ARTICLE: Trevor Minton

The purpose of UX discovery sessions – and how to make the most of them

When we begin a UX engagement with a new EdTech client, our first priority is to quickly learn as much as possible about our client’s product and users. Our collaborative process begins with a phase of research and user understanding that includes an in-person discovery session. 

The discovery session allows a product’s stakeholders to identify problems, clarify goals and priorities, and align around a shared vision for their product – before identifying solutions. Here’s what you need to know about this critical planning session — and how you and your UX team can make the most of it. 

What is a Discovery Session, and How Does it Work?

A discovery session is an efficient, productive way for a product team to learn as much as possible about the problems they will be solving together.

In order to make the most of the session, the right mix of stakeholders from the client’s internal team must be present. Ideally, your session should gather representative voices of  product strategy, engineering, and your users. Depending on how your company is structured, this might translate to a product owner, engineering lead, and customer service specialist. Each person’s perspective is important. But no one member of the team should place their knowledge of the product and organization above the goal of understanding what’s most needed to improve your users’ experience with your product.

The true purpose of the discovery session is for the full team to get as much background and context on a product as possible. At its core, it is a knowledge-sharing session. This sharing process is two-directional. We, as the UX team, come prepared to share tangible information, and we ask our client teams to bring their knowledge and aspirations to the table as well.

We ask our clients to bring their identification of a problem as well as an explanation of the positive changes they hope to achieve. Openfield’s UX team brings an understanding of the product, the competitive landscape, and the ability to communicate with teams across product and engineering. We also plan for integrating the voice of users during discovery, through interviews or quick prototype testing.

To begin, Openfield’s team shares its initial UX research findings and the questions that have arisen from it. Examples of the questions your UX team may ask include:  

  • Why is it important to tackle this problem, change, or improvement right now?
  • What metrics will you observe to measure whether any new changes are succeeding?
  • Who is and who will be using the product? 
  • What have your users already told you about your product?
  • Why is the product and the changes to be made important to your user?

These questions help guide the conversation and keep the team focused. 

Throughout, the client’s team has the opportunity to give as much background information as possible and share top-priority goals as each member of the team sees them. Different stakeholders often have different versions of what a product’s big problems are. For example, customer service specialists will naturally want to prioritize the most common customer complaints, while the product owner may wish to prioritize a new feature on the product roadmap that will drive the product closer to its long-term strategic goals. 

The discovery session is designed to let everyone have their say, while at the same time helping the group gain a more holistic understanding of the problems. A major goal of the discovery session is to allow the team to make decisions in a unified way, with users top of mind. 

Clients can expect to come away from the discovery session with a full understanding of the problems, as well as an aligned set of priorities — not a bunch of out-of-the-box, cookie-cutter solutions. The reality is that the discovery session isn’t intended to be used for brainstorming solutions. But it is a necessary precursor to identifying the right UX solutions for your product.  

How to Get the Most Out of Discovery Sessions

When we work with a client, we strive to function as an extension of their team. The discovery session lays the groundwork by giving Openfield an insider’s perspective and building trust between the two teams. But the more willing a client is to invest in the discovery session, the more fruitful the session — and the subsequent engagement — will be. Here’s how your team can prepare to make the most of a discovery session with a UX team. 

  1. There’s no such thing as oversharing. When it comes to the discovery session, there’s no such thing as oversharing about your product. The UX team is eager to hear your first-hand accounts of what’s working and not working within your product. What do your users love? What do they hate? What are you struggling to introduce to the product that will put it over the top if only you could figure out how to do it? Your team should feel confident revealing everything you know about the product and, perhaps more importantly, what you don’t know about it. As a client, your real-world, on-the-ground experience is critical. Getting the full story is what will allow your UX team to create the most advantageous plans coming out of the discovery session. 
  2. Come prepared to share any UX work your team has already done. Beyond anecdotes and wish lists, make sure to bring any UX research and design work your team has conducted on your product. Sometimes our clients are tempted to withhold this information because it doesn’t reflect their current goals or because they want to avoid swaying the opinions of our team. But the value of a good UX team that’s dedicated to research is that they will understand how to parse your previous findings with their own. Your existing research is valuable because it sets a baseline of understanding for the discovery session. It can be used as a starting point for further testing, acting as a benchmark against which to measure new findings. In addition, if your team has conducted any UX discovery yet, such as user journey maps, wireframes or design, bring these to the session with you. Just as with any previous research, these efforts will inform your UX team about the assumptions and directions your team have already explored. The UX team will use the discovery session to ask questions about those ideas and build a plan of attack based on the answers.
  3. Be prepared to simplify your goals. Many EdTech companies enter the discovery session with big-picture ideas that are so broad and multifaceted that they are unrealistic to achieve in the allotted time. A good discovery session can help to break down sweeping ambitions into their constituent parts. It should suss out the core problems and the most critical, impactful improvements that can realistically be achieved in a shorter time frame. Be receptive to these smaller bites that deliver big results, with the understanding that they’ll eventually add up to the big-picture goals you began with.

An organized, goal-oriented discovery session is carefully structured to flesh out the full story behind your product, yield key insights, and build consensus. Want to learn more about how our approach sets our clients up for success? We’d love to talk.

 

  • Photo of Trevor Minton
    Trevor Minton

    As Vice President of Product Experience at Openfield, Trevor collaborates closely with our clients and ensures that our team delivers world-class design thinking and execution that results in strong emotional connections between users and digital products. He is passionately enthusiastic about music, local and international soccer, automotive design and racing, and getting under the hood of his old but new-to-him BMW to keep it on the road for another couple of decades.

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