. Your primary ROI is therefore the number of hours saved and repurposed for other tasks, but this could take three months or longer to collect enough data to have a meaningful average ‘time saved per person, per month’ metric. Your success indicators would therefore look something like this:

  • The number of people using the delivered concept,
  • The frequency of each person using the delivered concept.

The more people use your concept, the more your concept is validated in that it serves a purpose. If people find themselves using the concept frequently, it becomes clear that the offering is more effective or efficient than the previous way of doing things. Both of these figures can be tracked from day one of the concept being introduced to users. You can build out much more specific measures tailored to your concept, as these are purely high-level examples for any automation tool.

Understanding the Landscape

Much like outlining your concept is similar to preparing the opening of a business plan, understanding the landscape is equivalent to carrying out your business’s market research. This section of discovery focuses on highlighting other products, tools, and processes that have a level of similarity to your proposed concept. This section could cover competitors but is just as likely to explore ways of achieving your desired result differently. We do not necessarily need to outline why the proposed concept differs or could outperform these other offerings at this stage. During the discovery phase, the focus is on creating as broad of a picture as possible – understanding alternative tools and other opportunities is a key element and helps to prevent engaging in product development that inherently doesn’t have longevity because of other options in the same space.

  • What else exists as potential competition or alternatives to the proposed concept?
  • Are there other processes that can be implemented or developed with a similar purpose to the proposed concept?

Plot Your User Journeys

Whilst discovery is the earliest point of potential product development, an understanding of how users will interact with your product is crucial. It’s during this section that you’ll begin to outline key features and integrations of the concept and how each element brings value that helps in delivering your desired success measures. During discovery, each element of your proposed concept is subject to change and it’s expected that descriptions of how elements interact and the user’s journey progresses are somewhat open to interpretation. During product scoping, these sections will be covered in greater detail and collectively agreed on how each should function and the data that they should collect (if applicable). Key elements that you’re likely to cover as part of user journey plotting during discovery are:

  • Outlining the different user types, if there is more than one, such as a client user and an internal user,
  • How a user accesses the proposed concept – is it a purchase, an internal login, for example,
  • Each step a user can/should take when using the tool.

Concept Integrations

From as early as possible in concept planning, understanding the role of integrations in delivering your end product is key. Many automation tools rely on integrations with third parties to collect or distribute data, for example. During this section, explore each integration that your concept will offer:

  • Who is the integration with?
  • What benefit does the integration bring?
  • How much does the integration cost – is it a monthly cost, or charged based on usage?
  • Are there any restrictions on the integration – can it only be used by people with a pre-existing account with the third-party, for example?

A crucial consideration for any proposed integration for a concept is understanding whether this is a dependent integration or supporting integration.

  • A dependent integration means that your system, or a section of your system, cannot function without it. If the third-party system is down or the integration is unavailable, your system is potentially impacted. This is often the case when systems rely on third-parties for data, such as collecting addresses from postcodes, for example.
  • A supporting integration is supplementary, often these are integrations where your tool pushes data elsewhere. If the third-party system is down, your system is limited in how it can function, but it does not necessarily impact how people use your product.

Possible Iterations

With a much clearer vision of your concept and the key features and integrations, discovery can begin to plot potential iterations which will feed into a subsequent product scope. Again, during discovery, these are proposed iteration versions that will only be confirmed as part of a project scope. The benefit of considering iterations now is it supports building a timeline and assists in prioritising scoping areas during the second phase (priority going into scoping the features that are considered crucial for an alpha version, for example). Typical development iterations for a new concept from discovery look like:

  • Proof of Concept (PoC) – typically a low- or no-code solution that offers a part of your proposed concept for users to test and feedback on. A Proof of Concept aims to prove that the issue or inefficiency you’re facing exists and that it can be improved or alleviated through technology (validation).
  • Alpha – a first iteration of part or all of your concept developed by an internal team or agency. This transplants the functionality of your Proof of Concept into a custom-created offering and expands upon it further. An alpha version of the system is focused on internal testing on a small scale.
  • Beta – a second iteration of the concept, which implements early feedback from the alpha users. During the beta phase is typically when a select number of external testers (or for internal tech, staff that have not been involved in discovery) would gain access to the system and feedback.
  • Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – the first public release of your solution. Depending on the size of your proposed concept, an MVP will not include all of it but will focus on the core features to allow you to begin measuring a level of success and return on investment. Further iteration and versions move the concept to a ‘v1’, which is the first version containing all of the proposed concept’s features.

Additional Considerations

Depending on the focus of your concept, you may wish to explore additional areas such as increasing availability and scalable infrastructure (typically for client-facing solutions). For businesses with an existing technology offering, further considerations on how this product can sit alongside an existing suite of tools are a key part of discovery. At Embeddable, we specialise in product scoping and discovery, working with you to take the kernel of an idea and transform it into meaningful discovery, a buildable product scope, and an effective final product. If you’re an ambitious business looking to explore an idea, we’re here to help. We are Embeddable.