Why We Do: Discovery

By Shabnam Gideon

When I joined Focus Lab, potential projects were subjected to a fairly standard scoping process before being priced and proposed. There was a formula to the scoping of brand, interactive, and/or dev work, and, with few exceptions, it had served us well for years.

Disccovery 1

discover (v) 1. to become aware of a fact or situation

Then came the second (the first I'd only heard about) eye-opening example of not only scope creep but also straight-up miscommunication over our vs. our clients' understanding of the identified scope of work. Those hit us hard, one because of the extended and indeterminate timeframe, and the other because we simply didn’t have the number of people or the type of skill sets that our clients were under the impression we had. These were tough, tough moments, and we knew we had to change the way we clarified project requirements and understandings.


discover (v)
2. to find someone or something unexpectedly or in the course of a search

So we started asking more and more questions from the get-go. We asked about requirements and limitations, about outcomes and deliverables, even about personality types and communication styles because those helped us gauge the nature of the working relationship. As I'm sure you know, it takes time and dedication to spend that much time with a client before they're actually your client.

We were starting to see how worthwhile those questions were not only to us in understanding our clients' needs but also to our clients (who of course come from a variety of industries) in having full awareness of what they were embarking upon, validation of why they sought to work with us, and a clear roadmap for their future. These high-level revelations alone carry significant value.


discover (v)
3. to be the first to recognize the potential of something

Enter the paid Discovery: a defined, contractual engagement that allows us to properly scope and schedule a project, and allows our clients to feel confident that we'll achieve their goals within the specified cost and timeframe. The more questions we can ask and answer up-front, the more likely it is that we can honor budgets, timelines, and our pipeline.

The intended outcomes vary across brand, interactive, and development discoveries, but the idea is the same: to uncover the goals, possibilities, and unknowns in a project so that all parties go into it with eyes wide open. We tell our Discovery clients that it is more important in this phase to uncover the questions that need to be answered than to answer the questions we already know about. We also tell them that the findings we deliver are theirs to use as they wish, even if they choose not to move into production with us.


We've been conducting full paid Discoveries for more than six months now. All completed Discoveries have moved into production with us, and, excluding forecasted change orders, 100% have reached completion within the projected timeframe and budget. We're still learning and refining our process, but both our team and our clients have enjoyed and benefitted immensely from this approach.