Nailing project discovery meetings

An article with actionable steps about how to run project discovery meetings.
Gillian Laging
5 min

For people that work on projects, a well-executed project discovery meeting is a critical early step. If you find that you’re not seeing eye-to-eye with clients and other stakeholders throughout your projects, working on your discovery process could help ensure a smoother ride for all involved.

Here’s some foundations to ensure this key interaction is as productive as possible. Over time, your discovery process should become like clockwork.

1. Who needs to be in the room

If you haven’t worked with a particular client before, it can be challenging to uncover who else beyond the main contact would benefit from being in the room. But if there are other leaders that have an interest in the project, or if a more junior team member will be doing more of the legwork, then it’s in everyone’s best interest to be on the same page from the start.  

2. Agree on objectives in advance

If you’ve delivered similar projects before, then you probably have a good idea about what you need to get out of the meeting. Don’t save those thoughts in your head – share your goals for the meeting with your client and invite their own contributions.

Having goals for the meeting and knowing what decisions need to be made will help make the meeting productive. Sharing those goal upfront will help you identify any distractions in advance – agree to address other topics another time.

3. Understand your client's vision

Do some groundwork on your client before you’re in the room – getting an idea of where your project fits into the bigger picture will help you position your services strategically.

In the discovery meeting you can confirm your understanding of their business goals and dive into their vision for the project. It’s important to keep in mind that while the project needs to meet the business goals – your contact will have things that are important to them personally. Draw those insights out, because it's easier to make a good impression when you know what motivates someone.

4. Dig into the whys

If there’s any ambiguity around the problem you’re solving, this is the time to flush it out. The five whys is a useful framework to get to the root cause of the problem. Simply ask the team why they’re facing a particular problem. Then, if that answer doesn’t clearly articulate the root cause – ask why again, and so on.

Finding the root cause of a problem is a good way to ensure your project planning begins by solving the right problem. Solving the wrong problem will get you nowhere.

5. Be real about budgets

Budget talks can be tricky. Often, both parties want to keep cards somewhat close to their chests. But fostering mutual understanding and transparency at this stage will save you a world of pain later. No one enjoys having projects over-promised and under-delivered.

For the client, having an open conversation now is about effective prioritisation and problem solving. If they don’t have the budget for everything, it’s better to have some things done well rather than corners cut or a job left unfinished. To use a non-tech analogy, perhaps you’re working on a kitchen renovation, or even a new hotel foyer. Maybe your client has marble dreams without the marble budget – if you know this ahead of time you can find appropriate solutions together. There’s some great veneer products out there these days!

6. Understand the end-user

If the end-user is your client, then drawing out their needs and preferences is straightforward. But often end-users will not be your client, in these cases it’s important to get as much information from the client but to also look at the data through your own lens. If possible, recommend that an end-user or at least a customer-facing team member is invited to share their perspective. And if you’ve delivered similar projects before, that knowledge is invaluable. Leverage your unique perspective to ask different questions – to deeply understand the end-user, their challenges, and their preferences.

A user-centred approach will deliver better outcomes. However, in cases where your client just expects you to do as they ask, understanding the end-user can still be useful. Use your insights to strengthen your proposal with assumptions and exclusions.

7. Identify critical deliverables

In most projects there is often a degree of flexibility – you’ve been engaged because you’re the expert, so there’ll be room to do things your way. However, there can be non-negotiables lurking in the details – use the discovery meeting to draw them out into the light. They may be features or functions if it’s a digital project, or maybe a milestone date has extra significance that is important to plan for. Don’t leave any assumptions on the table, missing these details when planning your timeline and scope could cause major roadblocks down the track.

8. Set the stage for collaboration

Discuss how you’ll communicate, share progress, and integrate feedback throughout the project. Will your contact be responsible for signing off milestones and changes, or do other people need to be looped in?

Remember, a discovery meeting is not just a conversation; it’s the foundation of a successful project. Listen actively, ask insightful questions, and begin building a partnership with your client.

9. Get it on the record

These days, there’s no excuse for poor note taking because “there’s an AI for that!”
For Zoom – enable meeting summaries with AI Companion, Microsoft Teams offers Intelligent Recap and look into Duet AI for Google Meet. There are dozens of apps you could try too –, for example works with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet.

By ensuring you create a summary with key takeaways and next actions while it’s fresh, you will save time and demonstrate to your client that you’re on the ball.

Want to learn more about how to set yourself up for success – check out our other articles in this series.