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Creating a Clear Vision for Project Success

Straightforward communication during the discovery process often leads to more desirable outcomes.

Have you ever set your sights on something—more money in savings, a date, a promotion—only to get it and feel kind of…meh.

I know I have. It’s such a letdown and, at one time, it’s just the kind of thing that would’ve triggered a lot of navel-gazing.

Will I ever be satisfied with anything? 

Maybe I’m just not built for contentment.

And on and on.

But the reason for my dissatisfaction—and maybe yours, too—is actually a lot simpler than those Deep Thoughts.™ It turns out I wasn’t chasing the goal itself, I was actually chasing the feeling that I hoped achieving that goal would give me.

Makes sense, right?

I’d love to say I came to that brilliant conclusion myself, but I had a little help from Danielle LaPorte. In her book, The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul, the entrepreneur and inspirational speaker says we have the procedures of achievement upside down. We go after the stuff we want to have, get, or accomplish, and we hope that we’ll be fulfilled when we get there.

Instead, she suggests getting clear on how you want to feel in your life, and then creating goals that line up with those feelings. This philosophy resonated with me as soon as I read it, and the more I’ve thought about it and incorporated it into my own life, the more I believe it has applications that go beyond the personal realm. The act of clarifying your desires to ensure that you’re truly satisfied with an outcome is also important in the workplace, particularly the client-agency relationship.

Being straightforward with your agency from the very beginning goes a long way toward fostering a productive partnership. Here at Modern Tribe, once a client signs on the dotted line, we immediately schedule a kickoff meeting so we can work together to establish goals and metrics.

It Pays to Discover

The best client work happens at the intersection of user goals and business goals. So an important part of discovery is highlighting areas where they might be in conflict.

“It’s here where you might learn that a big idea for a new feature isn’t actually something users want or need,” says Kyle, our creative director. “Or you may learn that investing in an internal feature or tool at the expense of a new user-facing feature might ultimately set up your team to best serve your users in the long run. Either way, identifying goals on both ends of the spectrum allows our teams to strike the right balance and identify factors that guide the work.”

Another important part of discovery is building consensus.

“Stakeholders all have their individual goals and priorities,” Kyle says. “Hopefully there’s some overlap when we compare lists, but they’re rarely identical. So it’s up to us to create a shared plan around a shared set of goals and objectives that will help our teams truly work together as one.”

Here are four tips for honing your vision during the discovery process.

Go Beyond “On Time and On Budget”

When we ask clients how a project wins, coming in on time and on budget is the most common response, but we encourage you to be as specific as possible.

“If you’re accountable to other stakeholders, we ask up front what you expect to show them, and at what milestones, so we can help you succeed at your job,” says Nick, our director of engineering. “Ultimately, we want to make sure we’re making you happy as a customer and making meaningful progress on the work itself.”

Lose the Filter

There are few qualities we appreciate more in a client than candor, especially when it comes to discovery.

“When you tell us your biggest fears for a project, we can actively work to keep them from becoming reality,” Kyle says. “Conversely, when we know your biggest aspirations for a project, we can actively work to fulfill them.”

Plus, being open about your hopes and dreams helps our team uncover opportunities, and provides fodder for creative exploration.

Know That Translation May Be Necessary

Sometimes clients complete discovery on their own before partnering with us. That’s not a problem, of course. But it’s important to note that every org has their own way of talking about their work, and it’ll take some time before we’re all speaking the same language.

“If we’re inheriting discovery, we still dedicate some time to familiarizing ourselves with the materials,” Kyle says. “We may conduct more stakeholder interviews or do additional user interviews or an additional analytics audit. It’s rare that a project doesn’t include any new discovery.”

Additionally, inherited discoveries usually require some level of translation.

“We take all their language, their thinking, and their acronyms and convert it all to our language, our thinking, and our acronyms, basically rewriting the statement of work based on the materials they’re handing over,” Nick says. “We have to do this quite a bit when we’re rebuilding a legacy system or replatforming a website. It creates a common language so we can successfully communicate.”

Help Us Get to Know Your Users

While the needs and wants of individual stakeholders certainly help shape a project, they’re no substitute for information about your users.

“When we get user stories, we use them to put a box around requirements,” Nick says. “They really help us see the outcome. And then we can work backward in terms of everything we need to cover, like edge cases, requirements and functionality.”

User stories also humanize project requests, helping developers and designers build and design with empathy.

Discovery—It’s Not Just a Phase

While kickoff is the perfect opportunity to discuss higher level goals and metrics, discovery doesn’t necessarily end there. The first few weeks are often a dedicated period for deep-dive discovery activities. But many of our projects follow an adapted agile workflow, which allows us to build in feature-level discovery throughout the project.

By investing time in discovery efforts upfront, you’ll help us understand the outcomes you’re hoping for in the long run. And your agency partners will have the input they need to define the scope and plan to ensure its success.

Collaborative relationships between agencies and clients tend to produce the best work, and over the years we’ve noticed that, in addition to communicating clear objectives, our most successful partners are totally engaged. They show up to every check-in, they provide feedback in a timely manner, and they make sure someone on their team can chase down answers to questions that crop up between check-ins.

Got a project you want to tackle and goals in mind to help us get it done? We’d love to hear from you.