Discovery Sessions Done Right

Lately it feels like I’ve done more discovery than Ferdinand Magellan. (And just to one-up the legendary explorer, I actually survived it all.)

Discovery Sessions have many other names—but in this case I’m referring to the initial project kickoff meetings that many companies have with their clients. You’ve moved past the sales phase, the client has agreed to work with you, and your teams are now gathered together with Starbucks coffee, Starbursts, and Oreos strategically placed on the table.

What makes for a successful Discovery Session—besides great snacks? Largely the success criteria mirror those of the project itself. Here are some keys:

Set Expectations for the Meeting. Over the next few hours you’re going to have some very valuable face time with your client. It’s a time for making a great first impression—both in terms of showing your expertise and in terms of understanding how all of the personalities in the room are going to coexist and—collectively—flourish. Every session should start with “Here’s what we need to know when this meeting is over…what do you need to know from us?” Hopefully you’ve set an agenda that asks the questions that will set the foundation for the project, but before every session I take the time to point out, “We need to know what’s in your head. If it stays there during this meeting, it likely won’t be part of the project.”

Bring Your Varsity Team. As a kid growing up on Fargo, North Dakota, the Harlem Globetrotters used to come to town once each year. But we didn’t get the Meadowlark Lemon or Curly Neal Globetrotters. We got the Billy Ray Hobley Globetrotters…still very entertaining, but not who your Dad bought the tickets to see. Your primary goal is to gather the information you need to know to make for a successful project, but you should always learn enough from the client to determine needs beyond what you’re gathered for that day. You’re not just there to take notes, you’re there to create aha moments. You have to have the right people in the room to make that happen.

Wrap It Up Neatly. Typically, Discovery Sessions can last 3-8 hours. That’s long enough. Good sessions lead to lots of good discussion—and often some of the best insights come from the discussion that is off-topic. Don’t discourage that, but don’t let tangents take you too far off of your charted course. At the end of every session, you should be prepared to share the following:

- What will be the preferred communication channels moving forward?
- What additional information (documents, research, integrations) is needed from the client?
- What questions did the client have that need to be answered before meeting again?
- Will breakout sessions be needed?
- Are there new opportunities to be proposed?
- Clearly define what the deliverable will be from the session.

Doing Discovery right sets the table not just for a successful project, but also for a successful relationship.

Follow Lee on Twitter at OARFan5.

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