Discovery Sessions: 5 Ways to Ensure Smooth Sailing

Brittany Ivey

Senior Consultant

Brittany works on projects including CRM software implementations, systems analysis, and business process documentation. She has experience working with several donor database systems, including a professional-level certification in Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge.
March 07, 2022

Picture this: you’re at the beginning of a big project to improve your organization’s relationship with its data and technology. A meeting request lands in your inbox: “Discovery Meeting”. What does this mean? What should you expect? What are your responsibilities?

The Project Management Institute defines a discovery session as a “formal meeting of stakeholders (and) subject matter experts with a goal to provide requirements information on a proposed business solution”. Discovery is a key step for technology projects, and it’s important to plan ahead. The following points will help you and your project team prepare for discovery sessions, to ensure smooth sailing and produce the best results.

To prepare for discovery meetings, you should:

  1. Review agenda topics prior: You should receive an agenda prior to discovery sessions, outlining the topics that will be covered. (If you don’t receive an agenda—ask for one!) You should review the agenda well in advance of the meeting and be prepared to speak about the specific topics. For example, sessions may be broken out by functional area: Finance, Advancement Services, Alumni Engagement, etc.
  2. Know your objectives and “big goals”: This may seem obvious—after all, it’s why you signed on the dotted line—but it is important that every member of the project team is familiar with the overarching goal(s) of the project. For example, what are you trying to achieve by taking on this new system selection or system implementation? What drove your team to take on this project, and how will it help your organization achieve its mission? Being able to come back to these questions throughout the project will provide a beacon of motivation and a reminder of purpose.
  3. Identify the stakeholders: This goes beyond knowing who needs to be on the meeting invitation. Intentional thought should be put into who is at the table for discovery sessions: who needs to be part of the decision-making process? Who currently uses, or intends to use, the system? This is an opportunity to have stakeholder voices be heard. At JCA, we often witness internal “revelations” that are unearthed during discovery and lead to unexpected constructive conversation!
  4. Identify your pain points: Discovery sessions often uncover areas where your organization needs efficiencies and operational/technical improvement. Once identified, you can shape your pain points into practical use cases and requirements to be referenced throughout the project.
  5. Be prepared for follow-up: These sessions can be a journey. Be prepared to come out with more questions than answers! Remain focused on the task at hand and try not to get distracted by side conversations. Create a “parking lot” of topics to address at a later time and lean on your project manager for guidance throughout the process.

A Professional Project Manager Brings It All Together

This may seem like an overwhelming amount of preparation, but much of it can be attributed to institutional knowledge. While no one knows your organization better than you do, we at JCA are here to help guide you through the process. JCA can provide an expert project manager to help you reach your destination.

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