Start With a Plan: 3 Reasons To Begin Any Development Project With a Discovery Session

By: Nate Pave

Start With a Plan - requirements
Lingchi

This is the Chinese word for “death by a thousand cuts.” Maybe you’ve heard this phrase before, in situations where lots of small bad things are happening. None of these “bad things” are individually fatal but, combined, will turn into a slow and painful death. Perhaps you’re even wondering how lingchi could possibly relate to software development.

Our statistics reveal that 90% of our clients that begin with a discovery phase will continue to the second part of the process. Why? They feel better aligned, better prepared, and more positive at the start of the project that this will be a successful project.

It’s no surprise, then, that these companies also face less challenges during development –misunderstandings, changes, and “emergency” meetings to get back on the same page. Hiccups like these are the lingchi of development. Each realignment will add up in time and costs to delay or derail the project.

Here are three reasons why a discovery session will produce better results for development projects:

  1. Identifies the true issue and explores all possible solutions

A discovery session establishes the reason why you and your team are pursuing this project. Stakeholder interviews allow you to get buy-in from the end users. After all, if you’re going to fix it, you might as well fix it right the first time.

Jumping too far ahead and coming up with a solution without clearly understanding what needs to change can leave you disappointed.

  • Is there an underlying business problem that is causing the need to develop?
  • Will this project help you solve this problem, or is there an alternative?

If your business problem is mission-critical, it’s worth diving deep and exploring all possible solutions.

  1. Sets a clear path forward

Once you’ve explored the possibilities, you will walk away from the discovery session with the solution that will offer the most impact to your business. What a relief it will be for you to have in your hands the means to the end!

With all requirements documented and prioritized, you’ll receive a fixed cost and a fixed timeline with milestones. This may seem like a lot of work, when your internal resources and other companies can offer ballpark costs. A ballpark is another word for an estimate and is usually offered by companies who charge based on time. Let’s think back to lingchi – a lot of small, bad things can and will turn out to be fatal.

Sometimes, there may be too many items on the wish list than you have budgeted for. The discovery session documents all these items for future development, so you don’t lose that critical insight from key stakeholders. It’s okay to start with version 1.0 knowing there will be future modifications – after all, you are still making progress!

  1. Establishes trust to finish the project

Historically, business and IT teams don’t always see eye-to-eye. They have different goals and priorities. So, put your operations people in the same room with your development project leads and give them a common goal and project. This will begin to shift the mindset from “us vs. them” to “our team.”

With the group aligned and working together, you’ll notice how this trust is built. Ron from IT will see that Sarah from Operations has been working late to get her part of the project back for review. Meanwhile, the project lead, Charlie, starts holding recurring meetings to share progress with the entire team and remove blockers.

Knowing that the entire team is focused on a shared goal will foster a confidence on both sides that these are understood by all:

  • The desired outcome
  • The functionalities agreed upon
  • The priority and order of release

Avoiding “death by a thousand cuts”

I know what you’re thinking:

The last thing I need is another step; development is already time-consuming and costly!

The purpose of discovery is to make sure your investment is smart, timely, and will fulfill the needs of your company. A planning session will also allow developers to accurately quote and scope out the project and build key relationships between your teams.

The next time you begin a development initiative, start with a discovery session. A team that is on the same page will go a long way in reducing the lingchi that can come up unexpectedly in the middle of projects. The secret to a successful project is a strong start.

dwight d eisenhower-quote

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