Silos are Killing Design. Discovery Must Come First

Silos are Killing Design. Discovery Must Come First

Discoveries unveil hidden opportunities by breaking down silos, leading to cross-functional collaboration that enhances both product design and corporate strategy.

Cherokee Mahoney
0 min read
May 7, 2024

As a researcher and analyst at Elixel, I’ve seen firsthand how silos derail even the best design intentions. Businesses come to us with a problem they’re eager to solve or a solution they’ve already envisioned. While exciting, this initial spark often reflects just one department’s needs, or prioritises either the user or the business at the expense of a balanced approach. This is a classic silo issue, and it has disastrous consequences for product design.

When Teams Live in Separate Worlds

The business itself isn’t a monolith. Sure, there are overarching objectives, but each team functions with its own culture, priorities, and needs. Marketing wants a dazzling campaign that hooks new users. Customer service needs tools to streamline complaints and improve satisfaction scores. Operations wants a solution that flawlessly integrates with their creaky legacy systems. On paper, these all support company goals, but the devil’s in the details. What looks like a success metric for one team could mean more work, or even impossible-to-meet targets, for another.

This disconnect has very real, costly implications: wasted resources, internal friction, fragmented customer experiences, and missed opportunities for innovation. Teams can even end up working at odds, inadvertently sabotaging each other’s targets and distorting company-wide metrics.

Silos: A Company-Wide Problem

Silos stifle businesses on a broader level, preventing cross-functional collaboration and leading to decisions that inadvertently create friction throughout the organisation. Brilliant new features that could supercharge conversions might remain undiscovered simply because sales and product teams aren’t talking. Lack of inter-team understanding leads to internal competition for resources, damaging company culture and morale.

The Problem is Designing Too Soon

The fundamental issue is that the rush to design or create often kills the most crucial step: in-depth, 360-degree discovery. Even when user experience (UX) takes centre stage, it’s easy to prioritise the business’s immediate needs and KPIs while overlooking the ripple effects of design changes on employees or the practical limitations of existing company operations.

Discovery is Not Just for New Products

The transformative power of a 360-degree discovery process extends far beyond product design. It’s a tool that can illuminate your entire organisation, revealing bottlenecks, misalignments, and hidden opportunities. You might not even have a specific product in mind. That’s the beauty of the approach! By taking a true, unbiased look at your company — its objectives, internal processes, existing tech stack, team cultures — a discovery process brings focus. It reveals:

  • Misaligned KPIs: Metrics meant to drive the company might be unknowingly working at cross-purposes, leading to skewed data and encouraging counterproductive behaviours.
  • Internal Bottlenecks: Discover how work flows (or doesn’t) between teams, exposing friction points and unnecessary duplication of effort.
  • Potential for Iteration: A holistic view highlights not just grand overhauls, but small, targeted improvements that can have a cascading positive impact throughout customer experiences and internal processes.
  • Roadmap Clarity: Discover the “why” behind the company’s direction, enabling the creation of roadmaps that make sense on every level, from user-facing features to optimised backstage operations.

Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting every product or process requires a full business analysis- it’s an approach that can reap benefits even if you’re just discovering how a single change is impacting the wider picture.

The Solution is Immersive, 360-Degree Discovery

Effective discovery isn’t just about collecting some data or conducting a few user interviews. It’s a deep, immersive exploration of interconnected needs:

  • Unbiased User Research: Understanding true user pain points, how your offering fits into their existing lives, and the language they use.
  • Internal Needs Alignment: Mapping the processes, tools, and pain points across sales, marketing, operations, and more.
  • Business Objective Deep-Dive: Aligning not just with KPIs, but understanding how a new product or solution contributes to the company’s broader vision and strategy.
  • Technological Possibilities: Collaborating with engineers to understand what’s feasible and leveraging existing infrastructure to create sustainable designs.

Discovery FIRST, Solutions Second

This is where so many companies trip up. Once that in-depth understanding is achieved, solutions practically write themselves in a way that balances the needs of all stakeholders. 360-degree discovery ensures that any subsequent product, service offering, or internal change isn’t just a well-designed solution, but a solution that works in harmony with your company’s true goals and the realities of its internal workings. Even if it isn’t solving everyone’s problems, you can at least be sure of the impact.

That’s All, Folks

A true 360-degree discovery process is finally switching on the lights in your company’s maze. It finds hidden connections, uncovers potential synergies, and reveals how each solution impacts the whole. Silos naturally start to break down, creating open communication and building trust between teams.

With data-driven insights from throughout the organisation, decision-making becomes more informed and impactful. This is what I’ve observed time and again. It’s why, at Elixel, we’re passionate about our immersive discovery processes. We come in, work alongside your teams, observe, talk, and truly uncover the heart of your organisation. This lays the foundation for innovative, sustainable, and effective design that achieves business goals while honouring both the user experience and the realities of how companies actually function.


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