A project exploratory discussion is a meeting that we have with each prospective client prior to commencing with the project. It usually takes place at client’s place, which yields more freedom to the client to demonstrate how the current system works, the business process, the problems and his expectation for the project. Meanwhile, by diving deep into the discussion, the discussion also draws a clear picture of whether the parties and project key stakeholders involved are willing to move forward with a formal project proposal.
I believe that a productive exploratory meeting adds value to help secure the business in the end and also lays a solid foundation for effective project management. The essentials listed below are golden principles we have tested to a successful project exploratory discussion.
Five Steps to a Successful Project Exploratory Discussion
1. Conduct research on your prospective client
It’s of great importance to have a clear understanding of your client company profile, their business, their market position, their competitive advantage and the emerging issues and trends across the industry. The information can be acquired through company public site, industry report, news and articles online. Based on my project experience, the company’s website might be the best place to collect the findings. On the corporate website, it’s easy to find their services, products, stakeholders and their marketing activities. Additionally, with scanning through company blogs and news centre, you will gain an overview of what they have been up to recently and their business performance within the market.
2. Prepare a discussion agenda
A project exploratory meeting enables both sides to have an open and frank discussion about the project. It is also a great opportunity to get to know each other by introducing services and demonstrating the business process mutually. However, without a meeting agenda set beforehand, it is very easy to lose the vision of the meeting and thus the objective of the meeting may not be achieved in the end.
An effective meeting agenda includes the introduction of involved parties, the discussion or action that needs to be accomplished, the problem that needs to be solved and the expected outcome. Once the meeting agenda is drafted, it’s necessary to send to all participants, especially the participants from client’s side and ask them if they need to make any amendments. Additionally, it’s also worthwhile mentioning if any pre-work such as documentation reading is required.
3. Identify project stakeholders
It’s not always easy to identify all project stakeholders in the first exploratory discussion. However, by observing the current user flow through client’s demonstration and interviewing the client during the discussion could help identify project decision-maker, decision influencer, main users and possibly the project sponsor. This helps ensure that our proposal not only reflects the solution for main users, but also aligns the with the overall business goals and objectives. It’s also a great help to secure the project sponsors’ support who will be engaged in your project’s success.
4. Identify major project risks
Ask all of the participants from the client’s side to list the risks they can envisage during the exploratory discussion. This is also a big step in eliminating the biases and mitigating risks when working on the project proposal. The risks can be proposed from a technology perspective, an operation process perspective and a business strategy perspective.
5. Define the next step
Apart from wrapping up things at the end of the meeting, giving your client a clear picture of the next step is a great way to keep engaging with the client. It also shows your positive attitude and the effort you are making to get the project. Don’t forget to set a date for the next progress meeting and keep your client informed with the status all the time.