Project Discovery Phase in Software Development (Step-by-Step Guide)

Bohdana Muzyka
Lead Business Analyst at TechMagic, with a background in Project Management and QA, mentor, and speaker. Passionate about Business Analysis and Product Design.
Project Discovery Phase in Software Development (Step-by-Step Guide)

Is a strong development team all you need to turn your idea into a functional software product? Theoretically, yes. Practically, you’re taking a massive risk of not having a market, losing time and money, and disappointing your potential customers - the end-users.

The discovery phase for software development eliminates these risks and gives you a clear understanding of what to do and what resources you will need. In this piece, we’ll find out what is the discovery phase in a project and why it is key to launching a successful product.

What Is A Discovery Phase?

The software development discovery phase is a process of going into detail on a future product, defining its core features, and all possible business and technical specifics. It includes discovering all possible business and technical requirements, user needs, specifications, and requirements, and it provides customers with a prototype along with all the documentation needed to start the development process.

In addition, you can face the need to change the project under development. The discovery phase in software development allows you to clearly understand what you can modify at a particular point, where it would lead you, and how the entire project development process will change. Thus, it does not make you slow down but only changes the direction.

And finally, it's highly recommended to uncover all possible needs and specifications in the middle of the project if you skipped it initially. It would allow you to identify the things you might have missed at the beginning and fix them while it is not too late.

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What is the purpose of the project discovery phase?

Project Discovery Phase

The discovery phase in software development is not merely a preliminary step; it is profound purpose that goes beyond surface-level planning. Here's an in-depth exploration of the purpose of the project discovery phase:

Defining Core Features

Discovery Phase is about defining the fundamental features of your future product. It involves a meticulous examination of what makes your product unique and how it will address the needs of your target audience.

Addressing Business and Technical Specifics

Delving into the specifics, the Discovery Phase considers both business and technical aspects. It's about finding the delicate balance between meeting market demands and ensuring the project's success also aligns with your organization's technical capabilities.

Uncovering Business and User Needs

An integral part of the Discovery Phase is the exploration of all possible business and user needs. This involves engaging stakeholders, understanding their requirements, and translating those needs into actionable development tasks.

Providing a Prototype and Documentation

The culmination of the Discovery Phase results in the creation of a prototype accompanied by comprehensive documentation. This not only gives stakeholders a tangible preview of the product but also equips the development team with a roadmap for implementation.

Adaptability and Change Management

Discovery Phase enables teams to be adaptable. It recognizes that changes may be necessary during the phase of a project and equips teams to manage and implement them seamlessly.

Mid-Project Course Correction

Discovery phase isn't a one-time event. It's a continual process that recommends revisiting project needs and specifications mid-project. This proactive approach allows for course correction, ensuring that any oversights or missed details can be rectified before they escalate.

Efficiency and Timely Modifications

Discovery phase enhances efficiency by allowing for timely modifications. Identifying and addressing issues midway through discovery phase leads the project prevents delays and ensures the development process remains on track.

What are discovery phase deliverables?

The discovery phase deliverables are instrumental in guiding the project team by project manager, aligning stakeholders, and ensuring a clear roadmap for successful execution.

What do you need for the discovery phase?

Here's a comprehensive breakdown of the key elements you need for a successful Discovery Phase:

  • Clear Vision and Objectives
  • Cross-functional Team
  • Effective Communication Channels
  • In-depth Market Research
  • User Personas and Journey Mapping
  • Risk Analysis
  • Prototyping Tools
  • Documentation Framework
need for discovery phase

Who Is Involved in the Project Discovery Phase Team?

who is involved in project discovery phase

The discovery phase process is complex and requires the collective work of several different specialists:

  • Business analyst. The specialist is responsible for requirements elicitation and gathering data. They summarize the client's needs and wishes and collect all information about the market, end-users, etc. After their systematic and accurate work, business goals turn into a list of precise requirements.
  • UX designer. The one who is in charge of the design concept. They are responsible for making the prototype attractive and user-friendly and, at the same time, as close to the client's expectations as possible.
  • Solution architect. A solution architect is responsible for analyzing the technology environment and product performance, scalability, and maintainability. They also investigate third-party frameworks and platforms, along with their drawbacks and benefits.
  • Delivery manager. The delivery manager distributes tasks within the team and sets a clear outline of the development process. Their role transcends mere delegation; they navigate the team through the complexities of the Discovery Phase, ensuring that each member is aligned with the overarching objectives.

When Is a Discovery Phase Needed

when disocvery phase

You might often hear that the product discovery phase is a part of the software development process as a UI/UX design and development services. Yes and no. On the one hand, the discovery phase is the first step in product development, but on the other hand, these two processes are entirely separate. It is even possible to perform the project discovery phase with one company and entrust the delivery to another.

Is the discovery phase an option or a necessity? There is no particular answer to this either. But, at TechMagic, we lean toward the second option, especially for startups.

According to Failory, 90% of startups fail. And CBInsights adds that misreading market demand is a reason why startups fail in 42% of cases.

Here are cases when it is vital to understand what is the discovery phase in projects and its critical importance:

When the idea is not validated

Here we are talking about situations where the idea is so vague and uncertain that it is impossible to consider it as a starting point. It's like the idea of becoming a runner without the training plan and running shoes. In this case, the discovery phase of a software development project is a must.

Risk of contradictions

It doesn’t seem possible to avoid contradictions and conflicts of view when more than one person works on the idea. After the discovery phase begins, you will have fewer subjects to argue about and more to discuss. Together, we identify relevant and irrelevant thoughts and generate new ones while preserving the team's climate of dialogue and cooperation. The latter is critical, especially at the very beginning.

Budget constraints require precision

If you're working within strict financial parameters, the project discovery phase allows for a detailed breakdown of costs, helping you prioritize features and allocate resources judiciously.

If timelines demand efficiency

If project deadlines are looming, a discovery phase in software development project ensures that every aspect of the project is well-considered and aligned with the overarching goals.

A complex project

The bigger the project scope, the more costly mistakes can be made. At the same time, a complex project means increasing requirements on resources, more difficulty in identifying the market and target audience, more competitors in this market, probably more difficulty in implementing changes during the process. The discovery phase reduces associated risks and maintains the competitiveness of the product.

Project scaling is anticipated

If your project is poised for growth or expansion, engaging in a project discovery phase aids in understanding the scalability requirements. It ensures that the architecture and features can accommodate the projected increase in users or functionalities.

Project scope is subject to change

If there's a likelihood of changes to the project scope, whether due to emerging opportunities or unforeseen challenges, a project discovery phase allows you to proactively anticipate and accommodate these changes.

Long-term projects

In essence, this is a combination of the abovementioned paragraphs, but working on long-term projects always has the risk of losing focus and data. With the documentation obtained after the discovery phase, it takes days to quickly and painlessly return to the right track.

User needs and preferences are unclear

If you lack a comprehensive understanding of your target audience or if user requirements are not well-defined, the Discovery Phase provides a dedicated space for user research, persona development, and ensuring your product aligns with user expectations.

When there is no margin for error

Not many entrepreneurs give their businesses the right to a mistake. But here, it's about errors that may bring the company to bankruptcy with no chance and resources to fix things. In these cases, the discovery phase in software product development is the necessary investment.

What if you skip the discovery phase in software development project?

Here's a detailed exploration of what could unfold if you decide to forgo this critical phase:

  • If you decide to skip the project discovery, you risk embarking on your software development journey without a clear project direction. The absence of a detailed understanding of your goals, requirements, and user needs can result in a project that lacks focus, leading to frequent changes and misalignment with stakeholder expectations.
  • Without thoroughly examining requirements and potential challenges upfront, you may encounter continuous changes during development, impacting timelines, resources, and overall project stability.
  • If you choose to skip this phase, you might find yourself unprepared to handle unforeseen challenges that could arise during development. This lack of risk mitigation can lead to project delays, increased costs, and instability.
  • Unidentified requirements, changes in scope, and unforeseen challenges may necessitate costly revisions and adjustments during development, surpassing the budget constraints set at the project's outset.
  • Without a thorough understanding of project requirements, user needs, and potential challenges, the overall quality of the end product is at risk. Skipping project discovery may result in a rushed development process, compromising crucial elements such as usability, functionality, and overall user satisfaction.

Main Activities Of a Project Discovery Phase

main activities of project discovery phase

After defining the importance of the project discovery phase in software development, we move on to the question of what do you do in the project discovery phase and in what sequence.

It depends on the specifics of the company. The method we use at TechMagic, and therefore consider the best, is the Agile discovery phase workflow. It comprises the following stages:

Collection of information

This stage, in turn, is divided into smaller steps:

Definition of the target audience

Who will use the product, what trends and ideas do these people share, and how do they communicate with brands and among themselves? What requests and problems can we help them solve? The most accurate, honest, and detailed answers help find the perfect match between the software and the desires of those for whom it is meant.

Communication with stakeholders

The next step of the project discovery phase of software development is communication with all stakeholders and top management. The primary focus is on the documentation, formulation of plans, and setting targets, goals, and KPIs.

Market analysis

Data is what turns the idea into a plan. Here is the time for a thorough examination of the market, and investigation of its characteristics and features. Based on the collected data, the chapters of the road map are being developed.

Identification of competitors

The main tasks here are to determine how competitive the market is, identify key competitors, their strengths and weaknesses, and make effective use of the information obtained from competitor research.

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a method of structuring data and ideas to see connections and dependencies among them. Ultimately, it helps to understand which ideas work together, which separately, and which do not work at all for the specific project.

Feature set

The Product Requirement Document, known as the PRD, includes all project requirements and technical requirements. Mostly it takes the form of the features list and is the written model of the future application.

Prototype development

A prototype is an interactive model of the desired application. Having a prototype, it becomes possible to prove the concept - to be sure that the idea is technically feasible. Also, it becomes clear at what points the technical complications may occur.

Testing and feedback

Delivering a perfect product on the first try is not just challenging; it's nearly impossible. Therefore, testing and processing feedback from the first users is a must. Error correction and implementation of needed changes are the prototype polishing methods.

Determining the scope and method of work

Having clearly defined requirements and goals, we decide on the resources needed for achieving them: time, specialists, etc.

Preparation for the development process

Technical documentation is finalized, including the results of code audit and product architecture - the structure behind the entire project that displays how the functional elements of the software interact with each other.

Estimates and Roadmap

A roadmap is a step-by-step guide on how the product development process goes. Thanks to it, the development team and management have absolute transparency about all processes and their sequence, clearly navigate the timing, stages, and milestones, and comfortably follow the established plan.

Simultaneously with the project roadmap development, the company provides you with a detailed and accurate estimate. It includes possible deviations from the development plan, which may affect the timing and budget.

Therefore, after the software project discovery process phase, the client receives:

  • Clickable prototype
  • Cost proposal & estimate
  • Functional requirement document
  • Solution architecture scheme
  • Project plan / Roadmap

Main Benefits Of A Discovery Phase

benefitts of discovery phase

Skipping the project discovery stage phase, client deprives themselves of the chance to:

Reduce risks

Performed by a qualified company, the discovery phase is a time- and money-saving investment.

It also helps eliminate the risks associated with:

  • A lack of market for the product
  • A lack of understanding of the product value
  • Inability to manage time and money
  • Incorrect choice of technologies
  • Expensive maintenance of the delivered product
  • Сommunication and coordination problems

Establish a Roadmap

In the software development process, the roadmap is a crucial element of project success. It is the description of all actions and goals and their sequence. You have a timeline with clearly defined interim goals, deliverables, and deadlines, established through consultative processes.

Gain trust

There are three key aspects:

  • With a prototype, you have greater chances of attracting investors.
  • You start work by having the audience and collecting feedback. More chances that your product will be what users expect to receive.
  • When the discovery phase is done, you draw conclusions about the specific agency. You can continue cooperation or find another one to deliver the product.

How TechMagic Approaches the Project Discovery Stage

At software product development company - TechMagic, we carry out project discovery phase at the project initiation or execution stage.

The initiation stage

We start with the concept and lead the client through the entire process until the final product is ready to be developed.

The execution stage

It doesn't matter if you go for a few project managers, dedicated project team members, or just one specialist to extend yours; we analyze the architecture, codebase, deployment approach and pipelines, project management roadmap, and future product vision.

After the discovery phase, the product is fully prepared to be transferred to the delivery team.

At the time of writing, we have over 20 successfully performed discovery stage phases in our portfolio. Those are companies of different levels and types. For example:

InstaSwift

There was an existing platform that required it to be rewritten from scratch. During the discovery phase, we created a Customer Journey Map to the discovery team identify pain points and improvements created a User Stories map, defined the scope for MVP, and created a prototype for the new platform.

C-me

The client came up with the idea. We conducted user and market research, developed a proof-of-concept to validate the technical sides, created a prototype, conducted user testing, and then moved to MPV development.

Conclusion

The discovery phase of a software project is a vital step in the product delivery pass. In fact, it is the first one you make after the decision to bring your idea to life.

Performing it with an experienced and reliable company, you receive the prototype and all the documentation needed. You can move to the software development projects and process immediately with our team or any other.

FAQ

  1. What is the discovery stage process? What is the discovery stage process?

    The discovery stage process is the initial phase where the project's goals, requirements, and scope are thoroughly examined. This involves stakeholder consultations, market research, user persona development, and the creation of prototypes.

  2. What comes after discovery in a project?

    Following the discovery stage, the project transitions to the Planning and Design phase. This involves creating a detailed project plan, architectural design, and defining the project's technical specifications. The insights gained during the project discovery stage guide subsequent decision-making, ensuring a well-informed and strategic approach to the project development.

  3. What is the goal of the discovery stage?

    The primary goal of the project discovery phase is to establish a solid foundation for the software development project. This includes defining project objectives, understanding user needs, identifying potential challenges, and formulating a roadmap for development.

  4. What is the average duration of project discovery?

    The duration of the project discovery phase depends on the project's scope, size and complexity. On average, it can last anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months. The time invested is proportional to the project's long-term success, as it allows for thorough research, stakeholder consultations, and a robust project plan.

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Ross Kurhanskyi
Head of partner engagement