Finishing a discovery is harder than it looks. It’s easy to fall into the trap of discovering new things right up until the last minute. This means we don’t leave enough time for bringing findings together, designing alpha ideas, or persuading our decision makers.
I learned this on a discovery earlier this year. We were looking at whether GDS could do something to help service teams collect information from their users. Even though we left two weeks to finish our discovery we still struggled to do everything in time.
Let me talk you through what I learned about finishing a discovery.
Wrap up the areas of investigation
We’d been working on four areas of investigation in keeping with the discovery block diagram. Users and needs led by a user researcher, technology and data led by a technical architect, content and design led by a service designer, and cost models led by a delivery manager.
With two weeks to we needed to bring all the different things we’d learned together. Without a shared understanding we knew we’d struggle to agree a direction.
We stopped work, cleared our calendars for a week, booked out a meeting room, and tackled one area each day. Monday was users and needs. Tuesday was content and design. Wednesday was technology and data. Thursday was cost models.
Each afternoon, we did a three hour workshop with the whole team. The goal was to end with a list of findings we agreed on. How we did this was up to the person running it. We ended up with workshops full of lively disagreements and resolutions.
I worried that a week was overkill. It wasn’t. It takes time to build a shared understanding across the whole team. It takes time to re-form as a team after six weeks dashing around the country to find things out.
Agree one set of discovery findings
On the final day of this week - the Friday - we created a single set of discovery findings. This was also in keeping with the discovery block diagram.
We gathered together as a team. Each person wrote the 10 findings they thought were most important and then we turned them into this list:
- Forms are hard to find
- Too many forms don’t work for people with access needs
- Bad guidance makes people call before a form is submitted
- Forms are wrappers for evidence (and evidence is complicated)
- Users have to fill in unnecessary and duplicated information
- Too many forms handle offline payments in a horribly insecure way
- Data submitted ends up in a huge variety of systems
- Error rates are very high
- Eligibility is determined too late
- Bad forms are expensive
- Problems and costs of forms are not being measured well
- Forms are not easily changed (legislation and policy can block)
- Operations and caseworkers are removed from improving forms
- Digital forms alone cannot kill old systems
It was easy to create these 14 findings because we’d already worked through each area of investigation in detail. This meant that each finding was backed up by a rich web of stories, diagrams and data.
We didn’t split these findings by area of investigation. Each finding brought together things we’d learned across the whole discovery. We had seen the same things cropping up in our user research, design analysis and technical investigation. The findings were a powerful triangulation of all the important things we’d learned.
These findings were the backbone of our work. They helped us brief people in our design workshops. They helped us generate our ideas for alpha. They helped us communicate with decision makers. They helped us tell the story over and over again.
Generate ideas for alphas
In the final week of our discovery we moved to ideas for alphas. This meant switching from talking about problems to talking about solutions. We found this hard because we’d avoided talking about solutions up to this point (as all discovery teams should).
We had two plans to come up with alpha ideas. Neither went smoothly.
The first plan was to run design workshops with multi-disciplinary people from across GDS. The workshops were great at forcing us to finish off our findings. They worked well at promoting our work across GDS. They fell down in coming up with alpha ideas because I didn’t spend time enough time preparing though. More attention next time.
The second plan was for the team to hunker down in a room and come up with a final set of alpha ideas ourselves. This worked beautifully in that our team came up with a huge variety of alpha ideas. But then I ruined this by clumsily fitting these into my own pre-conceived framework. This was the lowest point for me in the discovery. We recovered by organising our ideas into a roadmap as a team.
I learned, painfully, that you need to allow enough time to come up with alpha ideas. There’s a whole design process hidden in this final part of a discovery that I’d never properly noticed before. I’ll respect that in future.
Persuade your decision makers
Finally we had to communicate what we’d found and persuade decision makers to fund alpha ideas. Luckily the way that we had run the final two weeks of our discovery prepared us beautifully for these presentations.
- We had a convincing backstory. Each person had been practicing the story of their area since the findings week. As we stood in front of our decision makers, each of us had powerful things to say about users and needs, design and content, technology and data, and cost models.
- We had a compelling summary. By using the findings to frame design workshops we’d found ways to make them stand alone. This made them punchy for decision makers who didn’t have time or inclination to hear the details.
- We had a believable future. Our roadmap of alpha ideas painted a vision for public beta. Yes, I worried about showing a roadmap and a vision, but decision makers aren’t comfortable with ambiguity. Sometimes you have to play the game.
Having these things prepared us for the final presentation. Luckily for us. When you’ve been wrapped up in discovery it’s easy to underestimate how difficult it is to communicate what you found out and persuade people to make a decision.
It's important to plan the end (before the end)
Finishing our discovery in this way meant we did justice to our earlier hard work. This is now my standard advice to teams who are finishing discoveries:
- Wrap up the areas of investigation
- Agree one set of discovery findings
- Generate ideas for alphas
- Persuade your decision makers
This means planning in advance. Booking your meeting rooms weeks out. Inviting people to design workshops before they have other commitments. Lining up decision makers for the right place at the right time. Being clear that your team will stop work.
One more thing. This is a story about finishing a discovery as one team. We had to leave time to share things, argue about things, make things clear, and resolve things. Yes, it can be quicker to do these things as individuals. But this is a false economy.
Taking the time to finish as one team gave our findings greater depth through resolving multiple perspectives. It meant that every team member was able to tell the story of what we learned and where we’re going. These are important things.
This post is one of three posts about how to run better discoveries. The other two are better discoveries with the discovery block diagram and setting up a discovery to succeed with a small team. Let me know what you think on @myddelton.