The Discovery Session
A Half Day Facilitated Group Discussion Engineered for Business Problem-Solving
Often Companies are confronted with complex business problems-problems that are noisy, hard to describe, overlapping, and seemingly intractable. Yet, these are the very problems that MUST be solved, as their solutions unlock great value to the firm.
To address problems like these, we employ a method called a Discovery Session, sometimes referred to as a Whiteboard Session. In this half-day facilitated group discussion, we move through the following steps:
Part 1. What is the “art of the possible” -how have other companies solved highly complex problems?
In this phase we introduce case studies of companies across a wide variety of industries in which the management teams were faced with highly complex problems in supply chains, pricing, optimizing process flow, mergers, you name it. Doing so breaks the parochial mindset of the particular company in the Discovery Session, allowing the participants to think more broadly and abstractly about business problems.
Part 2. What do we know to be true?
The Scientific Method has been with us for 24 centuries. It is a durable, time-tested technique for tackling the most serious scientific investigations from the function of the brain to the origins of the universe.
The cornerstone of the Scientific Method is also the starting point for any research: The Hypothesis. Good science begins with a clear, concise restatement of the problem itself and the facts surrounding it while remaining careful to avoid suggesting a solution at this stage. Part 2 of the Discovery Session puts at hand by generating a Hypothesis for each one. Often a Hypothesis is graphical in nature with a summary assertive statement such as “The merger with ACME will create $500MM additional free cash flow in 3 years.” That is a statement that must either be proven true or false by the ensuing analysis which takes place after the Discovery Session, but more importantly provides a clear blueprint for that analysis.
Part 3. What are our levers of control over the problem and how could they be used?
In this phase, we craft the landscape within which the problem sits. Is it a process that has bottlenecks within it? -build a process depiction. Is it a pricing problem? -make a diagram of all the forces and consequences of a particular price. Is it an information problem? Draw the information flows around the company and isolates the regions where the problem exists. Whatever the problem is, it always has a particular context, and it is useful to quite literally draw that context on paper, carefully labeling all of the actors and objects in the scene. We call this the Qualitative Model, and as that name suggests, we are not using numbers at his stage but rather the case-and-effect dimensions of the problem.
The end result of a Discovery Session is a crisp blueprint of the problem at hand. A good analytics team can readily use the result to develop the analysis or models needed to get to a solution quickly. Just as important the output will put guardrails on the analysis to prevent the teams from solving the wrong problem, or even the right problem at the wrong level of granularity.
Why do a Discovery Session?
Why can’t I just assemble my team, have a meeting, and get on with solving the problem?
You can, but you will likely not get the result you were expecting. In our 30+ years of having a front row seat on some of the world’s most difficult business problems, we have seen many cases of success and failure. Those who “go it alone” often suffer the “curse of the expert” -that is, Subject Matter Experts inside the company with great knowledge and experience about the problem diving right in to get to a solution as quickly as possible.
Subject Matter Experts are a vital ingredient in problem-solving, but because of their inherent knowledge, they often bypass any naïve questions that an intelligent outsider might ask. Therefore, Subject Matter Experts are more likely to come up with breakthrough solutions ONLY when prodded by an outside influence to question every aspect of the problem space. And not just any outside influence -someone who is well trained to think in systems, who can take a batch of knowledge and “redraw” a representation of that knowledge on paper for all to see (and critique). This is the aspect that we provide.
Who should be invited to the Discovery Session?
Several points of view should be represented: we have already talked about the Subject Matter Expert. In addition, we need the problem’s “owner” (or victim), and an executive sponsor. Generally, Discovery Sessions are most effective when they are limited to 6 to 8 individuals, not counting the facilitation team.
Do I have to have a well-defined problem to bring in?
No, in fact often the Discovery Sessions are conducted for the purpose of putting more definition to a problem. And more often than not, there are multiple problems going on at the same time that interlock in various ways, seen and unseen. The only real prerequisite for a Discovery Session is a point of pain for the organization.
What happens after its over?
We have seen many cases where the very definition of the problem through the exhibits generated in the Discovery Session are sufficient for the company to proceed to the solution internally. In other cases, firms conduct more rigorous simulation modeling-based analysis to arrive at a solution.