The Discovery phase

The art of successful ‘discovery’

Set clear goals, measures and constraints, review best practice and challenge constructively.

Chris Dickson, Programme Manager, Tryzens

It is always exciting to work on new eCommerce projects to maximise our clients’ sales potential and enrich their customers online experience. A new eCommerce system is sometime needed to avoid dependency on legacy technology, or to increase market reach, or to support an omni-channel strategy, or, simply to keep current with prevailing market trends.  The combination of technology and creative minds offer endless possibilities – so the essential place to start any project with a client is with a discrete discovery phase to determine exactly what the business requirements are, how they will be measured and how they will be met in order to avoid blind alleys and missed expectations.

We explore the use cases, customer journeys, performance goals and weight the benefits and costs of functionality and the impact on overall site and trading performance. As a manager of multiple projects, my job is to keep them on track through logical planning, clear communication and effective decision making. To explain how we go about this at Tryzens, I have answered some of the most typical questions we get asked about the initial stages of a project.

How long does the discovery phase take?

For a full replatform Project, the discovery phase can last four to five weeks and is made up of around ten fairly short but intense workshops. These could be half or full day sessions, where we meet to thrash out all the stakeholders views, preferences, requirements and constraints, which we then write up and review with the client before weighting the priorities and defining the overall effort and scope. Attendees of these workshops typically include the Project Manager, Business Analyst, Technical Architect/s and a User Interface Designer from Tryzens. From the client-side we would normally expect to see the Sponsor, Head of eCommerce, Head of IT as well as different functional specialists depending on the workshop – so someone in charge of logistics when delivery options are being decided, and someone from marketing when choosing the look and feel of the website and how promotions will be highlighted.

What are the main topics covered in workshops?

During the first workshop we get the whole team together and focus on explaining how the process is going to work, how documents will be shared and what the client needs to provide (it is essential important that clients prepare for each workshop). The primary output will be the confirmation of scope and objectives of the project so everyone is clear on what is expected as we move through the detailed analysis.

During the second workshop, the output of research carried out by Tryzen’s user interface design team is presented t stimulate review of the customer experience and navigation. For example, we research the way competitor websites work and how the client’s brand is perceived by consumers. Our findings enable us to present examples of the types of design that are appropriate to achieve the objectives to determine the preferences and guidance of the stakeholders.

Subsequent workshops are then structured around the individual customer journey elements, e.g. from when shoppers arrive at the site, through to add to basket, checkout and returning items. A big topic for discussion is usually search and browse functionality as well as the checkout process. There are many different ways to organise and navigate an eCommerce site. Again, this will come down to how you want to be perceived and how to present your products most effectively. Equally, a single page checkout showing the progress of the transaction may be the best option if you want to attract lots of new customers as it ensures there are no distractions during the payment process. Alternatively, a single click checkout may be the best option if you have a high percentage of returning customers who are already registered.

We also dedicate workshops to the complexity surrounding back end and third party systems and the associated integration requirements to ensure the site will complement and existing systems or newly planned systems and provide a positive consumer experience.

Finally we also explore the handoffs from ecommerce whether it is to do with the tools needed in Customer Services or the nature of transactional and marketing emails that will be sent (e.g. whether they will come from the eCommerce platform or a separate email engine).

Do we have to know everything we want before we start discovery?

At the beginning of the discovery phase we will explore a wide range of possibilities with our clients. eCommerce platform demonstrations, prototypes and designs are used throughout the process, as it is usually easier to show how something works using mockups or demo stores. A good starting point for most clients is to see how the latest platforms deliver features to market as these are based on current market behaviours and adoption, avoid creating requirements that are not necessarily proven or rewarding.  We help to debate the pros and cons of every decision area to narrow down the options so that by the end of the discovery phase everything will be decided and agreed. To help facilitate that we will apply three levels of weighting to requirements:

  1. MoSCoW rating: determining if a feature is a Must Have, Should Gave, Could Have or Would like (in that order).
  2. Benefit vs Effort weighting – to enable clients to prioritise based on alignment to objectives and investment needed to achieve them.
  3. Relevance: – Is the requirement driving (i) operational KPI’s to achieve the desired RoI, (ii) is it a design principle that upholds the brand image, or, (iii) is it a constraint of needing to support legacy / existing /new technology deployed and being maintained.

Often clients are unable to make a firm decision on longer-term plans, for example which geographic territories may be required in the future. However, just understanding an intent to expand helps shape the approach where, for example, we can include a localization solution in the design. Whilst we do not favour any one vendor we work with a wide variety of technology companies to ensure we are able to meet our clients’ needs.

Can you deliver customised software? We want something unique.

As far as possible, we encourage our clients to use the functionality of the software package we recommend to them (for example Magento Enterprise or Salesforce Commerce Cloud) as it ensures requirements are validated against proven technology and avoids unnecessary (and more expensive) customisations that have to be specifically developed and maintained as custom software. That said, our clients can have as much customisation as they wish, we just want them to make an informed choice and can see also that the creative design process ensures that each system has a unique look and feel aligned to the client Brand, which has a shorter time to market and has lower long term maintenance costs. When custom features are required, we help our clients understand the specific ‘pain point’ they are seeking to address and establish whether custom development or working with a partner from our extensive partner network is the best course of action.

What happens after the discovery phase?

We want to get the most from workshops, so our clients can be sure they have made the right choices for their business. In addition to workshops, we hold daily internal meetings and weekly review meetings with clients to make sure they know the status of ongoing activities.

We then produce both a Business Requirements Document and a High-Level Architecture Map of the current and target solutions for the client to review and adapt to a final configuration from which timelines and pricing are agreed.  Once approved this is then encapsulated in a project initiation document – this identifies how the project is going to work, how it will be managed and who is responsible for doing what.

We can then progress to the implementation stage.

Please do get in touch if you would like to discuss this further.