Discovery balance

How to make discovery successful?

I’ve found the best form of discovery is to reach a balance. Here’s some reasons why.

Most of the recommendations for discovery phase out there focus on researching user needs to ensure you build a service users actually want. For example the GDS service manual describes identifying who your users are and mapping out their user journeys. Bringing on board user researchers and setting up 4 to six week discovery phase plans all revolve around identifying features and concluding with a minimum viable backlog of user needs.

This makes sense. However, depending on who you class as users there’s usually a crucial area missing. The clue is the viable in the MVP – minimum viable product. How do you discover what’s viable? If during discovery all the users have been end users – consumers or customers of your services – then your backlog will be consumer feature heavy. In reality to decide what’s viable from a business service delivery perspective you need to include your business as uses along with legal representatives, shareholders, policyholders, etc.

Imagine the scales of justice trying to balance end user needs against those of your business. That’s what I mean by reaching a balance. If you just consider user needs you may not have a business. Yes, there are many startups with venture capital funding that ignore business viability in the hope of acquiring a critical mass of users but ultimately someone will have to pay.

Balancing user needs with business needs

So for mature organisations another way to think about discovery is to ask do I have a viable business? Understanding the end user needs for a product or service is not enough unless you have unlimited funding, resources and can write your own laws. Legal, ethical, green constraints shape the viability.

An example I met recently is a company called ClearScore. They identified a real user need to access credit scores freely. In the UK and elsewhere credit reference agencies collate consumer’s credit data and sell a credit reference service to businesses. When you apply for a mortgage, insurance policy or a mobile phone account your credit history is used by the business to determine the risk and whether you are approved. You can get your statutory report by paying £2 or sign up for a monthly subscription to view your credit report and credit score. Subscriptions cost typically £10 to £15 / month.

ClearScore’s MVP relied on an easy sign-up for user journey with the promise of free access to their credit reports. The company could then target credit products at their users. The balance here is between easy of sign up to reach the user base and commission from the credit products. ClearScore use Equifax to provide their credit reference data as they don’t have their own.

A key problem ClearScore and all the credit scoring companies have is how to identify the user is the person they claim to be. With Equifax’s security breach that released millions of US and UK consumer’s credit data, privacy and security is a big issue. The three main rating agencies either post out new account details to verify the user’s address on registration is the one they have on file or they use a credit card verification check.

ClearScore decided to rely on a series of multiple choice questions to first identify a consumer’s account and then match it to credit history. This allowed an instant sign-up but at a cost of security. I know as my credit details were made available to a third party who went on to use the data fraudulently. The answers to identify a consumer’s account are generally available in the public domain – name, date of birth, etc. Answering correctly the multiple choice questions comes down to simple probability set at about 1 in 15,000 which seems high until you consider the millions of consumer accounts out there.

So along with the business need to build user base to drive revenue from pitching credit products to consumers ClearScore needed to address the security needs along with the usual non-functional requirement suspects. NFRs can get pushed to one side to focus development efforts on building out the main user journeys. ClearScore are unlikely to be the only business that rely on such probabilities.

Putting too much weight on user needs or ignoring critical business user needs leads to imbalance.