Diagnostic Process

Before we start a project, we need a clear, actionable, and vetted plan. Our process for coming up with this plan is a Diagnostic (sometimes known as Discovery).

A Diagnostic is a vital stage in project planning. Clients typically come to us with a strong sense of their goals and problems, but they are not web experts, so it is impossible for them to know the corresponding solutions that will solve those problems. Our job is to draw from our expertise and design a specific course of action that will solve their goals. Prior to a proper diagnostic process, we can understand their problems in the abstract, but it’s difficult for us to determine the perfect solution. The Diagnostic is where we bridge the gap and settle on a final plan that satisfies all parties.

Final project execution is crucial, but bad planning can derail a project from the very beginning. Our clients work with us so that we can lean on our combined decades of experience in the industry to provide them with proven, vetted solutions. The Diagnostic sets the course for the whole project, and is vital.

The final plan should be expressed through:

  • A Diagnostic Report, which serves as the unified plan for the project and a summary of the client’s brand and business scenario. See our process:
  • An Estimate with associated Work Breakdown Structure, which acts as an estimate and guide to the project schedule.
  • An SOW for the next phase (Typically, UX) that matches the details shown in both the Diagnostic Report and the Estimate

A good plan satisfies the client’s:

  • Needs (What they want to be different about their business or the world when we’re done)
  • Capacity (How much time, money, and effort they can put in to the project)
  • Brand Position (Where they fit in their industry, their marketing and advertising approach, and what kind of audience they can cultivate)

If any of those elements is not right, the plan will run into problems. So to ensure that we are fully aware, we need to speak extensively with the client. Often in doing so, we will reveal aspects of their company they themselves find surprising. This is especially powerful for new brands. We act as an initial litmus test of the brand concept that they have in mind. We find ourselves frequently identifying key gaps and helping to fill them through our broader insight. This is where we are much more than a typical web design firm. We are not rote scribes but authors of a vision that touches more than just pixels on the screen.

They crafted every aspect of the design, doing a beautiful job from start to finish… They helped us discover our identity. They did a remarkably good job of getting to know who we are as an organization and what drives us… people love the design, which was even nominated for a Webby. – Northeastern University NuLawLab Client Review

Cantilever Staffing

Diagnostic reports are the responsibility of the Sales team. In fact, this is going to be the bulk of the Sales team’s work going forward. However, the Sales team doesn’t have the full picture of the technical or design side, so they need to bring in internal experts to help. Ideally these are the people who will eventually do the work, so they can set their own plan up in advance.

Timeline

We used to do these in person 100% of the time. A typical structure would involve one day of meetings that focus on the client’s business, and one day that focuses on the website. Due to COVID we are now used to doing diagnostics remotely. Without the time restriction of a business trip, we can spread the meetings out over a longer calendar period.

Typical Steps

  • Conduct a series of meetings with the client’s key staff, sales team, customers, and industry experts in order to:
    • Fully understand how their business works. When we are working with complex, technical companies like IEH (electronics) or APC (pharma) we actually need to spend time simply understanding what they really do. For APC, we even created a dictionary of their scientific terminology so that we didn’t get lost when we were going through their materials. This stage also has an emotional side. When we’ve worked with dentists we have gone to visit their office and sit in the chair to understand the patient experience. For Northeastern University Law, we interviewed students and audited a lecture to understand their pedagogical approach. When possible, we want to experience their product firsthand. This was especially important when we worked for a beer enhancement machine company... we needed to do a lot of research that time.
    • Get a complete picture of where they’ve been, where they are today, and where they’re going next. We need to get into their heads so that we can think like them. This means that when we are prescribing solutions, we are making the choices they would make if they had the benefit of our expertise.
    • Fully understand their goals, requirements, and constraints when it comes to the website (See key questions below)
  • Conduct deep, detailed background research (separate from what the client tells us) so we have the benefit of external context. We especially focus on competition and public discussion like forums. When we worked with Flatiron School, we pored through student reviews for them and for their competitors so we could understand what makes them special.
  • Brainstorm (both with the client and independently) to try and figure out what kinds of solutions would solve their particular problems and be good fits for their situation. We like to flip-flop between independent idea generation sessions where we can be a bit freer, and sessions with the client to work through some of the ideas that come out of those loose explorations. Different clients have difference capacity when it comes to idea generation – some get freaked out by vagueness, while others want the open canvas. We react to their needs and preferences. Either way, we know our remit is to figure out the final plan.
  • Based on our recommended approach, write a detailed estimate for all future phases of the project. The estimate should follow our estimation process and be informed by past projects. It is important not to show this until we’ve gotten pretty far with the client to understand what would make sense for them, so that we don’t set expectations incorrectly.
    • For website projects which could involve long-term support, we should also make sure to estimate and present the client with our recommendations for supporting the site long-term.
  • Combine the findings, recommendations, and estimate into a comprehensive discovery report. Present it to the client, get feedback, revise, and submit for final approval.

When the discovery report has been accepted, we can write a SOW for the next phase and get started!

Example Questions

All diagnostics should be different and should reflect prior conversations. These questions assume a pretty cold start. They are all things that should certainly be known by the time we exit a diagnostic.

Brand

  • Who is your customer?
  • What is the problem that you solve for them?
  • How do they feel before your work? How do they feel after?
  • What do people think of when they think of your company? What are you known for? What do you want to be known for?
  • How do your people describe the company? (It can be helpful to actually just walk around the office and talk to random people for a few minutes at a time to ascertain this yourself)

Product

  • How does your offering compare to the standard offering in your market? Is that likely to change any time soon?
  • How do you deliver value?
  • When people are happy with your product, why? When people are unhappy, why?

Competition

  • What is the history of your industry? How has it changed in the last 10 years?
  • Who are your primary competitors?
  • What do your competitors say about you?
  • Does staff frequently change between companies in your field? What draws staff to you or away from you when this happens?
  • When you lose business to your competitors, what kind of feedback do you hear from prospects?

Marketing

  • How do customers find you, generally?
  • What is the thing you do or say that prospects resonate with the most?
  • What is your current marketing mix? How do you expect it to change over the next year or so?

Website

  • What is the impetus for doing this project? What caused you to decide now was the right time?
  • What is your initial inclination for a smart budget for this project – immediately, over the next 6 months, over the next 2 years? (We often work with clients to understand what they could get for various levels of spending and construct a budget plan that helps them optimize their resources)
  • What are your hard legal requirements around the website (Accessibility, privacy, etc) (these are often based on their location and industry. They may not know and we help them figure it out)

Diagnostic Sizes

  • Full: $10,000, 60ish hours
  • Light: $5,000, 30ish hours

In the full discovery we might do seven or eight 1-hour meetings, in the "light" version probably only two. And the report would be five-ten pages, not 20-30.