Why a Discovery Phase is so important to your digital project

Nov 13, 2013
Alexandra Barcelona
When starting a digital project, it’s important to remember that 9 times out of 10, you’re building something that’s never been built before. This is one of the main reasons it’s so important to have a Discovery Phase in your project. Our panel at Tech Mornings discusses why they find Discovery Phases so critical to projects and why you should consider one for your next project.


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Video Transcript:

Audience Member: “Hi, my name is Laura. I am an information architect and UX designer.  And scooping a project can be pretty daunting and I know that one of the projects that I worked on with Jose and Christian, the way they went about that was to only bid for the discovery at first and not the whole entire project. So I’m wondering if the rest of you do that too and what does that look like and what are the different steps? You have discovery, design, and build obviously.” 

Jose Caballer, The Skool: “The question is how do you deal with …do you do discovery to figure out the scope of the project and charge people for that and if so how? Skot, do you want to start with that?”

Skot Carruth, Philosophie: “So we do something called agile development which many of you are probably familiar with. For those of you who aren’t, it’s basically a methodology to facilitate a more flexible scope. The way we practice it is similar to what Elias said earlier about fixed budget, flexible scope because let’s be honest, clients always have a budget whether they tell you or not. So for as many projects as we can we try to employ that type of methodology and the project gets defined as we go along so we are actually building and defining kind of simultaneously. Sometimes it is chaotic but generally we find the results to be better.  That said, some clients that we work with because of organizational restriction or because of partners we are working with require a much better defined scope. So if they don’t come to us with that scope in the first place then we do require a discovery process. Sometimes if it’s a very small project we are able to do it as part of the sales process but for most of them and more and more because we are working with bigger projects it’s a multi-week process that we must charge for.”  

Jose Caballer, The Skool: “Thank you so much Skot. How do you do discovery, Heather?”

Heather Tacskovics, Huge: “I would say if you could ever convince someone to pay you to do discovery without having to estimate the whole thing out, absolutely. Go that route because you just don’t know enough often and that kind of goes back to what we were talking about inaccuracy in estimates. You are trying to estimate something where you really have 10% of the details that you really need. So anytime that you can convince them to kick-off with a paid discovery and then get to estimates for subsequent stages later, absolutely. Sometimes it’s also safe to even take it through design. So often saying we’ll do discovery and design because during design you are going to come up with that feature set. You can go through a feature prioritization exercise and then use that feature prioritization to talk together about what needs to be in that product and say, ‘ok, now that we’ve got that, here’s your top features …that’s X amount of dollars’ and you can also help them plan out following releases as budget freeze up as time is available. So I think if you can get that, absolutely, go for it every time. And if not, try and make the estimates for later stages ranges so that you are not as locked in to, ‘we are going to do this for exactly this amount’ but say, ‘look, based on our previous experience and what we know right now, we think we are looking at a range between this and this but we need to go through these stages before we can commit to that.” 

Jose Caballer, The Skool: “Breaking the project into little pieces and also giving ranges for the future pieces.” 

Christian Burne, Oshyn: “And as a buyer, if you are asking a vendor to give you prices for the entire thing upfront without a discovery, like I said, the variability is going to be great and probably 95% to 99% of the time it’s going to be incorrect. It’s better for you, as a buyer, to do the discovery, try to transfer the knowledge to that team of what you need to be built and how it’s going to be built before they give you an actual price.  And your agency should know how many meetings it’s going to take for them to be able to be confident in the price. If you come to them with really detailed specs and design, they might be able to say, ‘Yeah, ok, I just need a couple of meetings to answer some questions then I can give you a price.’ Like Heather is saying, it might be that a two week discovery is needed, it might be that we won’t’ give a price for the build until after the design is done. That happens a lot of times, as well.  What we’ve come to realize as an industry software developers is that the closer you get to the actual build of the product, that’s when your estimation accuracy goes up. Your estimation accuracy is about 100% the hour before you start building that and every hour and day you move away from that you are going to be less and less accurate. So that’s the function of the discovery, that’s the function of the design, and that’s why a lot of us in the industry have come to a conclusion that really we need to be doing agile. We need to be doing the estimation right before we start building because anything else is varying degrees of inaccuracy.”