A Better User Experience —Running a Discovery Session (Part I)

I usually get the client for one maybe two full days.

Warren Challenger
6 min readApr 20, 2017

A discovery session or design sprint is just one stage of many in the process of creating a great product.

A discovery session can easily take up to a full working week once you dive into build, test and improve — Agile and Lean methodology. If every client was willing to give up a whole week, my life would be easier.

Alas, clients are rarely willing to give up a whole week. Some clients just can’t see the potential of the outcomes. So what do you do?

With these two articles I hope to shed some light on the process I go through with clients in one full day (8 hours including lunch).

The aim of the game is to walk away with as much information as possible, so the team can start adding meat to the bones from this extremely short discovery session. Running sprints internally back at the studio with the client along for the ride as much as possible.

Two great books if you’re looking for much more detail in a workshop or discovery session.

I will be writing these two articles from a very top level. I could add much more detail and chapters. If you would like much more detail and are thinking of running a workshop yourself, I advise reading the two books that I reference above. If you can get a larger discovery session with your client, I strongly recommend it.

For continuity, I will use the same example problem in both articles.

The change the client wants

The client has a website where the only thing users can currently do is view products, order products via the phone and find physical stores to purchase what they find through the website. Now the client would like the website to allow the user to purchase online directly.

Prep — Your Research

So now that you know what the change is going to be, you need to go on a fact finding mission. Since this is a website that already exists, data is going to become your new best friend.

Competitor Analysis
This involves physically going through the competitor’s websites and jotting down any good or bad points about their site.

Google Analytics
Look through the traffic on the current live site using Google Analytics. Funnels, clicks, page views, user journeys and site speed, to name a few variables.

Heat maps from Hot Jar

HotJar or Crazy Egg
These tools are great to see what users are doing on your site. They record users so you can observe their mouse behaviour as well as install surveys and questionnaires very easily. The questionnaires and surveys can be very handy if you’d like some qualitative feedback from actual website visitors.

Usability Hub
This tool allows you to get the design of your website in front of random people whilst they fill in a survey you have written. Great for getting direct feedback on your existing or new designs.*

*Be cautious with feedback from Usability Hub, it may not be from your target market, so do not take this feedback as gospel: More of a top level opinion from Joe Bloggs.

These are just a few tools that will help you understand the customers better.

If you’re trying to improve a product that already exists, nothing beats actual interviews with the target market. You can read expression, they can voice their thinking and opinion as well you watching their activity directly. If you have the time and budget available to do interviews before the discovery session, I strongly recommend it.

Prep — Client Research

It’s important that the team members attending from the client side are also prepared and have done research before attending the discovery session. Time is tight and everyone needs to be on their A game and understand the problem we’re all trying to solve. As a minimum I would ask the client to perform the following before the discovery session.

Why Now?
If not already discussed, have the client prepare to explain to the group why the company is making this change and why now.

Competitor Analysis
This involves physically going through the competitor’s websites and jotting down any good or bad points about their site.

Previous Attempts
Ask the client to have all information available about any possible attempt at this change before. Both successes and failures.

Prep — Inviting the right people to be involved

Arguably one of the hardest elements of a discovery session with a client is getting the right people all in one space for a significant amount of time.

For best results, this process requires a committed team, takes time and communication/opinion flows freely. There’s no room for a stand alone design hero, HIPPO (Highest Paid Person Opinion) or any person who has enough arrogance to think they know more than everyone else combined.

The ideal amount of people involved can vary, depending on the scale, size and touch points the problem you’re all trying to solve may have. I would advise no more than ten attendees, six or seven people is usually the sweet spot, maybe eight people if you have to push. Too many cooks can result in a session that takes much longer than it should and makes pushing through the workshop hurdles much, much harder.

So who attends the discovery session?

In this example I would ask:

  • Senior figure from the telephone centre
  • Senior figure from the ground team sales staff
  • Senior figure (director) who has final sign off for this project

The reason these staff members should attend is because they have direct contact with the website users. They will know their users pain points very well but will also have very different points of view on how to solve the pain points their users may have.

The reason for having the person who can sign off this project in the room is because it gets buy in from them as early as possible.

From the agency or studio side, as a minimum the following people should attend:

  • Facilitator or conductor
  • Strategist
  • Project Manager
  • UX Designer
  • Developer

Much like before, the reason it’s this set of people is because they will all be involved in the project and tackle the same problems very differently.

Who or what is the facilitator or conductor?

This role is key. This is the person who keeps the workshop moving, keeping a strict hold on time and organisation. With very little time, it’s this persons job to be strict where needed. This person is not to be involved in giving their opinion, they are here to facilitate alone. It is the facilitators job to ask the right questions at the right time. The facilitator will be far too busy collating everyone else’s thoughts and ideas to be adding their own thoughts to this process. I’ve tried a few times to involve the facilitator (usually me), it doesn’t work.

Part Two

The second and final part to this article can be found here.

A Better User Experience — Running a Discovery Session (Part II)