At Agile Cloud Consulting, we want our clients to feel comfortable with every part of the process – but it can still feel a little intimidating to start working with a technology consulting firm. There is a lot of industry-specific jargon in our work that can cause a “fish out of water” feeling, especially for nonprofit clients who aren’t in the technology sector.
Let’s take a look at one word you’ll hear in the beginning of a project that can feel a bit strange if you aren’t used to it in this context: Discovery.
What is discovery?
Simply put, discovery is the process of understanding your workflows, needs, and pain points relevant to this project.
By the time your project begins, you will have been through at least one round of “discovery light” with our engagement team and maybe even a Salesforce account executive. We need to know enough about your needs in order to outline the project in the first place.
But as we get started, we need to move from “discovery light” to something more like anthropology. Personally, this is one of my very favorite parts of a project! I love learning the ins and outs of how an organization does its work and the places where things feel slow, stuck, or just plain broken.
Developing an understanding of what’s going on in your organization right now is crucial. We can’t build you something better if we don’t know where you’re starting!
Let’s get out our fossil brushes and our “who, what, when, how, and why” and talk about what the process of discovery really looks like.
We’ll start with the “what.”
The discovery process is a meeting (or a series of meetings) with members of your team and the consultant(s) working with you on this project.
Depending on the scope of the project and the number of people involved, there may be a more extended discovery process.
In addition to meetings, we may also ask to see some of your documents as part of the discovery. For instance, a spreadsheet with the demographic information you collect from your program participants, an outline of how your team currently handles membership renewals or a final report you provide to a funder. These kinds of samples can be beneficial as we assess your “current state” (another little piece of lingo for you).
Detailed discovery conversations with your consultant inform the substance of your project. These sessions help expand our understanding of what your system needs to do for you.
Discovery provides an opportunity for your consultant(s) to get to know your team and the work you do – both on a larger scale (your mission and who you serve) and on a more granular level (the behind-the-scenes aspects that make your work possible). We’ll start learning who you are, what you do, how you do it, and the terminology you use so we can speak your language as we move through the project together.
We usually start with the topics you’ve already brought up in your initial conversations with our engagement team. But in our discussions, we may also find that you have additional needs we can address during this project. For instance, if, in addition to tracking your grant funding, you also want to be able to track deliverables required by those funders, we can work that into the project as we begin configuration.
We may also find out that you have more complex needs that would require a separate project (a phase 2, or maybe even a phase 3 following the current project). For example, if we learn that you want to integrate software that allows you to text your constituents, we will add this to a wishlist of functionality for a possible future project.
From Agile Cloud Consulting: Your consultant(s). You may have met them briefly prior to discovery meetings, but this will be your first chance to engage with them as you set out on this project together. Your project manager will likely also sit in on these sessions.
From your organization: internal stakeholders for this project. This can include anyone on your team who:
- Is currently doing the work that will be done using new/improved technology once the project is complete. For instance, if you are implementing the Salesforce Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP) so you can take advantage of donation tracking functionality, the person currently processing donations would be an excellent person to involve in the discovery process.
- Isn’t currently using Salesforce but will be once this project is complete. Often program managers are accommodating here – they may be using spreadsheets (or *gasp* pen and paper) right now, but the goal is for them to be able to use your shiny new Salesforce system after all the pieces are in place.
- Handles internal and/or outward-facing reports. It can be beneficial for us to design with the end in mind, and often the data you want at your fingertips will help inform our process. These reports and dashboards can include data you want to share with management, funders, board members, in your annual report, etc.
- Has a holistic view of how your organization is currently using data and technology and how that use will grow and change as you invest in your technical infrastructure. Someone like this can often provide helpful insights during discovery conversations.
As consultants, we usually jump into discovery as soon as possible after the project kickoff. The project manager for your project will reach out to you to coordinate schedules. Our goal is that once the project begins, we can start digging in and learning about your needs in greater detail.
Expect your team to do most of the talking during discovery sessions. Our job is to ask questions and take lots of notes – we may even record sessions with your permission so we can reference them in the future if needed.
We know it can feel hard to know where to start, so we will come prepared with a list of open-ended questions to get the conversation going. Don’t worry about preparing anything in advance for discovery sessions – your team’s minds are all we need!
Discovery meetings work best when the attendees feel comfortable sharing in detail and when everyone has a chance to contribute to the conversation. If you have a larger team, this often means working in smaller groups. As you can imagine, conducting a detailed discovery session with 30 people in attendance probably wouldn’t be very helpful!
What discovery is NOT:
- An interrogation. If we ask a question that your team isn’t sure how to answer, that’s ok! Our questions are designed to open conversations, not to make you feel guilty about anything.
- Judgmental. Our team is full of compassionate consultants who understand the struggles nonprofits often face, and we are here to help. If we ask a question about the specifics of a particular process, and your answer is, “It’s different every time because we just do it whenever we remember to,” that’s perfectly ok! No embarrassment necessary.
Discovery is about understanding what is happening – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Once we’re all on the same page, we can start to make progress together!
- A time for brainstorming solutions. It can be tempting to veer into brainstorming during discovery sessions – we all love to solve problems, after all! But the magic of discovery is in focusing on the here and now. Once we understand which aspects of your current process aren’t working well for you, we can begin to design a system that will truly meet your needs.
I hope this helps you feel more comfortable with the discovery process – our team is excited to dive in with you!