Dave Lovemartin

Technical Discovery Canvas

A visual guide to a process for derisking investment in technology.

last tended: 07.01.2023

When I was assigned my first Technical Lead role working on a project helping Women’s Aid create an Instant Messaging service that allowed them to discretely and securely support survivors of domestic abuse whilst capturing data for their funders, I acutely knew the importance of choosing the right technology.

So, I reached for this tool - a Technical Discovery - which I’d learned from working with Technical Architects on projects for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Department for International Trade.

A Technical Discovery is a process that can de-risk investment in technology.

We create value for customers by solving their problems. If we create products to serve user needs, then people will use and value them.

Alongside understanding the needs of the customer, we need to uncover how technology can meet and underpin those needs.

I’ve created a Technical Discovery Canvas.

It’s formed of ten basic building blocks in a pre-structured canvas that helps teams draw out, discuss, and discover technology choices with user needs and desired business outcomes at their core.

I’ll going to go through each of them.

You start with…

1. Problem definition

When you start a project, reframe it as a problem to be solved.

Build a shared understanding of the problem. Break down your assumptions and ask lots of questions. Reframing the problem also includes agreeing what is and isn’t part of the project.

As a team, ask yourselves…

This will help you better understand what your team has been set up to achieve.

The better you define the problem, the better the solution.

2. Business outcomes and measurement

How will you prove that you’ve been successful?

You need to think about:

Also, ask your stakeholders what success looks like for them.

Measure what’s happening now so you begin to understand how much the problem is currently costing.

3. User needs

This is where good collaboration with user experience researchers and designers comes in. Team work really does makes the dream work.

Without good knowledge of user needs, we are building on a bed of sand.

By understanding what types of users and customers we should focus on, we ensure we are focussed on creating experiences they will value.

4. User outcomes and benefits

As a team, ask what the user is trying to accomplish. How will they think and feel during and after this process? What behaviours will they change as a result?

We need to know how our users are motivated otherwise we don’t know how we can help them create the impact they desire.

5. Activities

What are the activities that the user will do to complete their goal?

As a team, map out those activities. For an ecommerce scenario (like buying Bluetooth speakers), the stages can be discover, compare, buy, use, seek support.

This may help identify opportunities for improvement and highlight where user painpoints are.

6. Capabilities, resources and data

Then we look at what capabilities, resources and data we need to provide to support the user to carry out those activities.

In our ecommerce example, we’ll need to think about listing products and making them discoverable, taking product photos, employing copywriters, and support staff, handling card tokens and analytics.

7. Technology

Without solutionising, we think about what types of technology, systems and tools are required to support those user activities.

Breaking this down in this way helps us compile a shopping list of tech that we know will support the user journey.

8. Selection criteria

As a team, define some criteria from the user needs, and business requirements that will help you evaluate the technology.

Examples of criteria are afforability, maintainability, interoperability, scalability and so on.

9. Exploration and assessment

With your shopping list of technology types, start exploring potential services and tools that will provide the capabilities needed to serve your users’ journey.

Create a matrix and score each option against each of your criteria. You may want to give a weighting to the principles that are a priority to your project.

10. Candidate solution

Create a candidate solution, a technical architecture, from your highest scoring technologies. This will form a hypothesis about the technologies you believe can work together to help solve the identified problem.

Write it out as a statement:

With your candidate solution you can conduct experiments to validate its viability.

You might want to create a proof-of-concept to show that the suite of technology chosen does work together. Or a coded-prototype to test with users to see if it does actually produce the behaviours you intended.

Always think about the least amount of work you need to do to learn the next most important thing.

A technical discovery and subsequent hypothesis validation will de-risk investment in technology.

It’s a great way to set-up initiatives with strong foundations so that we assemble technology in a way that provides users and customers with what they need, value and potentially love.

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