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Thanks to Steve Parks from Convivio for the image!

The State of the Discovery Phase — Takeaways from UKGovCamp18 and OneTeamGov

Alastair Lee
Jan 24, 2018 · 4 min read

Hi, I’m Al from Pilot Works. We’re a consultancy specialising in digital product discovery.

We work across sectors, doing product discovery work, but also helping teams adopt best practice through coaching and training.

We are particularly in interested in the public sector and the way that the Discovery and Alpha phases are working in the development of digitally enabled government services in the UK.

So we went to UK Gov Camp and One Team Gov Wales recently and facilitated sessions to discuss how things are going.

Here’s what we learned:

Discovery remains undervalued and misunderstood by many stakeholders and sponsors

Again and again, we heard about situations where senior people had pre-conceived ideas and just wanted to get on with building them.

Discovery in this context is an exercise in validation rather than exploration.

It means asking closed or evaluative questions rather than open, generative ones. It means skimping on time and people. It makes the whole process a box ticking exercise. And it means you may miss out on the opportunity to make a big difference.

As Leisa Reichelt so rightly says in her post

If you set out to validate, you won’t learn what you don’t know. What you don’t know is the thing that will ultimately make your project fail.

Would this happen if Discovery phases were subject to a GDS service assessment? That’s worth exploring.

It’s not always clear when Discovery ends and Alpha begins

There was some uncertainty on what the outcomes and outputs from the Discovery phase should be.

In a culture that values stuff getting built, there appears to be a tendency to start prototyping too early and to narrow focus too soon.

Discovery should be about clearly articulating the problem (user needs, organisational goals and the hard constraints on any solution) with supporting evidence. And then defining and scoping the nature of a potential solution, and identifying important assumptions and ideas to be tested in Alpha.

As Matt Knight pointed out at OneTeamGov Wales — service assessors want to see teams look at a range of solutions in Alpha before settling on one.

But as someone (if it was you let me know) said in our UKGovCamp session

“It’s hard to put a value on the procurement of ‘understand the problem.”

People, time, focus = success factors

When we talked about what went well, the same ingredients kept cropping up:

Exposure to users builds empathy, which helps a lot

We are always enthusing about this, but it was good to hear stories reflecting how bringing stakeholders and team members from different disciplines into direct contact with users helps to change their mindset.

Using quotes and videos in show & tells, and inviting folks along to user research sessions are obvious ways to do this. It’s Discovery’s equivalent of ‘Show the thing’.

So there we have it. A summary of all we heard. Lots to chew on. We will be thinking and blogging ideas for solving the bad bits and for amplifying the good bits as they emerge. We’d love to hear further thoughts from the session participants and any interested parties.

Useful discovery links

We are also running a training course on How to do Discovery on Feb 28th in London.

Pilot Works

Thoughts on Product Discovery and Innovation From the Pilot…

Alastair Lee

Written by

Helping teams design products in tune with humanity. Co-founder at Pilot Works, a product discovery consultancy.

Pilot Works

Thoughts on Product Discovery and Innovation From the Pilot Works Team

Alastair Lee

Written by

Helping teams design products in tune with humanity. Co-founder at Pilot Works, a product discovery consultancy.

Pilot Works

Thoughts on Product Discovery and Innovation From the Pilot Works Team

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