Improving customer experience, enhancing the efficiency of business processes, boosting employee productivity, and introducing new products or business models are just a few examples of areas where digital innovations play a significant role. The potential of digital technologies is enormous, and companies that invest in digital innovations often gain a competitive advantage in the market. They can better meet customer expectations, surpass the competition, and take the lead.
Before an innovation idea becomes a reality, it must go through its own journey. After all, no one will invest in an ill-defined and vague concept. How do we know if the idea is a hit? How do we refine the concept? How do we convince decision-makers to support it? How do we gather the right data and arguments to base our decisions on? How do we assess risks? Research and workshop methods come to the rescue – using several examples from our practice, I will discuss how to utilize them in the innovation creation process.
New context, new customer needs, new business opportunity
It starts with noticing a market opportunity or identifying an unmet customer need. To ensure the idea doesn’t remain just in our minds, the key is to take the first step: to start acting and translating it into an initial concept. It may sound trivial, but from our experience, we know that this first step can be the most challenging in many organisations, where excellent ideas never get realised or tested in the market.
To help our clients overcome this impasse, we conduct Discovery Sprints with them. Discovery Sprint is a methodology that aligns with the design thinking philosophy. It allows for a clear definition of what needs to be designed and proactively uncovering risks associated with the project.
One of the most interesting sprints we conducted, and whose results we can proudly share (the solution is already implemented and is available online), was Discovery Sprint for Grant Thornton Poland. As a result of the 2-week Discovery Sprint, the scope and architecture of the solution were defined and several screens of a new digital product were created. The screens served as the basis for further discussions and shortly after were implemented. But first, a few words about the business context.
Discovery Sprint for Grant Thornton was related to the topic of Estonian CIT tax. In 2021, a new form of taxation for corporate income, a lump sum tax on company income, was introduced in Poland for CIT taxpayers. The name “Estonian CIT” comes from the fact that it was inspired by the taxation model used in Estonia. Entrepreneurs started seeking answers to questions such as: Is it beneficial for me to switch to Estonian CIT? What value will it bring to me? Is my company ready for it? How do I implement Estonian CIT?
Specialists at Grant Thornton Poland recognised this need among their clients and came up with the idea of a digital solution to address these needs: to allow quick access to answers to these questions and encourage interested entrepreneurs to contact Grant Thornton and use their support in the process of transitioning to Estonian CIT.
We verified and refined the idea together during the Discovery Sprint process. The process was led by one of our researchers and designers. Firstly, we defined the innovation we wanted to create by clarifying the project’s goals, opportunities, and risks. This was an innovative Estonian CIT calculator designed to assist entrepreneurs in the initial diagnosis: checking if a company is ready for a transition to Estonian CIT and calculating the benefits of it. We developed user personas – the product was created with them in mind. For each persona, we defined the solution’s features. We prepared several solution screens. Due to the specific jargon related to the Estonian CIT topic, we also conducted a workshop during which we developed together a copy for the new solution. As a result of the workshop, we refined the copy to make it user-friendly for our personas. The idea was implemented soon after the Discovery Sprit, and you can see the result here.
Discovery Sprint is a method that allows you to quickly verify and refine an idea – within 2 weeks. The result is a concept in the form of several key screens and an executive summary – a presentation of the idea along with key insights from the Discovery Sprint, which will help you promote your idea within the organisation, present it to decision-makers, and obtain necessary approvals. However, most importantly, thanks to the Discovery Sprint, you will obtain material that will help you persuade decision-makers and gain their support in the subsequent implementation steps.
Discovery Sprint works best when you want to address a specific business problem or have an innovation idea related to a well-defined area and want to focus on it. However, if your organisation is facing a problem that involves multiple areas or is multidimensional, it is worth considering the Business Requirements Workshop, which I will discuss further.
Digital transformation is not just a buzzword, it’s a necessity
In our everyday work, we encounter clients who are aware that digital transformation is not only a trendy term but a necessity if they want to function well and remain competitive in the market.
Contexts and situations vary; for example, in their organizations, well-established routines have been followed by employees for years, and out of habit, they use outdated tools and methods in many areas. There isn’t a single specific idea for one innovation, but there is a clear need for a review and subsequently, changes and updates to the current approach. Another situation arises when customer service processes require updating, and companies want to infuse them with a more digital spirit. It is clearly visible that there is a problem that needs to be solved, but its scope, details, and exact definition are not yet known.
In such cases, when the scope of a digital transformation project requires further clarification, we usually suggest to our clients conducting a Business Requirements Workshop. Regardless of whether the client wants to undergo a digital transformation of the company, offer entirely new services, or replace non-functional solutions with modern digital tools – the workshop will help determine the starting point and the optimal way to implement the digital change. During the 2-3 hours workshop, we work together on topics such as:
- goals the company wants to achieve, both strategic and project-specific
- how the project goals align with the company’s strategy
- understanding the challenges and needs of the company
- understanding the users – the potential recipients and beneficiaries of the change
- mapping the digital ecosystem
- reviewing current solutions
- the vision of the future solution (if one exists)
- scope of data and information that needs to be acquired to make decisions
- possible risks and advantages.
The specific issues and topics that we address in the workshop and the content of the workshop are tailored specifically for each individual client.
As a result of such a workshop, we are able to specify the scope of the project. In addition to refining the project definition, as a client, you gain several other benefits:
- verification of whether you need our support to fulfill your plans and whether our working methods align with yours
- direct benefits from the meeting, relevant to the scope of the discussed problems, such as a mini audit of your current solution, proposed methods for solving specific issues, and implementation recommendations
- a proposed path to achieve your goals – we will suggest research methods and techniques that will help you systematically gather the necessary data and information for making business decisions related to the change
- after the workshop, you will receive a tailored offer based on the needs of your company, your working methods, and objectives, along with an initial estimation of project feasibility and a time-cost budget – giving you the opportunity to decide whether you want to take the next step of digital transformation with us.
The Business Requirements Workshop is, therefore, a crucial step in starting the digital transformation of your business, based on research and analysis.
Using several examples from our practice, I will describe how we utilize research to gather the data necessary for decision-making in innovation management.
Keep your finger on the pulse – what was once an innovation, is no longer one today
The context in which we operate, customer expectations, and desired standards are subject to constant changes. Something that was an innovation three years ago, created in that context, and provided a solution for user problems in 2020, may now have little relevance or, in other words, be a standard rather than a revolutionary novelty. Execution also matters: What’s the use of an innovative idea if the execution doesn’t guarantee a smooth user experience in a new context?
If we don’t want to rest on our laurels and we care about maintaining a high level of customer experience and user experience for our digital products, constantly optimizing them, and at the same time staying attuned to changes in user needs, usability tests (both moderated and unmoderated) and in-depth interviews with users come to the rescue.
Moderated usability tests are approximately one-hour sessions conducted by a moderator with a user. During these sessions, the user performs predefined tasks while being observed and evaluated by the facilitator. Participants complete the tasks using, for example, a prototype, and can provide comments on their actions and/or elements of the service. However, the primary criterion for evaluation is the facilitator’s observations.
In moderated usability tests, we employ the so-called “think-aloud” method, which is an extension of verbal protocol analysis. While performing the tasks, the user simultaneously describes and comments on their actions and responds to the facilitator’s questions. This allows us to understand the user’s perception of the object and trace their thought processes. The outcome of moderated usability tests consists of identified interface problems and errors. For each issue, we provide recommendations for solutions, based on which you can improve and optimize your product.
In-depth interview, also known as IDI (in-depth-interview), is a qualitative information-gathering technique conducted through individual conversations with respondents. The conversation is led by a moderator, based on a list of topics and questions. However, the sequence and number of questions asked depend on the natural flow of the conversation. The moderator delves deeper into the topics that the respondent brings up and that are relevant to the research subject, predefined goals, and research questions.
In-depth interviews work excellently when you want to explore a specific topic, for example, understanding the contexts in which users interact with your product, what motivates them, and whether their needs are digitally addressed in your product. Through these interviews, you will stay updated with user needs, enabling you to appropriately update, optimize, and develop your offering and product.
Unmoderated usability tests, as the name suggests, do not require the presence of a researcher during each testing session. Instead, the tool used to conduct such tests provides users with instructions, records their actions on the prototype, and may ask them pre-prepared additional questions. Unmoderated tests are much shorter than moderated ones: without a moderator present, respondents can become easily distracted, lose interest, and may be inclined to abandon the task. However, the advantage is that you can test a large number of people simultaneously and in a short time.
Unmoderated tests can yield two types of conclusions, depending on how you plan and prepare the study: qualitative or quantitative. You can learn how users navigate through the solution you designed to complete the task, and you can also determine the percentage of respondents who successfully completed the tasks or see the heatmaps. Through unmoderated tests, you can identify problematic areas in the interface and make appropriate changes to ensure a smooth user experience.
These methods will help you optimize your product and regularly confront it with reality. Is our innovation still innovative for the audience? Is our idea not outdated? Are we still meeting the needs and ensuring a smooth user experience with our product?
However, remember that research studies need to be repeated – only then we can detect changes and respond to them in a timely manner.
We have the opportunity to observe the evolution of these changes in our long-term collaborations with clients, for example, conducting research on Moje ING bank application.
Research déjà vu – we’ve heard this somewhere before…
Let’s take an organization, for example, that regularly conducts usability tests for various areas and processes of its digital product, several times a year. Each iteration of the research identifies several to dozens of interface errors. Every time we identify these errors, we propose recommendations for solutions – we suggest how to redesign a specific element or screen to fix the issue. As a result, our client receives several to dozens of solution recommendations from us, which they implement to improve the product. In practice, with 5 or 10 iterations of research per year, this could mean that the client receives several hundred recommendations annually from us!
Additionally, us, the researchers often experience a sense of research déjà vu while conducting subsequent iterations of research. Even if we are studying different processes of the application, although concerning different topics, but if elements are functionally similar, we might observe similar user reactions or comments. We cannot help but feel that we’ve heard this somewhere before…
Repeating research studies brings significant value to an organization, but how can we avoid drowning in the sheer volume of data we receive after several iterations of research? How do we ensure that the insights we gain are not used only once and then put away in a drawer? How can we effectively identify similarities between the issues studied in different research iterations and draw high-level conclusions?
Our recommended approach for organizations conducting research in iterations (doesn’t matter whether they are moderated usability tests or unmoderated tests, can be both) is to create a Research System.
We implemented an approach that involves collecting research results in a Research System for an e-commerce company in the cosmetics industry, where we conduct unmoderated tests. In an ideal world, one user behavior observation = one conclusion = 1 recommendation. However, in practice, research produces numerous observations, conclusions, and recommendations that are interconnected. We encounter several possible scenarios:
- One problem, one solution,
- Multiple problems, one interface solution,
- One problem, several potential solutions.
The Research System is based on assertion that there are many dependencies and connections between conclusions, observations, and recommended solutions. These dependencies also exist between conclusions from different iterations of research.
The Research System gathers observations, conclusions, and recommendations from multiple research iterations in one place, allowing for easy review and identifying interconnections between them. It enables quick browsing of conclusions related to specific aspects (e.g., forms, shopping carts, navigation, thank-you pages), or grouping them based on certain characteristics, for example, by device (desktop vs. mobile).
Some patterns work effectively across various processes in the application. Since they have been proven and assist users in navigating the application, it is valuable to repeat them. Additionally, a digital product benefits significantly from such consistency. The high-level perspective provided by the Research System makes it easier to identify patterns that users respond best to in your digital product, as well as those that do not work effectively.
An innovation that brings relief to both the business and the user
Some time ago, I conducted an exploratory study for a global corporation that wanted to refresh and enhance its portal for candidates. The client decided to conduct the research to uncover the needs, expectations, and pain points of candidates and then translate them into directions for the portal’s development and gather valuable insights for its design. The goal was to transform the portal into a modern and innovative solution for candidates.
In-depth interviews with users from Europe, Asia, and North America allowed me to map out the candidate’s customer journey in detail. We paid attention to each stage of the process, from a candidate’s idea of changing jobs through the application process, recruitment processes, and to the formalities of a newly hired employee.
From the research, we learned about the frustrations and issues candidates experience at each stage of their job search and recruitment journey, as well as their expectations and needs. We also discovered some variations in needs depending on the cultural context of the candidate. Analyzing this detailed data, I identified the needs and expectations that can be addressed digitally, thus representing innovative potential for the portal.
I also identified pain points that could be alleviated through the implementation of suitable digital solutions. By understanding the corporation’s business objectives and needs, I was able to identify areas where business needs aligned most closely with the needs of candidates.
Thanks to these insights, the client gained clarity about the directions for development of the portal and valuable material for discussions on the sequence of implementing innovations into the portal. My favourite one is the innovation that will bring benefit for both recruiters on the corporation’s side, as well as candidates, thus bringing relief to both the business and the users.
An innovation in the business model that impacts the user
Sometimes, innovation stems from the needs of the company rather than the end user. The company changes its business model to become more up to date, innovative, and efficient. While the changes occur internally, affecting the organization’s internal processes, they ultimately also impact end-users.
I observed such a situation while working for an e-commerce company that decided to transition to a marketplace model. The company established partnerships, which allowed to expand its offer. In practice, this meant that when a customer placed an order containing items from different partners, the purchased items would be shipped from several warehouses located in various parts of the country.
It directly impacts the customer, and the change must be reflected in the interface. Why do I receive two different packages? Why do I have to select the delivery method twice? Where do I return the product if I don’t like it? The company attempted to update the interface to make these issues clear to users and asked us to verify if it indeed worked.
In this case, we conducted mixed-method research. We carried out usability tests with elements of in-depth interviews. We checked whether users understood the changes and navigated through the purchasing process smoothly and confidently when ordering products from partners.
Through the in-depth interview part, we discovered the users’ mental model of the purchasing process, whether it aligned with the model adopted by the company, and whether it posed any challenges or aided them in completing the task. It turned out that the new process created some uncertainty among users, and not everyone understood it. As a result of the research, we were able to propose changes that addressed these issues.
Innovations within a company can significantly impact its external perception, which is why it is worth investing in research and finding out what users have to say.
The success of innovation lies in a data-driven approach
Although the innovations I’m writing about may seem very different and relate to various contexts, they all share one thing: they are data-driven, based on research and analysis. This enables them to address specific problems and meet real needs.
Besides the methods and techniques that we utilized in these specific cases, you also have at your disposal a wide range of analytical, research and workshop methods to help you gather and organize data and make decisions based on it: experiments, surveys, expert groups, co-creation workshops, desk research of market trends are just a few of them.
Gather new data from internal sources within your organization, but also from the market. Utilize existing data that you can either extract from publicly available sources or find internally within your company. In your journey of innovation development, use the approach of mixing research methods and techniques – so called triangulation. Triangulation, involving combining different methods, such as qualitative and quantitative research or exploratory and evaluative studies, will allow you to understand the problem from various perspectives and obtain more comprehensive data.
For instance, you can conduct trend analysis based on desk research and qualitative research among the potential target group – this will help you determine whether you’ve found the right niche for your idea and whether it’s worth developing. Another example: you can conduct exploratory research that will provide you with a foundation for developing your first idea, next organize co-creation workshops to generate more ideas or idea variations with your team and later on conduct concept testing with potential users which will help you decide on the variant to pursue. Another case: you can start with ethnographic research that will help you explore user needs in their natural context, then conduct a quantitative study to get to know the scale and quantify phenomena that you explored before.
If you need support in selecting methods and techniques that will enable you to develop your innovation, contact us. We will present you with an optimal proposal for solving your business problem based on data and bringing your innovation to light.
Whether your goal is to improve internal process efficiency within the company, enhance the comfort and effectiveness of your employees’ work, introduce a new digital product to the market, or enhance the customer experience of an existing product, trust in data, and you will significantly increase your chances of success.