Your desk and desktop is piled with notes from stakeholder and user interviews, a mess of sticky notes, presentation decks, documentation on business strategy, market research, content analysis, and so on. The discovery phase of your content strategy project is done, and your mind is swirling with everything you’ve learned.
How do you make sense of it all? And how do you make sense of it all in a way that will help you and your team members arrive at a common understanding of the project at hand?
Enter the Discovery Insights Spreadsheet.
What have you discovered?
First, let’s do a quick review of the kind of information you’ve likely gathered from your interviews, documentation review, and other discovery activities. I think about the information I seek in two categories of influence: internal to the business/organization and external to the business/organization.
Internal factors are the things a business or organization has control over. A business or organization can control things like:
Offerings: the products, services, or other commodities a business or organization sells or provides. There’s a lot more to know than what they are, such as the value proposition; how and why the offering came to be; and how customers access and pay for the offering.
Customers: the people who currently use your offerings, as well as those the company or organization considers their target customers. It’s important here to help figure out the priority users of whatever it is you’re building or refining, and to learn whatever you can about those folks, such as the problems they have that the business/organization is uniquely positioned to solve.
Revenue: how money comes into the business or organization. Things to consider include how you sell or provide your offerings, the markets in which you sell or provide them, and what revenue goals the business or organization has.
Expenditures: the investments and costs a business or organization incurs to do business or provide services. You’ll want to learn about things like plans the business or organization has to spend money on technology, such as content management systems; what monetary resources are available for outside consultants/vendors to do work related to your project; and how much money it costs the business or organization to convert a lead to a customer.
People, process, and governance: the human resources, processes, and systems the business or organization use to get things done and make decisions. You can consider things like organizational charts; workflow diagrams and documentation; technological solutions for managing time and creating and storing content; and guidelines for making decisions about what content to produce and how to allocate funds.
Content: the content the business or organization has created or plans to create. Try to find out where it is created, where it lives within the business and organization, and how and where it’s published or otherwise shared.
External factors are things that influence a business or organization from the outside. External factors can include:
Competitors: other businesses or organizations that have similar offerings or who compete for the attention of the same audiences. It’s important to understand how the business or organization are different or better than the competition, and how the competition is better or different than the organization or business.
Legal, compliance, and regulations: the rules the business or organization must follow for myriad reasons, like securing and maintaining funding or meeting governmental standards. Pay attention to rules guiding what you can and cannot say in content, accessibility standards, and processes and procedures for ensuring compliance.
Trends and current events: industry advancements and societal occurrences, such as elections, legislation, and natural disasters, that affect what you offer and why people need it. Things to consider include innovations in technology that could affect how you do business, and how changes in legislation, politics, etc., might cause more or less need for what you provide.
Customers: the information you can learn through user research about your target customers (versus the things the organization can control, like how they prioritize them or how they serve them). Things to consider include how they shop or research offerings like yours, what influences their decision to purchase or use offerings like yours, how your target customers prefer to interact with you, and what your target customers want and expect from your business or organization.
Turning information into insights
Whoa, you sure have learned a lot. And I know what it’s like to feel like you’re drowning in information, but struggling to make it meaningful. That’s why I often use the Discovery Insights Worksheet, an idea I got from UX Designer Emily Schmittler. Emily came up with the idea when she and her remote teammate were working on a project and needed an easy way to compile and share insights.
Here’s what the worksheet looks like:
And here’s how I use it:
I go through my notes, documentation, sticky notes, content assessment, and anything else I have at my disposal and record specific insights or a-ha’s as I go. Each one goes in the Insight column.
For each insight, I note what it refers to from a list of topics—typically the ones I mentioned as internal and external factors above, but sometimes there are new ones that emerge. Hint: Create a validation vocabulary to simplify this step.
I then note the type of source from which I gathered the information and formulated an insight. Options are typically Interview, Documentation, or Workshop/Working Session. In the next column, I note the specific source, which could be a document name, the name of someone I interviewed, or a description of the working session.
Then, I’ll record what the insight relates to. This is a bit more of an organic process. Labels that I use frequently include: Business Goals, Content Strategy, Audience, Content, People, Process, and Governance.
That last column is typically what I’ll sort by to start developing the themes that will help me make sense of everything I’ve learned and discovered. You could also sort by source to find particular quotes or insights from various stakeholder interviews.
Here’s an example of a few rows from an actual Discovery Insights Worksheet:
Summarizing and synthesizing for clarity
The whole point of this exercise is to gain clarity—for you and your stakeholders—about what you’re trying to achieve, for whom, and why; the current state of your content ecosystem; and the challenges and opportunities you can tackle with your project.
The Discovery Insights Worksheet is one way to make sense of and record your findings, so that you have a solid foundation from which to kick content ass.