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A guide for successful client assessments and discoveries (part 1) - people

A guide for successful client assessments and discoveries (part 1) - people

At Thoughtworks, we conduct thorough assessments and discovery at the beginning of new client engagements or workstreams and outcomes from these can influence the creation and direction of subsequent initiatives. These may be conducted to understand the business, customers, product, technology landscape, etc. and the initiatives that should be pursued to reach the desired state or to address a problem statement or to explore a value proposition. The goal is to carry out research and analysis to get a clear understanding of the current state. From there, we evaluate the capabilities required, make recommendations and design a high-level roadmap to meet the desired state. 


This two-part guide outlines some key aspects of successful client assessments and summarizes recommended practices to achieve the same and help practitioners in their day-to-day client engagements. Part one covers the people aspects while part 2 covers delivery aspects - both of which are fundamental in nature. These practices address common challenges, thus are relevant for client engagements in general and not just assessments and discoveries.

People aspects

Stakeholder alignment

Adequate client participation


Clarity in roles and responsibilities

Collaboration over confidence

Stakeholder alignment 


Before any assignment, bring together client stakeholders to align on priorities, roadmap, deliverables, roles/responsibilities (refer to ‘clarity in roles and responsibilities’) and other logistics. This will ensure that all team members will have access to the right stakeholders and information at the right time. 


Clear communication before committing the start or end date is helpful to ensure no team is left out to dry.


Recommended good practices


Kick-off meeting  

Set-up an initial kick-off meeting to set context and align on expectations.

Identify stakeholders

Identify client stakeholders (core team, functional managers and C-level executives/key stakeholders) who will participate in surveys, interviews, deep-dives and workshops.

Agree on expectations

Agree on the expected commitment from identified client stakeholders.

Communication cadence


Have a communication cadence (participants, scope, frequency, mode, language of communication). For example:


  • Sync-up with core team and sponsors (daily or weekly) 


  • Initial observations/findings readouts or deep-dives with functional managers (weekly or fortnightly)


  • Strategic discussions/workshops with C-level executives (fortnightly or as needed)
One thing to beware of is ‘threshold alignment’ — when you have an agreement in the room, but as soon as people cross the threshold they go back to their old priorities or set new priorities based on the urgent need of the moment. You will need a method of accountability in the event this happens.
Kathy Gettelfinger
Digital Transformation Executive Partner, Thoughtworks


Adequate client engagement  


Have an ongoing interaction with clients. This helps in understanding the as-is processes and practices and also ensures relevance and agreement on the recommendations. Interviews, deep-dives, workshops and readouts with key stakeholders and functional managers are very effective to avoid any surprises and validate assumptions or observations along the way.


It is imperative that the stakeholders develop trust in the team to share their views and the confidence that the time/effort spent in such interactions will benefit them or help address their challenges.

Recommended good practices


Develop trust within the team

Create a safe environment by ensuring all responses are anonymized or quoted only with permission.


Executive surveys are a good tool to capture individual perspectives. Share it with the client team a week before or as soon as the engagement kicks off. Coordinate to receive maximum responses.


1:1 interviews with functional managers and divisional heads help retain focus on relevant aspects. Share the interview plan with the client’s core team and collaborate with them to ensure the availability of interviewees.

Deep-dive sessions

Weekly/fortnightly deep-dives with relevant functional teams such as IT, data, product and others are effective for sharing observations and opine on the relevance/validity.


Workshops with the senior executives are useful to collaborate and co-create (lean value tree, defining vision a d outcomes, aspired state, etc.). Build on this understanding to generate recommendations that are coherent to the short term priorities/long term strategy.

For clients to participate and engage with us, it is important that as consultants, we care for their well-being and ensure they don't feel exposed or threatened for sharing their unbiased views with us.
Sunil Mundra
Principal Consultant-Advisory, Thoughtworks and author of 'Enterprise Agility'




To make a meaningful assessment, the team requires access to client artifacts. This will help gather the context and prepare for interviews and workshops. Request information such as organization chart, strategy, roadmap, KPIs, any other relevant metrics, ongoing or planned initiatives, technical landscape, architectural diagrams, etc. The request for this information should be made as soon as possible to get the responses in time. It will help identify the impact on the engagement (if any) due to the unavailability of information.

Recommended good practices


Start with ‘why’

Discuss with the client why a business or technical artifact is needed, how is it used in the scope of the engagement.

Ensure confidentiality

Sign any necessary non-disclosure agreements to ensure both parties’ confidential information is protected.

Build awareness

Ensure the team is familiar with the client, industry/domain and stakeholders leveraging experience from prior engagements, statement of work signed for current engagement, information available in the public domain.


Clarity in roles and responsibilities 


Well-defined roles and responsibilities become essential to avoid confusion and effectively utilize the engagement time. This helps team members know what is expected of them, whom to reach out for help, who all are working on related tasks, etc. The benefits of this basic hygiene are countless. 

Recommended good practices


Define a RACI chart

Define a RACI chart (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed) before or soon after the engagement has started.

Dedicated roles from both teams

Have dedicated roles from both sides for decision making, day-to-day coordination, core working tasks, executive and business advisory, etc.

Indicative client roles


Engagement leader / sponsor

Single point of contact

Function leaders

Makes decisions on direction of engagement, focus areas.

Coordinates agendas, schedules meetings/interviews.

Represents different areas.

Indicative consultant roles (for example, Thoughtworks)


Executive advisor  


Single point of contact

Delivery principal

Understands business vision and challenges, aligns recommendations with strategy.

Covers different aspects such as operating models, platforms, product, data, culture.

Coordinates agendas, schedules meetings/interviews.

Oversees the engagement progress, RAIDs, stakeholder management.

Collaboration over confidence 


Given the breadth and depth to be covered across engagements, there may be SMEs on the team covering the different workstreams in scope. However, we recognize that clients know their organizations best and understand their limitations and strengths. Ideal is being able to create a collaborative environment and work together with the client stakeholders. There may be many good recommendations, but actionable recommendations are those which have relevance and value for the client.

Recommended good practices


Be empathetic

Be empathetic and client-centric while making recommendations.

Speak the client’s language

Speak the same language as the client (words, acronyms etc.) to build confidence that you understand their business and industry.

Analyze data to create information

Ensure observations do not look like facts.

Keep the client's needs and problem statement at core

Ensure recommendations are aligned to the business strategy and vision, actionable and value-oriented.

Be open to feedback

Be open to discussing or reviewing the recommendation plan with the client executives and take their feedback.

Work cohesively as one team

Consulting team must be in alignment with and not working in isolation from the client’s reality.

Make relevant and meaningful recommendations

Final recommendations must make sense to the client and not appear as the single truth believed by the engagement team.

Always give the client the ownership and right to make the final decision. Present your views, options and recommended actions/next steps and let them come back with their thoughts.
Sunil Mundra
Principal Consultant-Advisory, Thoughtworks and author of 'Enterprise Agility'

Many thanks to Kathy Gettelfinger, Sunil Mundra, Alexander Klaser and Joao Lucas Santana for their contribution and feedback.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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