What Makes a Discovery Phase So Critical for Project Success?

According to Statista, 35% of startups fail due to a lack of product value for market needs, and this applies to enterprises, too. Such numbers mean that creating future-proof software takes more than a good idea alone. As project failures are often caused by poor planning, a careful and structured approach to software is what you need. A flawed plan can lead to inaccurate requirements, changing priorities, or undefined risks. Eventually, all the above will result in financial losses and a lack of audience.

To deliver a successful software solution, companies must rely on the discovery phase – the first stage of the software development process. It bridges the gap between an idea and its realization and helps create fully functional and competitive software. Below, we explain why customers need to invest in a discovery phase, what its main stages are, and how much time it takes.

What Makes a Discovery Phase So Critical for Project Success?

What is the discovery phase of a project?

Project discovery is the initial phase of software development. It involves data collection and its analysis in order to establish a solid foundation for a project. As a result, it helps to identify the product objectives, vision, and scope before moving on to detailed software development. At its core, this phase involves:

  • Defining and analyzing the client’s idea and business goals;
  • Collecting and analyzing market and user needs;
  • Determining the scope of work;
  • Creating an intuitive and engaging design;
  • Creating documentation;
  • Identifying potential risks;
  • Estimating budget and timeline;
  • Building a project roadmap.

The phase ends with the delivery of documentation, like a product requirements document (PRD), a functional requirements document (FRD), or a more detailed software requirements specification (SRS). The docs describe the product’s vision, goals, functional, and technical/ non-technical requirements. To ensure product requirements and customer needs are met, all stakeholders are involved in the process. Ultimately, the project team makes accurate estimations of the project cost and deadline. It guarantees that future phases of the project are well-documented and are strategically and financially planned. 

According to McKinsey, over 70% of IT vendors invest in a discovery phase before starting a project, and now we will consider why. 

Advantages of the discovery phase

There are several reasons why customers invest in the discovery phase:

  • Market-driven product: rather than making assumptions, you will evaluate your project idea for feasibility and potential;
  • User-centric design: comprehensive research helps you understand current user needs so you can design a product that is tailored to specific audiences;
  • Project roadmap: the discovery phase provides stakeholders with a structured plan with main project timelines, stages, and milestones. It allows running into development smoothly and as planned;
  • Well-planned budget: based on a comprehensive analysis, companies can accurately calculate the budgets for the upcoming project by determining its scope, requirements, and potential bottlenecks in advance;
  • Reduced risks: by identifying goals, required resources, and tech aspects of software, companies are able to prevent or mitigate possible risks;
  • Increased trust: transparent and clear communication between project stakeholders will establish two-way trust, resulting in a desired product. As well, users will be more loyal since they will receive exactly what they need.

Despite these, at first glance, obvious advantages, some companies still think that skipping project discovery will save their time and funds. But is this really the case? 

What if you skip the discovery phase?

If you skip the discovery phase, you might run into the following problems:

  • Mismatch with user needs: insufficient analysis can lead to a product that does not meet the users’ expectations, resulting in low satisfaction and product failure.
  • Non-competitive product: lack of the discovery phase can lead to an uncompetitive product due to a lack of understanding of market trends and of competition;
  • Additional costs: without a clear plan for future development, you are likely to go beyond the planned budget due to unexpected issues;
  • Longer time-to-market: a lack of proper documentation and project preparation results in scope creep (uncontrolled growth of work), which delays project launch.

To sum up, creating a product without a structured plan will be costly and unsuccessful. So you will have to fix it, anyway. In addition, you will risk creating a product that either does not meet your customers’ needs or does not match your expectations. Keeping an eye on the project discovery phase will help you avoid these (and related) problems. But who is responsible for its fulfillment?

Everything You Need to Know About Product Management Process

Behind every successful product is a big idea. And this idea undergoes a lengthy transformation, from being a simple “what if” to becoming a bestseller, like a #1 app in an App Store. But how do you turn your idea into a successful project loved by users? The answer is product management.

Who is involved in the discovery phase?

A project discovery team may vary based on the nature and complexity of the project. Typically, the project discovery team includes:

  • Project manager (PM): manages the discovery process and coordinates communication between team members and stakeholders to align project goals with business ones;
  • Business analytic (BA): analyzes markets, competitors, and users, elaborates product functionality and identifies potential problems;
  • UI/UX designers: create wireframes, mockups, and prototypes to demonstrate to stakeholders the preliminary version of the future product;
  • Developers: select an appropriate tech stack, and create the product;
  • QAs: sometimes these specialists are involved in the discovery phase to identify possible challenges during QA testing and solution execution.

All these specialists work together, share their experiences, brainstorm, and make a concerted effort to create a list of project requirements and their estimation. As a result of such a cooperative approach, everyone can see the project from many angles. Additionally, it also promotes unity and cohesion within the team. 

The main stages of the project discovery phase

Remember that the discovery stages may differ according to the client’s requirements, goals, or project methodology, etc. In general, the main stages are:

Discussion of customer needs & expectations

Often, customers bring ideas to companies that do not really fit their business goals. Project team members meet with customers to understand their problems and make sure that the software fits these goals. Together, they discuss the desired outcomes and the expectations of the project. It helps the project team evaluate whether and how the product vision will be realized. For that, team members should:

  • Analyze customer needs;
  • Define and clarify the scope of the project;
  • Establish communication channels;
  • Identify customer constraints/expectations;
  • Establish metrics to measure product performance (monthly revenue);
  • Identify deliverables.

After the discovery process, the customer and the project team must decide what deliverables they will produce. Deliverables may include Software Requirements Specification (SRS), a preliminary prototype, a roadmap, an estimate, and a proposal. Choosing one over the other depends on the size, complexity, phase, and urgency of the project. When clients have competed the research early on, the project team must put this data into action. Through this approach, customers can speed up the discovery process and save money and time.

Research and analysis

The research and its analysis help stakeholders make better decisions on future software. Moreover, it helps the team understand the product’s strengths, weaknesses, and insights about similar products. After that, stakeholders can pick the best niche, financial model, and project strategy and evaluate business opportunities. For this to happen, it is necessary to complete the following: 

  • Interview with a client/customer: Project managers (PMs) conduct customer interviews to understand their needs, preferences, and pain points to guide the project;
  • Market/industry research: BAs, researchers, and PMs work closely to assess the project’s place in the market/industry by analyzing trends, opportunities, and potential challenges;
  • User research: UX designers investigate user behaviors, needs, and pain points through surveys, interviews, and usability testing to design the most suitable solution;
  • Competitor research: BAs and marketing specialists collaborate to analyze competitors, helping the project team make informed decisions about upcoming development software.

Once all the information is in place, the team turns the collected data or statistics into a list of tech requirements: FRD, PRD, or SRS. It helps stakeholders come up with a marketing strategy and technical solution.

Design of the architecture

This step goes along with the previous one, including setting a clear technical vision. It refers to describing all the technical aspects of software in a detailed plan. A project architect or a senior Tech Lead is responsible for this stage, conducting:

  • Technical feasibility analysis: evaluate the tech aspects to ensure the feasibility of implementing the proposed solution;
  • Solution architecture: determine the overall structure and components of the future solution, ensuring scalability, security and efficiency;
  • Tech stack: choose technologies (programming languages, frameworks, and libraries) and tools that best suit the project requirements;
  • Backlog structure: plan the implementation of features, prioritizing them, and structuring the development backlog;
  • QA and testing strategy: design a thorough QA strategy early on to ensure future software is secure and bug-free.

The architectural solution stage provides a solid foundation for the project, ensuring the future phases align with the outlined technical vision. For stakeholders and developers, it will be easier to understand the final product tech aspects in clear and detailed documents.

Hire an experienced developer at SoftTeco

Creation of a Vision & Scope or an SRS document

In the discovery phase, you’ll need to create a Software Requirements Specification (SRS) or Product Vision. The choice depends on the customer requirements. The vision and scope document outlines the project’s overall goals, target audience, and the intended impact of the solution. It typically includes a product vision statement, project scope, constraints, and assumptions.

But as a rule, creating an SRS doc is preferred for customers since it provides a more detailed description and requirements. The components of SRS are:

  • Project overview, purpose, and scope;
  • User needs;
  • System requirements (functional and non-functional requirements);
  • Assumptions and dependencies;
  • System qualities, etc.

Once your team members have put the document together, you can tweak it if necessary. A well-structured SRS provides a detailed description of the project’s scope. Accordingly, it helps the team remain on the same page with customers about upcoming software development. 

Create a preliminary design

As we move to the end of the discovery phase, we create a preliminary UX/UI prototype. Along with the SRS, it provides an overview of the future interface, including its visual design, navigation structure, and functionality. Typically, at the discovery stage, designers will:

  • Create a customer journey map (CJM): using target audience research and user personas, designers create a high-level visual representation of the user’s interaction with the product;
  • Create wireframes and mockups: designers create preliminary mockups and wireframes of future products to visualize their layout and functionality;
  • Create clickable prototypes: UX/UI designers create clickable prototypes to demonstrate the product’s functionality and gather stakeholder feedback.

To move forward, the prototype should be evaluated by users. The feedback collected from users will help designers improve the prototype and, if necessary, modify it. Once all the data is documented, meeting with a customer is the next stage. 

Plan a project

The final stage of the project discovery phase is project planning. It includes estimating the timeline, budget, and roadmap needed to turn an idea into a minimum viable product (MVP) or a full-featured product. First, the team develops a detailed roadmap. This document outlines realistic project timelines, stages, and critical milestones. It is a guide for how the project is going.

Most importantly, this stage gives stakeholders an accurate estimation of cost and time, including resources, technology, and other expenses. This step makes it clear how much money is needed to complete the project. Sometimes, the team can suggest alternatives to save the customer’s budget. The company can begin software development as soon as the client accepts the proposal with its estimated financial and time costs.

How long will it take to discover?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The time needed for a discovery phase depends heavily on factors like complexity, size, documentation, and the company’s expertise. Usually, a discovery phase takes between 2 and 8 weeks. Different projects take an average of:

  • A small project of 2-3 days;
  • A medium project of 3-4 weeks;
  • A large project takes 4-8 weeks and more.

But, as we said above, there are a few ways to speed up this phase. For example, use previously collected customer docs, hire experts in a particular field, and keep communication with stakeholders as clear as possible. One must always remember it is essential to balance being thorough and efficient when conducting discovery. Rushing is not always a good decision. In the long run, it will cost more time, costs, and headaches.

Final thoughts

At a first glance, the project discovery phase seems unneeded. But, due to its numerous advantages, it is a solid foundation for software development. Customers will be able to get a detailed software roadmap, realistic timelines, and accurate cost estimates. Also, they can identify potential problems early and avoid costly modifications later. As a result, clients can proceed to development with confidence and know they are on the right track.

Whenever you have a project idea, contact SoftTeco. Our qualified and skilled experts will be glad to conduct a discovery phase regardless of the complexity of your concept, keeping your far-reaching goals and modern software requirements in mind. 

Expert Opinion

The Discovery phase is like a magnifying glass in the hands of an experienced biologist, helping them dive deep enough to ensure nothing is missed. For business analytics, it is a valued research that gives insight into user needs, market challenges, and business opportunities.

Many times, customers have expressed gratitude to me for supporting discovery and for the opportunity to go through what seemed to be a clear path of product development. The discovery phase is an outside view, checking hypotheses and working out a detailed development plan, ensuring your concept is right.

Without the discovery phase, the beginning of development is like running after a train, gaining speed, and throwing suitcases into it. With a development plan in place and functionality worked out, the development process goes more effectively. As a result, customers will work with a team familiar with a product, a project will run more smoothly, the risks of missing essential points will be reduced, and users will get what they are looking for.

Business Analyst

Anastasiya Shatila

Want to stay updated on the latest tech news?

Sign up for our monthly blog newsletter in the form below.

Softteco Logo Footer