Often the project discovery phase remains underestimated in the product development cycle. The fact that it is necessary to spend extra time and budget for more research is annoying for business owners and stakeholders as they don’t want to spend additional resources on preparations.
Why is the discovery phase so important in the product development process?
Let's imagine what happens if we do not devote enough attention and resources to such fundamentals as thorough discovery and careful planning. In this article, we will look at the role of the discovery phase in a project and how it should be carried out.
The role of the discovery phase in the development process
The discovery phase precedes the project development phase. It is a data-driven approach to modeling your future product and it aims to identify the target audience, their needs, and pain points. The main purpose of the discovery phase is to model your idea, based on the feedback and data collected, and create a matching solution.
It deals with two critical factors – conceptualization and identification of requirements and resources. Thus, the discovery phase not only influences the subsequent stages of product development but also largely determines the overall project's success or failure. Going through the phase with a trusted technical partner is a proven way to reduce risks and costs, and create a solid roadmap for high business results.
Top reasons why project discovery phase is important
It is hardly possible to have a 100% guarantee of success in a highly competitive environment for your product. Proper research and analysis at the discovery phase significantly increase the future outcome in product development. You can identify your target audience and their problems, define the main product features, get feedback and collect data to increase the chances of success.
Here we will reveal the main benefits this phase gives you and why it comes first in the Product Development Process.
Clear project vision
By clarifying the product vision during the discovery phase, you’ll align the solution with customers’ values and needs. Clarifying all important aspects, the product vision enables the transformation of abstract ideas into tangible results in short- and long-term projections. With a product vision, you can determine the current and future course of action, and outline the scope of activities to undertake.
Risks identification and analysis
After setting up the project vision, goals, and scope, an expert team identifies risks and creates a risk management plan. By defining risks, monitoring activities, and creating funds, tools, and approaches to perform risk management and prevention, the development team helps to mitigate risks before they become problems.
To minimize risk effects, they should be identified and addressed as early as possible in the project development process.
The risk management plan includes the following main phases:
- Identification: determining risks and their sources.
- Evaluation: risk assessment by defining possible mishaps, their likelihood, and consequences.
- Handling: developing measures and mechanisms to minimize risks effects.
- Controlling: taking actions to minimize the risk impact.
By providing risk management from the start, we relieve the negative impact on the project and have predicted results. With risk management, we have our finger on the pulse, always ready to respond as quickly and correctly as possible, thereby saving money and managing deadlines and quality.
Keep a project budget under control
The main outcome of the discovery phase in a project is to get a detailed project plan with a strict timetable and cost estimates. During the discovery phase, you get a clear understanding of the scope of work and resources needed to forecast the project's total cost. Along with creating the roadmap, each task is broken down into a number of smaller subtasks, and each of them gets the time and cost estimation. A project manager ensures that the timetable and the budget of each project are met.
A project budget estimation involves the following steps:
Building an effective product development roadmap
It’s not possible to put project plans into action without a product roadmap. The product development roadmap creates a visual representation of short and long-term priorities in the form of specific tasks for the development team.
Building a product roadmap starts with a strategy. After that, the team develops a plan for your product, which is then viewed, scrutinized, and possibly debated over. At the final stage, you may prioritize which releases and functions will be carried out during the implementation of the strategy and present all this on a timeline.
By defining and analyzing a target audience, research into competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, industry standards, and market details makes it possible to create the right product for the right audience.
The discovery phase allows us to determine the right architectural approach in advance. It often happens that the client has a product vision, and we start working on it, but during the development process, the client gets new ideas about future functionality that they did not think of before. The thing is that these ideas may not fit the architecture in a proper way. If you take time to work out the architecture in detail, even without knowing what the client wants, you can think it through so that any scaling will be painless.
Clear scope of work
Conducting interviews, collecting needed documentation, defining KPIs and other metrics help clearly determine the scope of work and deadlines and set priorities for the team. With a specific product requirement document containing all of the project’s technical criteria or prototypes we can show an approximate view of features, enabling you to quickly get the vision of future software products, identify lacking functionality, and prevent miscommunication.
Bringing improved end-user’s experience
A thorough analysis of your target audience answers questions about who will use your product, what their interests and preferences are, and what problems we can help them solve.
Risks of skipping the discovery phase
There are certain risks associated with underestimation of the importance of the initial phase of a project. Among them are:
Missed or improperly organized discovery phase of a project may lead to constant work changes as the list of deliverables was never defined. When the client is constantly changing the development process, these changes often affect the components already created. The development team has to consider refactoring the completed features to implement the new changes. Even if this does not involve the visual component, but only the code, this is always a painful process. Sometimes it turns out that features that the team has been working on for weeks, are no longer needed and will be replaced with others. Managing this takes time. By implementing the discovery phase, we reduce the number of changes that can come on the go by several times. That helps save the budget and manage the project schedule.
Lack of control
In the absence of a technical specification, it is difficult to control the entire project process, which can result in uncontrollable changes or a steady increase in the project scope. This problem often occurs when the project scope is not defined, documented, or properly controlled. Scope creep has a negative impact on the project schedule. It is a symptom of insufficient control of the development process. Any changes without proper analysis of their consequences, or without consideration of the schedule and cost implications, should better be avoided. Minor recurrent changes to the project, the project budget, and schedule are out of sync with the effort spent on the changes, which is likely to result in a ‘runaway project' syndrome. The solution is to implement a process where each change is tracked and its implementation is monitored.
Unclear expectations and communication
Without a vision of the target clients, users, competitors, and, moreover, visual and functional parts of your future product, you may have unexpected results. The final software product may not meet your expectations.
A lack of project resources or need for additional team members
Once we have done the discovery phase, we have a project roadmap, where we see the milestones, decomposed and evaluated tasks, and also the dependencies between them. Thanks to this, we can offer the client the right amount of resources for the project, which is highly valuable for their budget consideration. We use various expertise with various timetables – our clients can choose the right one for their budget.
One of the challenges that emerge in case of poor planning is improper team structure planning. Sometimes, the lack of tech talents can be fixed quickly by looking at your project plan and task lists and checking if there is any moving around that will grant more time. However, this is not always possible. It often happens that the client wants to move faster, ready to expand the team, but it takes time to onboard new team members, which affects implementation timeframes and, as a result, the budget. This can be largely prevented by timely and careful planning of the team structure.
Poor risk management
Improper risk management might threaten the project success. If you are not be able to identify all possible threats before they occur, you cannot take proactive steps to keep your projects on track and on budget. Risk management does not mean avoiding dangers altogether. On the contrary, it allows you to create an effective control environment so that risks do not undermine your business objectives.
Our agile discovery phase approach to software & product development
Our vast experience and knowledge of different business niches make us experts in software development for many businesses. Working in the problem space, we define the users’ existing problems, remove all uncertainty about the product or features to build, and take enough time to define the required efforts in the design, development, testing, and project management stages.
To ensure the project's success our basic workflow of the discovery phase of a software project includes the following:
Defining needs and creating a software development strategy
Our strategy includes getting to know the client’s business better and understanding its short- and long-term plans, any related issues, time and budget constraints. We research and analyze competitors and brainstorm internally within the company to get insights that can simplify the development process and help our clients understand what they really want to implement in their projects.
By conducting interviews, collecting needed documentation, and setting KPIs, our team will accompany you at the first step of your project development. We will conduct a business analysis and, before starting cooperation, discuss a technical development strategy with you.
Preparing product requirement documents and technical specifications
We prepare a software requirements specification (SRS), which describes the project, feature set, recommended tech stack, and architecture outline. Before the client approves it, they review the SRS and may suggest changes.
With a Product Requirement Document (PRD), we define the purpose, value, and functionality of the product or feature we are developing.
Determining the scope of work
During this phase, we produce all the necessary technical documentation that describes the creation, installation, configuration, and use of the software, including the results of the code and product architecture audit.
Gathering a team
We help you to solve business problems by providing competent specialists in the right fields and you don't have to hire employees in-house.
Depending on the project scope your development team may include the following specialists:
- DevOps engineers: connect software development (Dev) and technical operations (Ops) for optimizing the time for building systems and developing software.
- Web developers: create a prototype and a full-fledged version of the website and ensure that it works in all web browsers.
- Tech lead: finds the best ways to leverage core technologies in a particular project.
- Full-stack developers: assist in the design and development of software and create servers and databases for the server side of the software.
- Front-end developers: optimize, install and test the correct operation of the user interface for a website or application.
- Back-end developers: provide support, security, and content management for tech solutions.
- Project manager: coordinates the development process, keeping it on the right track.
- Business analyst: ensures that a final software product will have the expected business value.
Your first PoC or MVP development
By building a Minimum Viable Product version with core features and scalable architecture, you test the market, get real feedback from early adopters or get funded. It is an important step to verify the product idea, analyze the demand for the product and prove business assumptions.
Proof of Concept creates the possibility to implement a certain idea or functionality in order to verify its feasibility. With PoC development, we identify how key complex features may be integrated. During this stage, we get the necessary knowledge to test key hypotheses and then start working on an actual project.
Roadmap and estimates
We know how important each step is and how it will impact the quality and performance of the final product. We develop assessments, roadmaps and software architecture design to make sure the software components interact the way they should.
The software project goes through a few stages, where the first discovery phase is obligatory and no less important for successful and timely project implementation than any other. By collecting and systematizing all the requirements, the team obtains a common vision for the project and defines the range of business goals and objectives.
The desired final result is possible to reach only through researching the market, finding bottlenecks, and developing initial specifications. Let us help with the technical part of launching a product. Contact us, and we will organize a project discovery phase properly to reach your project goals.