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Rediscovering your digital service – why HMRC ran a new discovery phase

Aug 2016

At Bit Zesty, we take an agile approach to running projects. Agile projects start with a “discovery” phase. This is when you find out who your users are and what they need from your service.

But over time these things can, and do, change.

At some point you’ll start to notice that user needs have shifted, or that people want to use your service in a different way. This is when you may want to consider running a new discovery phase – a “rediscovery”.

Continuous improvement vs rediscovery

In 2012, we worked with the Government Digital Service (GDS) and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to develop a new Trade Tariff digital service. This tool is used by companies and individuals who want to import or export goods.

For us at Bit Zesty, the development of a digital service isn’t over once it’s launched. After “go live” we moved the Trade Tariff service into “continuous improvement”, where we regularly evaluated it to identify ways it could be further enhanced.

Continuous improvement tends to focus on small, iterative enhancements. However, there comes a point when you have to take a step back and consider whether more significant changes and further user research are needed.

This is the point we reached with Trade Tariff, and why HMRC engaged us to run a rediscovery for the service.

4 signs you need a rediscovery

  1. Your users tell you they need something differentWhen we developed the Trade Tariff service, we built in tools to allow users to give their feedback easily (this is one of the requirements in the GDS Digital Service Manual).People used these feedback tools and other channels to let HMRC know about new features they needed and things which weren’t working as they expected.


  2. The data tells you something’s not rightTrack your service’s analytics over time. Is there an increase in drop-offs in part of a process? Are more users “getting lost” and visiting the same page several times? Things like this suggest that something needs to change.You can also look at service data from other channels. For example, HMRC noticed that new or novice users who contacted them for help were “getting stuck” at similar points when using the service.


  3. An external factor causes a shift in user behaviourSometimes, something you can’t control causes a step change in your users’ needs or behaviour. This could be a competitor launching a new service, a change in legislation, or a new technology gaining popularity. When this happens you may need a formal and thorough review to assess how to respond.For example, during the initial Trade Tariff discovery in 2012, users overwhelmingly told us they would only access the service on desktop devices. HMRC took creating a mobile-friendly version of the service out of scope – it would have added complexity and time to the project for functionality users said they didn’t need. By 2015, user needs had changed – more and more people wanted to access the service on mobile devices.


  4. Your ongoing user research highlights changing needsAfter you launch a digital service, you’ll ideally move it into a continuous improvement phase. When we manage continuous improvement we run regular user research sessions to test changes with users. These sessions can bring to light new or evolving user needs. 

How is a rediscovery different to a discovery?

In many ways running a rediscovery is similar to running your initial discovery. During the Trade Tariff rediscovery we reviewed user feedback and service analytics. We conducted thorough user research and updated user personas. These are all things you’d also do in discovery, but there are some differences between discovery and rediscovery:

  • The focus is narrowerDuring an initial discovery phase your user research could take you in any direction, but a rediscovery is more focused and structured. You (and your users) have lived with the service for some time. You have a clearer sense of where you need to go and what questions need answering. 
  • You’re looking for incremental improvements, not a big bangWhen we work with GDS or other organisations on a digital transformation project, we’re helping them make a step change in the way they deliver their service. The discovery phase reflects this – nothing is off the table.When you have a successful live service used by thousands of people each day, a lot of things may be off the table! You have parameters to work within and you’re not looking to completely overhaul the service. You run a rediscovery to identify the incremental changes that will deliver the greatest improvements in user experience.


  • It’s an opportunity to verify your original user researchA rediscovery is an opportunity to evaluate and verify the findings of your initial discovery. Are they still accurate and relevant?It’s also a chance to extend and enhance your original user research. For example, if time constraints limited the depth or scope of your initial discovery, you could use a rediscovery to conduct in-depth research with key user groups.


Revisit, review, rediscover

User needs and behaviour aren’t static, they change and evolve over time. Your digital service must do the same.

A continuous improvement approach is key, but so is recognising when it’s time to pause, review what you’ve learnt, revisit what your users need, and (re)discover the next phase of your service’s journey.

Do you need help creating or improving a digital service? Contact Matthew, our Technical Director, today on +44 207 125 0160 or drop him a line on [email protected] for a free consultation.

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