Project Discovery Phase: its Role and Key Goals

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Julia Sakovich , Author at Geomotiv
Reviewed by Egor Zablotski, Director of Engineering at Geomotiv
Published: Sep 6, 2023

Over the years of work as a custom software development company, we have noticed that many customers who come to us with a request to create a solution for them need more knowledge about the discovery phase of a project. As a result, they often prefer to skip it and want to proceed directly to the development.

Nevertheless, we firmly believe that the project discovery phase shouldn’t be omitted, especially when you build a new solution from scratch. And in this article, we would like to tell you more about the main tasks the project team will have at this stage and the key outcomes you will get after it.

What is the Discovery Phase in Project Management?

Before diving deep into details, we must start with a definition.

The project’s discovery phase is an initial stage of software product development. It is aimed at gathering and analyzing as much information about the idea of the project and its target audience as possible.

With the help of the development team, the BA has a crucial task to collect this data and ensure that all the client’s demands and expectations are correctly understood. It is necessary to do it already at this stage to avoid unpleasant situations when a final product doesn’t meet expectations due to a simple misunderstanding. It is right to say that the goal of the discovery phase in project management is to ensure mutual understanding between clients and developers in all the questions regarding the project, its goals, and requirements.

The discovery phase of a software project typically includes the analysis of the client’s idea and the research of market trends and similar solutions that are already available in the market. It is also necessary to consider the most feasible approaches to the development process, potential challenges and pitfalls, and ways to overcome them or mitigate their consequences.

When the BA has all the necessary information, preparing tech specifications and presenting them as tech documentation will be possible.

scheme showing the process of software development and IT project discovery phase

Advantages of IT Project Discovery Phase

To decide on allocating time and resources for conducting a project discovery phase, you should understand all its benefits for your business.

  • Clear project concept. At this stage, professionals will help you to validate your idea, analyze the feasibility of launching such a product, and define a comprehensive vision of your project.
  • Well-formulated requirements. After conducting an in-depth analysis of your idea, developers and business analysts can prepare tech specifications and documents where all the requirements will be clearly stated. But what comes after the discovery phase of a project? Are you obliged to continue working with the same team and proceed to the development stage? Not. You just get the complete documentation, and you can make a pause, build a solution using only your in-house resources, or even turn to another vendor.
  • Reduced risks. When all requirements and goals are known, the team can provide accurate estimates of the budget and time required for developing your software. It means the risks of missed deadlines or budget overuse will be minimized. You will be able to allocate your resources smartly. And you won't face situations when it is necessary to freeze the development because of over-expenditure.
    Moreover, after the IT project discovery phase, you can be sure you are moving in the right direction with your project. In other words, you can avoid risks related to launching a product that doesn’t meet the market standards and demands.
  • Better established communication. Open communication between clients and a development team is necessary to achieve the best final results. And the discovery phase of the project can be viewed as a rehearsal. Clients can see whether working with the chosen vendor is comfortable and find out how it will be possible to adjust the processes in the future. Thanks to this phase, customers can also check whether the vendor they have started to work with fully meets their expectations.
  • Higher customer satisfaction. When all the requirements are explained, specifications are put down in tech documents, and both client and the team are on the same page, the risk of a failed project is relatively low. When the team fully understands the client's needs and has all the required resources to build a solution, this project will succeed.
what are the advantages of IT project discovery phase

Consequences of Skipping the Discovery Phase of a Software Project

Our customers often ask us what will happen if they ignore this stage. We want to be honest with you. Frankly speaking, it won’t be the end of the world, and you will still have chances to launch your software solution. However, omitting this step may lead to the following results:

  • Irrelevance of your project. The idea of your product may sound cool to you and your colleagues. But to be sure that the target audience will positively welcome your product, you need to analyze the market demands and the solutions offered by your competitors.
  • Unclear budget. After the project's discovery phase, you will get accurate estimates and be able to plan the use of your funds. With budget planning, you will only run out of money after getting a usable software solution.
  • Blurred project goals. You must conduct the discovery phase in a project to avoid a full misunderstanding of the goals from the side of developers. Consequently, it will be senseless to expect feasible and efficient solutions as it is unclear what tasks the product should solve.
  • Obscure scope of work. When there is no good understanding of the concept, it is impossible to formulate precise tasks and evaluate the work volume.
  • Inefficient cooperation. Lack of understanding and well-established communication between clients and developers may become severe barriers to project realization. Without the project discovery phase, checking in advance whether you will be comfortable interacting with a vendor will be impossible.

But are there any cases when it is sensible to proceed to development without performing any project discovery phase activities? Yes, there are some situations when this step is optional. And below, you can find a couple of examples of such cases.

  • If you already have all the required technical documentation for your project, it will be enough to check whether all the necessary information is included. And then, the team can start building your solution.
  • If you already have a working app and now want to modernize it, integrate it with third-party services, or introduce new features, without any doubt, all stages of a project discovery phase are optional.

Our experts will deeply analyze your idea and the market needs in the framework of the project discovery phase. Let’s make your project successful together!

How to Get Ready for the Discovery Phase of a Project?

Before you turn to a team responsible for conducting all project discovery phase activities, you must also do some preparatory work. When you come to a vendor with a service request, you must provide information about your project and your business. Here is what you will need to do:

  • Define the key business goals of your future software product;
  • Decide who will be a contact person from your side and prepare their contact details;
  • Collect all the documents (if any) and information related to your project;
  • Allocate the budget for the discovery phase of the project.

The preparatory work won’t include any research. All research-related activities will be the responsibility of the vendor’s team.

Team Composition for the Project Discovery Phase

As you can understand, the discovery phase requires the skills and efforts of several experts who will analyze your project's aspects from both business and technical perspectives. Nevertheless, the team composition working with you at this stage is very flexible. The precise team size will be defined based on the peculiarities of your idea, its complexity, and your industry.

team composition for IT project discovery phase

Usually, the following specialists are engaged in a discovery phase project:

Business analyst. The range of tasks of this expert will include direct interaction with a customer to define key objectives, identifying a target audience that will use the future solution, and drafting the prominent use cases for the product. All this will be necessary for preparing precise project requirements.

Project manager. This specialist will create schedules, monitor progress, and build all the work processes so that all team members feel comfortable. 

Developer. During the project discovery phase, developers can participate in preparing tech specifications for the project and help define the technologies and tools that will be the most suitable for creating the desired software.

UI/UX designer. At this stage, you can ask these specialists to prepare a pixel-perfect design of your software interfaces. Nevertheless, it is not obligatory. Quite often, it is enough to create only prototypes and wireframes. 

Sometimes such experts as software architects and QA engineers also help in realization of this stage.

BAs can deeply study your business needs and offer the best solutions to ensure that your future app will bring real value to your company.

Read more about this role

Discovery Phase Steps at Geomotiv

The process of conducting this phase may differ at software development companies. But at Geomotiv, we usually have the following discovery phase project plan.

Step 1. Definition of stakeholders and identification of their needs. It is necessary to determine the expectations of all project stakeholders, including end-users, developers, administrators, investors, and product owners.

Step 2. Analysis of the existing project documentation (if any). If a client already has any documents on the projects, they must be considered. For example, if market surveys or user interviews have already been conducted and their results are presented in documents, there is no need to spend time and conduct them once again.

Step 3. Creating user journeys and avatars. This step will help better understand how people will use the product to reach their goals.

Step 4. Competition and market research. The role of market study shouldn’t be underestimated, as this step will help define what users expect to get, what they like, and what is already available.

Step 5. Analysis of the collected data and creation of tech specifications. It is necessary to transform all figures and facts into precise requirements.

Step 6. Budget and timeline estimation. Based on the project description and understanding of all the resources required for its realization, the team will be able to name the costs and timeframes of the project.

Step 7. Elaboration of a roadmap. This document will help to understand how the development process should be organized, and it will also help track the progress.

steps of an IT project discovery phase plan

Discovery Phase Deliverables: What Will You Get

As we have already mentioned, you get information and tangible outputs after the project discovery phase.

  • Software requirements specification (SRS). It will be a full description of your future solution with an indication of all its key features, goals, architecture, and tech stack.
  • Project estimates and roadmap.  Based on the prepared requirements, the team can calculate project costs and create a plan for project realization.
  • Preliminary UX prototype. It will be a simplified visual representation of your future solution and its main functionality.
  • Market analysis and competitor research. Based on the results of this research, it will be possible to evaluate the feasibility of your solution and detect potential areas for improvement.

Duration and Cost of the Discovery Phase of a Software Project

One of the most popular questions we get from our clients while discussing the necessity of this phase is related to the time and money needed. And here, everything depends on the size of your project and the preferred approach in project management.

The discovery phase of Agile project will usually be conducted within the first sprint and will help ensure that the team and the client have reached an excellent mutual understanding. But as for exact duration, here the timeframes can vary:

  • 2-3 days will be enough for small projects;
  • 1-2 weeks is an appropriate period for medium projects;
  • 4+ weeks will be required for large solutions.

The costs will be calculated based on the chosen billing model and will depend on the volume of work, the team's size, and the experts' rates.

Conclusion

We won’t exaggerate if we say that the project's discovery phase can be viewed as one of the vital steps for reducing risks related to project failure. Unfortunately, today many businesses believe it is more sensible to avoid additional expenses and time loss and prefer to skip this stage. Nevertheless, in reality, it is a rather wise investment that will help to prevent unpleasant and unpredictable situations in the future.

Thanks to this stage, you can also establish better relations with your development team and build trust, which is crucial for further cooperation.

If you plan to create a custom software product from scratch and need tech documentation, starting with the IT project discovery phase will be a brilliant idea. Need professional assistance with this task? Just drop us a line!

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