Ask the Business Analyst: 10 Tips for Rocking Your Next Discovery Session

November 14, 2017 Appirio

By Michael Henry

“Palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy.” – Marshall Mathers

The opening lines of Eminem’s popular rap ballad “Lose Yourself” accurately articulate the feeling many new and experienced Business Analysts (BAs) feel as they begin projects with a client. After completing 10+ projects over 3+ years at Appirio, I have listed ten quick tips for BA’s to prepare for and kick off the discovery phase of projects, in order to start on the right track. With a strong mind and these techniques at the BA’s disposal, you can expect less stress and avoid a potential “mom’s spaghetti” situation:

Run through the SOW again … and again … and again …

The more of the Statement of Work (SOW) you have engrained in your mind, the better you will understand the project scope and guardrails, once you are face to face with your client.

Identify the key functional components

If not directly stated in the SOW, identify the key functional components (i.e., Opportunity Management, Case Management, Account Management) and break them down into smaller concepts. For example, if you have Opportunity Management, you may break this into items such as Opportunity Conversion Process, Opportunity Lifecycle, and Opportunity Team Identification.

Consider “How do I complete the process?”

Try to map out what the end-to-end processes will be for each component. For each piece that may be ambiguous or lacking background information, note it and make sure that it is addressed during the appropriate discovery session.

Gather questions for each component and process

To have focused, fruitful conversations, write down specific questions to gain a full picture of the client’s business. Using Opportunity Management as an example, you may start with “Does the client currently use the concept of Opportunities?” If so, “Does the client have defined Opportunity Stages?” and “What are the entry and exit criteria for each stage? Is there any overlap in the criteria?”

Determine a logical order for discovery meetings

While many factors may affect the meeting order (e.g., stakeholder availability, billable hour restrictions), it is often helpful to conduct sessions to follow business processes. For many companies, the order may be similar to: Leads, followed by Accounts, Contacts, Opportunities, Orders/Products, Reporting. However, this varies across industries (a large manufacturing client may have greatly differentiated processes from that of a brick and mortar retail shop). If a reasonable order cannot be determined from the SOW, reach out to the team who sold the project to gain the necessary background information.

Identify the main players

Reach out to the Project Manager, Account Director, or Account Executive to better understand the key individuals and teams on the client side. If you are going into a highly politicized client, you will want to know this. It is important to identify right away for whom you must cater your messaging, as sometimes stakeholders in the room are merely representatives of the true key decisions makers.

Keep a running dictionary of client terminology

Many companies utilize acronyms vital to their internal processes (“We need the FTE to sync with our BTS, in order for the ISRs to see a full NPS report!”), and it is important that you keep track of these. The more quickly you adopt the client’s language, the more quickly they will come to respect and trust you as their advisor.

Don’t be afraid to ask “why?”

It is a simple question, but can help a client say, out loud, how they reached where they are today. Why helps provide insight (for both you and the client) into how you can take the “before” and build a stronger, scalable “after.”

Give out homework

If there is information that is even remotely helpful for determining a solution that only the client may have, ask for it. Be explicit in what you need, assign a specific individual to gather and package the information, and give him/her a due date for when you need it. At the end of any session/discovery day, share the list of responsibilities, in order for the project team to know who is accountable for what.

Never lose track of the endgame

Remember why you are conducting the discovery sessions, what you are looking to build, how you are going to build it, who will be involved in the build, for whom the work is being accomplished, and by when the project needs to be completed.

Bonus Tip: Remember to stay confident!

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