A discovery phase is the most important step in the journey of successful project.

As well as investigating the goals and challenges inside your organisation, a discovery focuses on gathering a wealth of information about the users of your organisation. What are their goals and motivations? How do they use your service to achieve those goals? How could you help them more effectively? Analysing this information gives you a strong focus and direction to move forward together. Projects without a clear, measurable purpose are doomed to fail. Sidetracked by feature requests with no value, delivery teams quickly lose morale and capitulate when it’s not obvious how their work is having a positive impact.

Projects that don’t follow the needs of their audience end up following the highest paid person’s opinion instead. Meetings become unproductive and frustrating when everyone is trying to get their own opinion validated instead of working together to find the best solution. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to uncover the need for a discovery phase.

Who is this for?

Who will be affected by the success of this project? How old are they? Do they have children? Do they live alone? What’s their income? What device do they primarily use?

What do you know about the people inside the organisation who have to manage and interact with your service? What are their roles? What are they responsible for? “Our customers” is not enough of an answer. You need detail to understand user needs. If you can’t answer this question, you need a discovery.

What do they need?

How does your service fit into a user’s life? What worries them? What are their goals and ambitions? What does success look like to them? Understanding your internal users is also informative. What do they struggle with in their role. What drains their time and energy?

Remember, this is their needs, not yours. Making a purchase on your site is your need not theirs. If you can’t answer this question, you need a discovery.

What are your weaknesses?

Once you’ve established the goals of your audience, you can fill in the steps that they need to take to achieve those goals. Which steps involve interacting your service? What delights them? What frustrates them? Weaknesses are satisfying to find, they’re easily mapped to opportunities. If you can’t answer this question, you need a discovery.

How will you know if you succeed?

Great projects don’t fix everything in one fell swoop. They spend wisely to begin with, test, measure, and iterate. But what are you measuring? How will you tell a good idea from a bad idea or a great idea?

Building great user experiences is part art and part science. Without identifying your key metrics and reporting back on them regularly, it’s impossible to tell if you’re making the problem better or worse.