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What happens during a discovery phase

Last time, in part 1, we examined the extensive benefits of hiring a digital partner for a discovery phase before starting a project build.

This week we’ll look at what activities a good discovery phase consists of, and what the outcomes and deliverables tend to look like.

Tom Davies

Article by Tom Davies

What's involved

A discovery phase consists of a range of activities that together build up a full picture of the context for your project.

A good digital partner will run the discovery phase collaboratively: it isn’t something that can be done for you, it’s something done with you.

Refining your goals & objectives

This is the key to making sure the project delivers on your investment. This process starts with:

  • Examining where the project fits into your broader strategy
  • Reviewing your proposed budget & timescales
  • Reviewing market data & business trends

You and your digital partner use that analysis to define objectives for the project that are both achievable and which maximise business value. You then devise reliable ways to measure that those goals have been met.

Conducting a competitor audit

We could write an entire post on competitive analysis alone, but briefly this is using research to answer questions such as:

  • Who are your direct and indirect competitors?
  • What are their strategies?
  • How is the market currently divided between them?
  • What are their relative strengths and weaknesses?
  • How does your offering compare?

Reviewing your existing digital data

The best decisions are validated by data. We tend to use a mixture of:

  • Analytics data
  • Sales funnel data
  • User testing / session observation results
  • Benchmarking / publicly available data about third parties

If you don’t have such data available, one of the first tasks should be to start gathering it during the discovery phase itself.

Assessing and documenting user needs

This means methodically collating what your users need, want and expect when using your website, be they your customers or your internal teams. Documenting these forms the core of a description of what your project must do well for the people who will actually use it day‑to‑day.

We use a variety of techniques to do this, including:

  • Stakeholder interviews
  • Workshops & focus groups
  • Moderated and unmoderated user testing
  • Task analysis

Conducting an audit of existing content for suitability

Content is frequently the neglected step-child of web projects, but is vital to a successful outcome. You already have content, but…

  • Is it up to date?
  • Is it on brand?
  • Is it actually performing well?
  • Do you have the correct formats (image sizes etc)?
  • Is it suitable for use on all devices?

Peforming due diligence on technology options

Towards the end of a discovery phase, you and your digital partner will likely consider not only what the best technology solution is, but also how it will be maintained and the predicted total cost of ownership.

What the deliverables look like

Along with a wealth of research and raw data, the main deliverables of a proper discovery phase should be an executive summary of key insights, along with a more extensive report that can become the foundation of informed specialist briefs for the delivery of the project. That report should include:

  • A statement of the goals for the project, and how they serve the business’s objectives
  • An informed description of the target audience(s)
  • A list of the actions and behaviours we want users to engage in
  • An audit of existing content & brand assets
  • An initial estimate of the time / resources that will be required to deliver the project

What happens next

While a well run discovery phase doesn’t guarantee project success, it provides a massive head start towards ensuring that you’re building the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons. You’ll also know if you have the correct resources in place to make that vision a reality, as well as the tools to advocate for more if you don’t.

Finally, having worked closely with your chosen digital partner during discovery, you’ll have seen how they work at first-hand and be able to decide if they’re the right team to proceed further with.

Should you decide not to, the deliverables from the discovery phase will provide you with everything you need to select, brief and appoint another partner and for them to provide accurate estimates of time and cost.

Keen to know more about the business benefits of hiring a digital partner for a discovery phase? Read part 1 now to learn more.

Tom Davies

Tom Davies is Technical Consultant at Kind