When building products in SaaS organizations, teams are under pressure to release new products and features quickly. However, it is essential not to skip the product discovery process in the race to launch. Time spent in discovery helps ensure that you build the right product for your customers.
At our digital agency, we work in an agile environment, meaning we work in iterations, so our team gets validation early and often. Each iteration we work in is called a sprint. The first sprint, the discovery sprint, is arguably the most important.
In this article, I'll talk about the discovery phase of product development and the role of discovery sprints in that phase. I’ll cover who is involved, how we conduct them, the cost of running them, the deliverables, and ultimately how they impact your end product.
What is a discovery sprint?
The discovery phase in product development is the process of collecting, analyzing, defining, and validating information about a product and its user.
A discovery sprint is a 5-day discovery work session. The design sprint aims to tackle the problems your users face and how the product you are building will solve their problems and empower your business.
Whether you are looking to bring a new product idea to life or make an existing product even better, discovery sprints are a fast-tracked process to getting early validation to build products that fit the users’ and business’ strategic needs.
Some of the most significant risks our product team tackles during discovery sprints are:
User Value:Does this product solve a problem for my customers, and will they choose to use it?
Usability: If my customers choose to use it, can they figure out how to use it?
Limitations: If we go with this solution, can our engineering team build what we need in time with the skills and technology stack we have?
Business Value: Does this product solution work for the various needs of our business?
At the end of a discovery sprint, you should have a shared understanding of the product goals and limitations, a user-tested product prototype, and a product roadmap.
These outcomes will empower your team to work confidently and collaboratively towards an MVP (minimum viable product) release.
Who is involved in the discovery phase?
This list is not definitive. Attendees may vary depending on the company and product. However, this list will give you a comprehensive idea of some key contributors to building a successful outcome.
The Project Manager
A project manager is the main point of contact between the client and the internal agency team. They ensure flawless communication between internal and external team members during the discovery phase of a project and beyond. They are responsible for organizing the team timelines and scope of work to ensure the project is on track.
The UI/UX Designer
The designer is often responsible for both the research and design part of the discovery phase. During the discovery process, they are in charge of designing exceptional user experiences for the end product user. They bring the product vision to life through research, wireframing, prototyping, and testing. In addition, they must design a product that fits within the guides and limitations of the development team and the business goals.
The developer determines what technologies will be utilized to develop the product. They also consult on the product's design based on the technological limitations of existing systems, timelines, etc.
To have successful sessions with clients, product stakeholders need to be available for the discovery sprint. It’s best if the group of stakeholders is no more than six people. Having a single representative from each internal team with a stake in the project is ideal. Typically this role can be the CTO, CEO, customer service rep, marketing manager, or product owner.
Discovery sprint overview
Our team will rapidly progress from the problem to a tested prototype solution in just five days. The following schedule is a rough outline (not prescriptive), but generally speaking, this is what each day will look like during a discovery sprint with our team. Each day splits into two 3-hour sessions.
Day One: Understanding Context
On The first day, we determine our goal for the week and the questions we want to answer. We’ll conduct interviews with stakeholders and use the insights to create a journey map. By the end of the day, we’ll have a target experience to focus on for the rest of the week.
Day Two: Determine User, Scope, and Priority
Day two is all about solutions. First, our team researches solutions that market competitors have found to similar problems. Then our team will sketch our solutions. Each participant in the exercise will capture their ideas in a series of notes and sketches.
Day Three: Solution Exploration
On day three, the team will select the strongest solutions from the previous day and combine them into a storyboard to guide the prototype. At the end of the day, we will have pieced together the flow and have a clear idea of the prototype we will create the next day.
Day Four: Prototyping
Stakeholders from the client team will not need to attend this sprint day. The Underbelly team will create a prototype.
Day Five: Test
On the last day, we’ll be testing the prototype we made. We’ll conduct user research sessions to help determine if the direction we chose solves the problem we defined at the start of the sprint.
Benefits of a discovery sprint
1. Smaller risk
Within an agile work environment, your product is built in phases, so there is no need for an intensive capital investment upfront. When we conduct Discovery Sprints, we help you define your MVP and product roadmap in just a couple of days. The earlier on in the project you can prototype the earlier you can learn and validate your product design and development decisions.
2. User feedback from real people
During the Discovery Sprint, the prototype is tested with users to get real-time feedback and learnings before coming to an MVP.
3. Team alignment
You will achieve alignment between the product stakeholders from the beginning of your product journey (and investment). This discovery phase empowers your team to communicate effectively, share ideas, come to solutions together, and mitigate risk.
4. Agility & speed
From large enterprises all the way down to budding startups, agility is a key factor in their growth. A discovery sprint is a fast-paced process to get data-driven decision making done. It speeds up new product discovery and breaks down the complexity of a project from the start.
5. Happy users
A discovery sprint at it's core is user-centric. While a clear end-goal of conducting one is to mitigate risk and achieve alignment early on, in the end it's really about building a product your users will love. The sprint is based around a series of exercises to better understand your users, their pain points, and what solutions you provide them.
Cost of a discovery sprint
Underbelly charges a flat rate of $15,000 for a Discovery Sprint conducted by our team. Since each project requires different types of expertise, the team you'll be working with is built to get the most out of your discovery.
Discovery sprint deliverables
Design documentation. Our team will provide all of the design documentation from the sprint sessions. This includes research, sketches, storyboards, and prototype files.
Preliminary prototype. This deliverable will provide insights into how the software product will function once developed and allow for user testing and validation.
Product roadmap and estimates. From our team you will receive a recommended team lineup for who we think will be best to complete the project. In addition, you will receive a roadmap with estimated timelines and milestones.
Software requirements specification (SRS). A document describing the project, feature set, recommended tech stack, and architecture outline.
Proposal. Based on our learnings from the discovery phase, our team will provide you with a proposal for the cost of a product team to carry out the work.
Interested in working with our product team to conduct a discovery sprint for your product idea? Drop us a line.