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Ideas Becoming Functional Requirements in Discovery Phase

Written by 
Juan Prado
Lead Product Designer
Ideas Becoming Functional Requirements in Discovery Phase
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Table of contents

Designing digital products is always an exciting but challenging task. When you begin the journey, there is always a set of steps as parts of the initial phase of the design process. Those steps are there to help you see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, every time you finish and start a new adventure, there is always a piece of information that you can not find in the manual. Let's dive into some of those lections I have gathered during my time working as a Product Designer at Fullstack Labs.

When a project starts, sometimes you fool yourself by thinking the path will be the same every time. However, it changes and reveals different obstacles because of the unique requirements every project has.

Here, I share a list of activities and conclusions that I hope come in handy for you to get over all those challenges. The purpose is to understand what the list of the functional requirements should include as a description of all the views and features that will be integrated into our digital solution. Let's get started!

Understand what your client wants

The Kickoff Meeting

The first step in a digital design of a product is to understand what your client wants. To do that, the first thing to do is to have a kickoff meeting. Its purpose is to have a basic overview of the project. Also, it is crucial to demonstrate to the stakeholders that you are capable and truthful in the design phase. Don't struggle by trying to understand all the details of the project during this step. That is what the whole discovery phase is about!

A few pieces of advice for the kickoff meeting: 

Prepare your questions 

Conduct the session as a pleasant conversation with the stakeholders. There, you could ask them a few questions such as: 

  • What has already been done? 
  • What's the current situation? 
  • Who is the team/stakeholders? 
  • What are their roles? 
  • How can you reach them? 
  • What are the goals to be accomplished
  • How are they going to be measured?

Of course, the information you find there should not be written in stone. It will just be the initial guide that will take shape over the next steps.

Stakeholder Interviews

This step is about having a set of interviews with each of the stakeholders of the project. Its purpose is to have a detailed understanding of the idea of the project that each of them has. And, very importantly, how aligned they are. 

To do those, the first thing you should do is to make a plan. Meet with your team if you have one. Define the main goals each of the team members want to find out from the stakeholders. If you are working alone, sit down and think about the main objectives of the interview and what information you want to collect during the sessions.

Once you establish the goals, start writing the questions. Those should begin with a set of general ones to be asked to everyone interviewed. Their purpose is to have an overall context of the project. By asking the stakeholders the same set of questions, you have the chance to compare between them and understand the similarities and differences they have within the project definition. Alignment!

Additionally, you have to prepare a set of specific questions. Those should vary depending on the type of stakeholder. Stakeholders’ types could be: 

  • Manager
  • Product Owner
  • Developer
  • Designer
  • Marketing
  • Accounting
  • Etc. 

Therefore, the specific questions should focus on gathering the information that only each kind of stakeholder should know.

Once you conduct all the interviews, document and analyze all the information and share it with the team. This information should also include the initial list of features and sections that should be part of your digital product.

Begin writing down a list of them as an initial draft. By following the next steps, that draft should evolve into a more complete and accurate version. For now, you could say that it represents the voice of the business.

Understand what's going on out there

The Benchmark

Having a look at what is going on out there is a crucial step. Do not feel comfortable only by having the version of the product the client has in mind. If that was all, they wouldn’t need your services.

Make sure that during the user interviews, you ask about the main competitors of the product. Write down a list of two or three of them. Include other unrelated products as a sort of inspiration. It will help you think out of the box.

Once you have them, take a close look at each product. Focus on:

  • What it is doing well.
  • What it could do better.
  • What it is not doing.

Do not forget to document this information. I suggest not to waste your time creating fancy presentations. Collect the data as fast and easily as you can. The presentation is going to be forgotten over time.

The result of this should be a list of features to complement your first draft. With that, you can feel out new features and ideas that the stakeholders did not have in the account at first. Make sure they understand that and value them.

Now you have included the voice of the market in your solution.

Understand the users

The User Interviews

This step of the discovery process is the most important one. Here, you take the time to talk with representatives of the target group of your product. You should have that information from the stakeholder interviews. Also, you should document them as User Personas. But explaining that is not the purpose of this article, you can learn more in our detailed Design Playbook.

The importance of interviews is to validate the ideas you came with during the understanding of the voice of the business and the voice of the market. You should prepare the sessions similarly as you did with the preview interviews we discussed above. When preparing your question, make sure you validate the ideas of features and sections you already have listed. 

Find out the pain points the user experiences that should be relieved with the product you are designing. It is important to understand the real problem you want to solve and if there is a need to create a product for it. 

By talking with real people that represent users of a product, you will have the chance to adjust the vision of the product you are designing. Also, you can then verify if the list of features and sections you have should be modified, and what else is missing. 

With this step, you have a complete list that evolved from the initial draft. Now, it is a completed list that includes: 

  • The voice of the business.
  • The voice of the market.
  • The voice of the users.

The Functional Requirements

I know this is not the end of the process, but it is the end of this article. 

Writing the Functional Requirements is one of the most important milestones of the design process. That is because it is an indicator of the end of the Discovery and UX phase and the beginning of the UI phase.

Here’s a quick summary of what you need to write the functional requirements:

  1. Use the list of all the features and sections you collected until now. 
  2. Create a feature map to organize the information.
  3. Create the user flows. 

By doing that, you should better understand the steps the user should follow when interacting with your product. Also, it helps you a lot with landing and shaping all the list of ideas you have. 

Now you should start listing all the views that your digital product is going to have. Describe in detail what the user should find and do in each view of the product.

Finally, share the list with your client to verify if it represents the product that they want. You could also ask them to prioritize each view. That way you will know better where to begin the UI Design Phase.

The design process could be an entire journey, where you initially follow a path and collect information and learnings as you go further. However, it is essential not to listen only to your voice but to others as well. The business, the market, and the user voices will whisper to you how to write more empathetic functional requirements that balance everyone's point of view. Also, this will be the guide for you to follow during the rest of your crossing. A guide that will take you one step closer to designing a successful digital product.

Juan Prado
Written by
Juan Prado
Juan Prado

I became a Product Designer to understand how products become essential, and to make essential products. Being a product designer allows me to solve people’s needs and make their lives easier. My goal as a designer is not to make things pretty — it's to make them useful. I designed the interface for Lulo Bank, Colombia's first digital-only bank; and PagaTodo, a multichannel vendor platform that supplies to companies of all sizes. In both cases, one is faced with the daunting but rewarding challenge of replacing physical experiences with digital ones, and to do so in a way that doesn't accentuate the problems the app is trying to solve to begin with. This is why I love user testing: it's a way to see whether you've actually done what you set out to do, and whether the interface really is as intuitive as it seemed when you sketched it. In addition to design, I love studying, playing guitar, taking care of my dog, and experimenting with new foods at home and at restaurants.

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