Dec 7, 2023 - Sophia Katsikas

Skipping Discovery: The Silent Killer of Website Projects

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You know it’s time for a change. You’ve scoped out a digital project. It could be anything: migrating to a new CMS or ecommerce platform, starting a redesign, integrating a new middleware platform, adding a loyalty program, etc., etc. You think you know what you need. Maybe you’ve got an initial set of requirements mapped out, and your business has a goal(s). At first glance, you may be thinking, “Wow, I’m ready to kick this thing off and build it with my agency team!” 

Sorry to burst your bubble, but NO. You’re missing one vital step in the project process: a proper Discovery phase. Why? Well, to swerve a website disaster, you must ensure that the project is well-informed, cost-effective, and capable of delivering the desired results, while also aligning with the broader objectives of your organization. OF COURSE.

Starting a project with no Discovery phase is like being diagnosed by a doctor who has never even examined you. Think of it this way: You’re feeling ill so you call your local hospital. After a brief 10-minute phone conversation, you schedule an appointment to see a doctor. You arrive, you check in, and you’re sitting in the examination room. Your doctor comes in, sits down, reads the notes from that 10-minute phone conversation, diagnoses you with severe pneumonia, writes up a script, and leaves. Do you feel confident that the medication prescribed will actually help your issues? Absolutely not.

Going head first into a project without performing a thorough Discovery is a recipe for disaster. You may be thinking OK… I get it. BUT what actually IS a Discovery and what does it achieve? A Discovery ties into almost every business goal, marketing goal, and the overall project success by solving the following problems upfront. 

12 reasons you need a Discovery phase:

  1. Tire fire prevention: a discovery phase helps identify risks and challenges early on, allowing for early mitigation vs. tire fires during the development or design phase.
  2. A tight grip on your budget: clarifying project requirements and goals upfront can prevent scope creep and costly mid-project changes.
  3. High standards: a well-executed discovery phase ensures that the project aligns with your business's quality standards and expectations, resulting in a more reliable end product.
  4. Timely delivery: by defining the project scope, objectives, and timeline during discovery, your agency team is more likely to deliver the project on time or at least hit a realistic planned date.
  5. Competitive edge: a thorough discovery phase can lead to innovative and competitive solutions to set your business apart from its competitors.
  6. Break out of silos: involving both business and marketing teams in the discovery phase promotes cross-functional collaboration, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and working towards common goals.
  7. Feedback at the right time: feedback gathered during discovery is invaluable for refining project goals and strategies, resulting in a more effective implementation.
  8. Win your target audience: a comprehensive discovery phase provides a deeper understanding of the target audience, their needs, and behaviors, which should guide marketing strategies and content creation.
  9. Content strategy forecasting: by knowing the project's content requirements early on, the marketing team can start planning content creation, SEO strategies, and promotional activities in advance vs. last minute before launch.
  10. Know thy user: a focus on UX during the discovery phase ensures that the website or application will meet user expectations, leading to higher user satisfaction and potentially increased conversions.
  11. On brand, all the time: a discovery phase allows for defining the alignment between design and development with the brand's identity. Consistency in branding helps marketing efforts maintain a cohesive message.
  12. Can’t forget the tech: without a thorough technical evaluation during discovery, your CMS or ecommerce platform is like a black box. Discovery includes various technical audits and mapping to ensure that data, integrations, and all other technical components are reviewed in the scope of the larger effort.

At the end of the Discovery phase, you’ll be left with measurable goals that define clear project objectives. This will allow your team to establish measurable KPIs and metrics to track the success of the project as a whole, and for specific departments within your organization, as you dive into the following project phases.

One last, but very important note to keep in mind is that a discovery phase paves the way for continuous improvement through an iterative approach. In other words: the discovery phase sets the stage for an iterative development process, allowing the project to evolve based on real-world feedback. Why is this so important? It ensures that your project is adaptable to changing business and marketing needs, which we all know is a constant.

Remember: Your website should always seek to evolve, to be better than it was the year before. Kicking your digital projects off with a proper discovery will solidify your ability to continue iterating and growing your digital presence.

To quote the great Heraclitus: 

There is nothing permanent except change.

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