Keep your project on budget with this critical step.

What if your (digital) projects could be completed faster, delivered under budget, and provide better results by simply adding one simple step upfront? 

Hopefully you’re on the edge of your seat right now because we’re about to reveal a real game changer. 

The discovery phase (also known as research).

Ok, so while it may seem like a no-brainer, this step is often overlooked and contributes to big challenges down the road when proper discovery isn’t done in the beginning. 

So before you jump into your next project, take a moment to pause and ask yourself whether you and your team know what is required. If you don’t, then it’s time to do a little more discovery to make sure everyone is aligned. 

Key Benefits of the Discovery Process

Oftentimes, we don’t know what we don’t know. While we may not always want to face it, it’s true. And the discovery process helps get clarity on the problem or request to be able to set proper expectations for any project. 

Whether you’re working with an agency or tackling the project in house, the discovery phase of a project reduces the chance of making expensive alterations further into the development process. In short, it can greatly impact the ROI of any project. 

Here are a few reasons why you should consider incorporating a discovery process into your project. 

  • Discovery leads to better solutions: once the team executing the project better understands the underlying drivers, they can suggest alternative solutions that you were unaware of. 
  • Discovery focuses on objectives, not just deliverables: the success of a project isn’t just about time and budget, it’s about maintaining a clear focus and direction to deliver on broader goals for better results.  
  • Discovery keeps the focus on the user experience: understanding what the user/consumer needs and wants will help guide better decisions throughout the project for a much better outcome. 
  • Discovery provides big picture context: having the right context helps make faster, more informed decisions throughout the process and reduce costly mistakes, misunderstandings, and unnecessary functionality. 

What can happen when you skip discovery? 

Skipping this step makes things harder for both those working on the project (in-house staff or an agency) and can significantly impact your business as well.

  • Missed deadlines if specific milestones were not set or discussions were not held regarding the objectives and deliverables
  • Quality is compromised and the project may fail to meet the expectations of both the stakeholders, users and those executing the project 
  • Steep increase in costs due to poor budget and resource planning, which greatly affects the company’s profit margins

So why is this step often overlooked and even avoided? Glad you asked. There may be pressure to deliver a project with a short timeline and feel that there isn’t time to do discovery. For others, they may be excited to get started and feel they know exactly what is needed. Or the discovery process may feel like a luxury that can’t be afforded. 

The good news is, discovery doesn't have to be time consuming or expensive. 

5 Elements of a Successful Discovery Phase 

A successful project discovery phase will make it easier to deliver the rest of the project on time and within budget. In order to do that, here are some essential elements to consider. 

1. Create a discovery team. Getting the right people involved from the very beginning is critical. A discovery team should include different key stakeholders with a diverse range of interests and specialities, and should bring different expertise to the table.

For a technology project, the discovery team may include:

  • Project manager
  • UX/UI designer
  • Technical expert/developer
  • Project analyst

Conducting stakeholder interviews is the first step. Understanding the details of the project, and then sitting with the Discovery Team to make sure that all of their queries are answered and everyone is on the same page, and that roles are appropriately defined.

2. Carry out user research. Understanding the user or audience is a critical part of the project discovery phase and often the most challenging. Managers can more easily talk through goals, objectives, and what they offer, but when it comes to understanding the goals and pain points of the user, it is more of an unknown. 

This is where customer journey mapping can be incredibly useful. It goes beyond understanding the demographics and focuses on the goals, questions, touchpoints, and even objections a user might have. 

This information coupled with an understanding of the project and industry will help set expectations and clear goals for the project. 

3. Establish goals and define success. Without clear goals, stakeholders will have no way of assessing whether or not the project has been successful. While everyone wants to see a return on their investment when it comes to new projects, that return can look many different ways (i.e. more sales and leads or improving customer experience and engagement) and so it’s important to define what that is and how it will be tracked upfront.  

4.  Define the value proposition. This is another very important step that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s easy to focus so much on the goals and objectives of the project that you forget to ask what value the service provides the consumer and whether that matches their actual needs.

There are two parts of the value proposition that should be defined: the benefits it provides and the features that deliver those benefits to the user. Defining this upfront will help establish future messaging and communication that will help ensure the success of your project.  

5. Understand the big picture. All too often projects are created in a bubble. To prevent this, make sure to consider the broader context of a project: Are there internal politics or technical limitations that may get in the way? Is there an existing version of the service that should be referenced? What is the competition doing and how will you position your service in the broader marketplace? Are there external factors (such as patterns or regulatory bodies) that will influence this project? 

Asking these questions and taking time to consider the broader context will help prevent issues further down the line when changes are more difficult to make. 

The Real Value of the Discovery Phase 

The real value of a discovery phase is that it provides context and alignment upfront. It provides valuable insight and information that empowers and encourages teams to be more creative in their approach to solving business and user needs, and can be what contributes to a successful project completed on time and within budget.