In an ideal world, we would have a solution ready to use for every conceivable business-related problem.
We’re still far from that scenario. Sure, some business problems are easy to solve. But the bigger ones require a more personalized approach: every business has different challenges and needs.
You wouldn’t build a skyscraper without a blueprint. The blueprint guides everyone working on the project, and it also helps to list the essential resources to build it.
In web development and design, people often start projects without creating a blueprint first, which usually leads to all sorts of mid-project disasters.
It seems that finding the solution and creating the right plan to implement it is seen as less valuable than actual design and development. It’s the opposite: creating the right plan to solve a real business problem is the most valuable thing an expert can do for a client in a project. Execution matters, but it’s nothing if we’re not going in the right direction.
It’s obvious that to build something, we always need some sort of blueprint or roadmap – especially if we’re trying to solve an intricate business problem. After all, any kind of custom web development or design work is an investment that should have a clear goal and purpose. Otherwise, why should we do it?
A discovery phase is essential for any web project. It’s a process to create a blueprint to refer to during the entire duration of the engagement. It marks the difference between a project based on luck versus a project planned to solve objective problems.
What does a discovery phase include?
The document produced at this stage is the result of in-depth research, testing, and consultation(s) with the client. This helps to clarify all the project details to the client and the expert:
- Project Goals: We need to outline why this project is necessary and what success looks like for the client and their business. This is necessary to give meaning to the project. Having this in written form in a document is powerful. It helps both the expert and the client to be more neutral and to motivate with logic decisions made during the engagement. Measuring the project’s goals isn’t a guarantee of results. But it’s essential to know where we are if we want to know where we would like to be.
- Problems & solutions: this part is the result of specific research and testing done in this phase. For example: imagine you need a specific feature in your website. How will that feature work and how will it be developed? Will a plugin solve the problem, or should we develop your own custom plugin? To find that out, we may need to test some plugins, other existing solutions, create some proof of concepts, and ask you several questions. The outcome of this process will be added to the discovery document.
- Details about the design (UI/UX): essential to avoid endless design revisions and to know exactly what we’ll design. Outlining details on this part will allow us to get the most out of the design phase.
- Details about the development phase: to describe the set of plugins and theme of choice, any necessary custom functionality that will be developed, and more.
- Details about the deployment phase: migration can be trivial. Sometimes it’s possible to migrate from staging to the live website in (almost) one click. But when we’re building a complex website, this is rarely the case. Even the deployment process may need to be planned carefully to reduce the likelihood of any downtime. In some cases, specific custom development for the deployment phase may be necessary.
All of these items have one key element in common: they help to manage expectations for everyone involved in the project. They identify a starting point and an end goal to pursue. Everyone involved should know what to expect at the end of this phase:
- The client will know which features, templates, and custom theme or plugins the final product will include. What will be designed. How the website will be deployed. And more.
- The experts involved will know exactly what they need to do. And they’ll be able to share with the client a precise quote for the entire project in their proposal.
The Antidote to Overblown Budgets
Having a clear idea of the scope means no budget overages, risk reduction, and fewer issues during the project.
A discovery phase won’t magically prevent every obstacle, but it will allow us to reduce risk as much as possible before we start designing the website.
After the discovery phase is finished and we have a better understanding of the scope and timeline of the project, the final quote may not match the client’s initial budget.
In this case, since we delivered a clear plan, it’s easy to check if we can meet halfway by reducing the project’s scope. For example, instead of solving all possible issues, we can focus our efforts on the most crucial problems. If it isn’t possible to find an agreement, the client can use the same document to delegate the project to another agency or freelancer.
Starting a project without a discovery phase, especially if it’s something that requires weeks or months of work, it’s like groping in the dark. All kinds of nightmares can and will happen without it. Wasted budget, wasted time, and surprises on both sides due to misaligned expectations. Skipping the discovery is the reason web development projects can go in the wrong direction and do more harm than good to an online business.