What part does project discovery play in a web development endeavor? You might know this feeling: You set out to complete a home project and find out you don’t have everything you need. After an expensive trip to the hardware store, grocery store, or hobby store, you’re pretty sure you’ve got it. Then, in the middle of the project, you realize the end result isn’t going to meet all of your needs like you thought it would. As you think it over, you finally figure out a way to accomplish what you need if only you had a few additional pieces. Back to the store, you go!

Days later, the project is complete and the components (or ingredients) are configured the way you first intended them to be.

Now think about the question again: What part does project discovery play in web development? The most critical part. Discovery of the project’s purpose; what talents are needed; what tech is needed; and how it all fits within your timeframe and budget.

Project Discovery is Scouting

The discovery phase of a project is a chance for both the client and the vendor to “discover” the purpose of a project and ensure that the client receives product that they truly need. At SHERPA, we call project discovery by a name that suits our culture: Scouting.

What is Scouting?

Scouting ensures your technical requirements are defined and that they can be implemented within your timeframe and budget. It may include some or all of the following:

  • The drawing up and systematization of your requirements for your website
  • Research performed about your target audience, their needs, and preferences
  • An analysis or audit of the efficiency of your current website
  • Meetings to discuss the expected and required functionality of your website
  • Analysis and research of competing websites, applications, or products
  • Assessment of the technical requirements of your project

Why is Scouting Important?

In the scenario at the beginning of this article, there were things omitted from the home project that required multiple trips to the store, and time delays—costing money and time. Jef Blocker, SHERPA’s UX/UI expert and project lead explains:

“The few times I’ve seen clients’ projects fail to meet their objectives, it’s always been due to bypassing a scouting phase. It’s not uncommon for a client to have a solution in mind when they contact SHERPA with a problem without understanding how their proposed solution might affect other stakeholders in their company—e.g., marketing making a decision without understanding the consequences for customer service or sales. When the final product ships, it results in either change orders or a scrapped product. This wasted effort and additional expense can be avoided by taking the time to ensure every stakeholder’s voice is heard.

“Organizations have a wealth of valuable internal knowledge that is siloed in various departments and rarely shared. Scouting begins a conversation that increases buy-in from all stakeholders and leverages that institutional knowledge. This is helpful when documenting requirements and ensuring an awareness of business objectives that must be met. An objective should determine a deliverable—not the other way around.

“Also, scouting also helps clients stop to consider who will be using their product and better understand their needs. If a client’s web application frustrates users and fails to meet their expectations, they won’t return. By considering the user’s needs and how they will use a product, we can assist clients in building applications that will create a satisfying customer experience and keep users coming back.”

When adequate time is not given to scouting, necessary functions or features of your website may be overlooked, requiring change orders that incur additional charges and time delays. Omitting project discovery could result in massive disruptions, added fees, and missed deadlines.

Scouting Leads to Thoughtful Solutions

The discovery phase is when the team working on your project can become more familiar with your products, your company, your organizational goals, and more. When your development team has this understanding, they may be able to develop better solutions, and make smart, informed changes to your original project scope.

Scouting is Objective-Focused, Not Deliverable-Focused

Just because a deliverable, like a website, is delivered on-time and on-budget, doesn’t mean the project will be a success. To truly succeed, the deliverable must meet your organizational objectives, such as improving SEO (search engine optimization), increasing conversion rates, and decreasing website bounce rates.

If you start a project by simply defining the deliverable—and not the objective—you may end up with the wrong solution. Project discovery allows you to define your objectives for your project, not just the deliverable.

Scouting Prioritizes User Needs

Most project briefs are not user-focused. They do not consider the user’s perspective, only the goals of the project. A discovery phase allows your web development team to take a deep dive into your proposed project, and truly understand how your users will interact with your website or your web application.

By doing so, you can reduce the risk of building functionality or producing content that your users don’t care about—and wasting both time and money.

By performing user research and assessing every part of how your users interact with your website, user needs can be prioritized—ensuring a better and more satisfying user experience.

Scouting Gives Stakeholders a Voice

Project discovery is a period of time when everyone involved in the project, from developers to managers, executives, stakeholders, and more, can get on the same page. It will reduce the risks of misunderstandings and costly mistakes, and allow both your team and your team of developers to make better, more informed decisions—providing you with a better overall product or website.

What is Not Part of Project Discovery, AKA Scouting?

The following deliverables are never part of scouting, as these items lack clarity until scouting is completed to understand what needs to be done. These deliverables can certainly be proposed as the scope for the next phase—Mapping—which is before the Building phase.

  • User Research—listening labs, surveys, etc.
  • Wireframes
  • UI Designs
  • Prototypes
  • Content Creation

Scouting enables the team to understand what is and is not known at the time, and thus what needs to be defined before the project can proceed.

Going back to the scenario at the beginning of this article, what would have the project discovery, or scouting looked like? Perhaps measurements were required, or an inventory of supplies. Maybe a realistic summation of time required would’ve been helpful, as well as an assessment of the skills you possessed. Any number of things could have and should have been considered before embarking on your home project. Some costs of time and money could’ve been avoided by taking the time to discover all that the project required.

Don’t waste time or money by jumping into a web project without proper scouting. When you enroll in a project with SHERPA, we put forth the effort in scouting to understand you, your company, and your users, making your project comprehensive and successful. Reach out to a SHERPA—we’d love to meet you for coffee and talk about how we can help.

Jennifer Wilder

Jennifer Wilder

Jennifer is a writer, editor, and content manager with over 25 years of experience spanning publishing, public relations, and digital marketing. Through her creative pursuits, she has worked with Rinnai America, Truck Accessories Group, The reThink Group, LifeWay Christian Resources, and John Maxwell Company. When not working with words, she's making all-the-memories with her husband, Nathan, son, Tucker, and Labrador Retriever, Copper.

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