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Overcome dead-end initiatives with a product discovery journey

Overcome dead-end initiatives with a product discovery journey

John Ferreira
Product Design Lead

Dead-end projects are frustrating, as well as actively harmful — they drain your company's resources, taking time, budget and effort while not accomplishing anything. These initiatives also cast a shadow over the rest of your efforts, harming morale, fueling risk-aversion and taking attention away from more useful undertakings.

However, there is a way to overcome these projects. Product discovery is a powerful tool that helps you reclaim wasted resources and focus on initiatives that really matter.

Breaking the cycle and getting stalled initiatives moving again demands a proactive approach. When you realize one of your organization's design projects has hit a dead end, you can start a product discovery cycle to get it back on track.

How do product initiatives become stalled?

When design efforts stop leading toward useful outcomes or designers feel they're going in circles, a product design process has reached a dead end. These effects can sometimes be hard to see from within the design team itself but may be clear to project leaders.

If you find your frustration growing with a project and notice that the timeline is ballooning, those are both good signs that the initiative is dead-ended. While resources still go into stalled projects, little value emerges.

Product development can start slowing down in subtle ways, caused by a variety of root causes. Some of the most common issues include:

Whatever the cause of a stalled project may be, launching a new discovery phase can be a viable solution. This is a way to reconnect the work with real user needs and business objectives.

What goes into the product discovery journey for a dead-end project?

In some special cases, a product discovery process may only take a few weeks, with a rapid process that sacrifices depth allowing companies to hit strict deadlines. With that said, it's usually wise to follow a full schedule, which means four or more weeks. Taking this extra time allows consultants to engage in a full, structured examination of the project.

The steps of a full product discovery journey include:

The longer your organization is willing to spend on this process of product discovery, the better. It's ideal for the effort to reach its natural conclusion. Just as with the discovery phase of a freshly launched product, the end result should be a plan for a product that targets a specific issue and a real user base, and that will effectively resolve that issue.

What actions result from a product discovery journey?

The details of a product may change drastically as a result of a discovery phase. Rather than something to worry about or avoid, this high level of influence is a net positive. If your organization is willing to pivot significantly, it can unlock value from a project that had previously stalled out.

Freedom to change direction will vary depending on a company's specific identity. The scale of the business is often the determining factor in whether discovery can lead to a major pivot:

Despite that intrinsic split, businesses of all kinds should be willing to accept the advice of third-party experts at the end of a product discovery journey. Making changes in response to the process's findings is the primary way to unblock a stuck project and get back to providing positive net value.

How can you get started with product discovery?

When you detect that a design project is not delivering results, but still believe that there's a viable use case for the effort, you have to realign your internal teams and then, if things haven't moved, it's time to contact third-party experts. Consultants can perform discovery from an outsider's perspective, removed from the biases or assumptions that come from being too close to the design efforts thus far.

Engaging with these experts can resolve a variety of internal issues that lead to projects becoming stuck in the first place. Specific value-adds of a third-party discovery effort include:

The addition of these third-party experts is a new factor in a stalled project, and this change in composition can be critical in getting the design process moving again. New eyes, new opinions and an authority that comes from outside of the standard chain of command could be just what designers need.

Ready to revive your stalled initiatives?

When your company is dealing with a dead-end project, you can turn to Transcenda's team of experts to perform the necessary research and find the way forward. We have worked with companies of all sizes and industries on unsticking and rescoping design projects.

To determine whether you need intervention from product design specialists, you can ask yourself whether any of your current projects are resulting in frustration rather than results. If you're pouring time, energy and resources into a design step but don't seem close to ROI, it could be time to put fresh eyes on the problem.

The value of working with a team of knowledgeable professionals doesn't just come from the end results, either. When your internal employees work side-by-side with Transcenda's design specialists, your personnel can pick up best practices and upskill themselves, absorbing advanced skills in methodologies.

Stuck initiatives don't have to become a drain on your resources — you can set them back on track with a formalized product discovery journey. Contact Transcenda's experts to learn how this process can apply to your company.

John is a Product Design Lead at Transcenda. With over 15 years of experience in the field, John has a proven track record of success in researching, designing, and building high-quality systems and services.

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