Discovery Projects. No, the ones before that…


Determining What and Why you’re starting a project (or even a business) is important. We take a look at how Discovery Projects can help. Here, we talk about things to do well before “discovery” that’s usually done once you’ve been handed a project.


Matthew: Focus, people, focus. 

Matt: So, what are we talking about today? Are we gonna be--

Matthew: Well?

Matt: The thing we talked about doing?

Matthew: I think we're gonna do the thing we talked about doing.

Matt: I got all night.

Matthew: If you remember what that is. I don't know.

Matt: So welcome everyone, welcome Matthew.

Matthew: Welcome. Hey, nice to see you.

Matt: Hey, good to be seen. So we had talked previously, I wasn't even suppose to speak.

Matthew: I know, I'm sorry, oh man.

Matt: Wow.

Matthew: Good morning.

Matt: It's another--

Matthew: Or afternoon for you almost.

Matt: Yeah, good day.

Matthew: Good day.

Matt: Hello, hola.

Matthew: Hola.

Matt: Bonjour.

Matthew: Bonjour. All right. We're terrible at starting things and we're terrible at ending things, the middle part is great.

Matt: Story of my life, let's just start at the beginning, I mean start at the middle. So discovery projects are great. So we were gonna talk today a little bit about discovery projects.

Matthew: Yes, that's one of my favorite things to do. That came out a little sarcastic, but it actually really is one of my favorite things to do.

Matt: Don't be sarcastic that's how we make our money.

Matthew: That's right. No, it's, honestly for almost all of my clients and even, you know, looking in the past some of my internal, as in employee projects. The ones where we've done discovery work first, like to figure out what are we trying to do? Have always led to the most success with the clients.

Matt: Why do you think that is?

Matthew: Well I mean the short answer is and I try not to say this too sardonically but, everybody these days, and I'm saying, painting with a broad brush here, just to make the point. Everyone is rushing to ship it, you know, and no one seems to be asking the question, what are we building? Who are we building this for? Do they even want this? You know, doing a discovery, you know, if it's stand alone that leads to a go, no-go or if it's we're just gonna do this and we're gonna proceed based on whatever we find. It just is a moment to really refine what it is you're trying to accomplish or define.

Matt: I'm thinking back to when you and I were working together. Actually as employees, which is hard to remember. It seems like ages ago but it wasn't ages ago. Where we had kind of this epiphany with the discovery projects. Where we really tried to formalize it. And I think you know the project I'm talking about.

Matthew: I know exactly what you're talking about.

Matt: Oh, I think you know the project I'm talking about.

Matthew: This is the project, yeah, this is the project that led to me being very proud of shutting down a business.

Matt: Yeah, it was--

Matthew: And later realizing people don't like to talk in those terms.

Matt: It's sort of a positive message but yet negative.

Matthew: I mean, I still think it's a very positive.

Matt: I do, we saved a client.

Matthew: Like that--

MAtt: We saved a client a lot of money. So just to tell the story a little bit here, the client came to us, to our, not our business, but the business we were working with. With a request and it had been an existing client. We had done work with them previously, so we had a little, some credibility. And he had a new, I don't say a whole business idea but it was kind of a new business idea. It was a branch of an existing business. An off-shoot if you will. And I think you will.

Matthew: I will. I will, I will.

Matt: And it was on paper it seemed like a great idea. He was super excited about it. He was ready to invest a million bucks, like a lot of money.

Matthew: Yeah he came with an initial budget of a quarter million.

Matt: Okay.

Matthew: And the ask was, I need you to build me an app. It was basically to run all the business processing stuff. Taking orders, managing inventory, things like that.

Matt: Again being an existing client we had a great relationship and we liked business, we liked work, we liked building things. We were more of a development focused shop at the time. Less on research and UX things. But, through conversation and our own internal toiling, we said, let's wait and let's think about this and take a step back.

Matthew: He had a rough idea what he wanted. Yeah, and it seemed like, here's a quarter million build me an app. Was like, okay, this is great to have the money but what are we really building?

Matt: And we weren't even confident on what to build. Like he had a basic idea. But it was gonna be a huge project. There was gonna have to be a lot of requirements. A lot of rules and processes that had to be defined to support this new thing that he didn't know. He just had an idea. And even for us to wrap our arms around this project we needed more information. And that fed into this as well 'cause we said, we can't even build this based on what we know today. We need to talk to people, go figure. I think that was part of the momentum to say let's do some research. Let's do some discovery work.

Matthew: Yeah, and basically it was just, let's find clarity about in what this is we're doing.

Matt: 'Cause we wanted confidence, 'cause we had a, a we had a bid. I mean, just be realistic. The money we weren't even sure how long it was gonna take for what was gonna be involved in this thing. So, we are making up numbers. He didn't really know what he wanted. So he said, let's take some time and figure out exactly what you want, what your customers and potential customers want. And then we'll kind of come back together and talk about it. I don't think our initial idea was to validate a project. It was more just to find out information.

Matthew: Yeah.

Matt: Almost like, requirements?

Matthew: Basically, what has customers really wanted? Which would then help us define what the system needed to be able to support. And which would then also define what his capabilities are to deliver. Or help refine that. So, it really was starting with that customer again.

Matt: And to his credit, he was running a pilot program, like a pseudo pilot program. There were people out there who had experience with this system that we could get feedback from. Which is who we talked to, we talked to a bunch of them. And we found out they didn't like it very much. Like when we were going into it trying to figure out, like all right, what's working, how can we refine it? And they were problems that they were talking about that were not even on his radar of why they were unhappy with this. Again, they liked the idea but it was, had a lot of problems that would be very expensive to correct. They weren't gonna be fixed by us building a piece of software.

Matthew: Looking where we are now, with the kind of work we do, it would've been an excellent project to apply a full service design to. Somewhere, I still have the screenshot of the excel spreadsheet he was using to track all of his orders and inventory manually, it's so ugly and confusing.

Matt: I mean, so the next phase in between was, we talked to a bunch of customers, I think 12 or a dozen or so. Got positive feedback on the idea but negative feedback on the execution. Talked to him and said, listen, this is, you got bigger problems than a piece of software. It's not gonna solve what's wrong, and he decided to shut things down.

Matthew: Right, and we basically said, this is a good idea, but there's so much you have to do. It's gonna require more than $250,000 and this app should be built at some point.

Matthew: Yeah, plus the app. Right. Because that's still a good idea to help him run the business. He came back with, as we suffered through mistake after mistake, our goodwill with clients is eroding and our orders are shrinking. I wanna tell you how much I really appreciate your efforts, time, and ideas for this concept. Again, thanks for your input. You truly help me bring clarity to my decision. And he was really grateful that we came to this conclusion.

Matt: 'Cause we did it early and clarity and we talk about confidence. He was able to know what he was up against. Confidently and realistically and make a good business decision.

Matthew: Some may argue that it would have been a really good business decision for us to take his quarter-million and start building the app but it wasn't a good decision for his business. The budget for our discovery project was 20K, something like that?

Matt: Something like that.

Matthew: So, he spent 20K to avoid spending 250K but really, probably a couple of million over the course of a couple of years to get this business up and going.

Matt: And that goes back to something else we were talking about, maybe on another show, is how do you measure success of your business? Is it building something or is building the right thing? And we like to build the right thing or work on the right thing, not just build something and bill for it. And I think that was a good example where we could of like you said, taken his money, built some app but it wouldn't have solved his problem. It would have helped us just from getting revenue but we wouldn't have been able to point to it and say, oh, it solved a problem for our client. So, right, in the long run--

Matthew: It certainly wouldn't been, yeah, and we would've still been working on it and trying to make something of it. And maybe taking more of his money and eroding the relationship we've established with him and--

Matt: Right, and the stress on us and the business. And having to juggle this and make excuses why we're not doing what we thought we could do in that amount of time for that amount of money. So, I think it was the ethical and just a smart thing to do from any business standpoint. From a client relationship standpoint as well 'cause he came back to us six months later with another idea for another business and hired us to do something. It was a smaller project.

Matthew: Well that, no that was because he decided to refocus on his core business.

Matt: So it was a epiphany if you will, got it.

Matthew: And I think that's the other thing that we helped him with is like, okay so this idea you have, it's a neat idea, it just may, now may not be the time. And so, instead of investing all that time, energy and money into this new idea, he reinvested that into his core business. Felt better about what he was delivering to his core customers.

Matt: But to us when came back with another project, it validated that we had done the right thing.

Matthew: Right, exactly, right.

Matt: And there no ill will or you know, hard feelings or anything like that, it was, he thanked us. He said, hey, I've got more work, I trust you guys. You know, to be straight with me.

Matthew: And we will be.

Matt: And we're always straight and honest because, why not?

Matthew: It isn't always fun but I mean, he wasn't like woohoo, you're shutting down my idea. But he was, okay, I recognize that now is not the time. And maybe never but the very least I know for sure.

Matt: I think the lesson for us from that project was as we've taken those lessons what we've learned and taken it to other projects we've done since. Discovery work especially, is how to communicate to the clients or prospective clients. This is the value of this work. You take a small bite up front and you spend some money so you can understand, so you can get that confidence. So, you know what you're building is the right thing versus taking whatever little amount you put into discovery and just saying forget it, I just wanna put into R and D, more as D really.

Matthew: Forget to say R, we're done with the R.

Matt: Forget the R. Just focus on the--

Matthew: I thought a lot about this, there isn't enough R for me.

Matt: Because how many times do we hear from clients, we don't have money for research, for discovery 'cause we're building. And it goes back to what are you building? Is it the right thing?

Matthew: We don't have time because we're shipping. Like, what are you shipping?

Matt: Right, right.

Matthew: I'm solving my problem, classic.

Matt: Yeah, so it's really understanding. Helping a business understand how they wanna allocate their money and where they wanna prioritize. And is it on strategy or is it on execution. And a lot of them come to me with, well we have a strategy, we know we want this app for as an example. Or we want this thing and it's sometimes a little hard to communicate. To get them to break the aura that they have. But then they have like, I know what I've got and I know what I want. To like really get them to question that, like how do you know and let's talk to some actual people. Sometimes, they have and that's great. But a lot of times they have not.

Matthew: Yeah, the idea has become precious to them. And as opposed to their customers being precious to them.

Matt: And they're always worried about time. Like, oh, I've got this idea, now we've got to get to market. And to them, 'cause again what I hear is, well, we're gonna build this thing in four months. We don't have time for research. Well, what we know is four months never is realistic. They say four months, it's a year. So then when you go back after that end of that year and you say, well, you know, if you've taken two to three weeks at the very beginning. You'd be in a better place.

Matthew: You build the right thing.

Matt: Right, instead you spend now a whole year building the wrong thing because at the time you thought you didn't have the time. It's frustrating to see it happen 'cause I've seen it happen with clients that did not want to do the discovery work and they just want to dive in. You and I have been brought into projects where they didn't wanna do it and we've done other usability testing or other kind of end of cycle research. And unfortunately, I've had to tell them well, this isn't working really well.

Matthew: In fact, it's working terribly.

Matt: Yes, I was trying to be nice.

Matthew: Well, yeah. I mean, realistically you look at it. And it's like, you, the client, have done a lot of work on this. This looks very nice. The people who are your customers, don't like it and are having a lot of trouble using it.

Matt: And what I've learned is, or seen, it's a hard lesson for businesses to learn. Once I go through once and fail or much more open to in the future because I've worked with some clients that have had to go through that pain. And the next time or the next project or whenever they engage with me it's, oh yeah, we've had this problem in the past. This is where we failed. How can we do it better this time? And when I explain this approach, they're like oh, of course. Like, why wouldn't we wanna do that? And why didn't we do it last time? Unless they've gone through that heartache, and that pain for investing a year of time, money, people. A lot of businesses don't, just don't see it. Like you said, they're kind of blinded by their confidence and their ideas.

Matthew: Or false confidence, really.

Matt: Right false, yes.

Matthew: We have a really good guess or we think we have a really good guess. And we're taking that to mean it's a good idea. And sometimes it is, we have to give credit for that but I would say most times it's not. Or at least--

Matt: And I'm wondering--

Matthew: could be refined.

Matt: I'm wondering how much of that is this whole mentality that's merged over the past. What is it now, four or five years of just build it and go and don't worry about breaking things or break early and often and we'll redo it. You know the kind of Silicon Valley mean UX things startup stuff. I think people are kind of latching onto that without understanding the risks involved. If your VC funded and you've got a billion dollars, sure, maybe that's the way to go.

Matthew: Yeah, and the attitude of oh, if this doesn't work, we'll just pivot.

Matt: Yeah.

Matthew: Instead of like, could we take one week and $25000 and just investigate? Yes, we can do that, we have time for that. Two weeks would be better but you know. But probably no more than two weeks, you know?

Matt: It usually doesn't take longer than two weeks unless you're finding really bad things.

Matthew: Right, right, right.

Matt: And then that should open up everyone's eyes and say, okay, our hypothesis maybe needs to be refined. Let's spend a little more time and really nail this down.

Matthew: Which again goes back to why I always try and make these projects very iterative. Like, let's do this and we'll see. And we'll go this way, we'll go that way or we'll go whichever way it says and there's your pivot, sorry.

Matt: Yeah, for a quick and dirty discovery project, you don't need more than a week or two. To at least get started to get your first round and get a sniff in the right direction or not.

Matthew: To either validate the general idea but then say, okay, there's some ways we can improve this but we have to do a little more digging or to say this idea is not a good idea at all. During the course of our conversations, these other three things came up. Let's investigate those, I mean, that brings up a point of a project that I was recently on where it didn't end in shutting someone's idea down and destroying it. Where a client brought me in, excuse me, to basically do some, they were launching an internal app. And they were like, we know this isn't as good as it should be. Can you just make it better? The initial engagement with them was a little bit of usability testing. During the course of the testing, talking with the people who are actually gonna be using this, it became clear that there were a lot of internal process inefficiencies and so I suggested doing a discovery project after that. After the usability testing project was over. Basically, did a low fidelity, in the sense that our deliverables were low fidelity, on purpose. 'Cause we were wanting to move pretty quickly. Understanding of the service they were providing. I hesitate to call it like a true service design project but we used, we were looking at their process at the services they were providing to their customers. And it just became really clear that the entire way they were structuring all the work that they were doing was super linear and that was creating these wild inefficiencies. I think it was maybe eight business days of discovery work. Led then to proposals to how they could improve their internal process and as well as some design mock-ups to sort of, not in the sense of like, here's your design, you know, go build it. But just to communicate the intent of how the changes, how to be less linear in their work. And ultimately, when they launched with this, they were going from the old internal app to this new internal app. And they were hoping to get a 10% increase in efficiency and reduction of errors and things like that. It ended up being a 30% increase. Which for them is a direct impact to their bottom line. Maybe not a direct direct but basically the more work they can do the more money they can make. There a $30,000,000 revenue company. So, a 30% increase, and this is napkin math at best, but made them a lot more money per year. By saying, okay, here's some problems that the users are running into with this design. But let's take a step back and really figure out what's going on here. You know, and so that's eight, 10 days of work to make them maybe $10,000,000 in revenue extra a year.

Matt: Yeah, amazing.

Matthew: How is, that pays for itself, right?

Matt: Right.

Matthew: I mean, that's certainly not the outcome that everybody gets, you know, everybody gets 10,000,000.

Matt: Of course.

Matthew: You get 10,000,000.

MAtt:But the opportunities are there. And the investment on the scale that a lot of these companies are looking at, it's so small. To get that extra bit of confidence.

Matthew: To build the right thing.

Matt: Build the right thing, people.

Matthew: That's a start.

Matt: That's all we want.

Matthew: That's all we want. Then make that right thing better over time. Done and done, it's so easy.

Matt: Everyone out there, go do that.

Matthew: Buy my two page book on the pro, on the

Matt: Subscribe to our newsletter.

Matthew: I feel like this isn't interesting to people. But it's very interesting to me. Is that this just reduces so much waste in time and money. Focus you on the right thing, do the right work well. It isn't simple work but it's a very simple approach that leads to good outcomes. This is why if I even have an inkling that my client is not quite sure exactly what they want or I don't understand what they're trying to achieve. Really recommend doing a week, four days, depending on my level of lack of confidence or their level of lack of confidence. Something to really get an understanding of what we're supposed to be doing together. That's my pitch.

Matt: Yeah, I'm with you. I think that's a good--

Matthew: I don't think you always have to do them. But I think you mostly always have to do them.

Matt: Mostly, almost, always, kind of.

Matthew: Mostly, almost, always, except for that one time. Good game everybody.

Matt: Thanks for watching. Good game and go do discovery. Go discover discovery.

Matthew: That's right, and not the discovery that you may read about that's hey, you've already determined what's going to happen. Now you have to do discovery on how to make it happen. I mean, the same thing exactly wrong with that but we're really focusing on the what and the why.

Matt: But way, way, way up front.

Matthew: Way up front, way up front. Determining what work to do versus determining what am I going to need to execute on this idea that's been handed to me. It just, I've seen other people write about discovery or talk about discovery. And there's a lot of focus on the, so you've been given an idea. Now, you've gotta do discovery. And I'm like, alright, I mean I get it.

Matt: In a way, yeah. In a way.

Matthew: Definitely get it. But I think there's so much value in doing this kind of work way up front. Vetting ideas, basically, you know, for the VC funded folks out there. It's the due diligent stuff, but it's a bit of a deeper dive than just the gut of someone saying, hey, that sounds like a good idea. Here's some money, roll with it.

Matt: Ideally, you're starting with a problem to solve, not the solution.

Matthew: I know, I just took our ending and then added a bunch of other stuff on.

Matt: Oh, you can fix that in post.

Matthew: Fix it in post.

Matt: We're wearing the same clothes so you can swap.

Matthew: All of a sudden we're wearing Tuxedos for like, three seconds.

Matt: The shadows are all different. It's like raining outside all of a sudden.

Matthew: That's alright. We understand continuity here at We Can Do Better.

Matt: Alright, thanks, that's it for this episode I think. We're gonna wrap it there. See you next time.

Matthew: Hey, goodbye everybody. I got nothing. I just cut it when you said that.

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