Not everybody calls it “Discovery Phase” but almost every single project, whatever the methodology, begins with a specific isolated phase whose primary purpose is to gather more precise requirements by running some brainstorming sessions. Requirements are not the only output of this stage. The project plan and the solution overview are also among the most frequent deliverables.
When properly managed, these sessions could ensure the project starts with the right foot so don’t ruin everything by:
1. Neglecting to run your field research
Unless you are targeting a very precise niche, you will need to understand who the client is, and who their competitors are. You can carry out this activity using search engines only, but you could also ask for some corporate material to the client. You should step into the first meeting having already “profiled” the client.
2. Failing to identify the senior stakeholders
During the Discovery Phase, you will meet many (maybe even too many) stakeholders, that will start fighting over priorities and will try to impose their particular needs. At the same time, it is highly unlikely that senior stakeholders will attend any of the meetings. The other stakeholders might feel encouraged to speak their mind freely, but you might miss the chance to hear from the people that with all likelihood have the last word on any decision – and are probably the budget holders.
As a Project Manager, you should identify the senior stakeholders and create an opportunity for the senior members of your core team to have a short conversation with them, to understand their view and list their priorities. The primary objective is to highlight their needs and what they consider non-negotiable features of the project, sparing many headaches at the end of the project.
3. Losing control of the meetings
Even if the client agreed on the agenda, you are the owner, and you are in control. The chances are that you will be outnumbered and have to deal with enthusiastic people looking forward to sharing their view on the product. Be flexible but keep an eye on the clock, use the parking lot and take notes. The agenda is in all likelihood based on the process that your team is comfortable with. Last second changes are never a good choice.
4. Confusing stakeholders with end-users
It might not be true for an internal or niche products, but most of the stakeholders keep committing the same mistake, confusing what they would like the product to feature and what the end-users need.
Gamified exercises are often used to help the team profile the archetype user and build the requirements around her, although you can always expect some resistance from stakeholders that struggle to understand that they might not be a representative sample.
5. Missing the chance to create shared knowledge
Brainstorming sessions and workshops are useful to prepare the project, but they are also a valuable opportunity for your team to meet the client, not only the stakeholders but also the owner of the different services. During the delivery, if your solution architect has already met the client’s network specialist, the conversation will run smoother. Ultimately, it is always good to put the name to the face.