Before Discovery

I’m a huge fan of collaborative Discovery phases being a vital first part of project processes in whatever form is most appropriate, but whilst many see this as the first step on the road ahead, very often there’s an important predecessor – feasibility sense-checking whatever will be on your radar.

This year I was involved in something that I’d never quite done before – a ‘pre-disovery-discovery’, or ‘pre-discovery’ for short. The full discovery phases were to be extensive as the landscape was extremely complex and it was known that it would require some extremely thorough research and prototyping. Before that body of work kicked off, the client wanted to undertake this mini phase, to make sure that efforts were focused and prioritised in the right areas, but it also turns out that there was also another benefit – identifying commonalities and shared functionality between streams that were previously being investigated separately, so that the further investigation could be better aligned with reality.

The sense check here not only saved time by making discoveries about the state of the landscape before everyone had put together big plans and dived fully into the details; it also validated whether the bigger Discovery piece should or shouldn’t go ahead, and what should be prioritised. Now, my project was a bit of an anomaly because of the complexities and overlaps, and usually you likely won’t require a separate ‘pre-discovery’ activity, however it’s important to perform some degree of feasibility sense-check. This can be internal – to make sure that a project is good to go, or can be done as an external party before you dive in – to make sure everything is as expected, everyone’s on the same page, and that important aspects have been considered before the main project kicks off.

Projects are often pushed forward for the wrong reasons, and whilst Discovery itself is often used to validate continuing, entering into it with a clear vision, plan, and a view of some goals is extremely important.

However you do it, next time you’re thinking about kicking off a new digital project, check to see whether the following have a been considered:

  • Ensure there is a clear vision of what should (and shouldn’t) be focused on, and ensure everyone agrees with this – have a clear scope, expectations, an understanding of areas that are liable to creep, and remove what uncertainties you can.
  • Make sure that everyone is committed and available. Discovery activities usually involve activities such as interviews and observation. If your key team members won’t be available to provide information, then consider alternatives, or shifting timelines. For short projects in particular, there’s nothing worse for a consultant than agreeing activities with a client, only to find out that everyone you need to speak to is on holiday!
  • Start to identify the benefits, and make sure that your aims are fully researched – why are you doing this work, and are the potential benefits as worthwhile as suggested? Is it worth the commitment you’re making to pursue it?
  • Aid greater buy-in and commitment from people to participate – very often if Discovery goes well you end up getting greater involvement as time goes on, as people hear more and become excited about the work being done. Instead, promoting the work in advance can help ensure people are excited and lined up to help.
  • Identify the kind of focus needed within discovery. Perhaps there are particular skills you’ll need, or areas that will need to be a priority.
  • Sense check what’s possible – over the years I’ve seen or heard of many projects that have had to shift focus hugely on day one, because it’s only at the kickoff that certain people have been consulted about the reality of system or business capabilities and limitations.This introduces time delays whilst teams work out what new direction to take, and sometimes even means that you need to re-write paperwork around the project.
  • Ensure that there are tangible actions and responsibilities to hit the ground running.

Basically: what are you doing, why, and who’s helping. Got all of that? Great! My experience is that by thinking through all of this you’ll probably save yourself time as a project team, and make sure that there are no unexpected surprises that come out of the woodwork… at least not in the kick-off meeting!

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Back in time:
Monthly round-up: June 2016

Forward in time:
Monthly round-up: July 2016

Posted by Sally Lait

Sally is the lead consultant and founder of Records Sound the Same, helping people with digital transformation. She's also a speaker, coder, gamer, author, and jasmine tea fiend.