Discovery phase

Discovery is the third User Centred Design (UCD) phase but the first of the delivery phases.

Why do we need the Discovery phase?

The Discovery phase ensures the team frames their understanding of the problem around the users’ experience and challenges their preconceived ideas about what the problem and solution might be.

Typically, the discovery phase spans five weeks.

What happens in the Discovery phase?

To ensure the team frames their understanding of the problem:

  • All the channels and touchpoints of the service (end-to-end and not just digital) that a user experiences will be examined.
  • The user researcher will work with the team to plan the research and establish a recruitment strategy.
  • All user research will be recorded and mapped to gain an understanding of touchpoints, pain points and opportunities. For more information see User research.
  • Clarify the government’s policy intent for the service so you can align this with user needs.
  • Understand the business processes associated with the service by business process mapping.
  • If there are any obvious technical, legislative or other constraints relating to the service these will also need be understood during this phase.

How long does the Discovery phase last?

Typically, the Discovery phase spans five weeks.

Starting the Discovery phase

Before starting a Discovery, revisit the activities from the Mobilisation phase. Any uncompleted activities must take priority.

Ensure you have your team established. See Building a UCD team for the resources required for this phase.

Discovery starts with a kick-off session with the whole UCD team, plus subject matter experts and business owners. It is helpful for senior stakeholders to drop in for a short while too.

Kicking off typically involves a collection of high-energy collaborative workshops over the course of two days.

2 days All team members Establish the team to allow them to really understand the skills and interests of the team. Team-building exercise.
   Understand what you already know about the problem. Build a vision statement of what you are trying to do.
   Understand the hopes and concerns about the Discovery phase and how they can be mitigated.

Define what success looks like at the end of the Discovery phase:

  • What do you want to find out?
  • What artefacts will be produced?
   Identify timeframes, milestones and how/when you'll report back to stakeholders.

Agree on team principles:

  • values and the ground rules
  • operating rhythm and team rituals: stand-ups, planning, showcases and retrospectives
  • channels you will use to communicate
  • keeping track of the tasks  you're working on (e.g. JIRA, Kanban wall)
  • where you'll be based
  • who will be working on what.

User research

In order to build a service that works for users you need to understand what the users really need, expect, prefer and actually experience when interacting with the service.

User research needs to cover a wide range of users and show that you understand how different user scenarios may impact service design and delivery.

For more information, see User research.

Journey mapping

A journey map is an output of user research. It is a way of recording what you have learned by recording the steps to complete the service, users’ emotional state and pain points. For more information see journey mapping.

Mapping the technology and data

Understanding the existing IT systems, data stores and in-flight programs of work will give the team greater visibility of how solutions could fit into the existing technology landscape, and inform the longer-term roadmap for the service. For more information see Service Map..

At the end of the Discovery phase, you’ll have a good understanding of the users’ needs, and the service landscape. You should use this understanding to create your view of the ideal service by creating a hypothesis, the starting point for further investigation. Your hypothesis should define the target state for your service.

For example: "What if one of our user groups no longer had to come into the service centre to perform x, how might we complete an application without them completing the 4 different forms in a centre?”

We believe that…

We know we have succeeded when…

By defining your hypothesis in the discovery phase, you give yourself the opportunity to test what you think the solution to your problem is before developing the actual solution. During the Alpha phase, the hypothesis will be tested with a number of possible solutions.

Note: a hypothesis is not the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The scope of the MVP is defined at the end of the Alpha phase, and not before then.

At the end of discovery, you should report your findings in a ‘Discovery Document’. This can be shared with senior stakeholders and across government. Your discovery document should include:

  • An overview of the approach you took and who you engaged with.
  • The artefacts you’ve produced, including a service map.
  • The major findings that emerged from user research and the technology discovery.
  • Recommendations and hypotheses you’re going to test during Alpha.

At the end of discovery your team should be confident that you have met the first three criteria of the Digital Service Standard.

  1. Understand user needs.
  2. Research to develop a deep knowledge of the users and their context for using the service.
  3. Establish a sustainable multi disciplinary team to design, build, operate and iterate the service, led by an experienced product manager with decision-making responsibility.

A Digital Service Standard Kanban Board  (PDF, 174.0 KB) will help teams to track the activities and artefacts as they occur, demonstrating how the team is meeting the Standard.

Example of a Digital Service Standard kanban board in use.


*    Has the team completed a kick-off?
*    Has the team prepared a vision statement and pinned it on the wall?
*    Has the team agreed to a working rhythm?
*    Has a working space been identified to fit the team?
*    Has a user research plan been developed and shared with the team?
*    Has the team developed a journey map and is it visible to your team?
*    Has the team developed a service map?
*    Has the team self-assessed against the Digital Service Standard?
*    Has the team contributed to the discovery deck to report back the findings?

Next phase

The next phase is Alpha.