The discovery would have been better if we’d been more prepared

Stephen Hale
Screenshot from a project retrospective

At the end of a discovery phase, our clients almost always say they wish they had been better prepared. 

We run retrospectives at the end of every discovery project. They are a cathartic way to reflect on things that didn’t work or felt hard, as well as celebrate things that went well.

If we notice a pattern in the “to improve” column, we know there might be something for us to fix in our process for next time.

One pattern I’ve noticed recently is service owners (our clients) bemoaning how unprepared they were when the discovery started. 

Our clients add comments to our EasyRetro board like:

  • “We were in a rush to start”
  • “We should have made sure we had cover for BAU before we started”
  • “We should have taken more time to ready our stakeholders”
  • “We didn’t know what to expect”

These types of comments always come as a bit of a surprise to me. After all, we usually only get to deliver a discovery phase after a long process to win the work. And I know that to get to that point, our clients have probably needed to secure the budget, agree a procurement process, write a brief, and review and score various proposals and pitches from suppliers. 

But despite doing all of all that, our clients still start the discovery phase feeling unprepared. Why? 

I think it’s because discovery phases are hard to prepare for. For most of the service owners we work with, it’s the first time they’ve done it. And discovery phases can be intensive, delivered in a few weeks. 

And discoveries tend to ask big, fundamental, sometimes existential questions about the things that service owners are responsible for. That can feel overwhelming for service owners. So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that service owners feel like they aren’t sufficiently prepared. 

So we’ve been thinking about how we might help service owners be better prepared before they actually work with us to deliver their discovery phase. 

Surely you don’t need a Prepare For A Phase phase?

Discovery is about finding stuff out before you make big decisions. So it seems odd to be considering whether you need to spend time finding stuff out in advance of your finding out phase. And I know that there is probably little appetite for additional formal phases of work in addition to discoveries, alphas and betas.

But from our experience, there are definitely practical things you can do to create the conditions for a successful discovery.

How to be better prepared

Teams that feel better prepared for a discovery phase tend to have taken the time in advance to work though:

  • Their goals, and the things that should be in and out of scope for the work 
  • The people needed to run the discovery, and the time commitment needed
  • Access to subject experts, stakeholders and vendors during the discovery phase
  • How to procure (and then work with) good suppliers
  • The risks of running a discovery and how they might be mitigated
  • How to get the most from the discovery experience

You don’t need a phase of work to think about these things. But in our experience you won’t regret taking some time to work them through before the discovery is in full swing.

Lagom can help you with this

As it happens, one of the services Lagom offers is a half-day workshop and action plan to help service owners prepare for discovery phases. Get in touch if that might be of interest to you.

And we run occasional (free) webinars on this subject. The next one will be on 31 July 2024 – you can find the details and book your place on our website

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