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Heather Buchanan - 06.28.2017

Preparing Clients for Discovery Sessions

The goal of a discovery session at the outset of any project is to set a foundation that ultimately leads to a path to success. When bringing together a group of stakeholders, it is imperative to make the most of this often-limited time for maximum productivity. How can you assist your client in making this session as productive as possible?


Depending upon the client, they may or may not realize the number of questions they will face. For some, the requirements gathering of this session may feel a little overwhelming, especially if the client is not prepared for the various topics of discussion. In many instances, a heads up to the client for pre-game preparation prior to the discovery session can be incredibly helpful.


As a UX designer who has also spent a good deal of time leading college courses, I understand the importance of setting the tone, expectations, and deliverables early on. Clarity is a must in the classroom. From such clarity comes a certain level of the trust in the classroom experience, which helps illuminate the road ahead and avoid unforeseen incidents along the way.


The same can be said about clarity and client discovery sessions.


Having participated in numerous discovery sessions with clients from various industries, the key is to ensure a clear definition for the vision and objectives of the project. What’s the strategy for this investment? What are the primary, secondary, and tertiary business goals? What are the key performance indicators? Having an initial set of questions prior to the actual session may help serve up the answers to the questions with a bit more ease.


Who is the responsible party on the client side to ensure this initiative stays on track? Who else will be involved in the decision making for this project? Who has final approval when it’s all said and done? In some instances, these decision makers might be three different people, or a single person. A clear understanding of who will be involved is vital to the meeting’s success. Be sure all are included for those initial questions.

Even though this may seem a bit redundant, it’s best to review any information obtained during the scoping phase. New team members will be joining the project and it’s important to cover all the bases to get the full team up to speed during the discovery session.


Clarity is a must in the discovery phase. Consider all the categories of questions to be covered during the session. Topics such as audience, content, branding, third-party integrations, tracking, and analysis will be included in the list of questions (and that’s just to name a few!). The number of topics can be overwhelming if you’re not ready for them. Start with high-level questions which will allow for a deeper dive into the details during the session. Below are a few sample questions you may be faced with from each of the topics listed above.


Let’s start with the users. Who’s the audience? Do we have a primary, secondary, and tertiary target? Why them, specifically? How have they been identified as the appropriate target? How do we envision their experience? Are there thoughts on their journey, or a specific functionality aimed to engage them? By answering these questions, we can validate the best approach for engagement.


Next up, content. You know the age-old saying “content is king”? Of course, you do. Without content, there would be no project. Aim to share a quick understanding of the content inventory. What stays? What goes? What’s new for launch? What’s in the future state pipeline? Is there any other web property content or functionality to be incorporated? This set of answers will be highly valuable as we develop the content strategy and organizational structure of the project.


Again, clarity.


What about branding? Do we have a clear brand strategy defined? Are there guidelines for the brand’s look and feel? How could the brand perception influence this project? Is there a specific tone associated with the brand? Are there any brand initiatives that could affect this project? Depending on the client, this could be an important aspect of the strategy and the aim for user engagement.


Keep in mind that the questions above will certainly scratch the surface on the needs of the brand/business, audience, and content. Having an opportunity to review and ponder these questions will inevitably provide more concise insights.


In addition, and sometimes equally important, is what’s happening behind the scenes. Is there a CRM system in place? Is there a need for API integrations? What are the capabilities of the CMS? Are there personalization or localization goals to keep in mind? Are there any current analytics available? What are the goals for tracking analytics in the future? The list of questions could go on and on. The goal here is to reveal a more holistic view of the project and assess any additional needs, either for the business or the user.


Now, with all that said…it is not uncommon to leave a discovery session with unanswered questions. Sometimes, there just isn’t enough time. You may even have more detailed and deeper questions to assess as the project begins to move forward. However, having a well-rounded and inclusive set of questions up front, and an updated set after the discovery session, is always a great idea.


Remember: clarity is a must and the key to a productive discovery session.