Jay Abraham quoted “Discovery is the fuel of competitive advantage”. Discovery is the first step I follow in any software development blueprint process. The reason is that it allows me as a software professional to understand if a project is a good fit or not. I use discovery as my tool to vet projects for my agency.
Getting Set Up
Every step of this holistic model requires all stakeholders to take part in it. The team wants to build a project through the eyes of the end-users they are targeting. There are two layers of people you have to consider at this point. The first is the customer and the second is the end-users. Sometimes they are one in the same but often they are not. Understand both sides and bridge the gap between customer wants and end-user needs. The closer you bridge this gap, the higher your chances of end-user wide adoption.
End-users are the ones who use software products. They expect a software to solve their problem while delivering a great experience. The software professional needs to understand this basic principle. Software alone can only get so far without delivering an engaging experience. End-users are much more sophisticated today than they were two decades ago. They can distinguish between mediocre and awesome products. Great software products deliver great experiences.
A customer in this context is the one who hires a professional to build a software product. The professional is the one who guides the software development process. It should never be the other way around. Customers have innate misconceptions about the software development process. It is very important to educate them and show them the way. The professional should expect the customer’s expectations to be out of line. It is never fair to assume the customer will understand the complexity of the work. This is the job of the software development professional. You need to take the customer’s hand and teach them about the process in a way they can understand. It is not always easy but it is necessary.
The Importance of Asking Questions
Asking plenty of questions allows the software professional to get the real picture. This is where well-structured surveys go a long way. I use Google Forms to create my surveys. Surveys help to identify particular pains about a process or a product. A professional builds software solutions off of these pains. Surveys allow you to get deep inside the end-user’s pain. Many people are more likely to fill out a survey than to express their opinions in person. The same goes for suggestions and improvements. This is even more evident in an enterprise environment where end-users are employees. They provide real insight without major implications regardless of who the end-users are. The purpose is to hear from those who may use your software.
If the survey qualifies that the project may be a good fit then proceed to do a face to face or online meeting. The software professional should have insight into the project by this time. The next step is to listen without interruption. This conversation should be 75% the customer and 25% the software professional. This is how you can separate needs vs wants.
Segment Needs and Wants
Keep on asking lots of questions and divide them by end-user needs and customer wants. These two should intersect at every point in a perfect world. These two almost never align. This process creates a strategy around needs rather than wants. For instance, if you are going to build an accounting tool. The questions should be on pains around the end-users’ current accounting system. Everyone has a system even if they think they don’t. Pen and paper are part of a system. Many companies still run on it nowadays. It is crucial the new experience is greater than its legacy system. This helps set stage for wide end-user adoption. If the end-user loves the product, the customer will love your work.
Value Creation Opportunity
This is the point where you get to be a hero for your customer as a software professional. This is where you get to create real value for them. If you cannot take on your customer’s problem, you can still deliver value. You could recommend a pre-existing tool or refer the job out to a strategic partner. In fact, carry them the rest of the way if you can. This is one of the best strategies I know. You will stay top-of-mind, develop rapport and gain trust. This move alone can open doors to referrals and future opportunities.
The Copy and Paste Story
I once had a potential customer who wanted me to build him a software product. He wanted to replicate a product by a Fortune 500 company. This was way before I was using surveys as the first step in qualifying my prospects. We met at his office and he asked me in front of his staff to copy and paste this software for him. I thought he was joking at first, but he was dead serious. He said, “I’m not sure how it all works but you know what I mean.” I asked him, how long he thought it would take, and he responded, “a couple of days maybe?”. I asked him what was his budget and he said no more than $500. I explained to him that the process to develop such software was not as easy of copying and pasting. I took the time to explain to him the development process and its implications. He was set on his ways and assured me this could not be that difficult as I was explaining it to him. It was then that it was very clear to me his wants were not aligned with his needs. I suggested a possible solution that would fit his budget. I told him about an out of the box commercial software suite that was selling for a similar amount. He was happy with the advice and I was on my way. The entire exchange took a few minutes of my time. It allowed me to deliver value and spared both of us from future headaches. This exchange taught me to value the No’s as much as the Yeses. A No clears the way for you to focus on a good Yes down the line.
This discovery process is my secret weapon. It gives me the competitive advantage I need to vet my projects. Not all the development opportunities are the right fit. The minute you commit to doing the impossible you are on the hook. The customer has the power to hire, but you have the power to execute. If it is not a good fit, you must quit before you even begin. This is where you get to pull your binoculars from the shore and avoid the iceberg route. This foresight allows you to lead with honesty. This is what creates trust, stronger relationships and builds rapport. The discovery process is my most powerful tool because it allows me to stay true to my process and my values.