What are the needs of your users? What services currently meet those? How are they performing? What technological or policy related constraints might there be?

Before you start building a service you need to build up a picture of what the context for that service is. That means lots of user research, close analysis of policies, laws and business needs, and workshops and interviews which establish the criteria for success of your service.


Watch Aleks Maricic, GDS Proposition Manager, describe the discovery phase.

The discovery phase will give you a high-level understanding of user needs, what the existing service landscape looks like and a sense of what your initial prototypes will explore.

You’ll need to think about user needs for digital and assisted digital users. As a start, you’ll need to understand what proportion of your users you think will need assisted digital support.

The high-level business context will become clear, and you’ll begin setting targets for your KPIs.

You’ll also get a better understanding of the legacy interfaces and infrastructure you must deal with, and what existing processes are in place for replacing or decommissioning these.

This information is found through:

  • workshops
  • simple mock ups
  • paper prototypes
  • plenty of whiteboard diagrams

The team

A small team will be required, consisting of your stakeholders and any core team members that have been identified, including the service manager.


The phase should not take longer than 4 to 8 weeks. During the final week you should be setting up the broad scope of a project and an initial set of user stories (also known as a backlog) to work to. This is known as an ‘inception’. At the end of the phase a decision should be made whether to proceed to the alpha phase.


You will leave the discovery phase with:

  • a prioritised list of user needs
  • a prioritised list of story cards to feed into project teams
  • an understanding of the team and the capabilities required to complete the project
  • the ability to scope and plan an alpha
  • a decision to progress to next phase
  • maybe some rough prototypes
  • maybe some user personas
  • a list of stakeholders and input from them about existing services
  • understanding of existing services, including those run by non-government sources
  • understanding of how many of your users will need assisted digital support, and what their user needs are