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Discovery Phase in Design Thinking
6 min read

Introduction to the Discovery Phase in Design Thinking

All great development starts with great design. This is not just a matter of form and function, it’s also a matter of saving our most precious commodity, time. A Design Thinking Report done by Forrester found that with design thinking, companies were 2x faster in their time-to-market, saw a reduction in initial design and alignment by 75%, and had a 33% reduction in development time. This is only one of the studies that prove why we should care about design thinking. Since, the result of a human-centred approach leads to improved clarity on the high-value problems to be solved, and improved decision-making using a prioritized list of development tasks that deliver the MVP. Therefore, having an experienced UX designer leading you through the design thinking approach, such as that of AppHaus partner ConvergentIS,  should be the first step when starting any project. To do so, we follow a five-step process in our design thinking practice.

Design Thinking Process

In this post, we will do a deep dive into the discovery phase and user research. We will examine why it is so important to ensure the end users are involved at the beginning of your project. 

Conducting User Experience Research

A UX designer conducts what is known as user experience research. This is the process of understanding user behaviours and attitudes through observation and interviews. Usually, the ConvergentIS team conducts user interviews as part of the design workshops. The client project team sits in to learn from their end users and hear first-hand what issues the end users are experiencing.  

We start by learning about the current business practices – not just the processes written in the policy binder. Secondly, our team prepares questions that define the scope of the research and uncover user pain points. We then recruit enough users to provide a representative sample of the end user community. Without conducting these steps, solutions are based on assumptions about how people work which does not translate to effective design. 

Design thinking workshop participants also noticed the benefits of user feedback. One participant said they 

“liked the collaboration with everyone involved.” 

Another participant shared that they 

“liked the user-centred focus – great input from technicians.” 

Because end users can share their current processes and how they work, the solution directly addresses what is not working well for them. The result? The ideas generated in the following steps directly solve the pain points that have been discovered in user research. 

Capturing the Details 

To capture the details ConvergentIS interviews a variety of end users. Taking these findings, the ConvergentIS team uses a technique called How Might We to help synthesize and prioritize notes about the important challenges or problems that have been mentioned.  

For example, one of the users might share that “I never know if an order has been changed until I have already picked it, then  I have to go back and re-do the order, wasting a bunch of time.” Once one of the project team members hears this problem, it is their responsibility to convert it into a How Might We question. This could look like: “How might we enable real-time communication to the operator, so they know on the spot if an order is changed?” Each question goes onto a sticky note for review later in the session.  

The team attending the design thinking sessions will proceed to vote for the most important How Might We challenges to address in the project. Voting helps the whole team align to a common goal. These prioritized pain points and areas for improvement are then looked to as opportunities for solution development and user stories.  

Setting a Long-Term Goal 

After completing the How Might We section, it is time to synthesize the selected challenges into a Long Term Goal for the project. The Long Term Goal can be defined as the “north star” for the project and serves as an optimistic but guiding plan for project success. Our UX team creates a prompt and gives the project team some time to answer. Although many ideas may come to mind, each workshop participant selects only one of their ideas to share with the team.  

Each team member votes for the idea that provides the clearest and most inspirational vision for the project. One team member – usually the business lead or product owner – is the designated Decider. It is their role to make final decisions based on voting input from the rest of the team. Once the Decider selects the Long Term Goal, the team decides on the metrics in which success of this goal will be achieved. These metrics are known as the Success Criteria. 

Creating Success Criteria 

To create Success Criteria, the design thinking participants will need to determine how they want to measure project success and return on investment (ROI). Based on these questions and other prompts provided by the design thinking team, each participant will follow a similar process as for the Long Term Goal and begin brainstorming what they believe are valuable success criteria.  

Once again, the team reads out their ideas and votes on the ones they believe are the most relevant to the Long Term Goal. The Decider can choose to place a greater emphasis on one or more of the criteria.  

Addressing Risks and Obstacles 

After determining the success criteria for the project, we turn our attention to risks or obstacles that could prevent the project team from reaching the Long Term Goal. This is done in a process referred to as Key Questions. To conduct this step, each participant identifies two to three problems that might occur and phrases them as questions beginning with “Can we…”. For example, an issue might be that the users work on equipment indoors and outdoors in all weather, so the hardware will have to stand up to tough environments. The Key Question: “Can we find a device that meets the needs of the different environments?” All obstacles are written in this format since a question is more actionable than a risk statement. 

Once again, participants vote for the most important questions, with the Decider placing an extra vote for emphasis. The three questions with the most votes are then referred to as the Key Questions, which will guide subsequent phases of the project, including the design and user testing. 

Working Alongside Your Business in the Discovery Phase 

It is important that the project team or the decision-maker is attending the workshops and listening to what their end users have to say. By having a deeper understanding of their users’ issues, they can be a greater champion internally and make better-informed decisions before they sign off on the design of the application. We have often heard from project teams that they had no idea how their teams were using the existing applications or circumventing processes. Once we have interviewed all the end users, determined the long-term goal, and identified success criteria, we turn to create a current state process map that pulls together all the gathered information. We plot the highest voted How Might We’s on the map so we can determine where we really need transformations to take place. 

It is essential that the ConvergentIS team works collaboratively with your business to identify areas of focus since no two businesses work the same. Using the current state map as a starting point, we sketch out the ideal future state, including the people and processes involved. At the end of the Discovery Phase, the team will have gained an understanding of the current processes, requirements, and workflow that will inform the design.  

ConvergentIS takes these requirements and the future state map and quickly commences the Design Phase – ideating, prototyping, and validating. To learn more about the benefits of prototyping and user testing, we encourage you to read our next post, Fail Quickly. 

This post on the discovery phase is the third in our Design Thinking in Practice series. Read the first here. Read the next here.

More information about design thinking can be found in our guide linked.


Ultimate Guide to Design Thinking-1