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Rediscover the Power of Discovery

Most mistakes and failures in technology projects are caused by a birth defect, i.e., something was missing at the earliest stages of development. The DNA of any web project is formed in the discovery sessions, and everything that follows bears the DNA's imprint.

Or it should.

Too often, discovery is confused with creative brainstorming. In the beginning, we are not trying to invent or create a need or a problem or even an opportunity. These things exist like a genetic code, waiting to be recognized and mapped. The creative part comes later when we start experimenting with possibilities and ideas related to what we've found.

But if discovery isn't exactly creative, it can still be exciting. Discovery isn't just fact finding, it's a treasure hunt—and much of that treasure is buried. There's no better tool to unearth the buried things than the simple art of listening. Over the years I have recognized a few listening techniques that make discovery sessions more productive.

Listen to the quiet voices.
  • Important insights are often missed because the group is dominated by stronger voices. It is our job to hear every concern and idea and evaluate later.
Listen for repetition.
  • Real needs have a way of working themselves into every conversation. Repetition can be a good marker for priority.
Listen for the problem, not the assumed answer.
  • Business owners have a tendency to be solution oriented, and approach an issue with pre-defined strategies. No solution is correct unless it is solving the right problem.
Listen to what is not being said.
  • This is the hardest technique, but perhaps the most rewarding. Take a mental inventory of the problems and solutions that have been discussed and ask, "What is missing?" "What larger issue do these problems suggest?" "What constraints are limiting these solutions and what could we do if those limits did not exist?"

This approach not only applies to initial discovery with the client, but also in every team meeting, collaborative conversation, and review session throughout the project's lifetime. After all, birth doesn't have to be a one-time event.

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