The value of a website discovery and definition phase

Author - Alex Price

Posted By Alex Price Founder & MD

Date posted 23rd Aug 2018

Category WordPress, Marketing, Blog

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If you want to deliver a website project that makes a business impact, on time and on budget, with all stakeholders engaged and supportive along the way – then this post might be for you.

For ourselves and our clients at 93digital, a solid website discovery and definition phase is the absolute key to a successful project, and it comes right at the very start.

The initial discovery & definition phase allows us to align our client’s project with real world outcomes, lay strong strategic foundations, scope functionality and technology in order to limit risk, clarify unknowns, and create all the documentation needed to deliver the project. In short, it is the process of setting your project up for success from the very start.

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Today, in our modern world of technology and magic merged together, it seems like the mystique around website development has somewhat dwindled, as we constantly strive for the latest shiny new thing in Tech. What was once viewed as a job which must be commissioned to the highest skilled professional is now a project that many people feel confident to take on themselves or put up on a freelancing site; hoping to find the cheapest provider. Web development has become less of a precious commodity, just when it’s being used the most.

In one way, we love that website creation is now widely accessible. There is a digital skills gap, and this needs to be plugged. However, as realists, we think it necessary to highlight that quality website development is still nuanced, contextual and a scarce resource. As technology has improved, so too have the tools, and the depth of skills of the professionals in this space, needed to deliver projects of the highest quality.

Align with business objectives

As a results focused agency, our focus is always on delivering business impact and we only tend to take on strategic projects. Our mission as an agency is to empower ambitious marketing teams to be successful, so understanding how the strategic projects we deliver fit into the bigger picture is key, both for us and our clients.

We work with clients to understand their organisations, define or analyse user personas, audit analytics, conduct user research, survey internal stakeholders, test wireframe prototypes, map user journeys, carry out SEO and content gap research. The list can go on (you can find out more about our services here), but we build our offering around the needs of the client based on where they are in their journey.

By conducting this more strategic discovery work, our team will move on to the following stages of a project with the knowledge and insights needed to really move the needle.

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Mitigate risk

Any website project that consists of more than a 5 page brochure site will need some degree of technical planning and solution architecture.

Technology projects can be complicated. And with complexity comes risk.

Depending on the approach and complexity of the project, a varying degree of technical discovery will be needed to ensure solution architecture and the supporting technical specifications are clear enough to mitigate risk in the project.

Some clients might choose to work with a fully agile delivery methodology where timelines and costs are more open ended and definition of the solution can be approached more iteratively as the project progresses.

But if you are looking to deliver a project with fixed timelines and fixed costs, then you also need a fixed scope. A strong discovery and definition phase is the only way of getting to a clear and fixed scope.

Define solutions

Any website project that consists of more than a 5 page static brochure site will need some degree of technical planning and solution architecture.

Our clients regularly integrate with APIs and platforms such as CRMs, marketing automation tools, email marketing solutions and other external third party solutions.

Planning how these solutions will integrate with your WordPress site, and interact with each other, will often need strong solution architecture experience to maps out the flow of data and plan API integrations early on in the project. It’s also important to think about how your WordPress CMS will be implemented, for example how flexible it will be and which modules or Gutenberg blocks will be reusable with which customisation settings.

By planning these things at the start of the project, you will be able to move into the latter design and development stages knowing that lots of the hard work and thinking has already been done. You will have the supporting functional specifications and technical documentation needed to ensure everyone is on the same page, and you won’t have any surprises around timelines or costs later in the project.

Engage stakeholders

Digital projects, in particular website projects, receive lots of attention. And rightly so.

But they often become larger vehicles for change (and not always on purpose). We regularly see website projects now incorporating brand update projects, content audit projects and full digital strategy projects.

Website projects are high profile, and can be far reaching in how they impact stakeholders across an organisation.

A discovery and definition phase will typically include a number of workshops or knowledge transfer sessions, and sometimes interviews or surveys with stakeholders in different departments.

As an agency, it allows us to build trust and rapport with stakeholders. We can also ensure that everyone within a project is clear on their role and focused on ultimately working as a team to achieve the goals of the project.

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