Project Management: It Starts with a Discovery

January 8, 2014by Dave StawinskiInside Vignette


In the last post about project management I tried to convince you that project management is a good thing. Like, in general. Judging from the reader response, I was preaching to the choir there. You’re thinking, “OK, I understand I need you to manage my project, but how are you going to do it, smart guy?” So, that’s cool! In the spirit of our New Year, New Starts theme, let’s dive right into this with how we start a project at Vignette.

We start with Discovery. To figure out how our elements will come together to form your project, we need to determine, or “Discover,” your needs (you’ll commonly hear us refer to these needs as the “Project Requirements”).  You already know the contours of what you need, and by this point you have probably downloaded most or all of what you know to us, but to make this a successful project, there will be many details to lock down. We use our Discovery process for that.

How does it work?  Science!

You know that awesome poster in your high school Chem Lab? The Periodic Table of the Elements by Houghton-Mifflin, it was called. Looked like a grid with lettered labels in all the squares like “H” and “Pb?” We are going to build something like that poster, only rather than showing us what everything is made of, it’ll just need to show us what your project will be made of.

Luckily, our poster will be smaller than the one in High School (see we have already realized an efficiency)…

The Periodic Table of Elements, Abridged.

The project itself is composed of “Deliverables” (yeah that was capitalized—so it’s important). Each of those Deliverables is composed of one, some, or all of the Elements on our poster, and each of them has related Requirements, which we will define via our Discovery process. Discovery usually involves interviewing different subject matter experts at your company using a custom-created questionnaire that assesses things like…

Content: All of the words (written or recorded), images (still or moving), music, illustrations and other information that forms the core of the project, as well as the strategy that defines it all. Important stuff.

Creative: No matter what media we choose to deliver it in (print, interactive, video, etc.), the content needs to serve your brand, and the audience needs to be engaged. To ensure these goals are met, we meld the content together with the work of a talented design team to delightful effect.

Software: Just about everything we do involves computers. A website is software, but even a print project is designed on them. Therefore, software plays a role in most everything we do. Technical requirements play a big role here. File formats, web platforms, coding languages, and all the digital stuff that we use to create and compose the deliverables are included here.

Hardware: Usually, the final product needs to be made tangible somehow. Physical paper, or bits on servers, or presenters on a stage all need to make it to their audiences somehow.

Discovery is the process of defining how your project needs can be met with deliverables that we will build from these elements. Before we can start building, we need a plan, and Discovery is how we get there.

Let’s look at an example of how this all might come together. Let’s say you need some key staff to be trained on a new product, so they can sell it. Through Discovery, we determine, that this should be done as a mobile interactive training app, because your salespeople travel a lot. We also determine that the app will need to run on both iPhone and Android, but that BlackBerry can wait for now. We also learn that the app needs to include some analytics, because you need to measure some Key Performance Indicators that we have also cataloged via Discovery. We found out a lot of other great details, too. Like what branding to use for the app interface, and who in your marketing group needs to have approval power over our designs of the interface. While we were at it, we learned from your IT group how you prefer to distribute such apps to users and also how to integrate it with your internal calendaring system though an API that your tech team made available last Spring.

We at Vignette create a project plan that accounts for all the activities required to deliver the Content, Creative, Software and Hardware for the app, meeting all the requirements. There are several tools we use to do that planning, and to help you manage your priorities. Each of these elements is associated with a schedule, a budget, and a set of goals to achieve a high quality delivery.

Once we have a plan, no more greasy kid stuff. Let’s build it!  I’ll post about how our PM process applies to building stuff next time. It’s going to be cool, promise.

Dave Stawinski

With nearly 20 years of production experience working for leading digital agencies such as DNA Studios, BLITZ and Second Story, Dave has managed a large number of diverse projects and teams. Over the years he has managed important projects for clients like LOFT, Nike, Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Honda, Anheuser-Busch, Sony Pictures, Disney, Microsoft, HP, the Library of Congress and others.