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How to run a great project discovery workshop –
Ask the right questions

A common cause of project failure or an unhappy client at the end of a project is that the client didn’t get what they thought they’d be getting. It’s no one’s fault in particular; clients can find it hard define their briefs and as agencies, we can be guilty of not being clear about what we’re actually delivering. So how can we ensure that we’re all on the same page?

But before you do, if you haven’t already, bookmark this page and check out our Kickoff Meeting – The complete guide to starting projects right where you’ll discover our top tips and tricks for nailing project kickoffs and templates to use.

It starts off during the project kick-off meeting and continues in the discovery or project initiation phase of a project. In the initial project discovery workshop, we need to ask the right questions to provide our clients with the opportunity to tell us all that the things they meant to, but perhaps forgot about. At the start of any project, we can easily get bogged down in the detail of one particular area rather than thinking about the project in its entirety and asking questions that cover strategy, user experience, content, creative, technical and PM requirements.

“A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.”  – Francis Bacon

The key is  for us to ask the right questions, at the right time. We need to know what questions we should be asking, when. The purpose of this article is to explore some of those table stake questions during a project discovery workshop – a checklist to capture basic project information so that there are no big surprises mid-way through a project. The goal is to understand one another’s unwritten assumptions.

Simon Ash has a helpful framework for understanding where we should start: “The good news is that the core questions needed are actually embedded in language.  The seven basic interrogative questions of what, where, why, when, who, how and which are the triggers needed to unlock any problem; it is then just about understanding their application.”

Below is by no means an exhaustive list, nor a structure for a workshop, but intended as a starting point for conversation during initial discovery workshops. This list isn’t meant to be used as a questionnaire for clients to complete, but as a framework to help understand our clients’ customers’ needs, and their business problem so  that we can properly architect an appropriate solution.

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Strategy

Goals – Why are we doing this? What are the goals for this website? What are the KPI’s? How will we measure and evaluate success? How will it help your bottom line? What does it need to achieve from a business perspective? What should it accomplish? How do the business objectives align to unmet consumer needs?

Messaging – What key messages to be communicated? What’s the one thing that we want people to think / feel / do? What can we say to make them do it? How does this fit into the broader marketing and communication strategy? How does this stack up against competitive positioning? What are we communicating that’s different; what’s our unique selling proposition (USP)?

User Experience

Audience – Who are we trying to communicate to? Who are your primary/secondary/tertiary audiences? Why? Is that different from your desired audience? What are their demographics? Why would they come to visit? When do they come? Why would they come back?

User journeys – Who are the users of the site? What are their different needs? What do we want them to do? What are the current barriers? How can we increase customer satisfaction? How can we generate loyalty? How can we drive conversion?

Functionality – What types of functionality beyond static content pages is required? Browser detection? Geo-IP detection? Multilingual support? Shopping cart or eCommerce? Data capture? Forms? Print screen? Cookies? Dynamic content? Interactive maps? Store locators? Blogs? Events calendar? Jobs listings? A feed for frequently updated content? A photo gallery? Social integration? Why is it needed? How will this functionality achieve our business objectives?

Usability – What are the requirements for us to do user testing? What devices are we supporting? What browsers are we supporting? What platforms are we building for? What is the minimum screen size we should develop for each? What are the requirements and standards for accessibility compliance?

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Content

Types – What is the content we will load onto the site? Is it repurposing old content or creating new content? How many sections of content will there be? What pages are required? What are the different content types we need to support? Why is it needed? What will it achieve? How will the content be meshed together? How does the content relate to other content?

Management –Who will write it? When will it be ready? Who will load content onto the site? Who will maintain it? What workflow and permission levels, approvals are required?

Localisation – How many markets need to be supported? How many different languages within those markets? What are the content differences between different markets? When do the different markets need to be launched? What other market specific requirements should we be aware of?

Creative

Look & feel – What creative have you seen that you like? What don’t we like? Why?

Assets – What branding work has already been done? How popular is it internally and externally with customers? Where can we find brand assets – logos, brand guidelines, photography?

Brand Guidelines – How well defined are the brand guidelines? How rigid is the existing style guide?

Tone – Are there existing websites that you like that would provide creative insight into a desired look and feel? Is there an emotional end-state we’d like to have your audience walk away with?

Technical

URL – What is the URL for this site? Who is the current domain registrar?  How will we support multilingual markets?

Hosting – Who is hosting the site? IIS or Apache Linux or Windows or other? What is the current load on the server? Are databases being used, if so, what type? Are there database preferences? What backup mechanisms are required? Will there be spikes in traffic requiring a content delivery network (CDN) like AWS, Akamai or Limelight?

Legacy integration – What existing systems will this website need to connect with?

Security – Will we need to create user accounts? Will encryption be required? Will there be password-protected areas? What personal data will we need to store and secure?

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Development preferences – Are we building on a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Drupal or Sitecore? Is there a development framework we need to use? What devices, browsers and platforms need support?

Tracking – What are the KPI’s? Will we track using analytic tools like Webtrends, Google Analytics or other measurement technologies like ClickTale or something more comprehensive like Adobe SiteCatalyst?

Project Management

Process – How does this project relate to other live projects? What’s the project plan? What are we going to do (SoW)? What is the running order for activities (methodology)?  When (timing plan)? How much will it cost (budget)?

Communication – What are the best communication channels to use? Who needs to be involved, when? What tools will we use to communicate, collaborate and share?

Governance – How are we going to manage the process? Who are the stakeholders? Who’s responsible, accountable, consulted informed?  How will we manage any changes in requirements?

Approval process – How will we effectively manage the project team and the stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle?

Project management – How are we tracking progress to ensure we’re meeting the defined requirements, running on time, and keeping to budget? When is the deadline for live date? Why? What is driving the requirement to meet that date?

What do you think?

What do you think we’re missing? What else is there to defining the idea that should PM’s be thinking about when kicking off the discovery phase of a project? We’d love to hear if you’ve got any more tips – why not share them using the comments below?

Ben Aston

About Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and VP of Client Services at FCV, a full service digital agency in Vancouver, Canada. I've been in the industry for more than 10 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from video virals to CMS’, flash games to banner ads and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.

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