The Importance of a Project Discovery & Planning Process

Technology projects, like website builds, are investments that carry significant risk and opportunity for a business. The opportunity afforded by an implementation that successfully addresses business goals can increase revenue, reduce costs, and save time. The risks of an unsuccessful implementation are immeasurable, particularly for companies that rely on their website as a significant contributor to their overall revenue.

As professionals, it is our responsibility to do everything within our power to ensure that our client’s projects are successful. We know from our experience that the best way to ensure success is to analyze the business goals and technical needs prior to beginning an implementation. We do this through a formalized, project discovery and planning process.


What is Discovery?

A discovery phase (also referred to as strategic discovery or digital discovery) is a paid consulting engagement which precedes a larger, more expensive, project of complex requirements. The purpose of a discovery phase is to reduce or eliminate risk during the project, saving both time and money by avoiding costly mistakes.

Discovery occurs through a series of conversations between stakeholders from your team and our team, and it results in written documentation of the findings (i.e. discoveries) made throughout the engagement. A well-executed discovery phase will focus on documenting both business requirements and technical requirements and results in a professional recommendation for addressing business needs.


Business Requirements Documentation

Technology is ephemeral—just look at how quickly it changes. Often there are many different ways to apply technology to solve a problem. Sometimes technology is not needed at all, and a change in processes will achieve a better result. For these reasons, the ability to understand, diagnose, and solve new business problems will always be more important than the application of a specific technology. You do not pay technologists for the creation and application of technology, you pay only to solve your business problems.

Our responsibility as professionals demands that we recognize and understand business problems before we attempt to solve them. During this portion of the engagement, we work with you to define the goals of the project and uncover pain points by meeting with stakeholders from your team (e.g. the eCommerce manager, customer support, fulfillment, marketing, and business development). By conducting these interviews, we secure a better understanding of your business and become better equipped to address your needs, while you are challenged to think more deeply about the obstacles you face. The result of this process is clear, concise, formal documentation of the success criteria for the project, based on business needs.

Because users (e.g. customers) ultimately determine the success of an implementation, this portion of the engagement may also include user research and the creation of user personas and user testing. By doing so, it allows both our team and your brand to narrow down who exactly your target user is and how you can serve them best. In the same vein, it also allows you to do a competitive analysis and an analytics audit.


Technical Requirements

Once the business needs are understood, we begin to create a strategy to address those needs. If the needs are complex, technical architects will be required to define this strategy.

We apply our technical expertise to your goals as we create recommendations for platform selection, systems architecture, apps and extensions, custom features, systems integrations, and data migration. As we explore these options, we discuss them with you and formalize our recommendations within written documentation. These specifications (i.e. “specs”) form the basis of our proposed project plan. They are the blueprints of our recommended approach and they’re documented and delivered in such a way that they may be used by your team internally, or taken to another agency, to implement the project.


Professional Recommendation

At Gauge, we provide our written recommendations as a fixed-price proposal for a well-defined Statement of Work, which includes a project plan with an accurately estimated timeline. This gives you the confidence to know that we truly understand your goals, that we have a clear plan to accomplish those goals, and that our proposed solution fits within your budget.


Benefits of Formal Discovery

Design is not the solution—it is the process. Solutions are found through the combined efforts of an organization in need, and a subject matter expert. Our experience provides us with deeper insight into solutions, and our outside perspective allows us to offer solutions that may not have occurred to your team. Often clients will come to us self-diagnosed and self-prescribed, seeking specific solutions. In these instances, it is our obligation as professionals to validate these assumptions.


Effectiveness and Efficiency

The process of defining and documenting goals, objectives, requirements, and feature specifications give both our team and yours a better understanding of the project. That is the true value of this discovery and planning process. This prior planning sets expectations with both teams before implementation begins. Knowing what to expect leads to better outcomes and increased efficiency.


Focus on Goals

There is no right way to do the wrong thing. A project that fails to address business needs will not be considered a success, even if it is completed on time, within budget, and to specifications. While there may be constraints on time and budget, success is truly achieved only when the outcomes adequately address your business needs. Specifications must be written intentionally, with input from an expert advisor, to ensure that business needs are addressed.

By establishing a focused strategy and clearly defining the underlying objectives for a project, through a discovery and planning phase, we protect the project from distraction and misguided or uneducated decision making during implementation.


Considers User Needs

One of my favorite interview questions is: What role of a project is most vital in determining the project’s success? There are many good answers to that question, but I believe the only correct answer is: the user.

You know your business and we bring the expert perspective on industry best practices. However, even with our guidance, if you have not conducted user research, assumptions about your users may be wrong.

Performing user research during the discovery phase can help avoid the expensive mistake of defining specifications without an understanding of the user’s wants and needs, and investing in designs or functionality that users do not respond to.


Better Solutions

Discovery leads to better solutions because it allows us to provide recommendations based on an understanding of underlying business goals. These may be solutions that you would be unaware of and may not even realize are possible. Often, these solutions will be cheaper and produce better results than a self-prescribed solution.


The Cost of Discovery

A typical discovery and planning phase costs between 5–10% of the overall project. This process protects the investment.

In the long run, better planning leads to less expensive projects for a variety of reasons. First, the recommended solutions are more thoughtful and accurate, leading to fewer mistakes. Second, having a plan to follow makes implementation more efficient and less chaotic. Thirdly, a detailed list of specifications and requirements allows us to offer a fixed price, which gives you cost certainty and reduces your risk.

Surely, there will be agencies peddling “cheaper” products which omit a formal discovery process. You must ask yourself: If we’re not doing an in-depth discovery and planning process, can we trust the accuracy of the quote? Are we confident that this agency truly understands our needs? Can we trust that the proposed solutions address our goals? If not, do we believe a project, without discovery, will truly be “cheaper” long-term?


Do I Need Discovery?

You may need discovery if any of the following statements describe you:

  • I am not sure which technology is best for my project.
  • I have not defined my technical and business requirements.
  • I have not established a budget for my project.
  • I have not performed user research or defined user personas.
  • I know I have a problem, but I don’t know what the source of the problem is.
  • I need the outside perspective of an expert to help me accomplish my business goals.
  • Our internal stakeholders cannot come to a consensus.
  • I’ve written an RFP without first engaging an expert consultant.
  • I want cost certainty, via a fixed price, and an accurate timeline estimation for my project.
  • I want to reduce risk to ensure a successful project.

If you think any of these statements describe you, contact us to speak about Project Discovery and Planning. We are ready to guide you on your digital journey.