Measure Twice, Cut Once

If you are doing any digital marketing or development, you are probably well acquainted with the challenges of getting the insights, alignment, time, and assets you need to create a cohesive and integrated strategy for your brand or effort. Your ultimate success is largely predictable based on the critical, but often neglected, process of a thorough discovery.

True discovery is not a quick meeting where the project owner is peppered with questions so the partners can refine their price quote. Discovery is the often laborious process that defines the work, the goals, the players and roles, the timelines, and risks. It is a commitment to understanding the project and all its implications at a deep level that may require background info and research, interviews, competitive reviews, and other commitments to build the foundational understanding and group alignment that will be apparent in the fit and function of your end project. A strong discovery process will uncover gaps and weaknesses, spur productive new ideas, bring users together in a common set of goals, and lay out the work to come so that all parties can get started with confidence and excitement about the end result. So why is this key step so often devalued, hurried, pared, or skipped?

Some project owners believe an RFP or project brief outlines all the info a partner needs to get started or quote a job but, more often, it is just a starting point and by definition is a view from the singular perspective of the issuing party. The presumed reason project owners look to partner is because of what their potential partners bring to the project or work including skills and talents, experience, ideas, and perspective. Giving partners the access and time to truly understand the organizational need and develop the right plan is the best way to ensure success.

Ideally, the discovery should focus heavily on the problem statement and audience definition and should leave the goals, budget, and timetable to the very end of the discovery process, not the beginning. By doing so you can move from an undistinguished statement such as “launch this responsive website by X date” to something more exacting like “reach X audience in an engaging multichannel [best fit] environment that [meets their documented need] in order to [customized goal].” The more specific and substantive goal statement acts as a guide post for all the decisions and directions that will happen before kickoff but also mid-project and directs the development of KPIs and other work.

Unfortunately, the time and resource pressures that marketers face today often shortcut the process and skip immediately to the tactical requirements before the strategic picture is fully captured, so that even when a project comes in on budget and on time it may not ensure that the project moves the business forward, enriches the customer relationships, or meets the deeper goals of the business with as much impact as might have been achieved.

Harnessing the super insights that are often revealed in a thorough discovery can lead to small tweaks or wholesale departures that transform a project before it starts. Those improved outcomes and decreased risks argue elegantly for a compensated discovery process as a separate phase of work for any significant effort. This allows focused effort for all the involved parties with the singular objective of project definition.

Under the more common scenario, project owners call on multiple partners with the expectation that they will invest their time in the name of sales or business development to do their own uncompensated discovery without the insights and proprietary data that the fuller team could provide. This leads to a number of poor options with poor outcomes. It’s an ineffective, unsustainable approach and it’s time to change the dynamic and recognize the value to all parties in an informed, complete discovery.

There are many solid discovery checklists, processes, approaches, and resources available online with a simple search. An experienced project manager can be of tremendous help in finding or creating the right discovery process to unveil the heart of your effort covering both high-level strategic issues as well as the important details that help shape your effort. Getting the right partner and right plan in place takes work, has tremendous value, and should be done before you pull the trigger on any significant project. You will be glad at the end that you made the beginning your priority.

Image via Shutterstock.

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