First, the big question: What is a Discovery Meeting? Ask a dozen marketers and you’ll get more than a dozen answers to this question, along with varied ideas on the ideal timing of a Discovery Meeting. For the purpose of this article, we define the Discovery Meeting as the first step to kick off a project or initiative. This occurs after the proposal of services has been presented, portfolios have been reviewed and contracts signed. A general understanding of the direction and purpose of the work exists, but there is more information to uncover.
Whether you’re reading this from an agency seat or as a client, you’ve likely questioned the value of a Discovery Meeting. “Is the time and effort to gather all the players worth it?” “Don’t we have everything we need to know from the proposal?” “Can we start the project and ‘figure it out’ along the way?” These moments of doubt or hesitation are understandable, as everyone is eager to begin the work. But forego a Discovery Meeting and you could miss important insights or make incorrect assumptions that cost time, money and energy going forward.
Leverage the Discovery Meeting to gain clarity, set direction, identify roles and get to know the people involved and the opportunities at hand.
Capture important historical perspective.
It’s necessary to look back in order to look forward. While it’s important not to dwell on the past or “how things have always been done,” the past can offer important perspectives and learnings about the company, industry trends and current practices. What worked, what didn’t and why? Exploring the past can paint a clear picture of how and why the current situation exists and provide important clues about how to move forward.
Avoid scope creep.
Gaining clarity at the start of the project about what is – and what isn’t – included in the initiative will save time, money and energy down the road. The information gathered in the Discovery Meeting is essential to writing a clear, precise scope for the project. Gathering input on deliverables, successful outcomes, measurement and key performance indicators will help create a roadmap that resides at the center of the initiative ongoing.
A clear project scope can help prevent confusion and the “kitchen sink” phenom, where a project spirals out of control due to the addition of too many irrelevant or far-reaching ideas.
Dream a little and explore “what if.”
The Discovery Meeting is the time and place to explore, be curious, learn and uncover insights. Because marketing is about solutions, it’s easy to jump to discussions about how to solve the problem or achieve the opportunity at hand – build a new website, deploy a digital strategy, revisit the brand identity, etc. – without fully vetting or understanding the problem or opportunity.
Taking time in the Discovery Meeting to learn about business goals, end users’ behaviors and their values, industry challenges and opportunities and relevant research will create a more complete landscape of the business possibilities. Maintaining objectivity with questions of “why” and “what if” will uncover approaches you may not have thought of by jumping right to solutions and tactics.
Get team members rowing in the same direction
An effective and productive Discovery Meeting should include the essential players of a project or initiative. This doesn’t mean that every person in the company who will touch the project — or even weigh in at some point — should be present. Careful discretion for Discovery Meeting attendees is essential to keep the meeting focused and on task. The individuals in the Discovery Meeting have responsibility to accurately share the vision, scope of work and next steps with their respective team members.
The Discovery Meeting gives leaders the space to articulate their vision, inform team members about other initiatives that may impact the work and perhaps most important, describe what isn’t relevant to the initiative or process. It’s the responsibility of agency partners to advise leaders of their role in the Discovery Meeting and suggest an approach that is most helpful and relevant to set the stage for future success.
Be sure to appoint a master notetaker for the meeting and ensure the notes are organized and framed with the project in mind (resist the urge to capture dictation during the meeting, as most notes require context). The notes can then be used to write a formal project scope, which will serve as a helpful roadmap for the duration of the project.
A well-organized and thoughtfully planned Discovery Meeting can pay off tenfold throughout the life of a project. Capturing historical perspective, creating a clear project scope, openly discussing the opportunity or challenge from multiple viewpoints and getting all of the players on the same page are invaluable returns from a two- to four-hour time investment. The Discovery Meeting will also provide essential insight from which outcomes — and ultimately success — can be defined.
Still wondering if a Discovery Meeting is necessary? Consider what is known about the project — deliverables, outcomes, measurement, objectives, strategies and tactics — and then contemplate what is unknown. Can you accurately and holistically answer questions such as: Why is this important? Whose perspective is missing? What does success look like? Where are the project pitfalls? It’s likely that not all this information is readily available at the onset of a project. Take time for a Discovery Meeting and increase the likelihood of a well-rounded scope, engaged project team and a clear path to success.
Sponsor. The project sponsor typically holds a leadership position in the organization and is responsible for keeping the work grounded and connected to the mission and vision of the organization. He or she likely reviews and approves items at critical points of the project. They might have authority over budgets and be connected to other influential strategic initiatives within the organization.
Leader(s). One or more individuals who are responsible for overseeing deadlines, deliverables and outcomes on behalf of the organization. Leaders should come from both the marketing agency and the organization, as one of their primary responsibilities is to keep the project Sponsors informed and to escalate issues to the Sponsor as needed.
Contributors. Individuals throughout the organization who oversee critical areas that contribute to the success of the initiative should be considered for the Discovery Meeting. For example, an initiative to build a new employee benefits intranet site will require expertise from Information Technology and Human Resources. Contributors from these areas will bring essential insight to the Discovery Meeting. Their role and attendance at future meetings should be discussed and clarified as a result of the Discovery process.
Agency Team Members. Consider team members from the agency who will be responsible for working with Leaders to oversee deadlines, budgets and deliverables, as well as individuals who will benefit from hearing firsthand the objectives, expectations and rationale for the initiative. For example, writers and designers may be critical Discovery attendees if they’re responsible for establishing or presenting design and messaging direction.