Discovery Phase: Why Should Your Project Start with It?

Every day, new IT projects are born, but not all of them are successful. Almost 9 out of 10 startups fail due to a lack of a target market. As a result, 45% of large projects (>$15 million) experience cost overruns as a result of shifting project requirements and unrealistic schedules.

Surely, your plans do not include missing deadlines, exceeding budgets, or, worse, project failure after launch. What can be done to avoid this? Do the project discovery phase, is the answer. It is a critical component of delivering high-quality products and services and is one of the most important aspects of effective project management.

It will enable you to ensure that the new product meets the needs of the market as well as your business strategy. Because you cannot afford to overlook this critical project stage, learn more about it, its benefits, and key steps.

What Is a Project’s Discovery Phase?

The design discovery phase serves as the foundation for a data-driven approach to software development planning and execution. Project management is typically carried out in five stages, which are as follows:

  • Stage 1: Beginning; Stage 2: Planning
  • Stage 3: Implementation
  • Stage 4: Control and monitoring
  • Stage 5: Completion

None of these stages can be skipped because each serves a distinct purpose and provides critical information for future product development. When a project follows the steps in the correct order, the chances of success increase dramatically. Underestimating the importance of the pre-story stages can result in budget overruns, project scope creep, and missed deadlines. But why add a discovery stage, you may wonder?

It’s simple: during the discovery phase, you collaborate closely with clients to learn about their company, goals, obstacles, resources, and current situation. Data collection can entail searching through company archives, combing through documentation and background work, or interviewing relevant personnel. This process typically includes research into the industry, users, and competitors, as well as a thorough assessment of appropriate business processes and prior work by the organization. During the discovery analysis, you must also agree on the project’s requirements — what your project must achieve.

Although tasks during the discovery phase differ from project to project, they all include the following “golden-standard” efforts:

  • Business Requirements: What does the project’s outcome have to do with the business?
  • Functional Requirements: What functions should the project’s outcome perform?
  • Non-functional Requirements: What level of performance is needed for the project’s outcome?

The knowledge gained from this research enables participants to develop a customized action plan that will provide the most value to the business while also achieving the project’s major goals. This in-depth analysis is an expert navigator for your product development process.

What is the significance of the Discovery Phase?

For business owners who want to complete projects on time and within budget, the research phase is critical. A project’s discovery stage is required for several reasons:

  • It aids in making decisions based on useful information and data rather than following assumptions blindly.
  • It enables project managers to involve specialists in the problem-solving process from the start.
  • You discover the most innovative technological and business solutions.
  • It aids in the creation of the best user experience, thereby increasing your ROI.
  • It enables you to align business objectives and strategies with technology stacks and solutions.
  • As the development process progresses, you reduce the likelihood of costly changes.

Why Is the Project Discovery Phase Often Ignored?

There are numerous reasons why businesses and startups skip the discovery phase of a project. Sometimes it’s a matter of tight deadlines, other times of a limited budget, and some even consider project discovery to be an optional service that does not have to be included in every project. Companies will occasionally believe that they know everything and that they are wasting resources.

However, if you skip the project discovery phase entirely, you may face the following difficulties:

  • Deadlines were missed because specific milestones were not established or results were not discussed.
  • The project’s quality is compromised, and it falls short of both the client’s and the contractor’s expectations.
  • Costs have risen dramatically as a result of poor budgeting (or lack thereof).
  • Scope creep occurs when clients request extensions or extra work.

For example, Peeple, an app that allows users to rate and review others, was shut down due to a lack of market interest. Washboard failed to test user pain points and create a user-friendly product. Google, for example, has lost money by ignoring the discovery phase; recall the case of Google Glasses. It would not have happened if they had done their research on their idea and the market.

When is it necessary for the product’s discovery phase?

We list the main points at which the discovery process is not only desirable but also critical:

  • There is no comprehensive picture of the finished product. You may know what you want to accomplish, but your vision is hazy and elusive, and you have no idea how to make it a reality. In such a case, it is best to conduct the discovery phase at the start of the project.
  • A company’s success is critical to its survival. Of course, achieving the goal is always important, but there are times when there is too much at stake, and the smallest mistake can lead to bankruptcy.
  • Stakeholders are unable to find common ground. When multiple parties are involved in a project, their requirements may clash. It is normal and can be resolved by involving analysts. They will assist you in understanding what is required for the project’s successful implementation.
  • Projects that are overly complicated or innovative. The discovery phase in software development is required when there is a new product, many competitors, or an exhaustive list of requirements for the final product.
  • The budget for development is limited. If your budget is constrained and you cannot go above it, the discovery analysis will assist you in avoiding overallocation.

Steps for Project Discovery

It is much easier to persuade stakeholders of the importance of a discovery phase when they understand the steps involved. Although there is no universal template for the project research phase, the scenario below is common in the software development industry.

Putting together a project discovery team

The discovery team should include people with a variety of specialties and interests.

Stakeholders and the Product Owner – explain the project’s goals, vision, and requirements.

Business Analysts prepare needs, research project goals, and investigate project potential from a market standpoint.

Prepare a prototype and wireframes, as well as analyze the user journey, to design a user experience that meets the needs of the user.

Developer/Technical Expert – chooses the most viable technical solutions to meet the business needs of your product and prepares technical requirements.
Project Manager – links all roles and ensures that clients and vendors are on the same page.

What should a discovery phase consist of?

Although the duration of the Discovery phase varies depending on the project’s complexity, its fundamental building blocks are always the same:

  • Identification of stakeholders. It usually consists of the product owner, investors, developers, and other participants.
  • Communication among stakeholders It entails communicating with stakeholders until all parties agree on the vision.
  • Viewing and analyzing relevant materials to evaluate existing solutions and approaches is part of the review of internal documents and existing research. It could also include more research or interviews.
  • Avatars and journeys for users At this point, a set of functions is created to aid in the development of a technical solution. It also entails conducting user interviews in order to comprehend and resolve user issues.
  • Analyze the competition. This stage establishes the market niche for the solution under development. The market analysis enables you to identify the product’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as external opportunities and threats.
  • Specification of data analysis and system requirements. The dataset is converted into a list of technical and business requirements and benchmarks in this step.
  • Deadlines and budget estimates include a cost estimate for completing the project. At this point, specific deadlines for each task are established, along with adjustments and revisions.

Checklist for the Discovery Phase

The requirements discovery checklist, like the core steps of the discovery phase, allows tracking of the control points required for quality project execution. This list’s components are as follows:

  • Client/Company. The category includes the project’s main objectives, research and marketing materials, and the rationale for any changes/adjustments.
  • Market. A thorough examination of internal and external factors using a variety of resources. Industry publications and white papers may also be submitted.
  • Analyze the competition. It entails assessing competitive offers and their sources, as well as categorizing competitors and primary and secondary groups. The latter enables you to prioritize risks and respond quickly to eliminate them.
  • Alternatives currently available. They include other market offers, such as products or services. Purchase patterns, interaction patterns, customer experience, and other factors are all studied and taken into account.
  • The intended audience. User stories, demographics, and customer avatars are all part of this component.
  • Strategy for marketing. It includes short-term and long-term goals, branding, and specific promotional approaches.
  • Technical specifications. Specifications, solutions, and an updated technology package are included.
  • Other information and data This component allows you to fill in the gaps. To ensure that the checklist is complete, it is critical that all stakeholders participate in this process.

Deliverables from the Discovery Phase

The deliverables that will be presented to the client during the discovery phase will be solely based on the tasks that will be underlying this project stage. If the primary goal of the discovery is to plan the development workflow, deliverables will include various aspects of the process.

However, if you start the discovery phase for the software project, you will receive the following pinpoints (depending on the needs of the project at the time):

Specification of Software Requirements The document describes the project in detail, including recommended features, the technical stack, the architecture structure, appropriate third-party solutions, security tips, and so on.

A difficult UI/UX concept. We’re talking about the technical design of a website or mobile app. Such a concept should ideally be divided into two parts:

Wireframes. A preliminary sketch depicts the future UI/UX infrastructure. This will assist you in determining which screens should be included in your interactive prototype.

Prototype that is interactive. It may not exactly resemble the final product – website or mobile app – but it is detailed and realistic enough to demonstrate all of the interactions. Before you begin development, the prototype allows you to test the actual user experience.

A strategy and budget for MVP development. You will be given an estimate of the team’s composition as well as an accurate estimate of the development timeline and budget. Numbers from the discovery phase, prototype, and SRS are unlikely to change during the process and interfere with your business objectives.

Development and Evaluation Roadmap The recommended team composition, development budget estimates, and deadlines will be provided to you. It is unlikely that the final figures calculated during the customer discovery phase will change (unless the project scope varies during development).

Proposal for the discovery phase A development process proposal based on Discovery’s findings will assist the project team in producing a product that meets all of the client’s requirements and needs.

What is an agile project’s discovery phase?

In a modern Agile management structure, the discovery phase is usually included in the first sprint. This helps determine how well the development team and the client communicate from the start. The discovery phase is determined by the project’s complexity and the amount of work involved. The average times are as follows:

  • 1-3 days for a small project.
  • 1-3 weeks for a typical project.
  • At least 4-5 weeks or more for a large project.

What will the cost of the product discovery phase be?

The costs of the project’s initial stage vary by company, but on average, it is 10% of the development budget. The developers already have a rough idea of what needs to be created and how it should work after the initial idea discussion. As a result, the cost of the discovery stage can foretell the cost of the final product – MVP or large-scale application.

The Project Discovery Phase Is a Huge Advantage

We strongly advise you to conduct a discovery step, as outlined in the preceding sections. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the main advantages you can obtain.

Developing a marketable product

Instead of relying on assumptions, the research phase of a design allows you to test your design idea with users. It gets you started by defining your target audience and modeling your vision and business objectives.

Consider the comparison of Facebook and MySpace, two social networks that are conceptually and functionally identical. However, Facebook surpassed MySpace due to a perfect match between the market, target audience, and launch timeline.

In other words, the Facebook team recognizes a trend early on and offers a market-driven product without introducing disruptive innovations. You may be able to do the same during the discovery phase.

Providing an excellent user experience

A discovery phase is also useful for identifying the problems that the application will solve. By communicating with users, you can learn about their problems and incorporate them into new features of the application. Ignoring the user is risky. It’s simple to create functionality or content that no one wants, which is a huge waste of money. In contrast, by listening to your users’ feedback, you can design a product that prioritizes user experience.

Laying the groundwork for prototyping

The best way to test an idea with user research is to create a prototype. Consider a product prototype to be a simplified version of the finished product. Its purpose is to evaluate the product’s usability, design, and functionality.

This “something” is the data gathered during the project’s initial stages. However, the prototype is still far from a finished product upon which to build. So, without Discovery, creating a great prototype and testing the idea would be difficult.

Providing a clear product direction

There is such a thing as a software requirements specification in product development. Simply put, this is the plan for the entire development process as well as the structure of the project team. It’s the road map for your next web or mobile app.

The SRS aids in keeping the development process consistent and project team members aware of their responsibilities.

The project’s research phase sheds light on the project’s complexity and functionality. It specifies the amount of work required during the design, development, testing, and project management phases. A discovery phase in project management is required to create it. With a clear application direction, the story can begin with clear milestones and possibly at a lower cost.

Risk management

When trying something new, there are always risks. So many things can go wrong; Murphy’s law states that if they can, they will. However, with a flexible discovery stage, you can save a lot of money, clearly visualize your target, and avoid missed deadlines. Project risks will also be more regulated, making everyone feel more at ease as the project progresses.

Price reduction

The overall cost reduction is a significant benefit you will receive during the research phase of a software project. Proper documentation and a well-coordinated team will aid in the cost-cutting of your application development process. As a result, it will make your product more competitive in the market.


The discovery phase digital service benefits both the company professionals and the client because clear requirements are established, features are discussed, the budget is established, and a timeframe is established. The completion of the project’s discovery phase allows for an informed decision to prioritize or reject development. It provides the opportunity to identify the income from an investment prior to development, rather than afterward.


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