What Is the Discovery Phase of a Project? Is It an Optional or an Essential Part of the Development Cycle?

What Is the Discovery Phase of a Project? Is It an Optional or an Essential Part of the Development Cycle?

What is the discovery phase of a project? What happens during this process? And is it really essential for your software product's development process?

In other words: what if you just skipped it? 

Do you really need to collect, “weigh” and evaluate all that information way in advance? Way before actually launching your product? Couldn't you just go... agile and adjust to changes of scope and requirements along the way?

Now, let's shed some light on this still too vague, too often misinterpreted expression: 

The "discovery phase" in a software product's development cycle.
 

1. What Is the Discovery Phase of a Project?

Let's imagine this common scenario:

You're facing the challenge of delivering a new software product; it will be developed either in-house or outsourced to another company. So, it goes without saying that you'll want to ensure its success: one that should reflect in statistics (users will enjoy it) and in the return on investment.

But how could you ensure these results?

By carrying out all the crucial activities specific to the IT project discovery phase in the development cycle:

  • you/your team conduct a research on the target audience’s specific needs
  • you evaluate the percentage and estimate the time when all the expenses and resources invested in the project's development should get compensated
  • you evaluate all the available modern technologies that you might need to jump onto
  • you collect, analyze and systemize all the client's requirements and preferences
  • you flash out a plan of how those client requirements could be implemented within  the budget
  • you identify all the weak points of the app/system
  • you set the required resources (time, money, people) against the estimated profit 

Take the software discovery phase as a “bridge” between the concept/idea of a given product and its implementation. 
 

2. What's the Main Purpose of This Phase in the Development Process?

In other words: what will you achieve by adding this phase, too, to your already too complex product development cycle?

A short answer would be:

You'd be able to visualize that version of your software product that best justifies all the resources to be invested.

Whereas a more detailed kind of answer would involve listing all the key questions that you'd get your answer to after you've gone through the discovery phase of a project:

  • What are the functionality requirements for your app/website?
  • How much traffic do you/your client expect (per month/day/week)
  • What kind of users will engage with your site's content? Why?
  • What are the factors that could slow down or even make it impossible for your software product to reach its intended targets?
  • How much will its development process cost? 
  • What about its support costs?
  • Who are the leading companies in this niche?
     

3. "What If I Were to Break Down this Process to Its Essential Steps?"

Then you'd get about 5 project discovery activities to be carried out along the process:

  • collecting requirements and defining goals, vision, and scope
  • defining your success criteria
  • running a market research
  • mapping out the customer journey
  • studying your competition

As expected, you'd use a lot of project discovery-specific tools during this stage of the development cycle: interview, workshops, surveys, questionnaires.
 

4. "But Do I Really Need It?"

Only if you want to ensure your new app's/website's success.

That instead of relying on... pure luck, fate, divine accident or simply on the unlimited trust that you have in your development team's professionalism.

Now, do bear this in mind that:

A software product released on time, within budget, with all the required features in place and looking... stunning, isn't by default a successful product on the long term.

Knowingly ignoring the discovery phase of a project is like trying to hit a target blindfolded. You won't succeed, even if your skills are remarkable and your bow and arrow technique is simply... flawless.

See my point here?

Skipping the project discovery phase, where you'd:

  • detect all the cracks in your future system
  • identify all the vulnerabilities of your product
  • “flesh out” a working plan aimed at achieving a realistic target

… means accepting the risk that you might end up with:

A sharp-looking, feature-rich and innovative software product that users... don't need/like. Or that they do not find as easy to use or/and budget-friendly as your competitors' version of your product.

And you could have predicted all these issues if only you had considered adding the software discover phase, too, to your product's development lifecycle.
 

5. How Would a Product Discovery Team Look Like? What's the PM's Role?

A basic product discovery team is a trio made of:

  1. a UX designer, in charge of the new app's/website's usability, navigation and overall product experience for the end user
  2. a hacker, in charge of the technologies used for this project
  3. a hustler, handling the marketing aspects

Then, we could add more roles to these 3 key ones: business analysts, developers, UI designers...

Yet, ideally, a product discovery team would engage the entire team, right from the start. 

As for the project manager of such a team, he/she'd play a critical role, summed up in a few essential activities:

  • scheduling client meetings
  • asking all the key, insightful questions
  • enhancing collaboration between the product development team and the developers
     

6. "In a Nutshell: What Deliverables Will I Get from this Process?"

In plain language, what you'll get at the end of the discovery phase of a project is:

Actionable insights to tap into for flashing out an efficient implementation plan for your project.

But let's break these “gained insights” down into specific deliverables that you'd able to capitalize:

  • clear scope and goals of the project, so you can make an accurate estimate
  • knowledge on how you can ensure a high return on investment 
  • user experience-centered insights
  • valuable development insights, after approaching experts in the field

The END

Does this answer your question(s)? Is it a bit more clear to you:

  1. why the discovery phase is crucial in any software development's process
  2. what you risk if you knowingly skip this stage?