Discovery Session

What is a discovery session?

A discovery session is the first (and most important) meeting you are going to have with your stakeholders or client so you can better understand what it is that they want and why. It will cover the goals, requirements, justification for the work, deadlines, constraints, key contacts, and anything else that may give you a high-level understanding of the project.

Your entire project team should be in attendance, but it’s especially important that UX be involved in the discovery session because you will ask a series of questions whose answers will allow you to then tailor a precise UX strategy for the project, and set expectations about what you can reasonably deliver based on their requirements, timeframe, and constraints.

Two women reviewing notes in a notepad.

What do you need to run a discovery session?

timeTIME

  • An hour to prep the questions
  • 1-2 hours for the discovery session

materialsMATERIALS

  • Anything to take down notes

How do you run a discovery session?

A group of people at a table with their laptops open, focusing on a man standing in front of a whiteboard.
  1. Step 1: Book a meeting with your stakeholders or client

    This has to be the first step, and try to invite any others that have a say in how the project will or should take shape. This will be a good chance to get them all aligned and come to a consensus. It will also give you more information to work with when planning your strategy based on the information you get from the meeting.
  2. Step 2: Read up on any existing documentation

    Before the meeting, make sure you go through any and all documentation related to the project. Not all projects you jump on, or clients you meet with, are going to have thorough documentation or links to all of the relevant user data. They may have some documentation that includes some of it, but it’s probably not complete. Ideally though, there should be some sort of main project page with information and context on it, plus links to supporting documents, like research. Read everything you can find because it will allow you to find gaps that you can then turn into questions for the meeting.
  3. Step 3: Prepare your discovery questions

    Discovery questions are designed to obtain the context we need to begin formulating a strategy to achieve our solution. You're looking for clarity and justification around the business goals, requirements, and constraints, so come prepared with some questions around those areas. It's great to have a standard set of questions, but you should also include any unique questions you come up with based on the gaps you find in the existing documentation.

    Some questions around the business goals can be:

    • What are the current goals?
    • Which of these goals do we want to solve?
    • Why are we prioritizing this goal over the others?
    • How were the goals determined?
    • What are the risks if we are wrong about the goals?
    • What is the desired outcome of this project?
    • What kind of metrics will be used to measure success?

    Some questions around the user needs and requirements can be:

    • Who are the end-users?
    • Who are the buyers?
    • How do we know these are user needs?
    • What is the data that suggests this? Where can I find that data?
    • Who determined these were user needs, and how?
    • Who created the requirements?
    • What are the risks if we are wrong about the user needs?

    Some questions around constraints can be:

    • What is the deadline for this project?
    • When do you need all the designs ready for hand-off?
    • How many people are you allocating to this project?
    • What are some technical limitations to keep in mind when designing for this?
    • How much budget do I have to work with?
    • Who is the project sponsor?
    • Who will provide support or additional resources if needed?
  4. Step 4: Ask the questions and document the responses

    Make sure you capture and document all of the answers from the meeting. This will help you communicate and reference it to others on your team who may be helping out on the project, or to your manager, who can then understand and prioritize the work against the rest of your tasks.

  5. Step 5: Follow up with your stakeholders or client

    Once you have finished cleaning up your notes and documentation, ask them to confirm your summary and make sure you’ve captured the notes correctly. This is important because this is the foundation that you will base your UX Strategy on, and you need it to be accurate. You may need to schedule another meeting with them, or you may be able to collaborate directly on your documentation.

Tips for a great discovery session

  • Record the meeting. A lot can be covered in this meeting and you are going to want to compile an accurate summary of everything that was discussed. Ask for permission to record the meeting and go over the recording to ensure everything is accurate.
  • If you have a set of standard questions, send them to everyone you are meeting with beforehand. Discovery sessions can be overwhelming for some people, so giving them a chance to prepare will result in a smoother meeting. If you don’t have a set of standard questions, at least tell them what sorts of questions you will be focusing on.
  • Do not confuse discovery sessions with the discovery process. The discovery process is the process an agency would typically go through to audit where their client’s company is at, and will include things like a competitive analysis, an SEO analysis, a deep dive into their user data, stakeholder interviews, a brand analysis, and more. It is usually done shortly after the initial discovery session and once a contract has been signed.
A woman looking at her laptop and writing down notes in her notepad.

More resources for Discovery Session

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