In this article, we’ll aim to describe why a discovery process is an essential part of any website project and how you might approach this when you or your client is time or financially poor.
There’s no denying that a thorough discovery process which can range from 1 to 6 weeks can yield better results on a website project. However, if time or money is tight, there’s no reason why a shorter discovery can’t still have a great impact. The important thing to remember at this point is to be realistic about what can be achieved and at what quality. Trying to deliver too much without a thorough enough discovery process can water down and produce poor results so it’s in your best interest to keep scope minimal and lower expectations on the sort of return you can expect to achieve. Jupiter and the Giraffe will often refer to these shorter workshops as “scoping” workshops rather than discovery as we feel that’s more appropriate but ultimately it’s the same thing.
The shorter discovery workshop benefits from a website with a clear and specific solution or goal. Some examples could be;
- Design Refresh
- MVP or Version 1 of a simple marketing website
- Single Feature Development (e.g. blog addition, contact form)
- Projects with a short deadline
A shortened version of the website discovery processes is not suitable for the following;
- Broad scope/problem statement (we want to improve our website conversion)
- Unclear solution
- Research and experimentation projects
- Product/web app integration (complex, user-centric functionality)
- High stake projects
In contrast, when a solution needs to be defined or the goals are unclear it’s best to run a more thorough discovery process which you can find out about here (article coming soon).
These aren’t hard and fast rules though. There may be some insights gathered or problems uncovered in the shortened process that can allow you to come up with new and interesting solutions to test. Fleshing out this idea is preferred if more discovery time was permitted but ultimately to come up with something new, enough contextual knowledge must be gathered to recommend an appropriate solution.
So at this point, you might be asking yourself what is discovery? Well if that’s the case please read on. If you’re familiar with why the discovery process is so important then you can get to the meat of how to run a successful discovery on a budget then skip to here.
What is Website Discovery?
The discovery process revolves around the 5 W’s (who, what, why, how, when). The key to website discovery is to not solutionise but ultimately understand the problem and the context of the business to get a scope of work. The process should lead to the empowerment of the creatives on the project and leverage their expertise and years of experience which will ultimately lead to the best results. This is an important thing to remember as trying to figure out what the solution is so early can destroy focus and eradicate that empowerment and so for the website development team it should be mostly about asking questions and listening.
The shortened version of the discovery process is looking to establish as much detail about the task as possible rather than aiming to present an informed solution.
It’s not uncommon to run a discovery session (be it short or long-form) as a separate cost to the actual scope of work and that’s exactly what we do at Jupiter and the Giraffe. The reason being is before fully understanding the scope of work at the level of detail acquired during a discovery workshop, all costings and timelines are finger-in-the-air guesses based on experience. It’s amazing to find how many nuggets of “gold” come out of the discovery process that can shorten or lengthen the project timeline because that information was forgotten or missed out during preliminary sales calls. That’s why we cost things up after discovery and we get a good idea of what we are doing.
What are the Benefits of Website Discovery Workshop?
Although not immediately clear, running a website discovery can benefit both the business and the creative team.
For a business it can;
- Give all key stakeholders a place to vocalise their thoughts and expectations in the same room
- Align all stakeholders with one vision
- Introduce and break the ice with a (potentially) external creative team
For the creative team it can help them;
- Understand the business context
- Understand the pain points that have lead to this point
- Understand the brand
- Clarify functional requirements and restrictions
At the end of the discovery process, everyone should have a clear idea of what the scope of the project is, how long it should take and what the success metrics are.
Who should be involved in discovery?
One thing to remember is that the more individuals involved in the discovery process, the more voices need to be heard therefore the longer it will take. Ideally, a shorter discovery process should not take more than 2 days or 8 hours.
From the business side key personnel that should be involved is the vision-holder (often the CEO) or equally someone who can articulate and carry the vision of the business into the workshop, marketing VP or brand VP and, If available, any technical staff.
From the creative side a design lead should be present, a UX lead (can also be the same person), a technical director and someone to gather requirements (often a business analyst or project manager). Optional extras could be a designer, engineer and creative director.
There will of course need to be someone fairly neutral to facilitate the discussion but Jupiter and the Giraffe tend to have a product designer or UX lead facilitate the workshop as their critical thinking seems to bring out the best in the attendees.
How to run a Website Discovery Workshop
So without further ado let’s get into what a discovery workshop entails and some things to consider during each phase. We won’t go into too much detail on what activities you should run but will generally outline the areas of interest that will yield the most insightful responses.
As with most workshops or meetings, start with some short introductions. It’s good to pay respect to the guests (if using an external agency to build) but the facilitator should set the trend on a short, concise intro so that we don’t get into a complete history of everyone. A good formula is name, role, company and why you’re involved in the workshop or what you’re looking to get out of the workshops
“Hi, my name is SUZIE JAMES pronouns (she/her/hers) and I am the DESIGNER at JUPITER AND THE GIRAFFE. I’m here to understand the visual and aesthetic choices made by THE BUSINESS as well as the brand to design the website”
Introductions aside, we like to give the CEO the floor. A brief history into who and why the company was founded, what problems they are trying to solve and how they go about it. It’s a great engagement tool as someone with vision will often get very passionate about telling this story. It’s also great for context and understanding a little about why certain business choices were made for everyone to feel like they are coming from the same place.
We call this section “Business Context” and from what is normally a very informal whistle-stop tour of the company history there are some probing questions that we feel help the discovery process. In no particular order…
Why this? — What brought the business to life? Was there a specific event or frustration that caused the sudden decision to start the company?
Why now? — Was there a social or economic reason for the formation of the business or is there a timeframe in which starting the business at that time meant it could be met.
Why you? — If this is not already clear, it’s insightful to hear the business case to tackle the problem.
Similarly, it’s good to understand how the website falls into all of this by asking the same questions.
A website should serve a purpose that supports the business goals. Getting a sense of the short, medium and long-term vision of the business can help support the features and functionality of the websites. This leads nicely into understanding the goals of the website. This is separate from the functional requirements of the website and should focus solely on the overarching objectives. Some examples of this could be;
- Allow customers to contact us and request work
- Sign up to our mailing list
- Purchase our course
It’ll be important to draw distinctions between the company goals and the purpose of the website to understand the synergy between the two or figure out a way to create that synergy. Previously we explained that the shortened discovery process benefits from a clear and specific goal to deliver the best results however it doesn’t hurt to understand what other areas of opportunity are available and to potentially direct focus to other, unexplored areas.
The website is going to be used by potential customers after all so we must take some time to identify these users and understand their motivations and goals when landing on this website. If it’s a brand new business we’re left with the best guess on who this might be. Similarly, if the business wants to target a new market then we should paint a picture of who these people might be. Given more time in a true discovery process, it would be a good idea to go and seek validation from these users to understand a little more about their pain points but given we are on a budget the business’ word is gospel. Alternatively, if there is an existing website having actual user data is a great resource to verify.
As mentioned above, your key insights from users are their pain points. This is often the most insightful piece of information you can about anyone. Once again, these don’t need to be specific to the website! It’s all about context and how having this wider knowledge can empower the creative process later down the road. The second most important thing about our users is what they are trying to get done on your website. Having a list of these can identify several micro-goals the website should serve.
Having two or three user profiles should give a good variety of goals for the website and not water down the experience by trying to appeal to too many people.
It’ll be very rare that a business will not have any thoughts around what the website should do, behave or look like so it’s important to discuss these and weigh them up with respect to priority, paying close attention to how this stacks up against the timeline of the project.
Similarly, understanding any technical requirements will be important. Are there any services or technologies that the website must integrate with? Are they collecting analytics or do they already use an existing CMS? Should some of the features outlined require an external API? These can add complexity to a project, particularly if new knowledge is to be obtained to use these systems.
Similarly to the feature set that the business will have in mind for the website, there may also be other competitors or websites that demonstrate and articulate features that the website should have. It’s important to note that depending on the expectation of the website team, these thoughts are simply considerations as once again the “experts” are there to validate or provide their opinion on what is best based on the previous discussions about the goals of the business.
It’s also important to get a sense of design or aesthetics that resonate with the business. Not to necessarily copy but to take note of preferences.
Looking at existing websites it’s good to recognise industry trends and points of reference. We like to discuss what they are doing well but also what they aren’t doing well. If the business has an existing website, run the same critique on that site, identifying where improvements can be made.
Understanding the brand supports both the design of a website and if content or copywriting is to be produced. Branding workshops, in and of themselves can be very lengthy but by running a simple word-related exercise, the creative team can get a good indication of the brand. Even in instances where the business does not have a formal “brand” or haven’t even thought about it a branding exercise is so simple to follow and can be incredibly useful.
The exercise that we run at Jupiter and the Giraffe takes a look at the following attributes and brainstorms a list of words related to them. Culture (how would your community describe you?), Tribe (how would your customers describe you?), Tone of Voice (How do you sound?), Benefits (what tangible benefits do your customers get?), Values/beliefs (why do you exist?). Once you have a list of words you’ll need to narrow it down to just a single word for each through discussion and compromise.
Launching a website is just the beginning. Monitoring and improving it based on actual user feedback is just as crucial to its continued success. However, identifying from the beginning what you hope to achieve once the website launches is a great way to understand if its development has been a success. Having these KPIs gives the team something to aim for and will once again empower everyone to make the right decisions based on what the goals of the website are. This being different from the overarching goals of the website and a bit more granular such as;
- Number of visitors
- Number of conversions
- Watch/consume media
Taking note of these success metrics and revisiting them at the end will be important to not only report to the rest of the business but also provide a north star if changes need to be made further down the road.
What are the Deliverables of a Website Discovery?
We run all our discovery sessions remotely. A big benefit to this is that everything is captured live on a Miro board and is stored for everyone to refer back to later on in the project. If we were to run the project on-site then digitising all of the artefacts from the workshop is crucial and storing them to be sent. A scope of work is then presented outlining our understanding of the tasks that need to be completed along with a solidified timeframe and costs to get budget sign-off or negotiate deliverables. (if for whatever reason the SOW is not satisfactory or covers everything that was expected).
We find these focus areas discussed in this article give more than enough information to each aspect of a website project be it design, development, project management or commercials while keeping to a relatively short time frame. We can’t say that all questions will have been answered or everything has been clarified (these will most certainly need to be resolved during the project itself) but there should be enough to give everyone a general idea of how much effort will be required into building the website and what features and functionality need to be implemented, and ultimately, align everybody on the project to what needs to be done. It’s at this stage where we can confidently quote for the upcoming work with a well-informed team to hit the ground running and start drawing up a project plan.