What you should not do
When pitching ideas to the client, it is best to manage expectations and not over-promise. With little to no technical background, it is risky to promise a custom web or mobile solution to the client. The reality is that many creative agencies lack the technical expertise for such complex projects. They may not be fully aware of the complexities and effort required to implement their ideas and they may not be fully utilizing new technologies.
Promising a project without the requisite technical knowledge often results in disappointing results. Deliverables are not completed as expected or the project runs over budget and deadline. In favour of efficiency and managing expectations, technical expertise is needed to generate and validate innovative but realistic ideas.
What you can do
To avoid over-promising, managing expectations is always key. Letting your client know which ideas are possible with specific technical requirements helps the process and builds trust. Not all ideas need a custom-built solution and I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel unnecessarily. Sometimes, an existing, service-based platform or a self-managed off-the-shelf system may work perfectly as-is or integrated for what the client has in mind. Read more about some solutions here.
To form a solid idea, consulting a Solution Architect can help to ‘fill in the gap’ in technical expertise. As I have said before, in my post about Solution Architecture, “The best Solution Architects are those with a deep technical understanding and years of experience in the required technologies, the user experience and the business logic of the project.”
With technical input from a good Solution Architect, infeasible ideas can be taken off the table even before pitching to the client. After being assessed for feasibility, technical expertise helps to make ideas more effective for future stages of planning and implementation. By identifying specific technical requirements and limitations before the project, creatives can assess if their agency is able to take on the project or if they require outside technical support. Based on the budget and requirements, the Solution Architect can help narrow down realistic ideas to manage expectations on both sides.
A missed opportunity that arises without technical knowledge is that creatives may not know what can be achieved with current technology. Clients often reference older existing projects from other companies as an idea of what they want, but a simple copy & paste is often not enough to meet the ever increasing needs of different users or make an innovative impression on the market. A Solution Architect can suggest new ideas based on technologies that may not have been available when existing projects were developed. This allows creative agencies to explore a greater variety of ideas, expand their digital portfolio and be a leader rather than a follower in innovative technology projects.
Approaching a developer for technical input is another option to gain insights into the technical aspects of a project. Developers can help to give technical requirements given the right questions. However, asking the right questions is difficult when a project manager has limited hands-on technical expertise, resulting in miscommunication and inefficient meetings.
Experienced Solution Architects are trained to ask the right questions. They go beyond the technical aspects of a project and deliver ideas in line with cost estimates and timelines, project scope, client’s expectations, business goals and research.
The Solution Architect’s Ideation Process
An analogy I often use to explain custom software development is “building a house”. Before any work is done, an architect is employed to scope and plan the house in detail. This begins with the architect brainstorming and drafting possible plans for the project. Similarly, the Solution Architect helps generate and refine ideas that become the foundation for any new project.
I find that a purposeful strategy session helps to kick-start the process. This is most effective with a professional that has:
- knowledge on what is technically possible
- deep understanding of development management and costing
- experience in meeting client’s requirements and target audience’s expectations
Different Solution Architects have different ideation processes, but I will use Binary Thinktank as an example. Binary Thinktank starts with a strategy session. 4-5 hours is spent on discussing the ideas, brainstorming new ideas and identifying key user requirements. At strategy sessions, creatives can let fly any wild ideas and the Solution Architect helps to drill them down to feasible ones. Given our industry experience and technical knowledge, we can explore different angles and viewpoints leading to many more ideas to consider and discuss.
After a strategy session, Binary Thinktank produces a detailed brief documenting the project ideas raised during the session. This includes a summary of the project to ensure that ideas are in line with overall targets. Consultancy is included to evaluate ideas for cost-effectiveness, feasibility, and being a good fit for users (including the client). User stories document different users’ requirements, so that you can make informed decisions on the best approach, platform and technologies for your project.
Following a strategy session, items that need further research are also highlighted. With market and UX research, feasible ideas can be validated against market needs and expectations. Validated ideas are those that meet user requirements by understanding the target audience, geographic region, use of the product, as well as other technical constraints.
Overall, this helps you to pitch good ideas, and stay on track of project requirements and targets during project planning and implementation stages.
Pitch Your Idea
Not every project requires consultation with a Solution Architect to produce good ideas. However, when the client asks for custom-built solutions, it is a good idea to assess the technical expertise required.
Interesting digital ideas will not fly without the right planning and technical knowledge to implement them. Digital and UX training, and Solution Architect consultation, are options to expand one’s digital portfolio, and add value and expertise to service offering to clients.
By pitching validated ideas and managing expectations, it is possible to ultimately meet targets while staying within budget and timeline.