What Is a Discovery Phase and Why Is It Important?
I know how it feels when you’re excited about a new software project. You’ve lived with this idea for some time, and now you’re eager to start. Taking more time for preparation sounds crazy, right? But it’s a proven way to lay a solid foundation.
35% of startups fail because they don’t find a target market, while 45% of big projects (>15 million USD) face cost overrun due to the missed focus, shifting project requirements, and unrealistic schedules.
I myself saw how skipping the first development stage damages the whole project. This is the main reason why I’m here today with a detailed overview of a project discovery phase.
What Is a Discovery Phase Exactly?
The discovery phase of a software project is a process of gathering and analyzing information about the future solution itself, its market, competitors, and target audience.
This phase allows you to decide if this project is worth the effort in the first place. And if yes, how to make things right. For this reason, a discovery group includes a business analyst, project manager, account manager, developer (tech lead), and UI/UX designer. This group can be bigger or smaller depending on the project’s risks and complexity.
Why Should You Bother? Top Business Benefits of a Well-Built Discovery Phase
I often see clients resisting the discovery process, and I can understand it. The fact that you need time and budget for more research is so annoying! But why do you need it in the first place?
1. You get high-quality results right from the start.
Not only do you aspire to build an incredible product — your vendor wants the same thing. The discovery phase allows the team to understand what you want, look at the challenge from the technical point of view, and offer the full scope of tools and approaches. In other words, your team will be well-equipped.
2. Your product will bring revenue faster.
Sooner or later, project deliverables will be ready. Does it mean they will be successful? I agree that no one knows it for sure, but you can be immune to a definite “no” thanks to thorough research.
3. Your users will get what they want.
Think like a user and share your thoughts with a digital team. Who is this user, and what issues do they want to solve? Does your digital product help them in some way? Let everyone on the project know who they work for.
4. Communication with your team will become transparent.
Not overdue deadlines ruin your project — wrong expectations and miscommunication do that. The general understanding of the project provides context to all decisions made afterward.
What Should the Discovery Phase Include?
Now it’s time for actionable tips. To make sure you did everything right, keep these points in mind.
1. Analysis of the existing documentation.
The more years your company exists on the market, the more it has to share. Provide any information that you think can be important for the project. You can also share your business vision, approach, company history, etc.
2. Defining stakeholders.
The development team should be well aware of who makes decisions and in what cases. Even if not all stakeholders will be involved in product creation, the vendor’s team can get a lot of insights by interviewing each of the interested parties.
3. Project goals.
A well-defined goal is a key to everything. It’s a clear vision of what should be done and why it’s important. You’ll be surprised, but not every client knows exactly what they want. Professional teams will help you outline your aspirations and determine priorities.
4. Success metrics.
Success is not an abstract term in business, but its measurement is individual on a case-by-case basis. The most obvious metric is the return on investment, but stakeholders should agree on what they call a financial return (increased sales, number of users, improved engagement, etc.).
5. User research.
More often than not, clients don’t have a definite portrait of their target audience. The discovery stage covers that too. Also, the team has to “walk in the user’s shoes.” How will your solution help this person? In what circumstances? Sometimes, the best idea is to talk to targeted users directly to collect in-depth insights.
6. Value proposition.
Now when you’re sure about your goals and a user portrait, you should see if they match. At this point, the team defines the product’s benefits and particular features that provide those benefits. Outlining those will also help your marketing team much later — at the promotion stage.
7. Competitors research.
Software solutions don’t exist in a vacuum, so the product development team should know the context around the product they create. Making the list of the main competitors and highlighting their strong and weak sides will help to find the niche for your solution.
8. Time and budget estimation.
After collecting the data from the previous points, business analysts in collaboration with developers can present a rough timeline and budget required to build your digital product.
How It Ends Up: Project Discovery Phase Deliverables
Regardless of how long your product discovery has taken, it should be documented. No worries, you’ll have professionals by your side to finish it up. This is the most common list of documents:
- Project brief: a short description of the project’s vision and main goals. It may also contain some design and architecture details (but not an in-depth overview).
- Tech stack and project architecture: a technical document written in collaboration with developers. It determines the fundamental principles of the solution’s workflow.
- Design wireframes: the first sketches along with ideas on the style guide and user experience (navigation).
- Preliminary roadmap and estimation: information on the team composition, project milestones, budget, and roadmap.
What else is there? Continue reading to figure out what projects need the discovery phase the most, bonus tips on how to make discovery more effective, and what can happen if you decide to skip research and preparation.