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The Comprehensive Guide to Digital Project Discovery

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So you’ve been tasked with delivering a digital project. Perhaps it’s a large content-managed website for your organization. Perhaps it’s a web application or a mobile app for your business. Maybe you need to evaluate and hire an agency, or maybe you’re tasked with leading an internal development team. Regardless, the successful delivery of the project is ultimately your responsibility.

That’s risky. And don’t just take our word for it. In 2012, the University of Oxford conducted a study based on over 5,000 IT projects. What did they find?

On average, large IT projects run 45% over budget and 7% over time while delivering 56% less value than predicted. Software projects run the highest risk of cost and schedule overruns.

Yeah… that’s a little scary.

Don’t worry though. There’s a proven process to help avoid that situation; a repeatable model for the Discovery Phase of digital projects we’ve used here at Paper Leaf to help successfully define, scope, build, and launch countless digital client projects totalling in the millions of dollars. And we’ve published that model here, for you, along with numerous tools like printable flashcards, user persona templates, information architecture workbooks, and much more.

standing book with sheets of paper

The Comprehensive Guide to Digital Project Discovery

The Discovery Phase allows us to understand, define, iterate, and ultimately deliver award-winning work for our clients. We’ve written it all out for you, and are providing key downloads too. Feel free to bookmark this page so you can come back and read each article at your leisure, or if you’d rather have these articles delivered to you via email, simply enter your email address below and you’ll immediately get the first article, followed by the rest over the course of a few weeks:

Here’s what this project discovery guide includes:

1. How to Write an Effective Digital Project Brief

Learn why project briefs can’t be neglected, what content the most effective project briefs include and how to get that content. Then, download our free digital project brief template to get started. Read this article →

2. The Ultimate Guide to Writing User Personas

Learn how user personas build on the project brief, why user personas are essential to project success, and how to uncover information about your users and translate them into user personas. Then, download our free user personas template to get started. Read this article →

3. Understanding and Creating User Stories

Learn how to unpack user-centered requirements for your project following a simple workshop. To ensure you follow the right format, grab our free user stories flashcard template, print off your own, and save some cash. Read this article →

4. How to Prioritize User Stories (and Build the Right Features)

Prioritizing user stories ensures your project stays on budget while delivering the highest-value, mission-critical items. Learn how to prioritize user stories and then digitize them using our free digital user story workbook. Read this article →

5. Completing User Stories with Acceptance Criteria

User stories aren’t complete until we understand the criteria used to evaluate them. Learn how to uncover and author acceptance criteria for your project’s user stories – criteria that ensures the right features are built, and are able to be evaluated against clear specifications. Read this article →

6. Why Discovery Audits Matter & How to Do Them

Building a website or application isn’t only about defining what the future state of the product should look like – it’s also about learning from the past. Learn how to run a Discovery Audit on your existing product and processes to make sure you build on what’s working and avoid repeating past mistakes. Download our free Discovery Audit Workbook to execute yours efficiently and effectively. Read this article →

7. How to Properly Execute Information Architecture & User Journeys

Learn how to take everything that’s been done to this point and use it to plan out the architecture for your new site or app. Then, learn how to map out how your users will navigate through the information, ultimately creating an initial user experience blueprint of sorts. Then download our free information architecture template to get started on yours. Read this article →

8. Methods, Tips & Tricks for Effective Prototyping

Learn about the different kinds of prototypes, when to use each, and how to start with pencil and paper to quickly test layouts against user stories and uncover further requirements. You can sketch out these prototypes on our free, printable UI sketching templates, which include mobile, tablet, and desktop views. Read this article →

Follow a Proven Method for Project Success

If you follow the steps outlined in this Discovery model and implement them in the fashion we outline, you will:

  • Dramatically reduce your project risk
  • Exponentially increase your odds of project success
  • Gain new professional skills
  • Discover who your users really are and what they actually need
  • Gather and prioritize functional requirements for your project
  • Align your stakeholders with project needs – which can be a real battle
  • Create a first draft of architecture, user journeys, and even prototypes for your project
  • Be able to confidently hire a development team, whether an agency or internal

The best part? Even if you follow just a few of these steps – say, create a project brief, and write some user personas – you’ll be ahead of the game. Those items can be included in your procurement process, if you’re hiring an agency, or they can be provided to your internal team as a starting point.

If you take it even further and create user stories with acceptance criteria as well as information architecture, user journeys, and pencil & paper prototypes, your production team will be able to effectively estimate on the work. Better yet, you’ll be confident in knowing that what is being estimated on is what should be built – and due diligence has been done.

Get Started on the Right Foot

The Discovery Phase is essential to mitigating risk and delivering a successful digital product, be it a website, web app, or mobile app. The process we’ve outlined here has been battle-tested and iterated on for years, and has helped us grow into an award-winning digital product agency – and now it’s yours, for free.

What are you waiting for?