Pre Discovery is a thing.

I am often asked: “What is Pre Discovery”?

Pre Discovery is helpful for teams working on existing products and services where data can be gathered from internal resources. It should underpin the User Research Discovery themes and will make a big difference to the users approached and the questions asked during Discovery.

Teams with an existing service will have questions such as:

  • How frequently is our service currently used?
  • What is the demographic of the current user base?
  • What have our users already told us about the current product?
  • What are users pain points?
  • What do users do before arriving in our service?
  • What do users do after using our service?
  • What are the main outcomes from using our service?

Teams should list out the many dozens of questions they may need to answer through Discovery and then assess whether any internal data sources will answer this before kicking off new research.

Why more Pre Discovery is helpful

Discovery is a awesome, challenging and rewarding too. Meeting users, getting immersed in their environment, understanding nuances in their needs. But Discovery is expensive and time consuming so we need to do try and answer questions effectively, in a targeted way.

Here is my Pre Discovery checklist:

  • Review all previous research reports and surveys to identify relevant insight about a thing
  • Speak to service desk and review a sample of relevant service tickets
  • Review analytics and performance data for the thing
  • Review business case and benefits case for the thing, to see what benefits we expect users will see
  • Run a quick session with Sales or Implementation team to understand if there is knowledge or previous evidence about the thing
  • Highlight in a service map where the thing sits in relation to other things
  • Evaluate the benefits of fixing the thing

Teams may say these activities should just happen in Discovery…

While possibly true, most teams need to raise funding to pursue Discovery research and delivery projects and Pre Discovery may be helpful to flesh out the business case and specify some problems to solve.

Gathering user research evidence for benefits early sets in motion good practice that should be continued through Discovery and Alpha. This also can help a team quickly surface all the key issues whether they need further understanding.

Gathering this data during Pre Discovery won’t help you to confirm user needs, you will still need depth Discovery research. It also won’t help you identify the best solution, you will also need Alpha research and iterative design .

More benefits of Pre Discovery

Pre Discovery gives researchers some time to start thinking about finding the right users and starting recruitment so there is a seamless transition into Discovery when an Agile team may scale out and exploratory research and technical work really kicks off in earnest.

Pre Discovery usually involves a limited number of roles too. A User Researcher, UX Designer, Service Designer and Business Analyst. It can take a few days to a few weeks to gather relevant insights.

The final act.

Pitch your Pre Discovery evidence to key stakeholders and sponsors why they should buy in to fixing “the thing”. Why should they continue into Discovery research / iterative Alpha development. Give them a flavour of the future, how will the world be better when we fix the thing?

Keeping momentum

If more business cases were based on User Needs and Pre Discovery evidence with further staged funding towards the end of Discovery/Alpha, there would surely be a lot less disappointment for users and stakeholders. Less feature commitments will be promised that are later abandoned quietly during Discovery or Alpha, and importantly less irrelevant, implausible and impassable features will continue through to live service deployment.

Getting started isn’t always easy — Chicken or egg first? How do you complete a Pre Discovery on the thing without funding or resource? Breaking the cycle is challenging especially when most teams I work with are already at capacity with promised work.

Innovative organisations embed Pre Discovery into their standard process to keep the UR and UX wheels progressing autonomously and to ensure that product strategy and product decisions are based on both user needs and business needs.

For next time

We have just completed Pre Discovery and Discovery for a new feature within an existing service, more about that is pegged for a future post.

In the mean time, it would be great to hear your stories of Pre Discovery!


This post was originally on Medium