There are a few essential questions we should always keep at top of mind during our discovery and solution definition efforts. Among them are:

  1. How will we define and measure success?
  2. How will we define “done?”

If you’re not asking these questions every time, you’re missing some critical elements, and ought to begin. Add these to your list of “Golden Questions” and incorporate them in your discovery approach.

Good. Now that you are asking them, I’d like to suggest an alternate way of phrasing them that may help you get more depth in the responses you receive and generate more meaningful discussion from your clients or stakeholders.

When we ask someone to provide a definition or criteria as the questions are phrased above, we are likely to get the responder’s best shot at a dictionary-like definition, or data points. There’s nothing wrong with that, and, in fact, it will be useful at some point, but it doesn’t cover the range or depth of what we could learn.

One technique I use to enrich discovery is to help stakeholders to not only define, but to envision or even “feel” the future state. Before asking for bullets and metrics on how we’ll define and measure success, I might lead with, “what does success for this effort look like to you?” or, “how does success feel different than today?”. Instead of asking how we’ll define done, I might ask, “imagine we’ve implemented the solution and met the objectives, how do things look (or feel) different now?” or, “How our our lives easier or better now that the solution is in place?”

This might sound a bit touchy-feely, but trust me, it works! By engaging the senses of the audience, I am able to get them to think beyond bullets and to truly visualize success. Asking how things look or feel invokes a more thoughtful, even visceral response from the audience.

As communication experts, our job is to help create a shared vision of what success looks like. While we’ll need the bullets and numbers to build out our solution definition, during discovery we want to understand the “why?” which, I’ve found, is better evoked by phrasing in terms of “look”, “feel” or “imagine.”

Do I always use this phrasing? I appeal to seeing or feeling when I don’t have a good sense of the vision or driving “why?” for the effort, or if the stakeholder is struggling to articulate the vision and objectives. Sometimes the alternative wording is just the thing to shake loose some ideas.

Similar phrasing can also be useful in learning about the business problem.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, elicitation is an art. Anyone can take a checklist of the important questions into a room, ask them, scribble down the responses and leave. The art lies in knowing how to engage the audience and maximize the value of communication that is taking place. That’s how an analyst or a good business consultant adds value. The way we frame questions, as analysts, drives the way the audience thinks about them, and, in turn, how they respond.

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