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Exploratory-as-a-Service

Tyler Hilker
February 21, 2022
< More blog posts

Exploratory-as-a-Service

Tyler Hilker
February 21, 2022

This year, Crema is leaning hard into what we’ve come to call Exploratory work.

We’ve been doing this in various ways since we started, of course. We’ve always been a collaborative, co-creative group that cares passionately about building the right thing well, which necessarily includes exploring the territory around an idea. Typically, this early “discovery” type of work has been tied to designing & building custom software.

Yet we’ve found that different clients aren’t always ready to build and they also don’t know exactly what to do in order to realize a particular opportunity. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into making a great product before you start making the product. They know there’s a “there there”, but they need help building a business case, creating stakeholder alignment, or even simply understanding the technical/design possibilities.

So why don't more internal teams do this kind of exploratory work? Plenty of teams do, and it's fantastic. But there are plenty of good, understandable reasons why teams & leaders don't get into this on their own:

  • They don't have the time. Most folks aren't trying to launch a custom software product or program; they've got a totally different job to do, and learning multiple industries at once is no small task. An opportunity is like a doorway into an adjacent, but very different space; it's hard to be in two rooms at the same time.
  • They don't know where to begin. What do they have to work within terms of assets, advantages, and opportunities? What are the constraints & competition that await an entry like this, and what are the ongoing costs of success and growth?
  • They're interested, but not ready. They need to partner with an external (and less biased) team to help understand the situation from an outside perspective so that they can make a case to hire a team internally.
  • There's no precedent. Some products are straightforward, whereas others, the more experimental kind, need to create a sort of stimulus into a context to get strong directional feedback that will inform a decision to move ahead.

Leaning more into this kind of work allows us to explore the context in more depth and breadth in order to unlock unexpected potential. For that matter, this work might help someone decide to not spend a bunch of money on a product that would likely flop. In either case, the goal is a confident direction moving forward.

To make it more concrete: Exploratory is a combination of activities, methodologies, perspectives, and outcomes designed to help our clients ask the right questions, identify the right direction, and make high-quality product decisions.

• Primary and secondary research

• Experience & technical evaluations of existing products

• Customer journeys

• Exploratory proofs-of-concept & rapid prototyping

• Opportunity mapping

• Design thinking

• Strategic & team alignment workshops (like Design Sprints with a custom Crema touch)

If you’ve worked with me, you probably know how much I enjoy this kind of work. Not just understanding what's there, but also exploring what could be. Last Thursday’s on-site contextual research session was a highlight of my week, and I wasn't the only one. A leader on that project told me that afternoon, “This has been so so good. It’s what we should have done the first time [with another organization].”

Importantly, this work is not Crema going through a research checklist and delivering a hundred-something page PDF. The goal with every engagement has been to deliver great work while helping our clients integrate the postures, disciplines, and structures that generate this kind of work. It’s not about us, it’s about helping bring lasting, transformational work into the world.

Sound interesting? Let’s talk (even just to nerd out)!

Want to talk over coffee?
Natalie is eager to listen.

“Your industry faces some unique challenges.  We’re curious to hear your ideas around how to tackle them.” - Natalie Allan, Business Development Consultant

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