Demand a Proper Scope Phase

What follows is a lesson for people looking to hire a freelancer or agency to build out your next big strategy; your next website; or your next app. We were contracted to come on site and deliver a two-day workshop that consisted of website and LMS training (WordPress + LearnDash). It was a good experience overall. However, we were reminded of the importance of communication from start to finish. Here’s what we learned.

There are a number of projects that we work on. Many are website development projects—other projects are content and inbound marketing related. Sometimes we just provide training or technical (and moral) support for businesses. A common thread in all of our engagements is communication from start to finish. Our process has evolved with each project.

A proper discovery and audit phase is an essential component to any project. That’s where we find out who the stakeholders are, the key people in charge of decision making. Discovery reveals concerns, history, frustrations, victories, desiers, and goals.

During the process of discovery we figure out who the intended audience is for the work we’ll do. Who are the end-users? Are they visitors finding the site organically? Is the end-user someone in accounting who will need to use the site for specific tasks? We need to know that information because, ultimately, the end-user has to be a part of the discussion around the project—it’s essential!

Disconnecting the Dots

Our client worked with a respected firm who by all accounts did a fine job on the project, managed bumps along the way and eventualy delivered the solution. When DigiSavvy came into to conduct the workshop, we were surprised to find that very few people actually saw the solution at work (logged into the back end of the application).

The people were trained were just seeing the application solution for just the first time! Their initial take on the app was a mixture of confusion with a healthy serving of WTF!? The first half of day one was difficult. Getting people set up, ensuring they were using compatible software, making sure folks could login and all that good stuff took up the bulk of the morning. The latter half of the day, people were getting their hands dirty with the site. We found that there were many missing components they were expecting to have but were not present. That turned the room a bit rowdy. Imagine a room full of Chicago-tough medical professionals like nurses, doctors, EMTs, and administrators; they had no problem letting us know what they thought of the solution.

We didn’t take it personally, however. We answered each of the issues the room voiced and noted them. Once we were able to overcome the confusion and anger over what people were seeing were able to get down to brass tacks and get people trained.

What was apparent was that the solutin put into place was out of touch with what the end-users’ expectations.

Demand Discovery as a Part of Your Project

I’ve talked to a number of clients who don’t feel that a discovery or scoping phase is vital to their project’s success. I explain that we don’t product projects that do not have a discovery phase. It’s not worth it and, in my opinion, a red flag.

That said, I don’t believe the problem here was necessarily a lack of a scoping/discovery phase; I simply think the discussion surrounding the end-user of the solution was missed—which is just as bad as not having a discovery phase at all.

If you’re looking to hire a someone to produce work for you there are several things you want to keep an eye out for.

What should you listen for?

  • Well, for starters, ask them about their process. How do they manage communication and work tasks? Do they have a system for it? Will you have visibility into their work flows?
  • Do they actually mention that they have a discovery phase? As them what they do to gather relevant information about the project.
  • Do they want to interview key staff on your team about your project?
  • Do they provide any documentation of their understanding of your business’s requirements for the given project?

These are just a few points to clarify, but there are much more points to inspect there.

What should be in your project’s discovery phase?

Not everything is going to be in discovery, first of all. However, there are a few basics.

  • Discovery should include all the people vital to the project’s success.
  • Who are the key decision makers? Who is directly involved in day-to-day discussions on the project (from the client and service provider)?
  • Oh, and before I forget: what defines a successeful outcome in your particular engagement? Identifying these key succcess indicators is important, too.
  • Who will be using the solution that gets deployed? Involving them in the process is vital as we learned from our recent training and workshop engagement.
  • What resources are needed from the service provider and the client? Will you need the marketing team? Will you need a graphic designer? Will you need content and copy folks? Plan for these resources from the start! I can’t tell you how often this piece has halted a project in its tracks!

Do your business a favor, do a proper discovery phase. What makes a discovery phase “good?” A project in which everyone knows what’s going on, what to expect, and has allocated necessary resources in a timely fashion is a project which did the necessary work before getting to work. If you don’t have this set ahead of time you’re possibly tossing time and resources into a blackhole.

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