A Journey of Discovery


Discovery Projects on Trend



By Frances Crossno, PMP, and Linda McManis, PMP

American Heart Association

Texas, USA

How do you define project boundaries?  How do you determine the size of a project? How do you find the complexities involved?  How do you uncover extra-project dependencies and risks?  The answer to these questions is increasingly becoming the funding of an initial “discovery” project. Rather than committing time and resources to an ill-defined effort, resources from all parties involved are brought together in an engagement to explore and define the boundaries, complexities, feasibility, approach, and resource requirements necessary for further project definition. The level of detail delivered, and the time spent on discovery will vary depending on the nature of the effort; however, the age of the discovery project has come into its own.

There are many benefits to a discovery project, however, they are at no less risk for failure than other projects. They have their own unique aspects and cautions. Today’s project manager needs to be aware and take advantage of the opportunities the discovery project presents, while navigating the dangerous, and often unexpected obstacles and risks.

This paper will explore the discovery project landscape and provide a map to start you on your journey.

First, we will look at “What is a Discovery Project,” with different types and benefits of using the discovery process. This will be followed by examining the five steps of a discovery effort and how to determine if your discovery project is a success or failure. Case studies are provided for both projects that have failed and succeeded. Finally, we will conclude with best practices. A discovery project guide is also provided as an appendix to the paper.

Let’s go on a journey of discovery.

What is a Discovery Project?

For the context of this paper, the definition of “discovery” is an effort that focuses on analyzing project scope and goals, business needs/requirements/issues, or approaches to addressing major architecture/strategy or process changes.

A discovery effort can be run as a project unto itself or be part of pre-project initiation activities.

Types of Discovery Projects:

  • Scoping decomposition to determine project boundaries and support cost estimating.
  • Cross functional understanding.
  • Current state analysis (system/process).
  • “Build” versus “buy” analysis.
  • Vendor selection efforts.
  • To detail requirements that define the scope and next steps of a project.
  • To define standards for an organization’s systems or processes.
  • Software investigation, including usability, applicability, feasibility.
  • Strategic road mapping.
  • Determine approach to achieving a business or system objective.

Benefits of Discovery Efforts

  • Better identify project scope and goals.
  • Create a more accurate estimate of project cost and secure budget dollars.
  • Involve staff early to maximize their familiarity with the work and gain staff and business partner buy in.
  • Identify who is needed to source the project and business resource availability.
  • Identify boundaries for change.
  • Reduce time spent on research as part of the larger project.
  • Help to avoid:


To read entire paper, click here

Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 15th UT Dallas PM Symposium in May 2023.  It is republished here with the permission of the authors and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Crossno, F. and McManis, L. (2024). A Journey of Discovery – Discovery Projects on Trend; presented at the 15th University of Texas at Dallas Project Management Symposium in Richardson, TX, USA in May 2023; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. XIII, Issue II, February. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/pmwj138-Feb2024-Crossno-McManis-a-journey-of-discovery-2nd-ed.pdf

About the Authors

Frances Crossno

North Texas, USA


Frances Crosso is a PMP certified project manager with over thirty years’ experience in successful cross functional, cross business, and global projects. She retired as a project manager from Texas Instruments in 2009 and is now a project manager at the American Heart Association. She has a background which includes programming and business analysis as well. Her work has provided her a broad range of experiences with stakeholders from pre-project scope assessments to working long-term system and business strategies.

A strong focus on business process with stakeholders has been predominant in Frances’ career. Vendor evaluation experience has provided her additional perspectives with stakeholder management. Obtaining consensus on project scope from multiple business units / functional areas and managing expectations of multiple levels of stakeholders has allowed Frances to consistently deliver successful, quality projects throughout her career.

Frances was recognized by Texas Instruments for technical contributions by election to TI’s technical ladder. She can be contacted at frances.crossno@heart.org


Linda McManis

North Texas, USA


Linda McManis is Project Management Director at the American Heart Association. She has been with the AHA for more than 22 years, working in the Business Technology department for 14 years with roles in program, portfolio, and business relationship management. Her expertise includes ensuring process improvement and best practices in project management, including training and coaching project managers and reporting on project initiatives, financial progress, project successes, and challenges. She has planned, implemented, and delivered solutions that drive business results.

Linda initiated and facilitates Centers of Excellence for both project managers and business analysts at the AHA. She has a passion for communication and training, is an experienced technical writer, and is a PMP-certified project manager. Linda also leads efforts to ensure digital accessibility compliance at the AHA. Linda can be reached at linda.mcmanis@heart.org