The devil fools with the best laid plans.
– Neil Young
When you work for a creative agency, a typical client engagement might go something like this:
You answer an RFP, or get a referral. You respond to that RFP or referral. Your team meets in-person to show the client what you’ve done for others that might be similar to what they want. You listen intently to their plans and take copious notes. From that conversation and few emails back and forth, you scope out the project, based around their budget and timeline, and send off your proposal. If they like you, they hire you.
Then, the real project begins, and what you thought the project entailed, has morphed into something different, as the work unfolds and all sorts of “unknown unknowns” emerge. What is it that’s often said about the best laid plans? Oh yeah, Neil, we hear you.
The Purpose of Project Discovery: Uncovering the Unknowns
In our 20+ collective years in business, we’ve learned that while clients might know exactly what they want — a rebuilt, revamped website or a really clean app design — they don’t always know what they need to make what they want happen. Problem is, too often creative agencies scope a technical project like a website or an app based on wants, rather than on needs — and leave it to the technical team to make happen what the marketing and sales team promised to the client. It’s not a problem of bad communication; more often, there’s not enough communication about how those wants actually get built. And that can wind up costing both parties time and money.
At Solid Digital, we’ve never taken a one-size-fits-all approach to anything we do. We’re not simply a production house. We don’t deliver flashy features that are cool but add nothing to our clients’ bottom line. Rather, we are a partner in helping our clients determine the best solutions that will fulfill their vision, requirements and needs — how they interact with their customers, employees and stakeholders, how they conduct business, how they build their brand.
As we’ve grown and taken on much more complex projects, we’ve learned that achieving a superior outcome starts with a comprehensive discovery process — one that provides our client and our team with a detailed blueprint of how the project gets built. One that fully considers the business objectives, competitive advantages, as well as the technical requirements of the project at hand, and anticipates and solves problems proactively, before the project really begins.
Another advantage of this discovery approach is that it brings our team together with the client, and sets the stage for how we mesh as collaborative partners, providing a new client with an added comfort level that, should they choose to go in a different direction, they still have a detailed plan that can lead the way forward.
Building a Blueprint
Clients know what their business requirements are, and to some degree, how they want their technology to function. They come to us because what they currently have isn’t working for them anymore, or what they want to build doesn’t exist yet. What they need, first, is a blueprint. And that’s what our discovery process is all about.
In essence, we help the client fully understand what it is they want and need.
As a consultative process, our discovery begins by digging deep into our client’s wants and needs, and then developing a plan for what design and technology might work best for what the client wants to achieve, understanding the constraints and then detailing the best path forward.
We develop a full spec doc, not only covering the visible deliverables (the design, and look and feel for whatever we’re building) but also what is often invisible to a client — that is, the technology that will enable it.
At Solid Digital, we practice informed design — that is, design that is informed by data, and by technology. We make design decisions based on learning all that we can about our client’s business and how people currently use their site. We research the competition, conduct employee and customer surveys, and build user personas that reflect our client’s particular customers and stakeholders.
Often in a project like a website redesign, however, the design informs the technology. Our discovery process turns that around, by allowing the technology to inform the design.
By adding technology to the discovery process, our designers are equipped with the foresight to know what’s needed to be “designed out” and work in parallel with our developers, instead of in separate phases as projects are typically scoped.
Our discovery process results in a comprehensive, step-by-step document which typically runs 50+ pages and includes a style guide, wireframes, and detailed technical specs covering feature requirements, network topology, application architecture, diagrams, design tools, and security recommendations; as well as timelines, critical dates, and internal milestones.
Why go down this road with us?
Our discovery is not a one-size-fits-all process, and isn’t for every client. Just as you wouldn’t start building a house without first having a blueprint, when you’re building new platforms and products (digital commerce, company intranet, education portal, mobile app), starting with a comprehensive technical blueprint is not only logical, but imperative.
This approach to discovery also offers practical benefits to our client: It gives the client a much more accurate cost of the project — and more clarity about what they’re paying for — and ensures we aren’t missing critical pieces in the project’s scope. It also gives the client the information they need to more effectively use their budget and decide whether or not to move forward — especially if the client has underestimated the true cost of what they’re asking for. Whatever they decide, they now have a document that thoroughly maps out their project.
Whereas other agencies charge by time and materials, we have found our clients don’t like that approach because they can easily be taken advantage of; and it’s not a good way to try and retain customers when projects go over time and budget. Our discovery process eliminates the guesswork that often determines project cost estimates, as well as misunderstandings about what the project scope includes and the cost overruns and change orders that typically crop up when you try to build something from the ground up, but without an adequate blueprint.
Because everybody likes change orders and cost overruns, said no one, ever.
Sure, bigger agencies might have a whole department devoted to discovery. They might even do it for free. But they will cost three to four times as much as our services; and, you won’t get a product at the end of the discovery process that shows you, if you wanted to and had the expertise, how to build it yourself.
Except why would you, when you can simply call us?