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A common cause of project failure or an unhappy client at the end of a project is that the client didn’t get what they thought they’d be getting. How can we ensure that we’re all on the same page?

In the initial project discovery workshop, we need to ask the right discovery session questions to provide clients with the opportunity to tell us all the important things we need to know to deliver the project successfully.

What Is A Project Discovery Session?

A project discovery session or workshop is a meeting between the client and project manager at the very early stages of a project. A specific project might not have even been identified yet—the client knows they need something but they aren't sure what exactly that is.

The purpose of the discovery call is for the project manager to understand the client's business model, operations, decision-making process, and overall business goals & strategy, to help them define the right solution or project to address a specific pain point. It's also a good opportunity to build rapport with the client.

It differs slightly from project kickoff meeting, in which the project manager and the project team already have a pretty good idea about what specific deliverables and tasks they'll be working on. The discovery meeting is part of the broader project kickoff and project initiation process.

24+ Project Discovery Session Questions To Ask

Here's the most important questions you'll need to ask in the project discovery session. I've split these into the following 6 types of discovery questions:

This list isn’t meant to be used as a questionnaire for clients to complete, but as a framework to help understand our client's or prospect's needs, and their business problem so that we can properly architect an appropriate solution.

Each of these are open-ended questions, to allow you really dig in and understand why the current solution isn’t working and what’s needed in the potential solution.

Strategy Questions

1. Goals

Why are we doing this? What are the goals for this website? What are the KPIs and metrics? How will we measure and evaluate success? How will it help your bottom line? What does it need to achieve from a business perspective? What should it accomplish? How do the business objectives align to unmet consumer needs?

2. Messaging

What key messages to be communicated? What’s the one thing that we want people to think/feel/do? What can we say to make them do it? How does this fit into the broader marketing and communication strategy? How does this stack up against competitive positioning? What are we communicating that’s different; what’s our unique selling proposition (USP)?

User Experience Questions

3. Audience

Who are we trying to communicate to? Who are your primary/secondary/tertiary audiences? Why? Is that different from your desired audience? What are their demographics? Why would they come to visit? When do they come to visit? Why would they come back?

4. User Journeys

Who are the users of the site? What are their different needs? What do we want them to do? What are the current barriers? How can we increase customer satisfaction? How can we generate loyalty? How can we drive conversion?

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5. Functionality

What types of functionality beyond static content pages is required? Browser detection? Geo-IP detection? Multilingual support? Shopping cart or eCommerce? Data capture? Forms? Print screen? Cookies? Dynamic content? Interactive maps? Store locators? Blogs? Events calendar? Jobs listings? A feed for frequently updated content? A photo gallery? Social integration? Why is it needed? How will this functionality achieve our business objectives?

6. Usability

What are the requirements for us to do user testing? What devices are we supporting? What browsers are we supporting? What platforms are we building for? What is the minimum screen size we should develop for each? What are the requirements and standards for accessibility compliance?

Content Questions

7. Types

What is the content we will load onto the site? Is it repurposing old content or creating new content? How many sections of content will there be? What pages are required? What are the different content types we need to support? Why is it needed? What will it achieve? How will the content be meshed together? How does the content relate to other content?

8. Management

Who will write it? When will it be ready? Who will load content onto the site? Who will maintain it? What workflow and permission levels, approvals are required?

9. Localization

How many markets need to be supported? How many different languages within those markets? What are the content differences between different markets? When do the different markets need to be launched? What other market specific requirements should we be aware of?

Creative Questions

10. Look & Feel

What creative have you seen that you like? What don’t we like? Why?

11. Assets

What branding work has already been done? How popular is it internally and externally with customers? Where can we find brand assets—logos, brand guidelines, photography?

12. Brand Guidelines

How well defined are the brand guidelines? How rigid is the existing style guide?

13. Tone

Are there existing websites that you like that would provide creative insight into a desired look and feel? Is there an emotional end-state we’d like to have your audience walk away with?

Technical Questions

14. URL

What is the URL for this site? Who is the current domain registrar? How will we support multilingual markets?

15. Hosting

Who is hosting the site? IIS or Apache Linux or Windows or other? What is the current load on the server? Are databases being used, if so, what type? Are there database preferences? What backup mechanisms are required? Will there be spikes in traffic requiring a content delivery network (CDN) like AWS, Akamai, or Edgio?

16. Legacy Integration

What existing systems will this website need to connect with?

17. Security

Will we need to create user accounts? Will encryption be required? Will there be password-protected areas? What personal data will we need to store and secure?

18. Development Preferences

Are we building on a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Drupal, or Sitecore? Is there a development framework we need to use? What devices, browsers and platforms need support?

19. Tracking

How will we track KPIs? Will we track using analytic tools like Webtrends or Google Analytics, or other measurement technologies like ClickTale or something more comprehensive like Adobe SiteCatalyst?

Project Management Questions

20. Process

How does this project relate to other live projects? What’s the project plan? What are we going to do (SoW)? What is the running order for activities (methodology)? When (timing plan)? How much will it cost (budget)?

21. Communication

What are the best communication channels to use? Who needs to be involved, when? What tools will we use to communicate, collaborate and share?

22. Governance

How are we going to manage the process? Who are the stakeholders? Who’s responsible, accountable, consulted informed? How will we manage any changes in requirements?

23. Approval Process

How will we effectively manage the project team and the stakeholders throughout the project life cycle?

24. Project Management

How are we tracking progress to ensure we’re meeting the defined requirements, running on time, and keeping to budget? When is the deadline for live date? Why? What is driving the requirement to meet that date?

What's Next?

After the discovery process, make sure to send a follow-up email listing next steps and action items. You'll also want to get started on the next steps in the project initiation process—start defining your deliverables, putting together the statement of work, and planning your kickoff meeting.

What do you think I'm missing? What else is there to defining the idea that should PMs be thinking about when kicking off the discovery phase of a project? I’d love to hear if you’ve got any more tips—share them using the comments below!

Ben Aston
By Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and founder of thedpm.com. I've been in the industry for more than 20 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from film to CMS', games to advertising and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony. I'm a Certified Scrum Master, PRINCE2 Practitioner and productivity nut!