If you have a new web project, one of the very first thoughts you probably have is "How much will it cost to build?". The best tip I can give is if an agency has only received an RFP, no matter the level of details, it will not be enough to determine with any amount of accuracy how much a build will actually be. What you will receive is a BOTE (back of the envelope) calculation or SWAG (scientific wild ass guess) which likely means that throughout the build process, you will either have to cut features to match the budget that was loosely established on unknowns or find additional budget along the way.
WHAT IS A DISCOVERY PHASE?
A Discovery Phase (may also be called Strategy or Excavation at some agencies) is a paid process that is so essential for the success of your new web project for many reasons. Consider this a "dating period" where we are collaboratively getting to know each other. A strategic partner needs to get to know about your business, your audience, your goals and what is working for you (or not) right now.
During this phase, a formal build plan or functional specification, is put together to define and finalize requirements for a new site and exactly how everything will be built in order to accomplish your business goals. At Mediacurrent, this functional specification includes the results of discovering many details for drafting a technical architecture that defines roles, content types, modules, taxonomy, blocks, templates, use cases, candidate Drupal contributed modules that fulfill the documented requirements, any custom modules that need to be built and page descriptions.
Functional wireframes are completed to provide both developers and clients with a visual representation of how the information architecture will be laid out and how all of the functional pieces are going to fit together. Without a wireframe, a developer might spend tons of extra time creating a particular feature only to realize that your expectation was actually very different.
Making changes during this phase is a lot more cost effective than needing to go back and re-architect the foundational elements of the site once building has already begun.
WHO IS PART OF A DISCOVERY PHASE?
This phase is definitely a collaborative process and it is very crucial that key stakeholders of your team are kept in the loop and are able to weigh in throughout this process as this is where important decisions are made that will impact the roadmap to building your site.
There should be a main point person driving the feedback/approval communication to Mediacurrent and is comfortable making decisions for your team. This will ensure that your feedback is communicated clearly to our team, and we can be laser focused on incorporating feedback. We have clients that appoint Project Managers, Marketing Managers, IT Directors, etc. as the main lead on their side for the Discovery effort. This role can vary based on how your internal structure is set up.
The Mediacurrent team generally includes a Lead Architect/Developer, a UX Designer, and a Project Manager at minimum.
WHERE DOES A DISCOVERY PHASE TAKE PLACE?
The best way to kick off a Discovery is beginning with an in-person meeting where your Mediacurrent team comes prepared to ask a lot of questions and learn not only WHAT it is you would like to achieve but WHY. There is a lot of note taking and some white board brainstorming but when we leave your office, we know a lot more about each other and can get started right away.
WHEN DOES A DISCOVERY PHASE HAPPEN?
A proper Discovery Phase should happen before signing an agreement for any subsequent build phases. There is no out of the box timeframe as each project is unique and it depends on the complexity and amount of features we are exploring. Generally, this timeframe can take between 4-6 weeks.
SO WHY GO THROUGH A DISCOVERY PHASE?
Would a new doctor prescribe you medicine over the phone and tell you how much it will cost? No, it is required that you go in and have an exam so that they can really understand your medical history, allergies, symptoms that are making you feel sick that day, etc. Doctors are the experts, but the only way that they are able to customize a solution for you is if they dig deeper into why you called them in order to recommend the best next steps. The cost will be dependent on this custom recommendation,
A home builder is also not going to build a custom home without having a blueprint. There are many factors that go into building a home and you must have a plan so that workers that come in to do the manual labor will know exactly what they are supposed to be building. Sending someone out to build a 3 room house can have a lot of interpretations so without signing off on a plan, you run the probability that you will not get exactly what you are hoping for.
Similarly for web projects, even if you go to experts in the field, determining an accurate level of effort to build a site requires some up-front discovery before any coding is actually done.
To summarize, a Discovery Phase helps to put all parties on the same page. Only when detailed features and functionality have been finalized and a proper build plan has been put together can any agency really provide an accurate look at what it will take to get to the finish line.
This level of pre-planning may cost additional funds up front but will help to alleviate many more expensive surprises down the road.
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