Discovery workshops are a great way to establish the parameters of a new collaboration. We’ve been doing them since 2017, on-premise, with the focused goal of understanding a potential client’s needs.
With the shift towards remote work for most of the tech industry, we recently had our first remote discovery workshop. While the agenda remained mostly the same, there were some key elements of adaptability to the remote environment which we’ll list at the end of the article.
But first, let’s look at our usual agenda for running a discovery workshop.
Getting ready for a discovery workshop
We like to keep most of the work effort for the actual workshop. However, it’s always good to be prepared so there are a few things we like to do beforehand.
A first preparation is in selecting the team who will attend the workshop. Experience, skills, and availability all factor in this decision.
After that, we do initial research into the company, their product/service, and the market they’re operating in, sometimes peeking into some competitors as well.
With the team ready and some key information listed, we prepare for a one to two days intense workshop where we try to get everyone to focus on the matter at hand. For our team, this means minimizing all interruptions and other tasks for the duration of the workshop.
The workshop is run by a small team on our side, which usually consists of a project manager, a senior developer who will move on to become team leader, and a designer. In some workshops, we also have our sales representative join in.
On the client’s side, we usually welcome a product owner who has the authority to make decisions regarding the future of the product or service. On different occasions, we were joined by more than one person, a company manager, a product owner, or a technology officer.
We found that having fewer rather than more people makes for a better meeting in terms of information flow, decision making, and time management.
Introductions and expectations
At the beginning of the workshop, we usually take a few minutes to introduce ourselves and set the terms of the discussion.
Gathering expectations right from the start allows for a focused workshop and makes it easier to determine the success of the workshop once it’s over.
Everyone is invited to list their expectations regarding the content and the format of the workshop. That includes a list of items they expect to discuss, the outcomes they hope to obtain, and how they expect the agenda to unfold.
Going into the product/service itself, the main goal for this part of the agenda is to understand the needs of the client and the exact problems that they are trying to solve with it.
Some key elements of this discussion include the product/service vision, the targeted customer segments, buyer personas, market positioning, competitors, key partners and integrations, as well as a desired product/service evolution over time. Together with the client, we create a business model canvas for their product/service.
While some of these elements are more clearly defined than others, our goal is to mostly listen and try to understand. Active listening, we found, is essential to this entire workshop. This allows us to explore each of those key elements without jumping to conclusions and without swaying the conversation, which enables us to identify the real issues the client wants solving.
User journey map
For this stage, we work together on identifying the main user roles for the platform or app. Then we map each user’s journey and establish high-level details such as order of priority or essential functionalities.
Mapping the high-level features identified on the user journeys sets the ground for a later step which is determining what an MVP should include.
In this section, we look at the systems required to build the product/service and what type of tech solutions would be best suited. This includes:
- Non-functional requirements
- Tech stack
- Content management
With a list of functionalities created, we now need to determine which of these should be a part of the MVP.
After analyzing the complexity and risk for every feature, we agree on a list of core functionalities needed to create an MVP.
Many clients are visual, which makes this section essential to gaining a common understanding of what the product/service should look like and how it should function.
Our UX designer creates a series of wireframes based on user flows, which we then explore together.
Way of working
Similar to setting expectations, defining a way of working early on enables more efficient communication. This is a key step in creating a united team that can deliver well together, with members from our side and the client’s side. The client will be a part of the team, not just a stakeholder who gets reports from time to time.
In this final part of the workshop, we present to the client our processes, roles, and responsibilities. For example, the role of product owner is usually represented on the client side. Being as this is a strategic role, we make sure that our process includes daily syncs between the team and the product owner. If there will be a development team on the client’s side as well, we define the terms of the collaboration between their team and ours.
Some of the essential issues discussed in this section of the agenda include how teams are organized, our usage of Agile practices, accountabilities, as well as definition of ready and definition of done, each with its own acceptance criteria.
Another key issue is listing the decision-maker for each topic. In some cases, clients will tend to use a decision-by-committee system which can lead to a lack of clarity or the lack of actual decisions. Using some of our own internal processes, we help facilitate the designation of decision-makers which helps move things along faster and minimizes the risk of having to overturn a future decision or even future work.
Setting action items after the workshop helps to clarify the next steps for everyone and encourages accountability.
For most workshops, the next steps include a product design phase.
Tips for running a remote discovery workshop
As we mentioned before, we recently held our first remote discovery workshop and we expect this to be the norm at least for the next few months. Using a series of resources we’ll list below, we created a checklist to make the transition to the online environment as seamless as possible.
Before the workshop
- Have a clear agenda and send it to the attendees
- Have a back-up plan (virtual meetings depend on technology which may not always function as planned)
- Make clear requests of what is needed to come prepared to the meeting and make sure everyone is aware of them
- Designate one person to take notes during the meeting. Consider rotating this function.
- Send out all material ahead of time
- Ensuring participants have the agenda and any documents or presentations at least two days prior to the meeting (two weeks is better) is critical to making sure participants are prepared.
- Design the meeting with a common visual focus
- Design the meeting having in mind facilitating techniques that includes the voice of all the attendees
During the meeting
- Start on time
- Repeat the goal of the meeting
- Provide updates on tasks from previous meeting(s) if applicable
- Follow the agenda, stay on time
- Use rounds to engage the participation of attendees
- Stay focused, place new topics on parking lot for next meeting
- Take clear brief notes and distinguish between informational notes and decisions
- Assign tasks, assign each task to one person and set a due date
- Mention who’s responsible for following up on each item or task
- Mention when those deliverables are due
- Mention when the next meeting or check-in will be
- Email meeting minutes as soon as possible
- Reach out to those who were absent
- At the end of the meeting, summarize all decisions and tasks
- schedule follow-up meeting if required
- End on time
- Check-in with attendees about how well the meeting went
- Make meeting minutes available as soon as possible
- Track tasks and follow-up if not completed by the due date
If this was useful to you or if there are other best practices and tips you can share with us, leave a comment below.
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