A good outcome for a pre-discovery project

Before discussing what makes a pre-discovery project successful, it’s essential to understand its purpose and goals.

What is a pre-discovery project?

A pre-discovery project allows organisations to explore and evaluate an idea or concept and decide whether it’s worth pursuing. Clients conduct pre-discoveries before committing to further (and sometimes) significant investments.

The goal of the pre-discovery project

A pre-discovery project’s primary goal is to assess if a problem exists. This involves agreeing on a definition of the problem, understanding who the affected people are, and evaluating the value of addressing it before investing resources in further exploration.

Pre-discovery projects help organisations make informed decisions and minimise the risk of failure by analysing and evaluating a proposed project. Additionally, a pre-discovery project can help organisations to identify new opportunities and innovative approaches to address business challenges. Therefore, it is an important stage in the project development process to help organisations save time, money, and resources in the long run.

The pre-discovery process

The process involves exploring what is already known about an issue, understanding its users, and identifying potential opportunities before presenting clients with insights, recommendations or guidance for a go or no-go for future investigation, testing, or development.

The final presentation and report help clients determine if the perceived problem or opportunity is a valid concern, if the opportunity aligns with their business strategy and if it is worth addressing now. Additionally, the feasibility of solving the issue is examined.

What I do as a service designer in the pre-discovery phase

As a service designer, I frequently collaborate with a user researcher or perform user research to gain insights into potential users’ and stakeholders’ needs, behaviours, and pain points.

I also collect and evaluate existing data to comprehend the scope of the problem or opportunity.

To analyse research findings, I use various tools and techniques to identify patterns and themes and then create service design artefacts. One size does not fit all, so I use the most appropriate tools and methods to present compelling stories to my clients.

A good outcome in pre-discovery

In pre-discovery, a good outcome is to gather enough evidence so clients can make an informed decision about whether or not to pursue a project. This may involve deciding on the following:

  • You have enough evidence to justify further exploration and investment in the project.
  • Not to proceed with the project.

My experience of working on pre-discovery

My most successful projects have involved clients who are not wedded to a specific idea or solution but are open-minded. For example, I have written about my experience working on pre-discovery projects at HMRC’s Policy Lab.

Nothing is more exciting than clients eager to come along on the journey and hear the insights my team and I deliver. The outcome of the best projects is where clients can agree on a clear direction backed by evidence.

I’ve never made policy with such a strong evidence base before.



Conducting a pre-discovery project can be invaluable to an organisation in many ways.

Often, a project is too advanced to be halted when it reaches the delivery phase. At this point, teams and stakeholders may have lost sight of whether the project solves the right problem or if the agreed-upon approach truly benefits everyone involved.

Pre-discovery and later discovery phase projects assist clients and stakeholders in taking stock and evaluating whether they are moving in the right direction. Therefore, they are an essential first step before progressing through the phases of agile delivery.

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