February 6, 2024 - 8 min

The Art of Discovery Projects — Transforming Ideas Into Solutions

				Ana Cerimovic photo

Ana Cerimovic

Project Manager & Project Delivery Team Lead

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Creativity and innovation are vital to a productive discovery. Taming the hesitation and unleashing inspiration is key to finding the best solution. In today’s fast-paced world, innovation and creativity are essential for success in any field — one way to foster these qualities is through discovery projects.

These projects encourage exploration, experimentation, and learning, ultimately leading to new ideas and solutions. In this blog post, we will dive into the concept of discovery projects, their benefits, and how they can be implemented in various approaches.

What are Discovery Projects?

It is not rare that the client approaches us with a general idea of what they need or want but without the much-needed details which would enable us to dive into the development immediately. At that time, we need to detect and recognise all the unknowns, what-ifs, how-abouts and make the client aware it is much more than what they might perceive as minor details, that we need to find out before the development can be kicked-off.

Immense dedication and collaboration are required to have the best possible output from the discovery project, not only from the project team but from the client as well because they are the ones choosing what is the best for their product, business, or concept. If they are not fully invested in the discovery project, it poses a great risk if we develop something that might not be adequate for the client or their user’s needs.

Discovery projects encourage curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking, as participants are given the freedom to explore new ideas, test hypotheses, and share and learn from their experiences. Discovery projects can vary depending on the client’s needs, knowledge, expertise, and, of course, budget. The latter factors are crucial to detect before the project starts because they are key inputs for a successful discovery project determining the scope, duration, needed resources, and needed skills that can contribute to giving the clients exactly what they need.

The Discovery Phase as a Part of the Development Project

It isn’t always possible to have a separate discovery project before the development itself. The client might not have the budget, or there isn’t enough time to have a full discovery project to precede the development. However, it is much riskier to jump into development without proper knowledge of the project and its goals. Going into development with unclear scope, what-ifs, and maybes will surely have repercussions along the way. Ideally, at least a discovery sprint should be planned before the development begins. This is an important part of the Project Initiation phase, and as described by Eddie Merla — Begin with the end in mind.

The discovery phase is a crucial stage in the project lifecycle, where the groundwork is laid for the project’s success. It involves gathering information, identifying needs, and defining the project’s goals and objectives. The primary purpose of the discovery phase is to gain a deep understanding of the problem or opportunity at hand, as well as the stakeholders, resources, and constraints involved. This phase helps to ensure that the project is well-defined, feasible, and aligned with the client’s goals and priorities.

Key Components of the Discovery Phase:

A checklist of actions and outputs can help drive the Discovery phase in the right direction:

1. Research and information gathering: The first step in the discovery phase is to gather relevant information about the project. This information may come from the Presales or Sales team, or the team can recognise the missing inputs during the discovery kick-off and raise their concerns in a timely manner – stress out to the client what and why something is needed (i.e technical documentation, design guidelines…).

2. Stakeholder identification and analysis: It is essential to identify and analyze the stakeholders involved in the project, including clients, team members, and any other parties who may be affected by the project’s outcome. Understanding the needs, expectations, and concerns of these stakeholders is crucial for developing a project plan that addresses their requirements and ensures their buy-in. It is also important to know who has the answers to specific questions, i.e. Product Owner might involve their technical support, and the correct POCs for specific topics are much more relevant for obtaining necessary inputs.

3. Defining goals and objectives: Needles to say, but let’s do it anyway – the project’s goals and objectives should be clearly defined. Should, because it is impossible to set anything in stone in today’s fast-changing times and specifically in our industry, but there must be a solid base to kick off the development and keep track of the discrepancies from the original plan.

4. Identifying constraints and risks: During the discovery phase, it is crucial to identify any constraints or risks that may impact the project. Constraints may include budget limitations, timeframes, or resource availability, while risks may involve potential obstacles or challenges that could derail the project. Identifying these factors early on allows the project team to develop strategies to mitigate or manage them effectively.

5. Determining the project scope: The project scope is a detailed outline of the project’s deliverables, requirements, and boundaries. It serves as a roadmap for the project, providing a clear understanding of in and out-of-scope items. A well-defined project scope helps to anticipate scope creep and assures that all stakeholders have shared expectations and understanding of the project’s outcomes.

6. Establishing the project timeline: Based on the project scope, a timeline should be developed to frame the project’s key milestones, deadlines, and dependencies. This timeline helps to ensure that the project stays on track and provides a clear framework for monitoring progress and making adjustments as needed.

By investing time and effort in the discovery phase, project managers can ensure that their projects are well-planned, well-defined, and well-aligned with the client’s goals and priorities. This strong foundation sets the stage for successful project execution and ultimately leads to the desired outcomes and benefits.

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Discovery Project Outcomes

One of the biggest benefits of the discovery project for the client is that they will learn what they can get, in what timeline and for which price, how that can improve their business or product, and a clearer direction in which they can grow. The project team will have a clearer picture of what they are getting themselves into when starting the development phase and what is expected of them to deliver, and in which timeline. The following outcomes are a best-case scenario for a successful wrap-up of the discovery project and a healthy start to the development phase:

1. Clear project objectives: A discovery project helps to define and clarify the project’s objectives, ensuring that all stakeholders have a shared understanding of the project’s purpose and desired outcomes.

2. Risk identification and mitigation: By identifying potential risks and challenges early in the project lifecycle, a discovery project allows for proactive risk management and mitigation strategies, reducing the likelihood of project delays or setbacks.

3. Accurate project scope: A discovery project helps to establish a well-defined project scope, which can prevent scope creep and ensure that the project stays on track and within budget.

4. Informed decision-making: The research and analysis conducted during a discovery project provide valuable insights and data that can empower informed decision-making throughout the project lifecycle.

5. Stakeholder alignment: Engaging stakeholders during the discovery phase helps to establish that their needs and expectations are considered and addressed, leading to greater stakeholder satisfaction and buy-in during the development as well.

6. Resource planning: A discovery project allows for more accurate resource planning, providing a better understanding of the project’s resource requirements and potential challenges.

7. Improved project estimation: By understanding the project’s scope, objectives, and potential risks, a discovery project can lead to more accurate delivery estimates, including timelines and budgets for the development phase.

8. Better collaboration: A discovery project strengthens collaboration among team members and stakeholders, as it encourages open communication and the sharing of ideas and information.

9. Higher project success rate: Projects that undergo a thorough discovery phase are more likely to succeed, as they are better prepared to address challenges and achieve their objectives.

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Intangible Benefits of the Discovery Project

Besides the more prominent outcomes, there are some which come in as a really significant side effect of the discovery projects.

1. Fostering creativity and innovation: Discovery projects provide an environment where individuals can think outside the box and explore new ideas. This freedom encourages creativity and innovation, leading to new solutions or the best solutions for the client and the company.

2. Developing problem-solving skills: As participants work through the challenges and obstacles they encounter during a discovery project, they develop essential problem-solving skills. These skills are transferable to other areas of life and work, making individuals more adaptable and resourceful.

3. Encouraging collaboration: Discovery projects often involve teamwork, as individuals bring their unique perspectives and skills to the table. This collaboration nurtures communication, cooperation, and the sharing of ideas, leading to more effective and innovative solutions.

4. Enhancing learning and growth: Discovery projects provide a hands-on learning experience, allowing participants to gain new knowledge and skills through trial and error. This experiential learning leads to a deeper understanding of the subject matter and promotes personal and professional growth.

Overcoming Common Challenges

Of course, it can’t all be rainbows and daisies so it is normal that there are some impediments, but being aware of what can go wrong, helps to recognise and mitigate challenges on time.

1. Time constraints: Discovery projects require time for exploration and experimentation, which can be challenging with a set deadline and budget. Keeping the team and client focused is important to achieve the desired outcomes.

2. Resistance to change: Some individuals may be resistant to the idea of vague projects, fearing a potential lack of structure or accountability. To address this concern, the benefits of discovery need to be emphasized and the team needs to have clear guidelines for their role’s responsibility, deliverables, and the project’s scope and goals.

3. Fear of failure: The possibility of failure can be intimidating, especially in a professional setting. A culture of learning from failure must be supported and the lessons learned from unsuccessful experiments should be a driver to succeed in future projects with similar situations.

Q employees working on discovery projects

Discovery Projects — Tips and Tricks for PMs

It is important to have an engaged team working on the discovery project and keeping the team motivated and inspired might be challenging at times. The team needs to have confidence and trust in each other to be open and feel safe to share their ideas.

1. Define the scope: It’s essential to establish a general scope or theme to guide the exploration. This can be a broad topic, such as detecting what extra value the product can give to the customer and finding a solution through user research, competitors analysis, usability testing, or a specific problem – like improving customer satisfaction by remodelling the user experience through simplifying the user flow of the website. The team will be able to keep a better focus on what is really important for the project and a clearer understanding of their purpose.

2. Boost the team’s diversity: A diverse team brings different perspectives, experiences, and skills to the project, increasing the likelihood of innovative solutions. Encourage collaboration and open communication among team members.

3. Provide resources and support: Make sure that the team has access to the necessary resources, such as research materials, tools, and technology. Provide support and guidance as needed, but allow the team to take ownership of the project and make decisions independently.

4. Encourage experimentation and failure: Emphasize the importance of experimentation and learning from failure. Encourage team members to take risks and test new ideas, even if they don’t always lead to success they can be a great learning experience.

5. Reflect and share findings: At the conclusion of the project, encourage the team to reflect on their experiences, discuss their findings, and share any new insights or ideas. This reflection process can lead to further innovation and growth.

Never forget that behind each requirement, each estimate, each proposal are people, they are the ones that can bring the highest benefit to each output, they are the ones who make or break the project. Always take into account the persons and their personality and capability when planning. More on how Project Managers can make a harmonious team is in my blog The Many Angles of the Project Management Triangle.

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Discovery projects offer a unique opportunity to foster creativity, innovation, and learning in various settings. By providing an exploratory environment, individuals can develop essential skills, collaborate with others, and uncover new ideas and solutions. Embrace the power of discovery projects and unleash the potential of your team!

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Ana Cerimovic photo

Ana Cerimovic

Project Manager & Project Delivery Team Lead

Project Manager and Project Delivery Team Lead looking after the PM triangle but seeing much more than just budget, scope, and timeline. A happy team is a productive team and people are the key to the project’s success. That is why I like exploring the human aspect of Project Management and its effect on the overall project output.