Discovery And Your Digital Project
So you already read about the importance of discovery and why you need a discovery phase for your digital project. Great! You might be ready to start a new project and excited for discovery to begin, or maybe you still have some questions. Either way, one of the most important things for both the client and agency to agree on prior to initiating a discovery phase is the final deliverables
[Part 2 in our series The Importance of Discovery]
As discussed in the last article, the goal of a discovery phase is to emerge with a clear plan, agreed upon by both client and agency, of the challenges and directions a full digital project should include. The deliverables of the discovery phase should cover how those challenges and directions are communicated and translated into a full SOW.
A successful discovery phase will ensure that the full SOW outlines assumptions clearly and includes realistic and cost-effective milestones. The more effort both the agency and client put into a discovery process, the better the design, development, and optimization process will eventually be. The discovery phase should ensure faster turnaround on development, higher quality, a more cost-effective build process, or some combination of these three. How can you be confident you’re getting these results from your Discovery process?
Discovery Phase Deliverables
When the discovery phase is completed, both the agency and client should have a clear understanding of next steps, outlined in the full SOW. But the final deliverable for a discovery phase is not the SOW. The outputs from discovery that will inform design, development, and the full scope of the project should include resources the client can refer back to throughout the project, and that the design and development teams can utilize as guidelines to inform critical decisions. These deliverables can take many formats, but will likely include some of the following:
The User is the most important component of any digital project, but most of the discussion during contract negotiation between digital agency and client can be so focused on technical- and business-needs that the user falls to the backside.
During the discovery phase, a good digital agency will work with you to understand what your customers crave as it relates to your business. Ideally this will include research such as heatmapping to map user behavior across current sites, SEO and marketing analysis to identify how users find the current site and/or competition, and stakeholder interviews. Depending on time and budget, user research can also include user testing, user interviews, focus group analysis, or other direct research putting the digital agency in contact with actual users.
Regardless of the types of research performed, the discovery phase should include information on all known user types and highlight the differences across those user types. This could be communicated in the form of User Personas laying out the motivations and goals for each user type in a way that can drive marketing, design, and development decisions going forward.
Stakeholder Goal Priorities
Meeting with stakeholders to understand their goals, and how those goals align with both overall business priorities and the goals of end-users, is a critical component of every discovery phase. Each stakeholder in the business understands something about the day-to-day AND long-term strategies of the business that might not be clearly defined elsewhere, and the more time a digital agency can spend understanding the intricacies of a business, the better the end-product will become.
Through meetings, calls, or surveys with stakeholders, your Account Manager will begin identifying priorities and mapping those to previously-defined or newly-defined goals. A successful discovery phase should include an overview of these priorities in a way that the Digital Agency and Client can come together around. Getting these priorities right during the discovery phase will ensure that there are no surprises during development. Often it can take weeks or months between a kickoff meeting and all project stakeholders actually seeing a functional product to review, and the worst case scenario is that one stakeholder tests and realizes one of their critical goals is not achieved in the product. Discussing goals thoroughly with ALL decision-making stakeholders, and agreeing on priorities for those goals, ensures that nothing can get “lost in translation” between the project’s day-to-day contacts and reduces the risk of a major scope change due to priority mismatch.
With User types identified and business goals prioritized, the digital agency can begin mapping these items to elements on the site. This becomes the framework for the site, culminating in identifying the list of all web pages on a site and the content for each page.
Depending on the time and budget for your discovery phase, you may leave discovery with some combination of a feature list, information architecture document, site map, technical architecture, functional use cases, page layouts, or wireframes. The more information that can be agreed upon during the discovery phase, the more efficient the design and build phases will become.
All of these deliverables should be part of your digital project even if you do not have a discovery phase. If you do include a discovery phase, and agree with your Digital Agency on these outputs, you can save time, money, and a lot of meetings by spending more time at the start of the project to get these things right.