Whenever you meet new colleagues or acquaintances, are you in a comfortable state to criticize them? Or do you just offer some spontaneous advice? In most cases, it appears as a case of rudeness to some. The basis is knowing them first. And the same applies when acquiring new clients. Before you sign a new contract or start on any project, the foundational pillar calls you to know them closely. Get to understand who they are, the reasons they seek your services, and what their goals are. If you skip such a phase, you will lack important information that can strain your future working relationship.
Within the aspects of project management, every groundbreaking project starts with the moment of getting clarity and structured planning. It is such an important skill whenever you take your time to understand ways of doing this right. We refer to such an important phase as the discovery session, which sets that important stage for the success of future involvements.
Take a situation where you walk into a certain room, and the air is full of potential. Here, ideas are floating, finding shape and purpose. That is where you see the full wings of a discovery session, bringing in important insights, creativity, and collaboration, which can shape the course for that new project. This is when ambiguity comes in direct contact with clarity; the diverse perspectives are viewed uniquely, unifying them into an integrated vision. In project management matters, this is more than a mere meeting and turns out to be a strategic masterpiece.
This article reviews the reasons for discovery sessions, noting how they transform promising ideas into a unique, feasible project blueprint. You can’t come up with project costs before doing a proper discovery session.
What is a Discovery Session?
A discovery session, also called a discovery workshop or discovery meeting, is a meeting or time set aside with a new client aimed at unraveling fundamental information about the client’s needs, getting their project specifics, and their primary objectives.
The structures for most discovery sessions are not predefined or rigid. Instead, it is very flexible in adapting to the specific client needs, why they need your services, the personnel involved (including from the client’s side and your team), and the level of detail each party desires, plus many other factors.
A discovery session is a good early enough opportunity to engage in deep dialogue with your new client regarding their identity, challenges facing them, and what they aspire to. You get a chance to dig in as much knowledge as possible regarding the client (could be the motives of the business, their vision, and any historical data available), and it helps you make a strong initial impression.
Each discovery session should:
- Examine the business problem and strategically come up with the reason for the project
- Discover the hidden truth that adds value to your new client by knowing how worth the solution to the problem is to the client
- Design a good course of action or path by coming up with a plan for solving your client’s business problem
You will use discovery sessions to discover what your new client wants and ensure your goals and expectations align. Such a moment gives you a chance to discuss several things, including:
- The client’s biggest challenge
- The goals and objectives for the client’s business
- The project scope
- The budget the client has set aside
- Make your quote known
- If you will gladly accept more in the future
- Notice needed if more work comes into play
Explain any limitations to what you have included in your quote. For example, if you are a web developer, how many edits to a page does it include (if any)?
Examples of Essential Discovery Session Questions
- Project Outcome:
– What specific deliverable/outcome or result is expected from this project? It can range from software development, process implementation, creation of documents, hardware installation, and deployment to system upgrades.
- Project Timeframe:
– What is the anticipated timeframe for this project? Determine whether the timeline is flexible, fixed, or urgent.
- Budget Considerations:
– What financial constraints are you working under? Initially, explore more options to understand the budget limits. You can refine them later into a detailed budget and cost estimate when undertaking the project planning phase.
- Project Sponsor:
– Who is providing executive support and resources for the project? The sponsor is important since they have the authority and influence over the direction and resources needed in the project.
- Project Customer:
– Identify the person or group playing a fundamental role in the project’s outcome. They are integral in shaping the project’s initial vision and approving the outcome or deliverables.
– Who is the ultimate recipient or user of the project’s deliverables or outcome? It is advisable to understand their needs and expectations.
Beyond these foundational questions, you could become more specific for a comprehensive understanding. Inquire about the investment strategy, primary, secondary, and tertiary business goals, and the key performance indicators (KPIs). Having detailed and appropriate questions is core to establishing and aligning the underlying challenges with your team’s capabilities. Make sure you frame the questions clearly and precisely to address real problems and ensure your team achieves them.
The Key Components of a Discovery Session
You need to explore the full potential of a given discovery session by understanding some of the key components.
- Stakeholder Involvement: This is where all key stakeholders come into play, ranging from project managers & team members to clients & end-users. Inclusion of diversity in perspectives helps have a holistic understanding of all project needs and expectations.
- Goal Setting: Within the discovery session, you should develop clear and achievable goals. You should discuss and agree on the project’s goals, giving you direction on all subsequent planning and execution.
- Scope Definition: Clarify the project scope by outlining what needs to be included within the project and what you need to do away with, and establish the main deliverables. Such elements help prevent scope creep and help you stay on track.
- Resource Assessment: Establish the resources you need for the project. Such can include the time, key personnel, and budget requirements. Such resources help you become realistic in your planning and avoid overcommitment of resources.
- Risk Analysis: During a discovery session, you can establish potential risks and discuss the strategies needed for risk management. Taking such a proactive approach gives one ample time to prepare for uncertainties and ensure the project is resilient.
- Documentation and Follow-Up: You should document everything you discuss during the discovery session and plan for any follow-up actions to ensure you can translate all the insights into actionable steps.
When do you need a Discovery Session?
Not all projects will call for a discovery session. But most businesses gain a lot when there is consideration for this initial consultancy stage. In most cases, projects that exceed $5,000 can benefit when you carry out a discovery session. It accounts for about 5-10% of the general project value.
The discovery session helps a lot of businesses, especially when:
- Designing a social media strategy
- Coming up with strategies for digital marketing
- Building or rebuilding a website
- Strategizing on brand communications campaigns
Benefits of a discovery session
The discovery process is a critical phase in project management and development, especially when dealing with a new project. It is an open-ended opportunity for all involved with the project, including the project managers, team leaders, and individual contributors or sponsors, to clearly understand the expectations and outcomes. The process offers several benefits contributing to the success and efficiency of a given project. Here are some of the key advantages:
- Clarifying Objectives and Scope:
The discovery process is a good opportunity to clearly define the project’s objectives and scope. Once they are clear, you can align team efforts and avoid scope creep, especially where the project requirements increase beyond the original plan.
- Identifying Stakeholder Needs:
The process assists you to identify and understand the stakeholders’ needs and expectations. With such in mind, it helps to ensure the final product meets or exceeds such expectations.
- Facilitating Resource Planning:
Once all project requirements are well understood, it is easy for the company to plan and properly allocate resources. The resources can be the staff, budget, and schedules.
- Mitigates Risks:
The discovery process enables teams to identify potential risks and challenges at an early stage. This early identification allows for developing mitigation strategies, reducing the possibility of project delays and cost overruns.
- It encourages team collaboration and buy-in for smooth project execution and change management.
- Improving communications. The process outlines clear communication lines among team members, clients, and stakeholders.
- The collaborative nature during the process helps improve creativity and innovation since brainstorming and idea sharing are involved.
- Exploring the new project’s requirements and limitations helps set realistic expectations and feasible timelines.
- The discovery process provides insights and information to use as a roadmap for the execution of the project. It details what has to be done, the person responsible, and the timeframes needed.
- The quality of the end product is better. Since all requirements and courses of action are clearly outlined, there is an increase in the possibility of producing a high-quality end product.
In summary, here are the benefits to an agency and the client.
Benefits for clients:
- You get expert consultancy for business problems
- The client’s experience and knowledge are key in forming expert-level strategies.
- It is a good process to clearly understand the buyers and prospects.
- The process helps determine the project’s real purpose/motivation
- The business gets a bespoke and comprehensive approach
- There is a personalized proposal that is well-thought
- There is a possibility of getting accurate proposed costs
- The process identifies any room for growth
Benefits for an agency:
- The first impression can win them an opportunity
- It is a good opportunity for upselling
- Gives them a chance to evaluate the client to determine if they are the right fit
- It is also a great opportunity to know if your agency fits for the task ahead
- The process comes up with clear objectives, ensuring any future amendments or remedial actions are limited
- It enhances people’s relationship
- The process is a chance to build trust
- The agency gets a chance to discover the motives and drive for the business
- It is a good way for the agency to showcase its driving force of quality and not just sales
- Prospects can easily note the value they get from the agency
- It is a good way to achieve Senior Management Buy-in
Challenges Facing Discovery Sessions
Discovery meetings are good but sometimes face several challenges. Here are some of the common issues to be aware of:
- Unprepared Client:
You may have done a thorough preparation but encounter situations where the client didn’t prepare well. It becomes difficult to extract valuable information since the client can’t appropriately answer questions or clarify the requirements. To handle such, you can set clear expectations beforehand.
- Unrealistic Expectations:
Some clients may expect much more from a discovery session. Such expectations could not be aligned with the actual purpose. They may want to know the plan and budget for the complete project while you are only dealing with the basics of the projects for this phase. Communicate in advance to manage such expectations.
- Imbalanced Discussion:
Productivity can be hampered, especially when the client offers scant details or bombards you with overwhelming information. Create clear questions, agenda, and icebreakers to ensure balanced productivity.
- Lack of Engagement:
Some clients may not see the need for the discovery session. As such, they will display disinterest or impatience. Make sure you communicate the importance and objectives of the discovery meeting and how it can impact the client’s project.
Discovery Session : Step-by-Step
A discovery session can happen in different steps that include:
Step 1: Initiate the Discovery Process
– Come up with suggestions on actions and desired outcomes for the discovery session.
– Establish the sprint durations, choose the tools, and determine the communication methods.
– Get a clear view of using tools like Trello to manage tasks, recording tools for sessions, and software to create prototypes or diagrams.
Step 2: Do your Investigation
– Closely examine your client’s product (the user interface, performance, and support).
– Check the client’s competitors to clearly understand the market positioning.
– Examine or establish the client’s internal operational processes and how such have an impact on the product.
Step 3: Carry out Remote Interviews
– Carry out remote interviews by engaging specialists from the client side and gaining more insights from your team members
– Utilize online forms to collect data
– Be specific in questioning and target relevant personnel to get clarity
– You may use A/B tests or questionnaires to get user feedback.
Step 4: Work with Results
– Organize and analyze all gathered data.
– Determine key stakeholders and the user pain points.
– Prioritize issues in terms of urgency and importance.
– Come up with proposed solutions to each stated problem.
– Design low-fidelity prototypes to get early feedback and for conceptual understanding.
– Have a comparison table for the current product functionality vis a vis the envisioned future state.
– Come up with a detailed roadmap showing how the project progresses.
The structured discovery approach ensures a comprehensive understanding of the project in terms of the problem, scope, schedule, and costs. It lays a solid basis for a successful partnership and efficient execution of the new project. Plan well and execute each step, which are functional pillars of a well-informed project that you ensure succeeds.
Looking for product discovery session? Feel free to connect with our experts at Aalpha information systems!