Preparing for discovery; does your solution have a problem?

Discovery is a crucial phase in any service design project. It forms the basis of your product definition and roadmap going forward but increasingly there is requirement to pre-empt discovery with an earlier phase of activity.

Discovery – the start of the process?

Often discovery is very much considered the beginning of the service design process, it’s when audiences are identified, user needs are gathered and journeys mapped. However, before moving into discovery, there is an element of preparation that is required to ensure outcomes are successfully developed to meet the needs of your organisation and, most importantly, your audience.

This phase of preparation is often referred to as ‘pre-discovery’ and although not formally adopted by GDS and the public sector, it is acknowledged as an important step to include. Drawing a correlation with the private sector, the phase does the job of a business case, albeit in a slightly less formalised way. It is there to answer why the project should exist in the first instance and to access if it is worthwhile pursuing.

Preparing for discovery doesn’t have to be a drawn-out or arduous process. By aligning with the four pillars detailed below, your ‘pre-discovery’ activity can run simply with focus. The phase itself should have a dedicated Service Owner who can manage all activity and determine key actions.

A four-principle approach

  1. Determine the need: what are your organisational drivers?

  2. Gather, gather, gather: collect existing insight

  3. Identify the team: who are the key stakeholders

  4. Prep the fundamentals: get set for discovery(ies)

The first three can be conducted collectively but it is recommended that 4 follows on.

Determine the need: what are your organisational drivers?

The first step looks at the very essence of the requirement. Think broadly. Before considering whether it’s a new website, application or other such digital tool, can you explain why this work is needed?

Key questions to consider are:

• What is the organisational trigger that is motivating this requirement?

• What do we want to achieve?

• How does this fit or complement a wider roadmap of activity?

• Why is now the appropriate time?

• Has this been looked at before?

Gather, gather, gather: collect existing insight

There is very likely to be a wealth of insight that already exists around similar projects, this could include but is not limited to:

• User surveys

• Performance data

• Financials

• Technical diagrams

• Existing process, policy and service journeys

Collect it. It doesn’t matter if this isn’t complete. What is important to remember is this phase is not about creating anything new. Review what exists to better shape the discovery brief. If funding is a pre-requisite, ensure that costs have been considered and if this service exists non-digitally, collect the appropriate documentation or document the physical process.

Identify the team: who are the key stakeholders

The team that needs to be identified in this instance includes those who will influence and be influenced by, review and push adoption of the new service. They are not the people who will be delivering discovery.

Stakeholders are typically numerous. They, along with subject matter experts, are fonts of knowledge and will be engaged with in various ways along the journey, from discrete interviews to continual involvement.

It is key that they are identified early on and any involvement outlined to them, this is to ensure they are available or make additional resource available when discovery kicks off. They will also be valuable in the gathering of existing insight and outlining broader programmes of work and policy that may impact the project.

Prep the fundamentals: get set for discovery(ies)

Almost all the work needed has been carried out at this point, the business rationale is in place and stakeholders identified and communicated with. One of the last areas to consider is what will need to be in place for discovery or in some cases discoveries as in preparing for your discovery phase, dependent on the scope, a need for several discoveries may be identified. Some things that you are likely to want to take into account include:

• Will you need a shared working space?

• Is co-location a requirement?

• What people and skills will you need?

• What tools may be required?

The solutions for these elements don’t need to be in place, but consideration needs to be made at this stage to ensure that the transition to discovery is as smooth as possible.

What to expect

Beyond the principles outlined, there is no strict template to prepare for a discovery as each project is individual, therefore time limits are changeable, personnel variable and the output slightly different. However, there are a couple of rules of to bear in mind:

Keep it short – don’t draw out the process, if you can help it. If it takes too long, it’s likely because there isn’t a clear organisational driver

Avoid straying into discovery – it may be tempting to start filling in the blanks with research but that will happen in discovery

The benefits of preparation

However, large or small your project is, it’s vital that the problem or business need has been clarified early on. Leaping forward to a solution often means loss of efficiency, time wasted and duplication of effort. By applying the principles detailed, your team and the organisation will better prepared for discovery, which should lead to a more successful outcome.