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 are going to 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 features and all possible business and technical specifics. It includes thorough work with the business and user needs 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 the particular point, where it would lead you, and how the entire development process will change. Thus, it does not make you slow down but only changes the direction.
And finally, it's highly recommended to take the discovery phase 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.
The discovery phase process is complex and requires the collective work of several different specialists:
- Business analyst. The specialist, responsible for requirements elicitation and gathering data. They summarize the client's needs and wishes, 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.
Speaking of the time required for the discovery phase of IT project development, it depends on numerous factors: idea maturity, domain complexity, product phase, etc. It usually takes from one week to two months to get the job done.
When Is a Discovery Phase Needed
You might often hear that the discovery phase is a part of the software development process. 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.
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, 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.
A complex project
The bigger the project, 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.
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 is a matter of days to quickly and painlessly return to the right track.
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.
Main Activities Of a 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 these people share, 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, 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, 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: to determine how competitive the market is, identify key competitors, their strengths and weaknesses, and make effective use of the information obtained.
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.
The Product Requirement Document, known as the PRD, includes all technical requirements of the project. Mostly it takes the form of the features list and is the written model of the future application.
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 basically 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, milestones, and comfortably follow the established plan.
Simultaneously with the roadmap development, the company provides you with a detailed and most accurate estimate. It includes possible deviations from the development plan, which may affect the timing and budget.
Therefore, after the software project discovery phase, the client receives:
- Clickable prototype
- Cost proposal & estimate
- Functional requirement document
- Solution architecture scheme
- Project plan / Roadmap
The Main Benefits Of A Discovery Phase
Skipping the discovery 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. 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.
At TechMagic, we carry out a discovery phase at the initiation or execution stage.
The initiation stage. We start with the concept and lead the client through the entire process until the product is ready to be developed.
The execution stage. It doesn't matter if you go for a dedicated team 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 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 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 with the idea. We conducted user and market research, developed a proof-of-concept to validate technical sides, created a prototype, conducted user testing, and then moved to MPV development.
The discovery phase of a software project is a vital step on 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 development process immediately, with our team or any other.