Discovery Operations Guide

Team Building

Team Building

Why spend time and care in building a core team?

First, spend more time than you might think necessary in getting to know who is on the team (if it is a new team) and on crafting and assigning roles and responsibilities. How well a team works together will have a notable affect on the success of the project. Refer to the Team Roles Descriptionsand the Team Roles by Project Phase below for detailed guidance on the skills you might need on your team.

Many roles have overlapping features. For example, both a Recruiter and a Researcher need to be comfortable speaking with strangers, but under different circumstances: a Recruiter needs to understand the nuance of a cold call, how to explain the project quickly, and “sell” the project. But a Researcher needs to be able to slow down a conversation, use silence, and talk about the project without explicitly framing it and directing their interview subject.

It’s also important to know that each role will have its time to be at the forefront of the project, and then that role will need to recede as the next phase comes to the fore. The Research Lead does not need to micromanage the Recruiter, just as the Logistics Coordinator does not interrupt the Project Lead during a presentation to Leadership or Stakeholders.


Use this checklist as you move throught this section to esure you’re set up for success in the Team Building phase.

  • Read through the Team Role Descriptions
  • Identify potential Researchers, Recruiters, Logistics Coordinator, and Local Contacts
  • Ask each identified person to join the team and acquire sign-on from each.
  • Share the team map with all teammates in order to ensure that everyone knows their role and the roles of the others.

Team Role Descriptions

These are general descriptions of each team members’ responsibilities. Treat these as guidelines, not absolutes.

Research Lead

  1. Requirement: HCD-trained and experienced leading HCD projects.
  2. Liaisons with Leadership and Stakeholders.
  3. Leads interviews and/ or observations.
  4. Guides post-interview downloading sessions, daily synthesis and weekly synthesis.
  5. Communicates with Leadership and Stakeholders.
  6. Relays these communications back to team.

Notes: On a large project, there may be more than one Research Lead due to specialty knowledge or geographic location. In these cases, the Research Leads are responsible for organizing themselves into a functional unit that can communicate with each other fluidly and flex around changes in the project.


  1. Requirement: HCD trained or in direct oversight by an HCD-trained team member.
  2. Lead interviews and/ or observations.
  3. Actively participate in post-interview, daily, and weekly synthesis sessions.

Notes: On any project, Researchers may wear multiple hats. A Researcher may be the Recruiter or the Logistics Coordinator, or they may be the Local VE person. Each Researcher is responsible for conducting HCD interviews and observations to the best of their ability. Researchers should always be prepared to act as the Notetaker in interviews that they do not lead.


  1. Manages and follows up with potential participants and sources of participants.
  2. Presents participant options to team, noting possible times for research sessions. 1. Works with the Logistics Coordinator to book time for interviews, site visits, team travel, and time and sites for synthesis sessions.

Notes: This person needs to be outgoing in personality and meticulous in detail. They will need to be comfortable making cold calls and following up with people multiple times.

Logistics Coordinator

  1. Owns the calendar: responsible for gathering all calendar updates as Recruiter and other team members report interview subject, interview, and travel changes.
  2. Chooses a hotel for the full team to stay.
  3. Secures synthesis space for weekly synthesis sessions at the hotel or VAMC.
  4. Identifies transportation options for the team. 1. Plans for and coordinates the printing of consent forms and any other required documents for field work.
  5. Purchases supplies and tools needed before travel. See Supplies List for more detail.
  6. Ensures that all team(s) have required supplies.

Local Contact

  1. Works with the Recruiter to find the local people whose work or community position means that they will most likely be able to inform the research project frame.
  2. Helps the Recruiter gather references.
  3. Tracks down local leads when the Recruiter cannot.
  4. Scouts and secures synthesis sites that make sense in terms of size of the team, necessary all-day privacy, and distance from team members’ residences or hotels.

Roles By Phase

Who needs to be involved, when, and why

HCD Discovery Cycle illustration. It shows the Discovery process along a central, horizontal timeline. The space above the timeline is labeled "Public Facing Effort"; the space below the timeline is labeled "Internal Effort". As the time moves from left to right, bubbles representing activity appear. The first is "Problem Framing"; it is large and sits inside the Internal Effort space. Overlapping it is a bubbled labeled Team Building, which is small and still sits in the Internal Effort space. Overlapping Team Building a little is a medium bubbled called Leadership Buy-In; the Leadership bubble is still in the Internal Effort space but still just inside it. The next bubble is called Planning 1; it's large, and crosses the line between the Internal Effort and Public Facing Effort spaces, but is still mostly inside Internal Effort. Overlapping it are two bubbles: one called Recruitment, which is placed very high on the page, well into the Public Facing Effort space, and one labeled Planning 2, which is very large, farther to the right of Recruitment, and is almost centered between the Public Facing Effort and Internal Effort spaces. The largest bubble of the entire diagram is next and overlaps both Recruitment and Planning 2. It's called Research. It sits mainly in Public Facing Effort, but some of it does dip into Internal Effort. After Reseach, and entirely separate, medium-large sized bubble appears inside the Internal Effort space; it's labeled Synthesis. Finally, another independent, medium-small sized bubble appears on the far right of the the timeline, labeled Communication. This bubble sits mainly in the Interal Effort space, but does have some overlap into the Public Facing Effort space.

Problem Framing

Research Lead(s)

  • Involved in conceptualization of problem framing and articulation at the earliest stage.
  • Has a management responsibility over the project.
  • If this is a large-scale project with multiple research teams, the Project Lead should be someone with management training.
  • Trained in Human Centered Design research.


  • Not always involved in Project Framing since projects coming from the grassroots or laterally in an organization will not touch Leadership at the earliest level.
  • In projects that do come from the leadership level, Leadership may actually give a project brief to the Project Lead.
  • If they give the Lead a brief, Leadership should be deeply involved in the project-framing process.
  • Involved in conceptualization of problem framing and articulation at the earliest stage.
  • Agrees to actively lend their sponsorship and support to this research project.
  • Works at their level in the hierarchy to ensure consensus and knowledge amongst their peers as well as any partner organization(s).

Leadership Buy-In

Research Lead(s)

  • If Leadership was not involved in the primary project framing for any reason, the Project Lead(s) are responsible for communicating the value of the project to Leadership or others in similar positions as necessary to gain support and sponsorship for the project.
  • If Leadership was involved in framing part way through, and then became disengaged, the Project Lead(s) are responsible for informing Leadership on the frame and the logic behind that frame.

Potential or Signed-On Team Members

  • Responsible for helping the Project Lead(s) sell the project to Leadership.
  • Responsible for helping the Project Lead(s) define the team by reading the HCD and HCD Op Guide in order to sort themselves into preferred project roles. Follow up by communicating those decisions to the Project Lead(s).

Local Contact

  • Local contact may be defined as a geographic local contact, a subject matter local contact, or as the representative of a local group.
  • The decision on whether or not the project needs to have a local contact should be decided at this point. If the answer is affirmative, the Project Lead(s) and Team Members should begin the process of identifying the type of local contact needed as well as recruiting the Local Contact.

Team building

Research Lead(s)

  • Responsible for hearing preferred roles of potential team members and managing the distribution of efforts.
  • Role assignment should be tailored to the potential team members’ soft and hard skills. People will do a better job if they have a natural and/or learned affinity with their role.

Potential Team Members

  • Responsible for taking on some role(s) that are not their preferred role. An ability to be flexible is a valued trait in Human-Centered Design research.
  • Team roles will change as the project progresses. For example, one team member might start as the Recruiter and then move into the Logistics Coordinator role.

Local Contact

  • “Local” can be defined geographically, in terms of subject, or in terms of membership in group.
  • This person also needs to brief their local leadership that they would like to be involved.
  • This person can be from inside or outside VEO, depending on the location and people or groups necessary to the project.

Recruiting Participants

Recruiter - Manages recruiting sources; follows-up on leads.

  • Works with the Local Contact.
  • Presents potential participant options to team and identifies timing. - Works with the Local Contact to book identify local leadership and book on-site briefing.

Local Contact - Works with the Recruiter to find the local people whose at-work or in-community position means that they will be able to inform the project frame.

  • Helps the Recruiter gather references for potential participants or sources of participants.
  • Tracks down local leads when the Recruiter cannot do that from a distance or for any other reason.
  • Scouts and secures synthesis sites that make sense in terms of size of the team, necessary all-day privacy, and distance from team members’ residences or hotels.

Overview planning

Logistics Coordinator

  • Owns the calendar. Is responsible for gathering all calendar updates as Recruiter and other team members report interview subject, interview schedule, and travel changes.
  • Chooses a hotel for the full team to stay in and relays selection to the team so each can book their travel appropriately.
  • Secures daily and weekly synthesis session site(s) at the hotel or VAMC.
  • Identifies transportation options for the team (public transit, car rentals, taxi, carpooling). - Plans for and coordinates the document printing while in the field.
  • Purchases necessary supplies.

Local Contact - Works with both Recruitment and Logistics

  • Coordinator to ensure local details.
  • Conducts pre-visit observation (recon) to evaluate interview location options. - Sets time for briefing once team is on site.
  • Coordinates with unions and other required parties prior to site visit.
  • Communicates any needs from local power structures, such as local leadership, unions, or bureaucracies, to the Project Lead before the team assembles on site.


Research Lead(s)

  • Requirement: HCD trained.
  • Research Lead can also be the Project Lead
  • Leads interviews and/or observations .
  • Coordinates with the Project Lead (if different), Logistics Coordinator, and Local Contact in days immediately preceding interview(s) to track schedule, location, or subject shifts.
  • Guides post-interview downloading sessions, daily synthesis and week synthesis meetings.


  • Requirement: HCD trained.
  • All core team members should act as researchers.
  • Lead interviews and/or observations.
  • Guide post-interview downloading sesssion.
  • Communicates broad strokes of interviews with Project Lead if working in multiple groups.


  • Takes notes during interview.
  • Observes area & person for interesting things.
  • Transcribes notes into digital format.
  • Files notes in project folder.
  • Transcribes notes into digital format.
  • Files notes and photos in project folder.


Research Lead(s)

  • Leads team through finding Insights and Opportunities during main Synthesis sessions after the end of all the interviews.
  • Takes pictures of Insights and Opportunities.
  • Responsible for ensuring that all Insights and Opportunities speak to, lead back to, or operate within the Project Frame.
  • Actively participates in Synthesis by providing ideas, defending positions, writing agreed upon ideas and themes on sticky notes on the wall or board in the room.
  • Communicates the outcomes from the Synthesis session(s) to Project Lead and / or Leadership.


  • Physically in the room during Synthesis session(s).
  • Participate as an equal team member in synthesis session and analysis.
  • Actively engage as equals to Leads and all other team positions during Synthesis session by providing ideas, defending positions, writing agreed upon ideas and themes on sticky notes on the wall or board in the room.

Communicating Findings

Research Lead(s)

  • Presents and / or communicates deliverables to Leadership and Stakeholders.
  • Coordinates the production, review, delivery, and communication of products that come out of the research round, if any.
  • Ensures that all benchmarking, background and ancillary research, interview notes and photographs, deliverables, and recommendations are organized in an approved location.
  • Note on Deliverables: eliverables should be defined during Planning 1. Deliverables are the items that Leadership and/or Stakeholders want to see at the end of research.


  • Supports the communication of Findings and Deliverables to Leadership and Stakeholders.
  • Present findings when asked by Project Lead or when is appropriate.

Framework for Team Building

Use this framework as a model for creating your team’s role assignment lists. This is the basic information that needs to be recorded for each team member who signs on to your project.

The basic roles you must indentify at this point are: Leadership, Project Lead, Researcher(s), Recruiter, and Logistics Coordinator. You can print or digitally mark up this framework to use it.

Framework for team role assignments.