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Project discovery phase: to skip or not to skip?

The purpose of the discovery phase is to reduce uncertainty

Jun 16, 2021

5 minutes read

What would you prefer when starting a new project: to spend time and money on careful analysis and planning or to skip the discovery stage and to start the development instead. The second possibility can appear as more reasonable, but this appearance is wrong. Even if you are supposed to have enough experience in developing new projects, or if you already have worked with your customers on other projects you still need to discover. It only seems that you can get a product ready earlier by skipping certain development stages, mostly you will spend more time and money.

Of course, in some cases, this stage can be omitted without bad consequences such as late delivery of the product, exceeding the estimated budget, or even failing the customer’s expectations. For example, if you already have a ready product design and backlog detailed enough to get started because a client has done research before coming to you, or if you don’t have to start working from the beginning, just add minor improvements to an existing product. Some clients request only team extension, it is a situation when you don’t need a discovery stage as well. Another reason to skip the discovery is a limited budget, for example, when the entire budget for the development of a product is less than 50,000 USD.

Nevertheless, it’s better to be safe than sorry: skipping a discovery phase might help you to save money, but more often it can make a devastating hole in your budget. Why is it so?If you refuse the project discovery stage and start the development without it, you can expect:

  • Miscommunication and misunderstanding between the team and the customers, wasted time, and budget
  • The extension of the project delivery
  • Run out of money before the product is implemented
  • Missed deadlines

What is the discovery phase?

According to McKinsey, large IT projects on average run 45% over budget and 7% over time while delivering 56% less value than predicted. It is the reason for over 70% of IT vendors to require a discovery phase before starting the project.

The discovery stage is precisely what it says. It is a process of gathering information about a project in order to establish and thoroughly understand its vision, goals, scope, timeline, business, and technical strategies at the start of the project. One of the most significant parts of the discovery is gathering and inspecting information about the project, its purposive market, target group. An intensive brainstorming has to be done before the development begins. The discovery phase determines the specification, architecture, and design of the product, and allows to estimate the project’s cost. It provides a deep and detailed understanding of the goals, scope, difficulties, and potential risks.

Usually, the successful discovery phase includes the following artifacts but not limited: 

  • The prioritized list of validated hypotheses
  • Clickable and Tested Prototype 
  • Software Architecture Design
  • Proof of Concept (Web-based application)
  • Work Breakdown Structure and Team Composition 
  • Discovery Report

The business discovery stage helps to understand the needs and requirements of end-users. The technical discovery part defines the system requirements. Usually, the discovery phase includes the following steps:

  • Define the stakeholders: business analysts, customers, domain subject matter experts, implementation subject matter experts, operational support, project managers, regulators, product owners, end-users, developers, investors, and others
  • Expound a vision of the product
  • Inspect existing internal documents
  • Create a user`s profile to design an optimal technical solution and achieve the goals
  • Research the market to find the merits and demerits of the existing similar solutions
  • Set up the business and technical requirements
  • Estimate the costs and time expenses

Why is the discovery phase essential?

The discovery phase’s main goal is to eliminate ambiguity, ensuring that everyone is on the same page, and establish a clear path for the project and development teams to follow.

This step is also beneficial for detecting potential bottlenecks and establishing contingency plan.Through product-market fit, common vision, efficient communication, and effective decision-making, discovery helps identify the degree of risk, and how to minimize risk. It establishes the guidelines for efficient and timely development. 

Related: How to reduce MVP development cost for startup?

Moreover, during the discovery phase, a lot of communication about the future product has to be done. It is usually a business challenge to launch a new product which helps to check if the customer and the team can work together effectively and to provide changes at this initial stage if needed.

The discovery phase is helpful to:

  • Improve, optimize and grow existing businesses
  • Set up accurate estimates
  • Make architectural design decisions based on data, not assumptions
  • Create a user-oriented solution
  • Reduce risks and minimize costs
  • Establish a roadmap
  • Build trust
  • Ensure the product is technologically perfect to fit the market
  • Validate the product with the potential users and omit excessive functionality and complicated flows
  • Align expectations and define success criteria

When the discovery phase is unavoidable

Although the discovery phase is generally an essential part of the software development process, customers may neglect it for a variety of reasons.

However, there are some cases when such a decision can provide fatal development results:

  • The company starts the first software development project
  • An existing system has to be changed significantly
  • The software is complex and innovative
  • The project’s requirements are not clearly defined
  • The project needs proof of concept
  • The budget for development is limited

The takeaway

The Discovery phase usually takes up to 6-10 weeks and the budget for this phase is around 50,000 USD. And when you have a great idea, you want to jump on it before somebody else does. Often you want to save money on this initial stage as well.

The discovery phase is a process that helps to minimize costs, avoid doing unnecessary work, and spending valuable time on it. Discovery works with a strategy and instruments of successful and cost-effective product development. It provides an opportunity for a customer and a development team to define a baseline of a future product, to document the project requirements, develop optimal technical solutions, and create a project delivery plan. It will eventually assist them in ensuring that everything goes according to plan, that nothing is missing, and that the final product fulfils all of the requirements. 

Do you seek technical assistance or professional advice about the feasibility of your future product? Are you concerned whether your project’s budget will be sufficient? Looking for a way to validate a software/app concept without having to develop the product? Do not hesitate to contact us to get your answers.

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