Inception or Discovery?


The terms ‘inception’ and ‘discovery’ are often used interchangeably. We look at it this way: we first ‘discover’ the purpose of a product or service, and then we ‘incept’ its delivery.

In other words, during a discovery we focus more strongly on ‘what we should do and why’ - i.e. ‘doing the right thing’. Then during an inception we validate and refine this and then focus on ‘getting it off the ground’ - i.e. ‘doing it right’.

Of course, there is considerable overlap between the two and we do revisit user needs and business goals in an inception. Even so, we generally take the initiative’s raison d’être as sound. Sometimes, we uncover misalignment or concerns about the validity of a value proposition, in which case we may decide to pivot and do a discovery. This is not failure, and is in fact exactly why we run inceptions: to do the right thing.

In this playbook, we’ll assume a discovery has already happened and we are now focused on getting an initiative off the ground.


While we run inceptions at the start of something new, we may also run them at pivotal points – e.g. when a new phase of the initiative kicks off, or there’s a significant shift in our context. In the past, we’ve also found inceptions useful to provide information for business cases, as part of pitches for work, to start new client engagements, to kickoff new features and even as an opportunity to sense-check and realign given our broader strategy or circumstances may have changed.


In this playbook, we have a bias towards initiatives with a strong element of software development. That’s simply because this is what we do, and is where we have run most inceptions successfully. However, it’s worth noting that inceptions can be run for many other types of initiatives, in much the same way as suggested here.

In practise, high performing teams often run aspects of discoveries, inceptions and delivery in parallel.


We start with an idea, problem or opportunity, refine this and ensure ‘that we are doing the right thing’ during discovery.

We then align on what to do and define how to do it during inception, ensuring ‘we are doing it right’.

We then build, operate and improve the solution during delivery.

While we are talking about waterfall-like stages here, this is still an iterative, incremental approach in line with an agile mindset.

Last updated