History knows not so many examples of successful businesses built solely on instinct and intuition. Nowadays, it is not wise to start a software development project without a comprehensive analysis first. The initial stage of any digital project should be researched. This procedure includes collecting information about the industry for which the product is being developed, your customer's business, and the target audience. It is vital to understand the customer's expectations, decision-makers, and end-users regarding the product. In short, it is a preliminary analysis of the needs of the client, market, competitors, target audience, upcoming amount of work, and resources. The IT world calls this process a discovery phase of software development, and today we will talk about its importance.
Usually, in theory, everything looks cloudless and straightforward. However, in practice, none of the project stages raises as many questions as the discovery one. What analysts are available on the right dates and have the necessary qualifications? How do I prepare for meetings and conduct them effectively? How do I smoothly move to the development stage?
As we all know, any work or service will be in demand in the market only when it is profitable for both the customer and the performer. A project discovery phase allows you to protect the client from unplanned costs and facilitate the team's working conditions that will develop the product. Let’s dive deeper into the topic and define the benefits of the approach, the activities and tools involved.
What is a Discovery Phase in Software Development?
The discovery phase is the first and mandatory stage of software development, where requirements are identified, and business goals are analyzed. This approach is essential to make a proposal for technical implementation, fix the project boundaries, and estimate development costs. To do this, you need to find out the customer's needs as much as possible and create a separate document with product requirements.
So, the critical discovery phase goals are:
- To determine business goals, needs, and product vision.
- To make product architecture for your business goals.
- To mitigate development costs.
- To identify and downplay possible risks.
- To create a roadmap for product development.
The scoping phase involves:
- Acquaintance with the client and his business idea (filling out a questionnaire, personal meetings, presentations).
- Discussing the existing business processes of the customer or the concept of the future project. It is critical to check the client's expectations and wishes for deadlines at this stage.
- Defining the target audience.
- Competitive market analysis.
- Formulation of solutions to business problems.
- Determining the scope of work.
- Setting deadlines and priorities.
- Schematic distribution of roles and appointment of specialists who will be involved in the process.
- Signing a contract for the discovery phase.
Below we will check these activities in more detail.
Can you avoid the software discovery process?
You can if you are ready to get:
- Errors and failurescaused by insufficient focus on user requirements when implementing significant features.
- Budget assessment-related issues that can put off stakeholders and investors.
- Enforced customizationduring the launched project workflow that affects deadlines, budget, and poses unexpected obstacles.
- A sudden need to redosignificant parts of the projectwas caused by the narrow business planning and superficially established technology stack.
Main Activities of the Software Discovery Phase
The basic workflow includes the following main activities:
1. Collecting needed info:
a) Target audience - Before offering the products and services to the market, manufacturers study consumers' characteristics who will become their customers. Get answers to the five questions below:
- What — What kind of product are you going to sell?
- Who — Who are your customers?
- Where — Under what circumstances will you meet with your clients?
- When — What happens before you and your clients find each other?
- Why — What is the customer's need, and how is your product useful for him?
When answering them consistently, you get a general idea of the target audience's characteristics and motivation.
b) Communication with stakeholders - Senior management and all the interested parties should be involved in discussing the future software project. They will share the organization's nature and structure and provide access to corporate documentation. Performance indicators, along with the necessary metrics, will be defined. Such interviews are essential to achieve the goal in the best possible way.
c) Analysis of the market - A cool business idea is half the battle. The second half is detailed analytical work and careful planning. The project discovery phase includes the market analysis and suggests you answer the following questions:
- What is the market capacity?
- What is its dynamics?
- How has the market changed over the past few years?
Before launching a project in any field, you should pay close attention to market research. No matter what industry you work in and what market position you occupy, it is essential to collect the particular data to move on. This activity will help you choose a niche, create a financial model and business plan, and evaluate the prospects.
d) Research of the competitors - Any business does not live in a vacuum but in a specific market niche. There are no businesses without competitors. Competitors are continually evolving, and you need to keep an eye on them — then you can do more, faster, and better. By studying your competitors, you first get a specific business education in your field and learn the business's best practical tools. Moreover, you can make this approach a priority in your work, which will undoubtedly increase your company’s success.
e) Research of industry trends - It is essential to analyze industry trends to create a unique and relevant product. Ensure you evaluate trends both in the long and short term, and approach producer positioning with this in mind.
f) Analysis of industry problems - It is critical not only to focus on the trends and client’s expectations but also to understand the industry's problems. It is an essential condition for the safety and success of your software product.
2. Structuring ideas. Ok, you have already come up with the ideas. The software discovery stage is crucial to structure your ideas properly and be ready for successful product development. Formulate the strategy of the actions with time and financial benefits in mind.
3. Workshop for creating high-level requirements. At this stage, you are working on PRD (product requirement document) that includes all technical specifications for your product release. It lists out all desired functionality for your future software product. Simply put, if it is not on PRD, it will not be in the release. The clearer and more detailed these requirements are, the better all the process participants understand what it should be. This means that there is a good chance that everyone will be satisfied with the result.
4. Create the first prototype. A prototype is an interactive model of your software that looks and works just like your product should. The prototype shapes your idea and helps you prove your concept. Proof of Concept (PoC, for short) verifies that an idea is technically possible. It helps to validate functional assumptions and identify potential tech blockers.
5. Testing and gathering user feedback. An imperfect software application can have a huge effect on revenue generation, reliability, and reputation in the long run. Testing and user feedback help to understand if the product works flawlessly and meets all specifications or requirements.
6. Define the scope of work for the first interaction.Once you bring together all the information mentioned above, you are ready to define the work scope.
7. Technical preparation for the development (technical documentation, code review, architecture). Creating technical documentation is the formation of a set of documents intended to describe the creation, installation, configuration, and use of the software. Product architecture is the structure behind your entire project. It displays how functional elements of the software interact with each other.
8. Roadmap of the development with the estimation (time and money). Essentially, a roadmap is a strategic document with a step-by-step development plan for your product. This document should be strategic, focused on the vision of the product and the problems it solves. It is not necessarily about the product's features — but rather about its value for the user. At this stage, you are ready to talk about time and financial expenses more accurately.
The project discovery phase may seem time-consuming and resource-intensive. But it would be best if you remembered that it allows the team to determine the project timeline and budget and specify the final product requirements. Moreover, you will identify the end user's needs and get feedback from them about the product. Also, you can use a project discovery phase template guiding you throughout the phase. Remember, the more preliminary preparation is done before starting product development, the clearer and more predictable the result will be.
Efficient Tools to Use in the Discovery Phase of Software Development
- User stories. User stories are not a detailed description of the requirements but rather a discussed representation of the intent. They are short and easy to read, understandable to developers, stakeholders, and users. This is the tool that does not take up huge and cumbersome documents. User stories are organized into lists that are easier to adjust when new information becomes available.
- Mind maps. The mind map method is a visualization technique that helps us learn new information or solve a problem that we are facing. Mind mapping is a way to represent information using a diagram. The essence of this map is to build associative chains. You need to put the main idea at the heart of the mind map and then draw branches, analyzing the general idea into more detailed ones.
- BPMN specification. BPMN is not a language for describing IT systems. This notation is intended to describe the subject area of a real business. Both software systems and people (company employees, customers, suppliers) can be involved here. This is the main difference between this notation and graphical tools for describing programs.
- Design concept. A UI designer develops a layout of the project that provides a preliminary understanding of the future infrastructure - screens and blocks that need to be included in the interactive prototype. The project's design concept is discussed with the client, and problems are identified both in terms of appearance and technical component.
- Request-Response model. A Request-Response model is created to specify which systems and services should be integrated with the project. It shows what data is requested from the service and what is received in response. The model allows you to show the client what functionality of the project depends on third-party services and whether they are enough to solve the task.
- SWOT analysis. This tool is used to focus on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Project Discovery Phase Deliverables
You are getting closer to software development. Once the discovery phase of software development is completed, you get:
- Products vision
This business-related information is useful for all parties involved in development — developers, staff, marketing department, etc.
- Architecture documentation
- Tech stack identification
This deliverable refers to a set of technologies, programming languages, frameworks, and tools required for project development.
- Interactive prototype
- UI design
The design concept helps build a dialogue between the designer and the customer — the designer knows what to do next, and the client is confident that the work is being done in the right direction.
- Time and costs estimates
- Team composition
- Risks identification
The team is getting the work scope, time frame, cost estimate, and plan for completing tasks for the project. These details will ensure that the customer receives a high-quality software product.
Team & Timelines
The discovery phase of software development involves particular specialists:
- Business analyst. A business analyst or consultant/expert in a particular field studies the market, target audience, client's business processes and offers solutions to business problems.
- Project manager. The project manager communicates with the client at all stages of project implementation, structures the team's work, and is responsible for reporting on the implementation of tasks.
- Tech lead. Tech lead evaluates the technical part of creating a product (he defines and suggests tools, platforms, and other technical solutions that will be used to create the project).
- Developers. A developer evaluates the project from the developer’s point of view.
- Designer. UI/UX specialist creates a design and interactive prototype of a future project.
In terms of timing, the discovery phase takes 2-8 weeks, depending on the project.
Why It Is Essential to Start Your Project with the Discovery Phase
We have already said a lot on this topic, but let’s specify the software discovery phase's main benefits again. Here are the main advantages of the discovery phase in software development:
- Customer satisfaction (a customer does not always understand what and why). Here he has the opportunity to understand the real capabilities of the future product.
- Specifying the time frame for implementation and the resources required for this to plan the allocation of resources.
- Reducing the implementation time and avoiding the risk of performing free work. When a new piece of work appears, or the system needs to be improved, the customer "has difficulties" financing such work. For the successful completion of the project, such additional work will be done free of charge.
- Creating a risk register and providing timely measures to minimize the impact of these risks on the project's success.
- Personal (live) communication between consultants and the working group will further simplify their teamwork.
Final Thoughts. To Discover or Not?
The project discovery phase is an optional part of the project. It can take from 2 weeks to a month or more and requires the costs associated with a group of specialists involved. Therefore, this step is often skipped – to save money or launch the project faster and recoup the investment. But, in the long run, savings on the discovery phase may result in unexpected problems. Among them are increased costs, delayed development, or a discrepancy between expectations and the actual result.
The discovery phase in the classic form allows you to outline the potential of the product. It helps identify factors that may hinder the launch of the project and decide on the choice of additional stages for checking the idea.
Decide if you are going to discover or not. However, remember when these processes become common practice when working on a new product, everyone wins. The business gathers pace, outperforming competitors, and new users cover their needs with a product that exactly meets their requirements.
If you have a software idea and search for a reliable partner to get it alive, do not hesitate to contact the Fulcrum team.
Why does Fulcrum rock the discovery stage?
- Keeping the end user in mind.We create apps that enchant your users first, keeping their best interests in mind.
- Exact business analysis. We are a product-oriented team. We make sure your app fits the market & answers user requests.
- We fight for your project’s goals. Each project is a love story. We do 150% out of possible 100% to make sure your project is a success.
- You are always up-to-date. You will always know the project status. We have weekly/daily meetings, use Jira, and Slack. Our response time - 1 hour.
Discovery Phase of Software Development FAQ
📍What is the discovery phase of a project?
The discovery phase is a pre-development stage that helps answer stakeholders' questions and minimize uncertainty at the project's start. You will fix the scope that will be implemented in the current project and get a realistic estimate of development time and cost. By minimizing risks and having a clear and effective implementation plan in hand, you make decisions about whether to invest in development. The cost of the discovery phase can be considered as a percentage of the project's expenses. It does not increase the project's cost but rather determines how product development will continue.
📍What are the 'resources' being assessed in the discovery phase?
The first and mandatory part of the discovery process is the collection and systematization of customer requirements. The team gets a general vision of the project, determines the scope of business goals and objectives. Moreover, an expected result and success indicators of the project are discussed. Market research, finding bottlenecks, and initial development specification are also critical points of the discovery stage.
📍What happens after the discovery phase?
The software project goes through a few stages. Once the initial discovery phase is completed, an actual development stage begins. By this stage, you already have system requirements specification, a preliminary UX prototype creating a custom solution, and MVP development plan, and estimates.