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Discovery Projects & Overcoming "The Cone of Uncertainty": Lessons from DrupalCon

3 minutes
Lori Highby

We love what Drupal is able to do for our clients, which is why it’s always a pleasure to attend DrupalCon. This year the convention offered a ton of learning opportunities from UX design to business and strategy.


But being that we’re in the business of projects, Tom Martin’s talk, “Discovery Projects: Strategies for Defining the Opportunity” proved to be particularly enlightening.


The “Cone of Uncertainty”

We understand that every new project we take on is a commitment to weeks and months of dedication and hard work. This means that everything needs to be planned so that the journey from start to finish is a smooth one. But things can get difficult between yourself and the client in the early goings when there’s so much to think and worry about. This is the “Cone of Uncertainty”.


Think of it like building a house. When you start you just have a plot of land and maybe some blueprints. You have to think about a foundation, plumbing, electrical, building ordinances, hiring reliable contractors….yeah, it’s a mess. It’s this same kind of reluctance that the client experiences when approaching a new project. It’s only once you are well into the project does the uncertainty wane and you narrow into a defined course of development.


So what’s the best way to tackle that uncertainty and get your project into that smooth development phase?


The Discovery Project

Martin looks to discovery projects. Doing this kind of “pre-project” project will give each party a chance to get real insight into the needs, as well as building a deep investment in the project direction and trust in the agency as a business partner through the process. Before you start the actual project, the discovery project will help you with:


• Planning

• Gathering Goals & Requirements

• Generating a Project Roadmap

• Narrowing Estimate Ranges

• Creating Alignment

• Earning Trust


The object of a discovery project is to lay out the goals & requirements of the plan so that the "cone of uncertainty" is narrowed enough that the development process can begin with the best foundation. The discovery project will take you through an intensive series of interviews and documentation, culminating with a final discovery document that you can then review as a complete overview and roadmap for the project at hand. The discovery project will allow both sides to ask questions that the other may not have thought about. This way you find the balance between your expertise and theirs.


Onwards to Project Success!

A good discovery will make your needs clear and give you the reassurance that your agency is being set up for success. You will be able to initiate the main project with confidence in both the plan, and your new partner! 


Learn more about Tom Martin’s discovery projects session from DrupalCon 2015 here!


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