The core notion behind the development of any user-centered service (for example, a website) is the notion of a lifecycle of phases: discovery, alpha, beta, live, retirement.
This article is concerned with what makes up the discovery phase – working out basic strategy and needs.
There should be absolutely no consideration of a solution at this point. That comes later in the alpha and beta development phases.
In the discovery phase you want to ask the following sorts of questions:
- What are the business needs? What is the basic organisational strategy driving the service?
- What are the user needs?
- What are the outcomes we’re aiming for? How will we measure our success in reaching those outcomes?
By the way, we found the gov.uk service manual to be a really great introduction to the discovery phase. Interestingly gov.uk recommend no more than about 4 weeks in total for the discovery phase.
You might even want to spend as little as a single two week sprint on the discovery phase, depending on the complexity of the service.
What is the business is trying to achieve?
The key stakeholders in a service typically help define the business needs. The first step is to identify stakeholders. This might seem obvious, but projects can easily come unstuck if wrong assumptions are made about who the stakeholders are.
Stakeholders won’t come to a project with a fully defined set of needs. The point of the discovery phase is to establish a concrete set of business needs by asking such questions as:
- who are your target users?
- who are your competitors and what are they doing?
- what’s the current website’s content like? How many pages are there? How is the content structured?
- is anyone using the content? How are they using it? What are the user journeys?
- how are people finding existing content?
Some common techniques at this stage will involve:
- expert interviews (ie talking to stakeholders or key users).
- competitor analysis.
- analytics of the existing service.
We also need to establish what business performance indicators we’re using. How are we going to measure success?
What are the high level needs of your users?
Alpha and beta phases will look in greater detail at the needs of your users. The discovery phase is more about gaining a broad picture of what their needs are. Questions such as:
- why would they want to use this service or website?
- what sorts of users are you likely to have?
- what is they typical user journey through the website likely to be?
There are a range of tools for gathering user needs during the discovery phase. For example:
- 1-1 interviews (see this excellent article about testing with no more than 5 users)
- expert review
- focus groups
- card sorting
- diary studies/ethnographic research
For further information on the range of techniques for gathering user needs, see http://uxmastery.com/resources/techniques/.
From discovery to alpha
The alpha phase development team will need an understanding of things such as business priorities, user needs, and information architecture.
To provide the development team with what they’ll need, the discovery phase outputs might include:
Getting the discovery phase right is crucial in developing a website or service. It defines the problem space, and sets the parameters for what that service is trying to achieve.
The discovery phase addresses four key questions:
- What are the business needs?
- What are the user needs?
- What are the outcomes we’re aiming for?
- How will we measure our success in reaching those outcomes?
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