What did you find?

What is a discovery?

If you have done any creative work with a credible agency, you have probably done some discovery work. Essentially, it’s where the service provider interviews you so that they can get on the same page as you and provide you a solution. It’s part art and part science, but you have to start somewhere.

Not surprisingly, you can and should use the discovery process with your potential product customers. So, going forward, know that customers apply to your customers as a service provider and/or as a maker of awesome things.

Discoveries can go on for a LONG time. If it’s warranted, by all means, take the time and do the work. At the end of the day, I have yet to meet a mind reader and as I get older I’m convinced we all have our own little vocabularies that do NOT translate. So, having a process for getting the idea across is crucial.

Discovery is a discipline all by its self and is best done when it is not part of the scope of any development that you want to do. I’ve written about this in detail here: Discovery should not be in a service contract.

I’m going to share with you the questions that I start with. These are all discussion starters and are a way to ease the customer into a deeper conversation. You should not stop with these questions but should use them to inform your ongoing conversations.

The Big Four Questions

1. What are your goals?

Specific goals are what you are looking for. If you don’t have specific goals, you must get them. I can’t stress this enough. It’s ok if the goal is something along the lines of “I need this site live by August 15th with this content”. That’s better than the “I need this tomorrow” joke. I try to get five goals out of the customer. The number is arbitrary, but it does show if the subject has thought about the problem or not.

If the goals are vague, start asking lots of questions.

Something like this:

Subject: My goal is to launch a website for my new widget.

Me: Why a website?
Subject: Because all my customers are on the web.

Me: How do you know that?
Subject: Because they interact with me on Facebook all the time.

Me: What if you could sell your product on Facebook?
Subject: You can do that?

Me: Yep…

Now we can explicitly say that we want to use Shopify’s sell on Facebook channel to sell products on Facebook.

2. What makes this exciting for you?

If you can find what your customer is excited about, you can tailor the proposed solutions to that excitement. And be careful not to dismiss something because YOU are not excited about it. You need to leave your opinion on the back burner for now. Don’t ignore it, just let the customer have room.

I recently asked this question of a client, and they responded with what they love about their employees. And the conversation moved out of the project into how cool the employees were. When we did this, we discovered that this company is unique in its space because it cares about its employees. It has an amazing culture, and THIS is what the project became. Communicating with the audience about the culture of this particular company.

3. What is tricky about this project?

Honestly, if you ask no other question of yourself or your customers, make it be this one. I wish I were smart enough to have asked this for years, but I wasn’t. And once I DID start asking this question I feel like an entirely new world opened up to me.

Once I began to understand what made something tricky, then I could work on how to solve that problem. And asking this question keeps me open to the possibility that I don’t know everything. Identifying and working on solutions is what this is all about, so asking this one question can actually inform what you are trying to do.

4. In the end, what do you want the audience to do?

I use this question to evaluate whether or not the customer is in alignment about their goals and what they expect the user to do. This question helps me avoid surprises.

For instance, if one of the goals is to launch a new website, and the answer to what do you want them to do is start doing more push-ups, then you don’t know that a new website will do the trick. Maybe a new ad campaign would be more appropriate. Or maybe just change the push-ups instructional page.

Once the initial interview is over, we have LOTS more work to do. We’ll dive into more detail next week. The process of discovering these ideas is crucial to building something that makes the customer happy and making something that matters.

What other questions do you think we should be asking?


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This is the from the archive of an ongoing series called Making Things That Matter. Each week I will send you an email with another step in the process of building products and launching ideas. Signup here to join the conversation.