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  1. Service manual
  2. Agile delivery
  3. How the discovery phase works

Before you start building a service, you need to find out whether users need it and whether other services exist.

This part of your project is called the discovery phase.

Before starting discovery, you must check if you need spend controls approval to spend money on your service.

You shouldn’t start building your service in discovery.

What to find out in discovery

In the discovery phase you need to understand and map out the user journey.

You should find out:

  • who your users are
  • your users’ needs and how you’re meeting them, or any needs you’re not meeting
  • which services currently meet your users’ needs and whether they’re government services or private sector
  • how you’d start developing a new service if your discovery finds there’s a user need for one
  • the people you need on your team for the alpha phase
  • what the user journey for someone using your proposed service might look like
  • what to name your proposed service
  • how to meet government accessibility requirements
  • how you might build a technical solution given the constraints of your organisation’s legacy systems
  • the policy that relates to your service and how it might prevent you from delivering a good service to your users

What to do in discovery

To get the information you need in discovery, you can:

You shouldn’t use discovery to design a service to work around existing processes in your organisation. Use it to find out whether you can build a service that meets user needs.

The team you need

Find out how to set up a service team at each phase.

How long discovery takes

Every service is different, but depending on the size and complexity of your service, your discovery should usually take between 4 and 8 weeks.

During the final week you should:

  • make a broad scope for your project
  • write user stories
  • decide the features your ‘minimum viable product’ must have

A minimum viable product is a version of your service that has just enough features for you to test it with users and check whether those features work.

How you know discovery is finished

Discovery is finished when you know:

  • the scope of the service you want to build
  • whether to move into the alpha phase
  • the team of people you need if you do move on to alpha
  • that senior stakeholders want to begin building the service and understand your plans
  • how you’ll measure success and what a successful service would look like
  • any related services that exist to meet the user need and whether they’re run by government or third parties - your service shouldn’t be duplicating another government service and it should only meet needs government is uniquely positioned to deliver
  • how impairments might affect your users - for example, visual, hearing, motor and cognitive (memory and thinking) impairments
  • how many of your users need assisted digital support and what their needs are

You should have:

  • a prioritised list of user needs
  • a prioritised list of user stories
  • a list of stakeholders, and information you’ve got from them about existing services

Moving on to the alpha phase

You should move on to the alpha phase if your discovery findings show:

  • you can build a service that better meets user needs compared to what’s currently available
  • the service you’re building will be better value for money

Stopping after discovery

Your findings may show it’s best to stop developing your service, for example if you discover:

  • there’s no user need for the service you planned to build or for an online service
  • user needs are already being met by another service
  • technology or policy constraints mean you won’t be able to build a service that meets the user needs you’ve found
  • it’s not cost-effective to develop the service

It’s not a failure to stop developing a service after the discovery phase if your findings show that’s the best thing to do.

You may also find these guides useful:

Published by:
Agile delivery community
Last update:

Added guidance on how to meet government accessibility requirements in discovery.

  1. Guidance first published