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When a company decides it’s time to hire a digital agency to rebuild its website and sign agreements for continued marketing support, the discovery phase will identify all the project requirements and goals as well as outline the deliverables. This process should include your company’s management team and/or a project lead in partnership with our project managers, developers and/or creative leads...

Two things can happen without a discovery phase... the final product fails to fulfill expectations, or the project runs huge overages and the timelines decay...

When HR managers hire staff they perform interviews, when a contractor builds a house he relies on a blueprint, when a lawyer goes to court she prepares her arguements… These are all cases of discovery. Without a discovery phase at the beginning of your next project you are simply flying blind.

Many organizations write off discovery as time and money wasted and believe that it is a great way for the hired firm to stretch the life of a project. But when the project doesn’t go to plan, costs more, takes longer or has to be rebuilt, the problem can usually be traced back to a lack of proper planning and communication; either the project requirements and expectations weren’t communicated properly or else somewhere during the course of the project things changed without proper considerations.

At the end of a proper discovery phase there should be a minimum of components: one or more deliverables, in as much detail as possible, and a set of project goals or required results. Essentially, you want a blueprint like the contractor uses, and you want to have done your due diligence like the lawyer...

An proper and successful discovery phase will produce advantageous results like:

  • Goal Statement(s)

    A project goal statement is the fundamental description of what the project is supposed to achieve for your business - is the focus social, organizational or fiscal? Remember to narrow the focus of the goal(s) to ensure higher levels of success. We often insist on a goal statement, if nothing else, during these pre-production phases as we constantly use them to recalibrate a projects direction through to launch.

  • Information Architecture

    Organizing information in a project can be a rewarding excercise. Exploring abstract ways of organizing content and defining efficient means of user access is often an afterthought. Information architecture is one of those considerations that can make an excellent project exceptional. Traditional approaches to the organization of information, although helpful and intuitive, can sometimes obscure better ways of approaching a problem. Our creative team will use interface cues for guidance, but our designers and project leads are accomplished at managing the presentation of and maintaining user access to your information based on the goal statements and end user profiles.

  • Look & Feel

    To many clients the way their project is going to look is the most important concern. Let's face it, image is everything, right? Human beings respond to visual feedback before anything else. Branding and corporate identity are cornerstones of marketing and so, to represent a business in any medium requires some type of visual guidelines. Your brand already provides the most clues for 'look & feel' guidance; the primary colours for building a colour palette, font and typographical traits and additional inspiration can all be extracted from a logo. To organize these considerations a formal mood board or design brief can be commissioned, and when these basic style considerations are approved, a formal design document can help the designers steer the initial compositions in the right direction. If a formal design document isn't in the budget then a dialog between project managers and creative teams is essential, if only for the loose organization of colours, mood, layout and user considerations.

  • Functional Requirements

    Nowadays, the internet and all our various mobile devices work using hundreds of languages and frameworks which lend themselves to features, functionality and access to data that was not possible three years ago. A functional requirements document will allow your organization to outline very specific technical requirements critical to the project's success. Does the database need to access an xml feed from a third party data provider? When a user performs a website search what data-types need to be searchable and how are they displayed? If you want your staff to maintain content on the website or in the product databases, do you need different access levels for regular staff or managers? These can be some of the most critical questions in the discovery phase because missed features like these can cause major budget overages as developers may need to rebuild components from scratch.

  • Project Timelines

    As any manager can attest, a timeline of ghant chart is an organizational must. Depending on the complexity of the project and the size of the team the timeline can be simple or as detailed as needed, outlining the project milestones, phases and tasks along the way. Milestones are a great organizational tool for ensuring the team is hitting its marks and for making sure the project is delivered on time. You can organize timelines by phases, by individual teams or team member requirements, by department, etc. but milestones along the timeline will pull a project together and give project management the ability to adjust resources to ensure each milestone is met.

  • Budget

    We will put together a budget when a project is more complicated than usual. They are helpful if there are third party suppliers like photographers, actors or voice over talent involved. On occasion a budget is helpful if there are unusual charges like airplane tickets and accomodations for travel, or if interviews and scripts have to be performed or written. Or if there are multiple phases a budget is helpful and can be used along with a project timeline for more accurate cost estimating. With a budget and a timeline team synergy and project management is streamlined, both parties are protected from unforeseen costs and overtime fees. A good budget will account for all of these things. When both sides have a detailed blueprint there are no questions left once production begins.

  • Prototyping

    Prototyping is another great tool, not always necessary, but helpful to not only the client but also to the development team. A set of wireframes, mockups or diagrams, drawn as a high-level study of the information architecture, page composition and/or as a sitemap to include all the pages of a large website. Although it seems like it might take the place of a functional requirements document, generally the functional requirements doc is written by the client and in laymen’s terms, easy to read, explaining what the various components of the project need to do. A set of wireframes is created by the design firm as a means to outline scope and aid in explaining the complexities of a project, screen by screen.

In essence a solid discovery process ensures that a project does not fail. Yes, there are costs associated with discovery as many of these documents take time to produce, however those costs will seem minor when faced with a project that has gone off the rails. Imagine that you begin development of a project without a blueprint (maybe there are time constraints, or poor management) and the hired team get two-thirds through the project before finding out that it’s inadequate in some major way. To correct this poor trajectory could mean starting from scratch. Mistakes like this do happen and cost companies money and people their jobs. You wouldn't drive your car without insurance so why would you develop a project without any?

Many times you’ll find in discovery that there are features you either need but can’t afford at present or features or requirements that you don’t need now but must accommodated down the road. Discovery will allow you to build for the future and ensure that your project will survive the test of time.

In conclusion, discovery will validate corporate needs and requirements; prototyping will cut a large percentage of hours off design and development phases, the design firm will be far more accurate in their cost estimates and final quote and a discovery phase allows you to work with the design firm before committing to the entire project.

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