Discovery, Part II: We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

June 24, 2014by Dave StawinskiContent Strategy


We’ve talked about Discovery before. I wanted to take a second to approach the morephilosophical side of the topic.

In Plato’s Republic, we find the “Allegory of the Cave.” Long story short, it’s a little parable he uses to describe education. It’s a little cynical, and the upshot is: Your education is no more than an attempt by your gray matter to make sense of shadows on the wall ofa cave in which you are imprisoned, the shadows themselves created in the least precise possible way, and by people who could not care less about helping you find truth.

Plato, of course, characterizes himself and his philosopher buddies as brave explorers who break out of the cave and live in the sunlight, where philosophers can see things as they truly are. Kind of like those unofficial half days toward the end of senior year.  You know what I’m talking about.

Sometimes our clients are in the cave. A favorite client of mine once described it to me like this: “I don’t know what I don’t know, and I didn’t hire you tell me what I already know.”


Clients hire us to solve complicated problems with variables like communication, technology, culture, emotion, creativity, and productivity. They know they are in the cave, but they don’t have the luxury, day to day, of escaping. At Vignette we use a tool called “Discovery” to give them the freedom to get out of the cave and see things as they really are.

Discovery is the process by which we learn, agree upon, and prioritize the requirements for a solution. It’s how we learn what we don’t know, and figure it all out in enough detail to execute. By “we” I mean Vignette and our clients, in collaboration. We start by creating a space inside of which it is okay to ask any question without judgment. This space usually takes the form of stakeholder interview sessions, in which we do our best to find out what approach to the solution will have the best chance of success by asking questions of various experts from the client side. What can we learn about the Brand? Business priorities? IT constraints? Budget realities? What was that one thing they tried a few years ago that didn’t work, but probably would have if that thing the HR department is working on now had been around at the time? We get into discussions like this to extract information, and we use that information to understand the ground truth of the client’s needs.

Depending on the size of the project, this can take a week or several months, but the outcomes are usually similar, because we use a tool-set that fits more than one size:  questionnaire, findings and recommendations, prioritization tools, content strategy, concepts. Maybe even a little visual creative work to help build consensus. We can apply these tools to big problems and small ones to maximize the chance that we will have the same success we have in the past, but they are flexible enough to adapt to what our clients truly need, and what our clients truly need is the name of the game. In the end we want to know we created real value.

In this version of the story, it’s not us at Vignette that are the heroic explorers. It’s our clients who are supplying the courage. We are asking them to look at what they really have to accomplish to meet their goals, and to work with us to fully elucidate it before we take further steps. In Discovery, we mostly listen, learn, analyze, and document requirements.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

The process also mitigates a lot of risk. Here’s how: If we jump into a complicated project without fully understanding the needs, then we have to plan for the most challenging scenarios. In terms of time and budget, thismeans we have to err on the safe side, and that can mean a timeline and budget that our client doesn’t want to live with. Discovery allows us to lock down the risk-generating variables and define a plan specific to the needs, with a judicious budget and a timeline for which we can be accountable.

Discovery doesn’t hurt! Promise. If you have experiences to tell us about, leave your comments below.

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.