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Why 8 weeks for a Discovery might not be enough?

Helen Taylor

The GDS service manual says: 

There’s no set time period for a discovery, but around 4 to 8 weeks is typical. Let the purpose of your discovery dictate how long you spend on it.

However, many of the service teams we come across interpret this as a maximum of eight weeks.

But from my experience of running over 30 GDS aligned Discoveries within the public sector, I have seen many cases where discovery projects may need to be longer than eight weeks. 

And that’s been the right thing to do.

Here’s a previous blog which highlights the small proportion of a service lifecycle which is made up by the discovery. Allowing a little extra time in discovery when appropriate means very little in the scheme of the full service lifecycle. 

There are three main reasons discoveries can / should take a bit longer:

User recruitment needs more time

Recruiting the right research participants in appropriate numbers  is critical to the validity of a discovery. 

And some types of projects may need extra time to recruit:

  • There has been no or little previous engagement with the user base and recruitment channels need to be established as part of the discovery
  • There is no incumbent service. In this situation users can be less forthcoming to participate in recruitment and more time may be needed to encourage participation
  • The user base is small and needs a more time consuming personal approach to encourage users to participate
  • User participants are vulnerable e.g. adult social care service users. In this situation the recruitment methods and booking-in process can take longer. More time may be needed in discovery for longer and more flexible research sessions.  

The service owners don’t have the necessary capacity

Most service teams plan ahead to reduce their business-as-usual workload before commencing a discovery. 

However the majority of the service teams we work with have not run a discovery before and understandably don’t fully anticipate how much time they need to commit throughout the  discovery.

We have also seen instances when important deadlines fall during a discovery and the owners are  not available for a period. 

These issues can  easily lead to delays. 

See my previous blog about how much time do client teams need to dedicate to a discovery.

Spend time prototyping and getting user feedback

Many of the service owners we work with want to see validation that the recommendations which come out of the discovery are the correct way to proceed. 

So we often spend the final part of a discovery sketching up ideas with users, developing these up into low-fidelity prototypes and getting feedback from users.

This extra thinking and activity set will often mean a longer timescale to the discovery.


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