Discovery: How to Prepare for Success

Taylor Tice - Senior Project Manager

Taylor Tice

Arrows moving around a block representing the discovery process.

Learn more about what we do at Savas to understand our client’s goals and needs to ensure we deliver an exceptional product.

The discovery phase is a vital part of a project’s success. While the discovery phase may look slightly different from project to project, there is a tried and true toolbox of activities that we have at our disposal to inform a project’s approach. This article will provide an overview of those different tools and how we leverage each one to establish a shared understanding with our clients.

The Savas Discovery Toolbox

As a team of strategists, designers, and developers, we have a myriad of tools at our disposal that we can leverage during the discovery phase to achieve our goal of establishing a shared understanding with our client partners of what it is we will be producing or what problems we will be attempting to solve.  

Stakeholder Workshops

The first tool, and most often used, is the Stakeholder Workshop. In our experience, there’s really no substitute for sitting down and talking with our clients and their various, you guessed it, stakeholders that make up the organization. In almost every situation, a website, app, or product exists to serve the needs of multiple groups. These can include the end-user, those responsible for editing or maintaining the product, company leadership, and a host of others. The purpose of these discussions is to understand the goals, needs, motivations, and behaviors of these different groups. 

It’s rare that the goals and needs of these diverse stakeholders perfectly align. Thus, it’s important to identify commonalities, differences, and ultimately prioritize them. These workshop sessions set the foundation for understanding what it is we will be creating and who we’ll be creating it for.

User Journey Mapping

This exercise is most often used to gather a broad view of the user’s entire journey to help uncover sticking points. Our UX Strategists will work with you to map out key touchpoints in the journey that include tasks the user is attempting to complete, platforms or devices used, and potential interactions with people. We then look across this journey to find areas that are providing a great customer experience and attempt to identify potential pain points. 

This exercise helps us understand where the customer’s journey is experiencing friction and provides us with defined areas of focus as we refine an updated experience.

Heuristic Evaluation

When there is a current iteration of a product and we’ve been tasked with creating the next, we often conduct a heuristic evaluation of the existing platform. A heuristic evaluation is a process of identifying problems with usability and experience by measuring a product against a set of recognized usability principles.1 Our UX strategists and designers will inspect a product and document the elements that are difficult to navigate, don’t function as expected, and generally do not adhere to the defined set of usability best practices.

When executing a heuristic evaluation, we can identify issues with navigation, reveal design aspects that hinder the experience, and uncover issues with adherence to accessibility standards. The goal is to identify what issues need to be addressed in the next iteration of the product and thus where to focus our time and energy, rather than investing time into trying to fix something that isn’t broken and already adhering to best practices.

Accessibility Review

Accessibility, and its associated requirements, is often the topic our clients have the most questions about. Having a site that does not meet accessibility requirements, not only impacts the user experience, it can also have legal ramifications as well. As a result, we often conduct a comprehensive accessibility review during the discovery phase for all our website projects.

While accessibility requirements do vary based on compliance level, the requirements center around web elements such as font size, color contrast, screen reader compatibility, and keyboard-only navigation. In conducting our accessibility reviews, we leverage a combination of both automated and manual testing, measuring against the established guidelines and requirements, to ensure all elements are tested thoroughly. A thorough accessibility review ensures that any non-compliant aspects can be properly rectified so that the site can be properly used by all users, regardless of disability.

Sitemap Audit

While a heuristic evaluation can identify issues with a site’s usability and navigation, a sitemap audit takes a deeper dive into the structure and organization of content across the entire site. The first step in the sitemap audit process is to compile a comprehensive list of all pages on the site. This is typically done using an automated web crawling tool that scans the site and pulls each page URL, along with various metadata associated with each page, into a comprehensive XML spreadsheet. Once the crawl has been completed, we review the generated sitemap to identify broken links, 404 errors, redirects, and any pages that may not be properly indexed for search engines.

An extensive sitemap audit serves two primary purposes. First, it ensures that your site is properly configured and structured for search engines to effectively crawl and index your site, which is what allows users to find your site, and its content, when they search for it. Second, it allows us to better organize and structure the content to make it easier for users to find as the peruse the site. Additionally, a sitemap audit provides the opportunity to address redundant, outdated, and trivial content which further serves to improve the user experience.

Analytics Audit

We’re fortunate to have vast amounts of data at our fingertips thanks to powerful tools such as Google Analytics. With heat maps, we can even gather data on specific pages, such as where users are spending their time or which buttons are being clicked the most. Mining this data through the process of an analytics audit, helps us uncover issues that may not be readily apparent from a visual inspection of the site. It also helps affirm what aspects of a site are working well and facilitating the actions we want users to take.

When conducting an analytics audit we also seek to determine who our users are, where they are coming from, and the paths they take when navigating the site. Having quantitative data to pair with qualitative insights, allows us to develop a well-rounded analysis and prove, or disprove, any hypotheses developed during the course of our discovery efforts.

Bar graph and magnify glass graphic to represent an analytics audit.

User Testing

The last tool that we’ll touch on in this post is a collection of activities classified as user testing. Gathering data directly from individuals who represent our target audiences and end-users, can be an incredibly valuable part of a successful discovery phase. User testing can take a variety of forms. In simplest terms, user testing is the process of evaluating user behavior by having them complete a set of pre-defined test scenarios or actions within a live website or prototype.2 For example, test participants for a food delivery app may be asked to execute the process of placing an order. User testing can be observed directly but most commonly is recorded and then analyzed later by our team of strategists, designers, and developers.

User testing allows us to see first-hand how users engage with a product and as a result draw conclusions on its effectiveness and ease of use. Whenever budget and timeline allows, we like to conduct user testing as part of our discovery efforts because of the real-world insights it can provide. Some variations include eye-tracking in which software tracks areas of visual focus on a page, and navigation tree tests in which users are presented with only a site's menu and asked to navigate to the corresponding page for a specific piece of information.

Technical Audit

A technical audit is an important part of the discovery process, particularly when there is an existing site, app, or product. Conducting a technical audit helps us answer the question of how during discovery. How are we going to give users the ability to search the blog posts on our website? How are we going to give users the ability to reserve our services? When a site or product already exists, conducting a technical audit allows us to understand how the product is currently functioning, what is powering that functionality, and identify ways to improve upon the current technical infrastructure.

We often liken the process of a technical audit to that of a mechanic “looking under the hood.”

Aside from being able to tell you that it has an engine and four wheels, there likely isn’t much they will be able to tell you about the state of your car, or how to address any problems it may be having until they take a closer look. During the course of our technical audits, we review and determine things such as how the content management system is structured, what 3rd-party integrations are being leveraged, and what engineering frameworks are being used. Establishing a technical approach during the discovery phase allows us to produce more accurate estimates, and ultimately, a more efficient development phase.

How Discovery Prepares Us for Success

So why is it important to understand how we execute a discovery phase at Savas? The more that you as the client know about what we do, and how we do it, the better our partnership becomes, which ultimately leads to a better product. Conducting a variety of discovery activities and tasks allows us to establish a comprehensive and shared understanding of what we’re creating, how we’re going to create it, and what success ultimately looks like. The importance of establishing this shared understanding at the outset of a project cannot be overstated.

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