Starting your own company might sound like a dream experience. However, according to disappointing statistics, 9 out of 10 new companies fail. About 20% of projects are closed in the first year, and 70% cease their activities by the 10th year on the market. Why does it happen? Among the most popular reasons for failing are the inability to attract funding or cost overrun, lack of demand for the product/service in the market, and pressure from competitors. In simple terms, the product turned out to be not needed on the market, or the company did not calculate its financial capabilities.
All these problems can be avoided, at least partially, with the discovery phase of a software project at the very beginning. It can give much more chances for the success of any project. In this article, we will analyze what a discovery phase is, why it is needed and what it consists of.
What is a discovery phase?
The discovery phase is the first and mandatory stage of development, where requirements are identified, and business goals are analyzed. The discovery phase is important in order to assess the cost of the project, the technical feasibility of its implementation, and set the boundaries of the project.
Without this stage, the chances of a successful MVP are much lower since neither the customer nor the contractors understand who needs the product at all, what it will look like, how long it will take to implement the project, and whether there is a sense and financial resource for its launch.
Other phases of the project
As mentioned above, the discovery phase is the first stage when working on a new project. The next phases are:
- Proposal – after studying the project’s features, the contractors draw up a technical proposal, which describes all the stages of work that will be carried out, and their cost.
- Implementation – the team proceeds to the project’s phased implementation according to the technical assignment.
- Testing – the Quality Assurance team tests the ready software, finds and reports bugs that the development team fixes. Also, at this stage, it is checked whether the finished project corresponds to the initial technical assignment and the client’s vision.
- Launch – when all the details are fine-tuned, the finished project is transferred to the customer and launched to the public.
Goals of the discovery phase
The project discovery phase allows us to gather information and gain a deeper understanding of the industry, target audience, and business expectations. For us, the main goal of the discovery phase project management is to get enough data to provide a technical proposal to the customer.
Such a preliminary analysis is necessary in order to:
- Study competitors, the market, and its interest in your project.
- Determine the target audience and its pains.
- Determine scenarios and context for using the product.
- Come up with new ideas for development.
- Make a budget.
All the details that the team finds out during the discovery phase of a project help determine the scope of work, specific deadlines, budget, and expectations from both the client and the end-user. The project discovery phase at Dewais usually takes from 1 to 4 weeks, depending on the complexity and scale of the project.
Process of the discovery phase
The discovery phase is not just a technical task or a beautiful presentation by marketers. It is a deep analysis that requires several steps:
The first interview with the client’s representatives
At this stage, clients get acquainted with the team that will deal with their project. You tell specialists about your idea, goals, and objectives of a new product, etc. Already at this stage, you can understand whether a contractor is right for you. Also, you can pass on existing market research, share your own thoughts about competitors, the niche, and the market as a whole.
Having received an understanding of the new project’s essence, the development team prepares a list of features that will be implemented, a general description of the system, and determines the minimum and maximum time and cost values. It allows clients to understand the real terms of implementation and then not face costly improvements.
If everything suits the client at the estimate stage, the contractors continue their preparatory works. This includes user stories, backlog processing, functional and non-functional features, etc. All these technical and non-technical requirements are discussed and agreed upon with the customer.
UI/UX design process
The design system, product usage scenarios, and interface are designed in the discovery phase of a project. The main goal of our specialists at this stage is to find the best practical solutions supported by analytical data. We are preparing an interactive prototype that allows you to see what the future product will look like.
During all the processes, specialists draw up documents, which form the basis of the terms of reference and the further development. You get the following discovery phase deliverables:
- Lean Canvas – we create a concept of a business model for a future product on one page. The main task is to show how the product will work in a simple diagram.
- Customer Journey Map – this document helps to understand how the end-user will interact with the product, through which channels. The document also visualizes the customer’s experience, including their emotions, thoughts, and fears when using the product.
- User Flow – here, we schematically show how the user will interact with the product. In fact, this is the stage of the primary design of the software.
- User Stories – at this stage, experts describe what features the client will use, which of them are important in the first place.
- Product Vision – this document allows you to see the overall goals of the project, its prospects, and potential. Product vision is like a guiding star for all departments, from marketing to developers.
- Non-functional requirements – are a list of software recommendations that are not critical but should be considered during development.
Tools for the discovery phase
Since one of the main goals of the discovery phase in Agile is collecting, systematizing, and analyzing information on the project, specialists use various tools for validating ideas and user research. Here are a few of them:
- Maze – allows to test prototypes and find insights. Maze is used in the early stages of new product research and allows to run surveys and collect feedback. You can also upload prototypes and cresability tests.
- Amplitude is a must-have tool for product managers who want more insight into user behavior. The service allows collecting quantitative data about how users use the product, analyzing the customer journey, tracking the main metrics, collecting feedback, and validating theories.
- FullStory is another service that gives you more than just numbers. It allows you to get a complete picture of the user experience and records every click and whole user sessions. Thanks to this, you can see how a real customer uses the product from start to finish and evaluate your product from a user perspective.
- LaunchDarkly allows to enable and disable certain features in the product for specific user groups for testing purposes. This way, you can assess the interest of different users in new features and make an informed decision about their release. The service is also used to launch alpha testing.
Team for the discovery phase
Several specialists from the performer’s side and several client representatives (usually top management) are involved in the discovery phase at once. The more actively the customer is involved, the faster and better it will be possible to model the vision of the future project. In general, the team that works on the discovery phase consists of the following specialists:
- The analyst identifies, clarifies, and fixes the client’s requirements. The specialist also deals with the design of the project logic and interconnections. The analyst converts business goals into functional and non-functional requirements.
- The designer is engaged in the development of UX and UI, as well as the overall style of the product, the selection of colors in the corporate style, etc.
- Technical specialists (tech lead, engineers, and developers) analyze the artifacts of the discovery phase, clarify whether the chosen business logic is feasible, offer an architectural solution, and give a rough estimate of the time it will take to develop.
- As a rule, stakeholders and experts in specific areas are involved on the client side. They include marketing managers, product owners, and other professionals interested in creating a product and have expertise.
Other specialists may also be involved depending on the project, its features, and its complexities.
Benefits of the discovery phase
It may seem that the discovery phase increases the entire project’s cost. But, on the contrary, it becomes cheaper and easier because part of the work on analytics already takes place at this stage. From the customer’s point of view, the discovery phase helps to:
- Include the expected development time and budget in the requirements to adapt the project to the client’s capabilities.
- Make it easier to budget and plan because post-design development evaluation is based on facts.
- Formulate a closed business process.
- Immediately test features on end-users and collect the first feedback.
A positive side effect of the discovery stage is that the customer and the contractor come to a common understanding of the system being developed and establish contact, which is so important in the next stages of work.
The discovery phase checklist
The discovery phase aims to collect all the data about the planned project, analyze it, and bring out the big picture. The project discovery phase template may look like this:
|Information on company/client
||Main goals, target audience, reasons for developing a new product/changing the existing one, marketing research, etc.
||If the company is not starting from scratch, it is necessary to study existing services and products, prospect-to-customer transition processes, customer service quality, etc.
||Existing industry research, online and offline research and surveys, white papers, etc.
||Study of existing competitors in the market and their features, and unique selling propositions.
||Complete information about the target audience, including demographics, creation of customer personas, and user scenarios.
||Existing marketing activities, goals, branding strategy, approaches, and messages for different groups of potential customers, as well as SWOT analysis.
||Results of tests and surveys, generalization of user reviews, audit of content and technologies used, analysis of features and their popularity among users.
||Specific requirements for a new product, list of features, technology stack, estimates, etc.
||Additional information for a deeper understanding of the niche, market requirements, and end-users.
Summary of the discovery phase
As a result of the discovery phase, the customer and contractor come to a common understanding of the new product, its features, and its benefits for the end-user. Most importantly, the discovery phase allows you to immediately determine the actual timing of the project, its cost, and the list of features that will be implemented without surprises from either side.
This stage allows companies to painlessly bring new projects, products, and services to the market, thinking through all the nuances in advance. As a result of the discovery phase, you get clear user scenarios, a list of features to be implemented, a clear customer journey map, and other documents that define the essence of the project. All this is executed in simple schemes with clear interconnections to the client.
Often, at Dewais, we are approached by companies with a great idea but do not understand what the finished product should be like from a technical point of view and what functions should be indispensable. In addition, it is often difficult for clients to assess which products, services, and features are actually in demand.
The discovery phase helps find answers to all questions, study the niche in depth, collect analytical data and prepare a list of works with terms and prices. The team usually consists of a business analyst, a designer, and a CTO from our side. We communicate with the client, find out their wishes, and formulate a description and technical specifications of the project, as well as a clear project timeline. Thanks to this approach, we minimize the number of revisions and changes, which means we save the client’s time, budget, and nerves. The discovery phase allows us to delve deeply into the essence of the project and develop an individual, high-quality and successful solution.
Feel free to contact us to start the discovery phase with the initial consultation with our team. We’ll be happy to assist you with your next project!