Although we live in the Agile era, I personally think there is still something to say about thinking before doing. Before investing 250+ man-days in your next digital project, why not take the time and have a look at the intended experience ahead. In this article I’d love to share my views on starting up a digital project, the human experience way.

Digital human experiences

The big difference between delivering a product or a service and offering an ‘experience’ is nicely put by Forrester. Where a product or a service merely focuses on offering ‘value’, in order to become an experience, you need to make it easy and enjoyable as well, in the perspective of the target humans.

The Experience Pyramid by Forrester Research, Inc.
Source: Forrester Research, Inc.

This brings another challenge to the game: emotions, something that can not be easily converted into 1’s and 0’s. So how do we change our software engineering method to seize this challenge? At PENCIL42, we’ve changed our methodology at three phases: before, during and after the project. In this article I would like to focus on the steps best taken before starting your next passionate project.

1 Discover your human

The first step is to really get to know your human. As architects, analysts and developers we always have the bias to create something that is of value for ourselves, but this doesn’t mean it’s as valuable for our target audience. It is therefore important to know them, and why they need stuff. If you are building software for a pharmacist, join them for a few days on the job, get to know their habits and needs, try it yourself. The experience you’ll get will be worth a lot. At PENCIL42, we use different kinds of techniques depending on the situation, for instance one-on-one Customer InterviewsCustomer ShadowingFocus PanelsMystery Shopping… Our findings are documented within some extra deliverables from Business Model Canvas, Value Proposition Canvas, Stakeholder Map, Persona’s and as-is Customer Journeys.

An example of a customer journey
A sample customer journey — PENCIL42

2 Find your ideas…

As soon as we know our human well enough, we can start looking for innovative ways to solve her or his challenges, needs or problems. This step is usually the one where our team gets creative. By combining the true need of the customer, the knowledge of their habits and the possibilities of the technology at hand, we can come up with some crazy innovative ideas to help them out. At PENCIL42 we create multidisciplinary teams of domain experts, who know the business, and technology experts. If we bring both worlds together, a new potential digital experience can be formed. This is where the brainstorming techniques are of most value.

3 … and validate them!

Getting the idea is one thing, making sure it is the right one another. Experience tells us the first idea is seldom spot on. Iteration is key, and this you can do by validating your idea. There are different ways of testing your idea. One way is to get back to the humans you’ve gotten in touch with during the discover phase and ask their honest feedback. This you can do by creating mockups or storyboards and discussing them with the target audience. Another good idea is to do a next round of interviews or focus panels with new people that are in the target audience, to make sure it works on a bigger sample size. One way that has been very promising for us, is to use a fake door test. I specifically like the concept of validating the willingness to buy. There is a big difference between asking people to buy something and effectively getting them to buy it or use it. If you can validate that, we are on the right track.

These results we can plot on the Value-Innovation-Matrix. Plotting the (human) value on one axis, and the effort needed on the other, we can prioritize our ideas. High value and low effort is what we call a ‘Quick Win’ and comes first on our list. High value, but high effort leads to a strategic initiative, something very important to investigate further. Low effort, low value can be something worthwhile but mostly for internal reasons, High effort but low value is what we call a ‘toxic’ idea, this can also be something we do today that we should better stop doing to make time and resources available for other things.

Value-Innovation Matrix
Value-innovation Matrix — PENCIL42

4 Prototype

So now that you’ve narrowed down your list of potential ideas, it is time to combine them into the project. For the ‘Quick Wins’ we say: develop right away, as everything is clear, complexity and effort are low. For instance, launching a live chat on a website is more about finding the right chat agents than actually implementing an existing live-chat software. Ideas that are more complex require more extensive validation, that is where we use prototyping. Take one sprint to create a dummy prototype of what the application will look like, focusing on how it will look for the human. So mockup views without database connections or controllers, just enough to give the intended user a taste of how it will be. This way we will be able to really clarify missing requirements, and validate whether this application will fulfill the needs of the customer. Once we are clear of fuzziness and we’re able to validate the true user need, we are almost ready to start with the development of the project itself.

5 Define your digital experience

But before you do, take the time to gather your findings in a service blueprint. This is a simple deliverable, consisting of three layers: the customer journey, the front and the back layer. The customer journey consists of the steps to be taken by the intended user, see it as more of a storyboard, to really get a feeling on why we build this. The front-layer are the technical components that are visible to the human, the things (s)he interacts with. The back-layer are the technical components we need to make the idea happen, this can mean integrations with other apps, business rule engines, machine learning algorithms, sensors, … you name it.

Example of a Service Blueprint
Example of a service blueprint — PENCIL42.

This service blueprint then becomes your go-to spot during sprint planning meetings, architectural discussions within the team, or even a nice tool to prioritize backlog items and protect from scope creep.

Now you are really set to start your next wonderful digital experience project, happy inventing!