At the start of a website project, it’s best to run a discovery phase to not only understand project goals but also to learn about users and customers to help ensure a successful launch. The kickoff meeting for this discovery is equally important. Whether it’s an agency working with a client or an in-house team working on their own website, getting together for kickoff and discovery is a chance for teams to understand the purpose of the organization. It also is where teams can start as they mean to go on, with effective and successful collaboration.

When should you run the kickoff?

Ideally, the kickoff meeting should happen before teams and collaborators start a project as it helps set shared expectations.

Half a day is the minimum time required. This allows three to four hours in which to talk through the project goals, discovery tasks and research, ask questions, clarify client/team requests, and challenge assumptions. If blocking out an entire morning or afternoon isn’t feasible, divide it into two two-hour meetings, with set topics of discussion for each.

Who needs to be involved?

Getting the right people in a room at the same time will make life much easier down the line. Be sure to invite all stakeholders and collaborators.

It’ll give everyone a chance to meet each other, share their hopes for the project and highlight any potential differences in objectives and priorities. It’ll also help to establish a hierarchy of decision makers, which in turn will reduce the risk of scope creep.

Attendees should include:

  • An effective facilitator to head up and lead the discovery phase
  • All key members of the creative team that will be involved in the project
  • A representative from each relevant area of the business involved
  • Any key stakeholders and decision makers

If it’s not feasible to get everyone together at the same time, it’s still worth getting as many people as possible, then arrange follow-up interviews with those who were absent. Everybody needs to be on board and feel part of the team.

Why is it important to run a kickoff?

Kickoff and discovery shouldn’t just be a box-ticking exercise. When planned and conducted effectively it can be some of the most valuable time a team will spend together throughout the project lifespan. Discovery:

  • Give projects the best chance of succeeding, as they’re chance to iron out plans with the very individuals that will determine its success.
  • Help set accurate timelines, deadlines, and budgets.
  • Offer project collaborators the space to explain why things take as long as they do or why they need certain portions of the budget.
  • Uncover what clients/the team think of ideas and offers the chance to work together to create a vision everyone is happy with.
  • Help to consolidate ideas into one shared objective.
  • Allow plans to be agreed as a group and establish individual responsibilities, deadlines and workflow processes.

What should you do before the discovery phase?

It’s very important to set expectations for the kickoff and discovery phase in advance. Tell all attendees why they are being brought together (i.e. to get as much information as possible about the audience, project aims, required content, logistics, roles etc. and to formalize plans).

In advance of the session:

  • Pick a date, time, and location, then invite all those who need to be involved (use organization charts to see who heads up specific business sections, if unsure).
  • Re-read and print out the branding guidelines for attendees to reference.
  • Print out a list of what the team can offer in terms of site development, as well as some handy examples of previous project collateral (e.g. URLs or screenshots of previous website projects to demonstrate the team’s capabilities).
  • Print out screenshots of the website being (re)designed, so that attendees can see how the website looks currently and work out what needs to change, stay, and go.
  • Carry out some competitor research, by location and by service if necessary, to show an understanding of the relevant market.
  • Share a proposed agenda for the kickoff so people can prepare themselves for the topics that will be covered.

What should be included in the agenda?

In her book, Collaborate: Bring people together around digital projects, Ellen de Vries states that a kickoff and discovery phase might include:

  • Taking stock of what already exists.
  • Looking at areas of potential for the project.
  • Establishing a shared language for the group, including roles and tasks.
  • Giving shape to a project and defining the tasks ahead of you.

Becky Taylor at GatherContent suggests that the agenda for website discovery sessions should be divided into four parts.

Part one: Q&A

Ask the client or project team lots of questions about their business and what they are hoping to achieve from the website project. Think about discovering or confirming information about:

  • The business itself (structure, brief history, etc.)
  • Its products and/or services
  • Who the target audience is, and how they currently reach them
  • Existing marketing and communications strategies, including social media
  • The existing website and its content, including where it succeeds and where it fails
  • What it wants to become

Part two: Customer journey

Next, find out how the client or teams interact with their audience and customers. Talk through the different stages of an average customer journey, from hearing about the product or service to purchase and on to retention. Point out any opportunities where the new website could support the journey.

Part three: Audience identification

As a team, list all customers and audience segments, noting each group’s demographics, behaviors, and needs. This offers an understanding of what motivates customers and helps identify the target audience.

Part four: Establish the tone of voice

Ask each person to write up to five words or phrases that sum up the company tone of voice. Then ask everyone to share their choices and decide, as a group, which five best reflect the company. Use the agreed characteristics as a foundation for developing tone of voice guidelines.

Moving on

After the discovery session, take time to think over things before sending out a post-meeting debrief. Then, put together some notes and share them with all of those that were invited. Include:

  • A summary of everything discussed
  • Any outcomes, actions, and deliverables that were agreed
  • Anything that still needs a decision to be made about it
  • The business goals and website goals that you clarified
  • The target audience the new website will aim for
  • Any notes on the plan of action, even if they are only brief

Dissemination and communication after the session are important to make sure things are actioned and followed up. The kickoff and discovery is just the beginning, with plenty more collaboration and challenges to come, but it will set teams off on the right course and give their website projects the best chance of success.

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