Phase One: Discovery


Separate Discovery

A separate discovery is a solid way for us to get a feel for a project without committing to it. It is billed out separately from the rest of the project, usually at a flat rate.

The Usual First Steps

  • Kickoff meeting
  • Kickoff meeting notes posted to Basecamp
  • Content and UX inventory
  • Strategy doc with team recommendations

How it Works

During the team call with the client, before anything is signed, the team may suggest a separate discovery. This is a flat-rate exploration phase that allows us to analyze and provide recommendations for the project based on all information available (current desires, marketing materials, business goals, etc.).

It also allows both sides the chance to see how we work together. Plus, we have a solid idea of the scope of the whole project so we can see if nGen is a fit for both the client and the project.

Discovery is made up of three basic steps: audit, analysis, and strategy.


The audit phase is vital to a meaningful discovery. Here we ask a lot of questions and compile all relevant data.

The basics of an audit:

  • Team: Ask a lot of questions
  • Team: Define and interview stakeholders (client, internal employees, customers, support) to clarify business and project goals
  • Designer: Create a list of current brand attributes
  • Team: Identify all available client resources and online/offline supporting materials that help define the context of the project (current app or site documentation, support resources, marketing materials, media, manuals, in-house design team, training, etc.)
  • Content strategist: Create a document outlining current tone, voice, and core messaging
  • Content strategist: Create a content inventory
  • UX/developer: Create a functionality inventory
  • UX/developer: Perform heuristic analysis
  • Team: Review analytics of current site or app and other relevant statistics
  • Team: Assess current and future project resources, including the client’s team availability and involvement
  • Developer: Determine if an app is required and if so, general expectations for functionality, integration, marketing and API specifications
  • Developer: Explore what kind of hosting needs the client has based on the projected user traffic, server and security requirements, and budget
  • Developer: Determine whether the project will need to be set on a specific framework or CMS, existing platforms, or integration with other services


After compiling our data, we need to organize it and create meaningful patterns.

What’s included in an analysis:

  • UX, Designer, Content strategist: Do an analysis of client’s current branding and identity, user flow, tone, voice, and messaging
  • Conduct a competitive analysis of the above
  • Conduct user testing, whenever possible, to determine both the positives and the pitfalls of current product or service


Once we’ve organized the information, it’s time to create a document outlining recommendations for how we plan to follow through.

What’s included in our strategy document:

  • A breakdown of each area that we’d like to focus on with recommendations
  • Content strategist, Designer, UX, Dev: Competitive gaps; areas where competition kicks ass or falls short
  • Ways we can make the client fresh: new approaches, design elements, technologies
  • Plan for implementation (rollout strategy) with rough timeline
  • Any areas of concern that require more exploration or attention
  • Explanation of our approach and process
  • The team members who will be involved and their respective roles
  • Market analysis, “straw men” (unresearched) personas
  • List of components anticipated for the project (e.g. API needs, payment gateway, forms, member sign-ins)

What’s NOT included:

  • sitemaps (unless this has been specifically discussed and included in the scope)
  • design or brand attributes
  • wireframes
  • content
  • prototypes
  • design templates
  • development

Here’s an example of a Discovery proposal response we’ve sent.

You now have the strategy and recommendations you need to make a solid estimate regarding the scope and budget. It’s time for the team to present the findings to the client, led by the project manager. Once the client has had a little time to “live” with the strategy/recommendation and if both the team and the client are feeling great about moving forward, a quick follow-up meeting to discuss implementation and next steps will help keep things moving. Be sure to get approval of any scope defining documents such as a list of the expected components because the client will have clarity on how additional things change the agreed upon scope.

A separate discovery is a good way to audit the types of clients nGen wants to work with.


If the client agreed during the initial team call to a separate discovery—prior to nGen providing a final proposed budget—this is the time when the formal estimate and contract would be completed and presented to the client for approval.

Traditional Discovery

If a project is small, involves super-simple design or functionality or has a tighter budget, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to do a separate discovery; a standard one will work. All the steps are the same, but the discovery phase is estimated as a portion of the entire project (usually 10-15% of a total budget, depending on the complexity and goals) and the formal documentation is more flexible. Since discovery blends into the definition phase, we want to present our understanding of the project before the definition phase begins so we all agree on what we’re building. Essentially, we present our findings, estimated components needed, and recommendations for the site.

In a traditional discovery, we must informally scope the project before doing any formal exploration into the prospective client’s goals and needs. This means we are presenting a range of numbers in the signed proposal which will change as our understanding of the project evolves. But we always retain the ability to go back and re-estimate when there any changes to what is outlined during discovery and this clause is included in the proposal. We typically aim for a separate discovery since it allows us to know the ins and outs before we get in too far.

If there are any concerns (especially with regard to what is covered within the scope), we work towards a strategy internally before presenting it to the client to prevent any broken promises or scope issues. Once we’ve completed and presented our discovery recommendations, be sure to get written approval from the client. After discovery is complete, our team should have a better idea of the overall scope of the project, and can reference these documents to manage scope creep. Any requests that are brought in after this phase are considered work outside of the initial scope and require an additional estimate.



Regardless of the type of Discovery done, the client will be sent a Basecamp message each Monday updating them on the progress of the phase.