Key to Successful Project Discovery: Planning

No matter what the project, many projects’ overall success or failure can be determined by the first few discussions.  These initial discussions, often called “discovery” or “requirements gathering”, are usually the first time that both the business stakeholders and the implementation team have discussed the project needs and desired outcomes in any amount of detail.  In many cases, the discovery discussions may be the first time that the business problem has been discussed beyond a single stakeholder with a compelling idea.

For this reason, it is important the implementation team members are able to effectively gain an understanding of both the functional requirements (what the system must do) and the business drivers for the solution (why the solution is being sought).  When both the business stakeholders and implementation team share a common understanding of the solution needs, the design and implementation tasks are able to be executed more effectively and the ultimate solution will more fully meets the business needs.

Just as the discovery process is the foundation for the entire project, proper planning is the basis for facilitating discovery effectively.  Business stakeholders are typically lending the implementation team precious time for conducting discovery interviews/discussions, it is important to have an appropriate plan for these sessions.  Without proper planning, often times the wrong stakeholders can be interviewed and the questions being asked will not actually meet the needs of the implementation team.  As such, there are three key planning activities that should be completed prior to the first discovery interview being conducted:

1. Define Goals and Outcomes – the implementation team and the primary (1-2) business stakeholder(s) should clearly identify not only the goals of the project, but the goals of the discovery process.  The stakeholders should have clear agreement as to the level of detail and completeness of the business requirements.  In some scenarios, it may be appropriate to only gather and document at a high level, where other scenarios may allow for more detailed analysis and definition.  It is important that there is agreement on this so that the deliverable(s) coming out of discovery meet the stakeholder expectations and provide sufficient information for completing subsequent work on the project (e.g. architecture and implementation).

2. Stakeholder Analysis – after defining the goals and outcomes, it is important to develop a common understanding of the individuals that should provide input to the discovery process.  Not only is this important to ensure that the list of stakeholders can provide the appropriate information to meet the discovery goals, but this also allows the implementation team to prepare for facilitating the actual discovery sessions.

3. Determine Facilitation Method – with both the discovery goals and stakeholders defined, the implementation team can go to work to develop the appropriate tools and techniques for completing the discovery.  There are any number of different approaches to take for facilitating discovery and both the goals and the stakeholder analysis should influence the approach taken here.  It is important that the implementation team work with the stakeholder(s) to determine the best method to ensure success.

By clearly outlining goals, stakeholders, and the facilitation method(s), the discovery process should be able to be executed effectively, resulting in a solid, common understanding of both the business goals and functional requirements.

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