When’s the last time your client changed their mind mid-project?

You’re in the middle of a project and the client calls to request changes. But we’re not talking about small design edits. We’re talking about complete, start-from-the-ground-up redesigns that force you to start negotiating for the extra man-hours you’ll inevitably spend.

Like marketing expert Shaun Nestor says, sometimes you can’t stop your client from changing their mind. In many cases, clients contract web development services before they are 100 percent sure what they’re looking for.

But you can set clear expectations early on by investing in project discovery before beginning work. Project discovery takes some time, but it gets everyone involved in a project on the same page. This reduces scope creep, mitigates the risk of performing unnecessary work, and lets you deliver more accurate estimates and timelines.

What is project Discovery?

Project discovery is a roundtable pre-project planning session involving all stakeholders. The goal is for both client and developer to take the time to fully understand every aspect of the project before work begins. It can take between two and four weeks to complete in its entirety.

This period of time is essential for understanding what the client’s needs are, and the conditions by which they expect you to fulfill those needs. It is also a critical step towards getting the client to employ big picture thinking concerning the project, which helps eliminate dreaded mid-project revisions and redesigns.

In most cases, project discovery takes place before any contracts are signed, and the time is paid for in the eventual contract. By only asking for contingent payment, you assume the risk of the client abandoning the project early on – but that is how you separate serious, professional clients who know what they want from the ones most likely to cause problems down the line.

Occasionally, clients don’t want to pay for project discovery and will insist on simply receiving an estimate for work they’ve already outlined. But once you take time to explain how important this step in the process is and how it sets the foundation for smooth, productive collaboration, most will see the value and agree.

Project Discovery for Web Agencies Step-by-Step

The project discovery process usually reduces to five steps for web agencies. In future blog posts, we’ll cover each one of these five steps in greater detail, and refer each to real-world examples where discussing details beforehand saved valuable time and money later on.

1. Identify the Client’s Real Needs

Most clients will come with a list of features they think they need, but end up not taking full advantage of these features later on. This happens because clients tend to base their needs based on what they see on competitor websites. This can be very useful for figuring out what the client’s market position is, but project features must be taken on a case-by-case basis that speaks to the client’s unique value.

This is where a web developer needs to ask questions like, “Why do you need this feature?”, “What are you going to use the data you collect for?” “What industry software can your website interact with?” You may find that certain features simply don’t translate into long-term value.

2. Understand the Client’s Go-To IT Person

Before you begin working on a web development project, you need to know who your point of contact is for technical concerns. Beyond that, you have to get to know that person and understand how the organization’s marketing efforts integrate with their IT resources or Web Agencies.

More than anything else, your client’s IT contact will help you understand how the client is doing things right now and what third party vendors may be involved. If you understand all of these aspects before you make a project estimate, you can plan for otherwise unexpected contingencies.

3. Define Project Goals

Once you know what the client’s needs really are and understand how they have been addressing those needs so far, you are ready to define the goals of the project itself. The first two steps will inform the results of this third step by giving you the information you need to ask the right questions about the project’s ultimate goals.

Have the client consider why they are embarking on this journey, what processes they wish to automate, and what concrete results will demonstrate success. Is the client looking to generate leads? Boost sales efficiency? Improve customer loyalty? Every web project is different in this regard.

4. Document Project Outline

Now that you have the project’s specific goals and sufficient background knowledge of the factors contributing to those goals in mind, you can create a roadmap for meeting them. This is the moment when you can create an outline that documents all the possible ways a web development project can meet those needs, alongside estimated man-hours and rates.

This outline will become your timeline, and the milestones you set here will guide the outcome of the whole project. This is your opportunity to discuss the proposal with every client stakeholder in detail.

5. Prepare for the Project

Until now, all of the steps described have been client-oriented. However, the most important factor in project discovery is developer-oriented. Having spent some time getting to know them, you now have an idea of how the rest of the project will go. You know whether you like working with them or not and can tailor your services to their workflow.

At this point, you can predict how smoothly the rest of the project will go and prepare for challenges before they occur. For instance, if you do not have the resources necessary to address all your client’s needs quickly and efficiently, you can outsource work to a third-party white label web developer and focus on your core expertise.


When it comes to beginning project discovery for web agencies, the first to do is ask. It can seem difficult when a client is rushing to get as many estimates as possible as quickly as possible, but if you educate them, you can distinguish yourself from your competitors and demonstrate the careful, results-oriented approach that will make the project a success. Tell them why project discovery is important for web projects, or even share this article with them to help make your point.

Do you need professional white label web development services to complete a project outside your usual area of expertise? Let us know