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6 Essential Elements of The Project Discovery Phase

Updated on January 17, 2023

9 Min Read
Project Discovery Phase

Ever had to hold off on a project nearing completion because you didn’t have the resources or the information available from the client?

Project discovery is one of the most crucial elements of effective project management. It plays an integral role in the success of your digital agency.

Too many agency owners make the mistake of jumping into a project headfirst instead of taking the time to research, figure out the requirements and key deliverables, and set the appropriate milestones.

There are plenty of reasons why agency owners forego the discovery phase:

  • Pressure to deliver
  • The excitement of getting things started
  • Inexperience
  • The feeling that you already have everything you need to complete the project.

But that results in mishaps and substandard work. And the last thing you’d want is to deliver a half-baked product and risk losing the sale. Especially if you’re working with high-ticket clients.

For your agency to succeed, you must ensure that project discovery becomes routine in all departments working with clients. Let’s see how to do that effectively!

What is the Project Discovery Phase?

The discovery phase, also known as the scoping phase, is a process in which information is collected and analyzed about the project.

This helps clarify the project’s goals, limitations, and overall scope.

McKinsey reports that 17% of all projects turn out to be so terrible that they eventually result in the demise of their companies.

In the same report, the company also states that almost 45% of the projects exceed the original budget.

For digital agency owners, this can spell disaster. That’s why the discovery stage is so important.

Typically, agencies operate with a 5-stage project management plan. That includes:

  • Stage 1: Initiation
  • Stage 2: Planning
  • Stage 3: Execution
  • Stage 4: Monitoring and Control
  • Stage 5: Closing

5 stages project discoverySource: Kissflow

However, by adding the project discovery stage before this, an agency can make matters much easier for itself.

The discovery stage will allow the agency to identify the vision, goals, and scope of the project. Knowing all this will be super helpful before you can initiate the project.

Why Is the Project Discovery Phase Important?

The project discovery phase is important for several reasons:

  • Helps agency owners make decisions based on actionable information and data instead of blindly following assumptions
  • The discovery phase of a project helps deliver value to clients
  • Results in a better user experience overall
  • Allows the project managers to involve specialists from an early stage to help figure out a viable solution to the challenge being posed
  • The discovery phase of a project reduces the odds of making expensive alterations as the development process advances
  • Increases ROI
  • Helps streamline work processes in the company
  • Ensures the client and the agency are on the same page before work begins.

If you skip project discovery altogether, you may have to deal with the following issues:

  • Missed deadlines because of unclear milestones.
  • The quality of the project is compromised and it fails to meet the expectations of both the client and the agency.
  • A steep increase in costs due to improper budgets (or none at all) greatly affects the company’s ability to maintain its profit margins.

Scope creep is one of the biggest problems of project management. It occurs because measurable targets were not set before the project began, and clients usually ask for extensions or more work. Ultimately, this just delays the work considerably.

The 6 Essential Elements of the Discovery Phase

If you can successfully carry out the project discovery phase, it will become much easier for you to deliver the rest of the project. You must focus on essential elements, starting with a cross-functional team.

The project manager usually knows the client’s requirements before the initial discovery phase. They are responsible for ensuring all key deliverables are assigned to the designated staff.

Here are 6 essential elements of a successful discovery phase:

1. Creating the Discovery Team

Discovery Team

The discovery team should ideally include people with diverse interests and specialties.

Their inclusion within the team depends on the kind of project and expertise they bring to the table.

Normally, the discovery team shall include the following:

  1. A project manager
  2. A UX/UI designer
  3. A technical expert/developer
  4. Project analyst

Conducting stakeholder interviews is the first step.

The project manager’s job is to discuss the project details with the client and then sit with the Discovery Team to ensure that all of their queries are answered.

Make sure everyone is on the same page and that roles are appropriately defined.

This will set the tone for the project and ensure everyone knows what they are supposed to do right from the project’s discovery phase.

2. Gather Requirements

Gather Info

Taking input from the clients is important for any project to have smooth sailing. However, many agencies haste their way into getting projects and thus don’t gather the requirements thoroughly. As a result, there face miscommunications and confusion as the project progresses.

It’s best to document all the requirements from your clients and then take time to process them. This will also clarify things for you and help you analyze what it’ll take to complete the project successfully.

You can plan the required resources, estimated timeline, and costs by having the requirements.

Never proceed with the project without comprehensively gathering requirements from your clients. Once that’s done, you are set to move into the next stage, “Research.”

3. Research


Research is a critical part of the project discovery phase. It helps give the managers and staff a better idea about the work on different project elements.

Research can be further divided into 4 different categories:

i. Client/Customer Interviews

Most agencies use various agency management tools for correspondence and client reporting.

Before starting anything, hold detailed interviews with the customer to determine how the work is supposed to progress.

This is the part where questions are asked, and doubts are cleared.

Interviews with the customer are of critical importance, as they help set the expectations for the project and ensure that the agency doesn’t have to worry about scope creep later on.

ii. Market/Industry Research

What’s the industry doing about similar projects?

From running market surveys to reviewing similar projects produced within the industry, this is when you set project expectations and create benchmarks.

By conducting industry research, an agency can better establish the project’s goals.

More importantly, this also helps the project managers understand where the agency can add more value to the project.

iii. Competitor Research

Whereas market research deals with the industry, competitor research focuses on other digital agencies operating in a similar niche. During this part of the project discovery phase, the onus lies in finding out the standard of quality that your competitors maintain and the kind of products they make.

The discovery phase of project management will also give you a better idea about the variation in pricing and allow you to charge a competitive fee from clients. Also, through competitor research, you can find gaps for improvement that your competitors are missing.

iv. Think Like a User 

Getting into the shoes of the ideal audiences of your clients is crucial.

While your interviews with the clients will give you a fair idea of their target audience, you’ll also need to conduct research to understand their target audience.

This will help you produce something that your clients’ audiences will appreciate. And isn’t that truly the end goal of any project?

4. Presenting the Solutions


Once the initial research has been carried out during the project discovery phase and solutions have been identified, you must present your findings to the client.

Create a comprehensive presentation and an overview of the dashboards that will be monitored throughout the project (if any custom ones are created).

The project manager will present the solution and the value offered by the agency during the discovery phase of project management.

To communicate their idea better, project managers use a variety of visual aids, such as wireframes. Numerous web design tools can be used to create wireframes and detailed outlines.

5. Establishing the Timeline and Budget


One of the most critical steps in the project discovery phase is the establishment of milestones and detailed budget estimations.

During this stage, identify any potential bottlenecks that may delay the project or lead to problems and create a comprehensive timeline for all the different stages of the project.

Along with that, the agency is responsible for presenting a detailed budget highlighting all of the costs likely to be incurred throughout the project’s duration.

If an accurate budget cannot be created, use an estimation instead.

It’s important for the project manager to present the timeline and the budget to the clients and get them to sign off on it.

It’ll help greatly with client management and allow the agency to allocate resources accordingly. Moreover, once you have a preliminary agreement in place, you will have the peace of mind that the client isn’t going to renege on their word.

6. Identify and Agree on Next Steps


Once you’ve finalized the details of the project discovery phase, you can share these with the client and start discussions about starting the project.

This is a formality in most cases, but you never know when a client might pitch in with one of their own ideas or ask you to change things.

Collaborate closely with the clients and let them know where the project stands and how you plan to proceed. If they have a suggestion, you can incorporate it to save precious time and money.

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How to Nail the Discovery Phase

One of the best ways to nail the discovery phase is to create a detailed project map.

This map will highlight the different stages of the project and the key deliverables. You can then create a comprehensive dashboard that makes it easy for all parties associated with the project to monitor it whenever they like.

Once you have done extensive research, share it with the clients and get their feedback.

Nail the discovery phase by collaborating closely with your clients. Incorporate their suggestions, and ensure both parties are on the right track.

If you haven’t yet signed the agency contract, now might be the right time to plan and create one. Build a copy for the client’s perusal and get them to sign off on that. This way, you will have everything down before the project formally gets underway.

Above all, you will have the assurance that the client is on board with the journey map you have created.

The Project Discovery Checklist

The following project discovery checklist will make it easy for you to figure out whether you have covered all essential elements during the discovery phase:

  • Have all relevant requirements for the project been taken down?
  • Have you calculated the resources to be used for the project?
  • Have the resources been allocated appropriately?
  • Has the timeline been created? Have you added a few days of leeway in case of unforeseen circumstances?
  • Have appropriate budget estimations been created, checked, and verified?
  • Have detailed research reports been produced regarding competitor and market research?
  • Has the client been presented with a journey map for how the project will proceed?
  • Have the client’s suggestions been incorporated into the project?
  • Has the company created detailed dashboards to monitor the project’s performance?
  • Have relevant contracts been signed?

Some Tools for a Project Discovery Phase

There are project frameworks available that you can use as tools to formulate the project discovery document for your agency and the client.

Let’s explore them down yonder:

  • SWOT analysis: This tool offers you a matrix that you can fill in to clarify the project discovery phase. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats are the 4 compartments of the matrix.
    Fill in each area with the information available to you. You can also request clarity from your client if the need arises.
  • SOAR analysis: SOAR has two primary differences when compared to SWOT. A and R stand for Aspirations and Results, respectively. This can often be a better-suited matrix for agencies and clients because it focuses on aspirations and outcomes rather than weaknesses and threats.
  • Mind mapping: A tool to visualize the project’s journey and the final results and carefully scribbling points that’ll help you get there.

The Bottom Line

A well-executed project discovery phase doesn’t just make things easy for your agency, but it also helps you get in your clients’ good books.

Clients prefer to work with organized agencies, and this is a great way for you to ensure that everything happens smoothly and the project is completed on time. Additionally, consider enrolling your project managers in a comprehensive course for PMP certification, as this can further enhance your agency’s project management capabilities.

If you’re creating a business website or an ecommerce store, don’t forget to choose the right web hosting. With us, you don’t have to worry about expensive pricing or overcrowded web hosting servers.

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Najam Ahmed

I work as a digital content producer at Cloudways. Besides that, I love to read, and i love to play the guitar. Fan of all things Arsenal and the Patriots. Occasional gamer. I like to fly drones too. Jack of all trades.


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