Want to run a retrospective on your organisation’s approach to discovery? Discovery is the most critical stage in developing a product or service so it’s important to learn from past experiences and improve. Here’s an approach that a few of us took in UK government, it’d be great to know what other people have done.

How did we get here?

Back in March, I asked the following question in the cross-government Slack: “Would at least a couple of other people be interesting in creating a cross-government, discovery community of interest?”

My assumptions were that:

  • discovery is hard
  • it’s often the most difficult phase for teams
  • it’s often the phase where wide-ranging insights and challenge is the most valuable
  • people have done it before and a lot has been learned that can be shared more widely.

Fast forward a couple of months, and a bunch of us decided to run a retrospective of UK government’s use of discovery over the last few years, so that we can learn and improve. The things we learned have been shared in a Google Doc for the last few weeks but some government departments can’t access Google Docs and a few people outside of government said they’d like to see what was learned too, so here they are on an easily accessible blog.

I’ve taken the approach of splitting our retro into three posts in order to keep things short and snappy:

  • this first post explains the questions we asked in our retrospective
  • the second post will share the themes that emerged from our retrospective
  • the third post will share hypotheses for improving discoveries, based on the themes that emerged.

What did we ask in our retrospective of discoveries in government?

Rob Banathy, Helen Mott, Rob Stirling, Iain Gordon and me developed these questions, that worked pretty well following a couple of tweaks and additions. Hopefully these questions are useful if you want to carry out your own retrospective - if we all use similar questions then it will help to compare findings.

1.What was your discovery?

  • What was the problem space? (very short description!)
  • Were you a stakeholder or part of the development team?
  • Did you have to meet the Digital by Default service standard because of the number of transactions your service would process, or did you chose to be Digital by Default?
  • Was the problem space quite undefined or well defined?
  • How much budget did you have for the discovery? Was there any budget set for the delivery?
  • Was it for a high profile delivery? Was it urgent?

2.What did you do during your discovery?

  • How did you know where to start?
  • Where did your brief come from?
  • What were the outputs?
  • What were the outcomes?
  • How long did it take?
  • How did you feel about the Discovery once it was finished?

3.How did you know who know who should be in your Discovery team?

  • Who was in your discovery team?
  • Where team members full time?

4.Did you have any blockers to discovery?

5.What discovery guidance did you use? Any recommendations for particularly useful guidance?

6.Post-discovery (in Alpha or Beta, for example) did you find something you wished you’d uncovered during discovery?

7.Is there a write-up, case study or blog about your discovery? If not, would they be willing to work with?

Next post: themes that emerged from our retrospective of discovery in government.