The importance of starting with discovery
By Michael Thomas on June 25, 2024

Delivering new digital services is challenging. Even seemingly straight forward ones can involve large investment, large amounts of resources and take a large amount of time. This is because delivery is impacted by the complexity of the processes involved (and around) building them, such as:

  • the nuanced nature of human behaviour – what works brilliantly for one set of users could, unexpectedly, be a show-stopper for another
  • the dynamic nature of technology and the technological landscape of the service provider
  • the impact of external factors, such as policy, legal or contractual requirements.

While one approach to delivery may seem like the obvious approach, ploughing ahead based on these assumptions without considering the factors above, could result in delivering a service that doesn’t meet user needs, overruns on spend and, simply, isn’t fit for purpose.

This is why it’s crucial when building digital services, to start with a ‘discovery phase’ – typically a 6-8 week project with a small and nimble team where you identify, explore and understand all the underlying requirements before beginning to create anything. Using this systematic approach ensures that the end product meets the needs of users and business requirements.

In this blog post, we'll discuss 7 significant ways that conducting a discovery phase leads to successful outcomes.

1) Understanding your users and the problems they’re facing

The heart of any successful digital service lies in it meeting the needs of its users. A discovery phase involves conducting in-depth research, engaging with potential users, and gathering valuable insights into their needs, expectations, and pain points. This enables us to understand the ecosystem the users operate within, and what journeys they take through the service. By involving users from the outset, digital service teams can ensure that their product aligns perfectly with real-world needs, enhancing user satisfaction and adoption.

2) Defining the scope and priorities for the project

Building digital services can be complex, and without a clear scope, projects may run into challenges like scope creep or feature bloat. The discovery phase allows teams to define the project scope, set priorities, and identify the most critical features that deliver value to users. This early scoping ensures that development efforts are focused on what truly matters, leading to more efficient resource utilisation and a streamlined development process.

3) Understanding the service’s constraints

Every digital service project faces constraints, whether they are legislative, technological, or process-related. The discovery phase is vital in identifying and understanding these constraints – through service mapping, we can step back from the operational service and understand the bigger picture, such as organisational silos, or stakeholder dependencies that will impact successful service delivery. By recognising both hard and soft constraints, teams can make informed decisions about the feasibility of their proposed solutions. For hard constraints, alternative approaches may need to be explored, while soft constraints can be addressed through process improvements or system changes.

4) Identifying and mitigating risks

Risks are inherent in any project, and digital service development is no exception. The discovery phase acts as a risk assessment stage where potential roadblocks, both technical and non-technical, are identified and evaluated. By addressing these risks early on, teams can develop contingency plans, allocate resources appropriately, and reduce the chances of costly project setbacks.

5) Aligning everyone's expectations from the project

In a digital service development project, multiple stakeholders are involved, each with their own set of expectations and requirements. A discovery provides a forum for involving all stakeholders, including board members, end-users and other interested parties. Visualising what you find, for instance through user ecosystem maps and service blueprints, provides you with artefacts to share knowledge and understand within the team, with stakeholders and beyond. This means you can collaboratively define the project's vision and goals. This alignment of expectations ensures that everyone works towards a common objective based on evidence, not opinion.

6) Achieving cost-effectiveness and efficiency

Running a discovery phase saves time and resources in the long run. By taking the time to fully understand the service and its users up front, you can identify any potential issues and understanding user needs beforehand. This means teams can avoid needing to do costly rework further down the line and focus on building a digital service that delivers real value to your users and organisation. The upfront investment in the Discovery Phase ensures that the project moves forward efficiently and cost-effectively, reducing the chances of unnecessary spending.

7) Ensuring you don’t build the wrong thing

Last, but certainly not least, a discovery phase ensures that you don’t go down the wrong garden path and spend time and money building the wrong thing. Rather than jumping in and building a service based on a plethora of assumptions, some of which may be incorrect, it ensures you take the time to fully understand the problem you’re trying to solve to make sure you can solve it in the best possible way.

Overall, the discovery phase is a pivotal stage in the development of digital services, as it sets the direction for the entire project. It empowers digital service teams to create products that truly meet user needs and exceed expectations. Embracing this systematic and user-centric approach not only fosters successful development but also enhances user satisfaction and contributes to building a better digital world.

If you’d like to find out a bit more about how discoveries can help you deliver better digital services for your users, please get in touch at

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