Discovery phases are imperative for starting a project right and getting your team on the path to success. Ranging from a few days to a few months, a discovery phase includes all preliminary work necessary to turn your software dreams into reality. At Kahoa, we make sure each discovery phase includes:
Identifying the key decision-maker
Setting expectations for the product and your team
Identifying ideal feature sets
Comparing your company’s vision with competitor models
Uncovering desires, expectations, and user needs
We call our discovery phase a SolutionMap. A SolutionMap is a multi-day immersive product strategy and design workshop where our development and design experts work with clients to create UI/UX designs and user stories that fulfill the needs of their business and users.
The time you put into a discovery phase is only as valuable as the depth you uncover in the process. Perhaps the most important part of any discovery is sharing and challenging ideas; a vital part of Kahoa SolutionMaps.
We will use a popular social media app, Instagram, as a case study on product discovery and lifecycle. Instagram was first created by a man named Kevin Systrom, but he didn’t set out to make Instagram. The app he first created was called Burbn.
Kevin Systrom said in a conference in 2012, “it's about going through false starts.” Burbn was his false start as a location-based app that allowed users to check in at certain locations, earn points for hanging out with friends, plan future check-ins, and so on.
Burbn was a perfect example of failing early. It took Systrom only a few months to build this app, but there were major usability issues. After the initial release, Systrom continued to tweak the program based on user reactions and direct feedback. In essence, Burbn was still discovering the right features for his users even though the product was released to the public.
During discovery at Kahoa, we challenge their ideas to make sure the end product reflects what the client and users actually need. This helps you fail early so your team can learn and adapt before you begin development. Exploring possibilities within the discovery phase creates a safe space where you share ideas, features, and functions that—in the end—may not actually work for users.
One of the biggest issues with Burbn was that it had a “jumble of features that made it confusing.” They needed to prioritize. Prioritization naturally cuts away any unneeded functions based on user analytics. Through research and their own discovery processes, Systrom found that users were engaging almost exclusively with the app’s photo-sharing features. They decided to modify the app and strip away the unused and unneeded features.
At Kahoa, we often ask our clients to differentiate between “must-have” and “nice to have” features during the discovery process. Must-haves are the functions that are essential to making the product work and nice to haves are features that the client wishes to include but that don’t add functional value.
This exercise is the eye-opening experience that many businesses need in order to uncover valuable—though sometimes hard to swallow—truths. The goal is to understand any hidden ideas, expectations, and goals that the client is bringing into the process.
Burbn knew they needed to simplify to be successful. And so they analyzed the user data they received and focused their infrastructure on photo-sharing; specifically photos taken on your phone. Simplifying led to a name change; Burbn would now be Instagram. The discovery path was long and difficult, however, Instagram’s founding team was ultimately able to discover what they truly wanted.
A Better MVP
The end of your discovery phase should always be an MVP (Minimum Viable Product). A quality MVP includes wireframes, mock-ups, and even prototypes if necessary. Burbn was, essentially, Instagram’s MVP; It acted as a wireframe and a foundation for the app’s evolution. Though it was more of an MVP, Burbn was pushed to market and so it fell short of expectations and changes had to be made in the middle of the operation.
In today’s competitive market, there are many applications (like Burbn) that are not strong enough to stand up against experienced and demanding users. Most likely they were pushed to market as sub-standard MVPs rather than crafted with quality that would deliver value to their business and their users. Take time to work through roadblocks and gather the right team so your MVP is a high-quality foundation for your market application.
Instagram was launched in October 2010 and rose to 2,500 users in one day. By the end of the first week, Instagram had been downloaded 100,000 times, and by December, they reached one million users.
Instagram was offered multiple investment opportunities before getting bought by Facebook in 2012. However, this isn’t the end of the app’s development story. Even still, Instagram continues to improve with updates and added features as the years go on. Since its release, Instagram has developed many more social features, accessibility features, and browsing capabilities.
Kevin Systrom, founder of Instagram (once Burbn) said “the best companies in the world all have predecessors...you always have to evolve into something else.” Burbn evolved into Instagram, and Instagram evolved into a cultural phenomenon that shaped many social platforms that came after.
A lot of clients come to Kahoa looking for the next big thing. They want to build the next Amazon, Airbnb, or even the next Instagram in their industry. Knowing the full story of these apps puts in perspective the amount of work needed to make these applications great over many years. Unfortunately, there are no quick and easy roads to success. However, putting a lot of work in at the beginning—starting with discovery—can help prioritize features and brighten the road so you can see clearly where you need to go.