22 Sep 2022

Discovery and Empathy Workshops are Key to Developing User-centric Solutions

Even the best business ideas don’t make a difference when the final product doesn’t account for the reality of market dynamics and user expectations. According to CB Insights’ 2021 analysis, 35% of startups have failed since 2018 because there was no market need for their products or services. But even more established companies usually cannot afford to develop and launch products destined for failure. To avoid that outcome, find out how to incorporate discovery and empathy workshops into your product design process. 

What is a discovery workshop? 

Product discovery workshops are a great opportunity to understand real users’ needs, which helps to define the scope of the project and makes it possible to estimate a realistic timeline for developing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and plan its further iterations. Organizing meetings with key stakeholders at the beginning of the product engineering process can seem counterproductive when you want to jump right into development. But in the long run a discovery workshop helps you validate and refine your product idea to ensure its profitability before you invest in development. A discovery workshop also gives you a framework to create a roadmap for your team and anticipate potential risks. 

Discovery workshops help you align the perspectives of different stakeholders and identify any gaps in shared knowledge. Moreover, the workshops give you tools and space to specify business and technical requirements with the help of key experts and stakeholders. This results in your whole team having clarity on the available budget, role responsibilities, optimal tech stack and software architecture. 

Workshops serve as an opportunity to outline key product features and a backlog of tasks. This includes the prioritization of functionalities and corresponding tasks. As a result, you and your team can create a timeline for the project with clearly set milestones to measure your progress. 

Finally, discovery workshops bring different stakeholders together and encourage them to work out a product roadmap everyone agrees on. When design and development stages kick off and team members zero in on their individual tasks, they can always zoom out to check if their work still aligns with previously set priorities.  

How to plan a discovery workshop 

Discovery workshops enable you to integrate three crucial points of view – business, technological and user. The invitation list for the meeting needs to reflect that. 

When organizing a discovery workshop, invite a cross-functional team, consisting of: 

  • your core project team (e.g., software developers and architects, a product owner), 
  • business stakeholders with the best understanding of the business model and product goals (e.g., CEO, project managers, sales directors, business analysts), 
  • experts who can present users’ viewpoints (e.g., UX/UI designers). 

To keep your workshop structured, plan it around specific activities. An experienced UX/UI designer can advise you which activities and tools best suit your needs at a given stage of product development. 

Some proven activities used in discovery workshops include: 

  • Product vision board – a project management tool that delineates the idea behind the product and the desired business goals, as well as the product’s target group and its needs. 
  • V2MOM (Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles and Measures) – a vision board that enables you to select methods, identify risks and set the success metrics. 
  • User personas – profiles of target users that describe their characteristics, needs, goals, motivations and attitudes. 
  • Value Proposition Canvas – a tool consisting of two sections: a value proposition (what your product offers) and a customer profile (what customers want to do and what supports or hinders them from reaching their goals). 
  • Lean Canvas – another tool that can help you consider the relationship between your product, target customers and the market. 
  • User story maps – a visualization representing the actions a customer takes to achieve a desired outcome with the help of the product (e.g., opening a new bank account in an app) and corresponding tasks for the development team. 

Whichever method you decide to use, keep in mind the outcomes you want. As long as you remember that the whole team needs to leave the meeting with clear business and technical requirements, a task backlog and a shared vision of the product, it will be easier for everyone to stay on track. 

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Why run an empathy workshop in your product design process? 

The goal of an empathy workshop is to draw your project team’s attention to the users of your future product. To attract customers, your solution must place the needs and pain points of its userbase front and center. According to Adobe’s 2022 Digital Trends Report, 87% of senior executives agreed that “customer expectations have been digitally rewired, and that success is defined by a brand’s ability to respond.” Instead of scrambling to react later, you can try to understand how your users think and act, then plan accordingly. 

Empathy workshops enable you to build a user-centric product. They are an opportunity for your team to put themselves in users’ shoes and consider the struggles and motivations your customers have. These observations will lead them to create a product that solves real problems and potentially even addresses unconscious needs 

What do you need to organize an empathy workshop? 

Like a discovery workshop, your empathy workshop should include your product development team, UX/UI designers and a project manager. It’s also a good idea to invite experts who have contact with your customers at different stages. Customer support specialists, sales representatives and even marketing team members are good candidates to share user perspectives with the wider development team. 

As with discovery workshops, you can structure your meeting around activities that uncover users’ attitudes. The most common tools for this are: 

  • Empathy maps – a close look at how a user approaches a specific activity (e.g., generating a report), including what they feel, think, say and how they act. 
  • Storyboards – a series of actions that a user has to take to complete a task; they are used to quickly identify missing steps in a process and serve as a prelude to creating a user journey map. 
  • User journey maps – a visualization of how a user interacts with your product at different stages, which covers their actions, motivations and pain points. 
  • Insight statements – a short phrase to sum up users’ attitudes and primary need. 

Even with the help of user research and past customer interactions, this kind of workshop requires a lot of brainstorming. Don’t hesitate to reach for proven techniques to encourage your team to generate new ideas. Popular methods include using language like “How might we,” where you rephrase potential issues as questions, “Yes, and…,” where you build on another person’s idea and create mind maps to visualize connections and connotations. Your team can also consider elements of the user experience in new contexts with Analogous Inspiration or “mash up” unrelated ideas to inspire surprising solutions. 

Best practices – how to maximize your discovery and empathy workshops 

Before the workshop, create an agenda and assign a workshop lead. With so many aspects to cover during a meeting, you want to make sure that you discuss the most important points and not digress unnecessarily. A meeting agenda will help other participants prepare for the workshop and make it easier to conduct the session. It can also be a good idea to appoint a workshop moderator, someone who will coordinate the discussion and activities. Usually, the best people for this task are UX/UI designers or project managers – specialists who have a good understanding of the design process and its goals. 

Expect the unexpected. While having an agenda to follow is helpful, in reality it doesn’t shield you from surprises. Distractions, disagreements and issues you haven’t accounted for can always happen, but so can inspiring (albeit unplanned) discussions or out-of-the-box solutions. Keep in mind that you can’t prepare for every possible scenario and use your judgement to drive productivity, even in surprising conversations. 

Be open. Workshops work best when everyone is willing to listen to each other’s ideas and find the best solution. Make space for an honest discussion and hear people out when they share their thoughts. The way to create a successful product is through staying receptive to mixing different ideas. 

Conduct research throughout the creation process. Product design can be a long and complex process. To make sure your solution reflects the users’ needs and problems, update your research and run additional discovery workshops after your team reaches milestones throughout the design and development process. This way you will ensure that your team and their goals are always aligned and your product vision remains relevant. 

Focus on actual, not ideal users. Your team does user research and creates user personas to understand the real people who will be using your product. When participating in discovery and empathy workshops, it can be easy to think only of your ideal customer. But ideal customers rarely exist in the real world, and they won’t help you anticipate authentic roadblocks and issues. 

Outstanding design drives business growth 

In the 2018 report The Business Value of Design, McKinsey followed 300 companies for five years to study the impact of design actions on their businesses. The report found that the companies which scored high in four areas – analyzing design performance, sharing responsibility for creating user-centric design among their team, prioritizing user experience and responding to end-user feedback – outperformed other companies, with “32 percentage points higher revenue growth and 56 percentage points higher [total returns to shareholders] growth for the period as a whole.” 

But an effective design and development process can’t be achieved without exceptional talent. Experience, reliability and high quality can quickly drive your software development when your partner up with an outsourcing company trusted by industry leaders. Use this form to get in touch and learn how Software Mind can accelerate product innovation for your business. 

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