Discovery with clients

by Caryn Humphreys on September 15, 2015

Every team has its own way of handling project ramp up. That part of a project where you get to know the client and what you’ll be building for them. You attend meetings, and in greenfield cases you plan the minimum viable product (MVP) that your team will be building, then your team equips itself as best as possible to get to work.


The purpose of our meetings are to assess the value we can give a client in exchange for their money, trust, and collaboration. We want to achieve clarity, understanding, and be able to bring actionable items back to the team.

There are three main types of meetings our team has with clients during a project. There is the intro or kickoff meeting, the planning meeting, and the demo and feedback meeting. Each meeting happens at a different time during a project and each has its own purpose and its own outcome. Before we walk into any meeting, we put together a plan and an approximate structure for it so that we keep on track and make sure we get everything we need to out of it.

Meeting prep and structure

We’ve all been in those meetings where we aren’t sure who’s driving the boat, and what exact direction the meeting should be headed in. You walk out of the meeting with no identifiable goal for the project, without clarity on a number of details, and a lack of any real understanding.

The way to avoid this is by having goals and an agenda for your meetings. A basic outline is typically sufficient for ensuring whoever is running the meeting stays on point. The general template we use is called the 7 Ps of Meetings.

7 Ps of Meetings

Before the meeting, record the following:

  • Purpose: Why are you having this meeting? Consider the urgency of the meeting: what’s going on, what’s on fire?

  • Product: What specific artifact will we produce out of the meeting? What will it do and how will it support the purpose of the meeting?

  • People: Who needs to be there, what role will they play? A way to focus the list of attendees is thinking in terms of questions and answers. What questions are we answering with this meeting? Who are the right people to answer the questions?

  • Process: What agenda will these people use to create the product? Co-design an agenda with the attendees in advance to ensure they show up and stay engaged.

  • Pitfalls: What are the risks in this meeting and how will we address them? These could be simple rules like ‘no laptops’ or specific topics that are designated out of scope.

  • Prep: What would be useful to do in advance? This could be material to read in advance, research to conduct, ‘homework’ to assign to the attendees, etc.

  • Practical concerns: These are the logistics of the meeting – when and where, and importantly Who’s bringing lunch!

Of course the plan for your meeting should adapt depending on the type of meeting you are having. Record as much or as little as you need for clarity and direction.

Intro/Kickoff meeting

When to have this meeting: Before the project begins

While a project is still a gleam in the clients’ eye, and before we dive in and begin work, we gather the team leads together in a meeting with the client in what we call our Kickoff meeting. The purpose of the Kickoff is for everyone involved to get a crash course in the business, the market, the vision, the product, and the key problem the product intends to solve.

Planning meeting

When to have this meeting: Sprint planning (before each iteration)

This meeting’s focus is planning the upcoming iteration of the project. Those who will be working on the project and any necessary stakeholders and project managers will collaborate to prioritize the next feature or iteration of the product. After the intial iteration, a part of the planning meeting will also be retrospecting on the previous iteration.

Demo/Feedback meeting

When to have this meeting: At the end of each iteration

Demos are a necessity no team can (or should) avoid. To maintain a productive level of collaboration to ensure that your project is headed where it should be, your team needs to show what they’ve been working on. This is where you explain your thought processes, you highlight your challenges and how you overcame them, and you assure the client or stakeholders that the goals you planned for at the outset of the iteration have been achieved.

Meetings should, as with all things, be adapted for what makes the most sense for your team, your projects, and the structure of your organization. Likewise, exploring new ideas and honestly reflecting on the effectiveness of your processes and being open to changing how you do things will help keep your team flexible and continuously improving.

There may be some documentation required to keep a project aligned from kickoff to launch. One document we generally like to have around for each project is the Elevator Pitch. This is the summary of the business, the product, and the problem to be solved.

Elevator Pitch

The exercise of filling out an elevator pitch for a client is one of the first steps to gaining understanding of the business goals and vision. The exercise should be interactive between you and the client. It may also be a source of clarifying their own vision of what the product or service is supposed to be.

The most basic template looks like this:

The product is for {target_customer} who has {customer_need}.

{business_name}, is a {market_category} that {key_benefit}.

Unlike {competition}, the product {unique differentiator}.

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Caryn Humphreys

UX Designer
Caryn is a Product Designer. She likes writing about CSS tricks she's discovered, Best UX Practices, living and working in a startup community, and fostering a badass team culture.

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