- What is a discovery phase
- Elements of a discovery phase
- Who should be included in the discovery team
- Reasons for conducting a discovery phase
- The consequences of skipping a discovery phase
- How to organize an effective discovery phase
Every successful business endeavor begins with a carefully orchestrated plan. Proper preparation is important for all company types, but startups are particularly vulnerable with their limited manpower and resources. Hence, the importance of a well-executed discovery phase to mitigate risks, establish an effective strategy and cost-management policy. In the following paragraphs, we define what a discovery phase is, highlighting its importance, describing what neglect in this area can result in, and providing tips for its proper execution.
What is a discovery phase
Before project work starts, the discovery phase is a logical step. It is one of the first stages in project development, as it touches on the most critical aspects of project work. It focuses on knowledge collection and analysis, determining the scope of the project, its goals and costs. In an effort to provide a holistic view, it involves a team comprising several specialists from different branches.
Elements of a discovery phase
There are several key elements in a discovery phase: research and analysis, the establishment of goals, value proposition, and estimating the deadline and budget.
Research and analysis
There are many elements that need to be investigated at the beginning. The discovery phase research and analysis stage should focus on identifying the requirements and expectations of the future product user. This can be done through the mapping of the customer journey. A better understanding of the User Experience leads to a more tailor-made solution that has a higher chance of attracting the attention of the target audience. Then, these requirements have to find common ground with the business goals and stakeholder expectations.
Market research is also important. A company should investigate the other solutions that are already in place in the area it wishes to introduce its product to. Perhaps there are opportunities to seize in some areas, whereas in others the competition is fierce. Knowing the business environment will help set expectations and goals accordingly, and add value where it is most needed. Market research is also tied to competitor research. Knowing what other companies do in your field will help you find more room in the same space, identify the key qualities of competitor products and what they lack, and set up the right pricing models. It will also allow you to reconsider your path if similar solutions are already in place on the market.
Estimating the deadline and budget
Estimating the budget and deadlines early, with reasonable milestones, will help prevent unnecessary tension in the future as well as feature creep. It will set expectations and limitations appropriately and make it easier to track resources.
Setting up goals
It is imperative to set up clear aims for the project, and the discovery phase is the right stage to do it. Everyone involved in the work needs to know what the goals are to avoid future misunderstandings. Clear goals will help avoid one of the key disadvantages of not having a discovery phase of a project – feature creep. Without precise objectives, it is also difficult to monitor progress and evaluate the degree of success. That being said, what constitutes success needs to be realistic, which is why different branches are present during the discovery phase.
The value for the end-user
It may be easy to forget that the solution we want to develop must benefit both our organization as well as the customer. One of the questions during the discovery phase should be about the value our solution will have for the end user, how that value fulfills the target audience’s expectations, and what features or functionalities provide this value. Again, at this stage, common ground needs to be established between the company’s business goals and the needs of the consumer base.
Who should be included in the discovery team
The group participating in the project discovery phase should include people with different roles.
A business analyst
The indispensable mediator between the project management, development team and stakeholders. The person with a bird’s eye view, yet having knowledge of many of the important areas. Business analysts investigate all aspects of an organization. Their role is multifaceted, combining research, analysis, planning, budgeting, scoping, strategizing, optimizing processes, counseling, reporting, defining requirements and more. Explore this role further in our previous article here.
The presence of key developers will make it easier to determine which technologies are needed for the project, whether the solutions are feasible, and if they can be delivered in the expected time. Participation in the discovery phase will allow them to better understand the organization’s business goals, and align the tech stack accordingly for the job.
A UX/UI designer
A key person to make sure customers receive a solution that meets their expectations and is comfortable to use. Knowing the project aims, the UX/UI designer will be able to propose a product tailor-made for the audience, while serving the company’s requirements as well. Touching upon such subjects as intuitive navigation and aesthetics early on will help avoid time-consuming and costly redesigns in the future.
A Project Manager
The “mastermind” that oversees the project and makes sure that all the branches get along, and the work progresses. The person that is the conduit between the contracted company and the client. It is imperative that the PM knows the project in and out.
Stakeholders have their expectations regarding the final product and it is good to make the key people involved in the project aware of their requirements. Involving stakeholders in the discovery phase of a project will prevent misunderstandings and unpleasant surprises. It is also a way of showing that their voice is very important during the whole endeavor, and their goals are prioritized, yet aligned with what the target audience will expect from the solution.
Reasons for conducting a discovery phase
Some of the justifications for having a discovery stage should be clear by now, below we provide a brief outline.
It leads to improved solutions
With so many people planning the execution of the project and aligning different needs and expectations along with the schedule and funding, the resulting solution is optimized on multiple fronts and has a higher chance of satisfying both the organization’s business requirements and the needs of the audience.
It supports decision making
Thanks to the discovery phase, many important decisions are made much faster than usual, which helps avoid changes in the future and puts everyone on the right track from the start thanks to clear milestones.
It makes the goals clear to everyone
The people present during the discovery phase can relate the goals to their respective team members or other people involved in the project, setting a path for the whole endeavor and making sure everyone knows the near- and long-term goals.
It leads to a better User Experience
Since part of the discovery phase is the focus on the user, the solutions that result from this stage are more UX-focused. This can attract more audiences and provide an overall better experience, leading to higher ROI and less work for the future client support team.
It ensures a better flow of information
Thanks to the joint meeting, the different branches know what others are doing and what they expect. They can then relate this information to their respective teams or other people involved. Better information flow ensures everyone is on the same page and aligned toward a common goal.
It reduces the risk of unexpected costs
Without proper planning, scoping, budgeting, and a clear focus on milestones and goals from the very beginning, the costs may ramp up very quickly. Setting up an early estimate and resource limitations will make sure the team stays on the right track and maximizes efficiency.
It improves workflow
Better communication and more analyses translate to improved workflow. The different teams have an easier time working together when they know what others are doing and what the goal of the current stage is. This helps in meeting deadlines and avoiding needless and disruptive confusion.
The consequences of skipping a discovery phase
The absence of a project discovery phase is likely to lead to dire consequences sooner or later.
Without a clear, well-organized plan that factors in resource allocation, it is easy to overextend. What seems to be a good idea, but surfaces during later stages of project work, will most likely ramp up costs, cause delays and lead to other unexpected problems. In severe cases, feature creep can topple the entire project, having an impact on the entire organization.
Preliminary estimates are very important. Without early budgeting, costly surprises may wait around every corner. This can be particularly devastating for startups whose resources are usually more limited than those of well-established companies. This is one of the reasons a business analyst should be present during the project discovery phase.
Lack of careful planning means disruptions in communication and cooperation, leading to inefficient work and missed deadlines. These will stack up, and can greatly delay project delivery. All of this may increase crunch time, putting a strain on the development team and harming the relations between the different branches as well as with stakeholders.
Reality doesn’t match expectations
There may be some great ideas behind the concept for a project, but if they are not realistically planned and broken down into individual elements supported by technological knowledge, scoping and budgeting, it’s easy to overreach with promises. This problem is common even among experienced developers. Famously, CD Project Red, the developer of the award-winning Witcher 3 video game failed to deliver on its promises regarding the next big project – Cyberpunk 2077. Eventually, this led to one of the worst and most disappointing product releases in history, with Sony removing the game from its online store after the first week.
How to organize an effective discovery phase
To wrap it all up, let’s highlight what should be done to make the discovery phase successful.
Create a discovery team
One of the first, necessary steps to make it all work. Invite the right people to sit at the table, share their vision, find common ground and plan accordingly. Make sure the stakeholders are involved so business goals align with client expectations and what the team is able to deliver.
Do effective research to collect all the relevant data. Based on that information, set up the requirements for the project taking into consideration the team’s capabilities, business requirements and stakeholder expectations.
Analyze and evaluate the requirements
Investigate the requirement list in detail. Set up priorities in preparation for a more detailed plan.
Create a detailed project map
With all the requirements ready and all sides agreeing on prioritization, it’s time to set up a detailed project map, outlining the endeavor for the months to come.
Determine the time & budget
Time and money are two of the most important resources. Make sure to set up milestones with realistic deadlines and funding.
Document the scope of the discovery phase
The points established during the discovery phase should be documented and serve as a baseline reference throughout the entire development process.
The project discovery phase is a vital element of project work. When executed well, it contributes to better workflow, cost and time management, leading to solutions that fulfill both business and customer needs.