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The Value of a Digital Project Discovery Phase

Ryan Frederick | June 1st, 2020

Many of our client engagements at AWH begin with a discovery phase. Some clients understand the value and importance of an initial discovery phase, but many clients cringe at the idea. The clients who cringe do so out of a lack of value perception or a bad experience. The former could be as a result of the latter.

Discovery phases have immense value for clients and us. The purpose of a discovery phase is to provide mutual context and clarity on several key aspects of a project:

  • Vision - What is client’s desired end state and what are the desired outcomes from the project/product?
  • Current State - Defining and understanding the client’s current position and how far away the client is from the desired end state.
  • Dependencies - Identify dependencies associated to the project that need to be taken into account and the severity of the dependencies. Are the dependencies regulatory, related to a third party, or change management challenges that need to be addressed before the engagement begins or during?
  • Risk - What are the potential potholes along the way that need to get mitigated and navigated around? What is the plan to deal with each known risk? Who is responsible for taking the lead on it?
  • Communication and Collaboration - How well do we communicate and collaborate with each other? The sales process is truly the first step in determining how well communication and collaboration is going to go, followed closely by an initial discovery phase.
  • Alignment - There isn’t a better way to ensure and establish alignment than working together.
  • Unknowns - Every project has its share of unknowns and an initial discovery phase starts to uncover and shine a light on the unknowns. The sooner unknowns are identified to be able to be dealt with the better. Unknowns that are discovered early have less negative project impact. Unknowns that are discovered later in a project can have severe negative consequences to a project.

An initial discovery phase is about risk mitigation. It allows both a client and AWH to go for a test drive before committing to dig in with each other on a project. Our typical discovery phase is six to eight weeks. This is enough time to accomplish the keys above and to validate if we should move forward together on the project, or not.

In addition to an initial discovery phase being about risk mitigation, AWH performs valuable work for a client and the client receives some important deliverables. Typical discovery phase deliverables include: a client current state definition document, a client desired future document, a gap analysis defining the gap between a client’s current and future state, and an initial roadmap of future project phases and milestones to get to the future state.

Creating anything is hard and a digital product is no exception. There will be countless unknowns and ups and downs during the course of creating a new digital product. This is true whether the product is a website, a web application, a mobile app, or an IOT product with associated apps and data infrastructure. Every product is unique, and although we have an underlying process that ensures efficient and effective production, each project has its own share of factors to be considered and managed. An initial discovery phase gets a new project off on the right foot to help ensure the smoothest journey possible as the engagement and the work get increasingly more challenging as the project and product evolve.

We encourage any client embarking on a new digital product project to be open to initially engaging with discovery phase as there is great value in doing it. The initial discovery phase will help set the stage for a better project, and in the end, a better product. Building the best product possible should be the goal and is one of our two guiding principles at AWH — 1) Always work in the best interest of the client and 2) Always work in the best interest of the product. An initial discovery phases reflects and honors both of these principles.