Discovery phase: Is this the first step to success in software projects?

Discovery phase: Is this the first step to success in software projects?

The Discovery phase is key to the success of a development project, although many times is overlooked. Take a look at why a Discovery Phase should not be ignored.

Three people having a meeting and watching a board of tasksPeople tend to believe that a breakthrough idea is all it takes to succeed. When that unique idea comes with a plan, market knowledge, or a defined agenda, there is nothing more to say — we are on the road to excellence. However, the reality is that many great ideas fail because they don’t fit the market or the competition and the demands are not what we thought. What are we failing to do? What is the hidden secret?

If you are considering a new development project, there is a starting point you don’t want to skip. It is there where we may find the answer to those questions. We are referring to the Discovery phase, the first step where we define the purpose, value proposition, and expectations.

Even though you might want to start right away, it is good to take some time to research and analyze what’s out there, get some perspective.

What is a Discovery phase?

A Discovery phase is an intense preparation period to gain a detailed understanding of your project goals, opportunities, and risks. It is essential for business owners who wish to complete their projects on time and on budget.

You don’t have to do it on your own; it is better to form a multidisciplinary team to select the best solution that fits your needs. Take into account that this stage of the development process may involve weeks of work and be viewed as both time and budget-consuming. In fact, changes made during the development stage can be costly, as large IT projects tend to run 45% over budget and 7% over time.

Considering a Discovery phase within the entire process might save you a lot of trouble and could be invaluable in identifying potential problems and defining an accurate development plan.

When is it important to include a Discovery phase?

The Discovery phase is not needed in every single project, but when it is needed, it is usually skipped for many reasons. Sometimes, bosses want to deliver as soon as possible, or we are excited to get things underway. We may also feel doing research upfront is a luxury we cannot afford, or we are even convinced that we know enough to start.

The truth is that it is worth it when you don’t have a complete idea of the final product, the processes involved are difficult and might change significantly to fit the final product, or there are many stakeholders with different points of view or goals.

The most significant goals are that you get a better understanding of what needs to be built, a detailed development plan, and a realistic estimated budget so you can start your development project immediately.

Benefits of carrying out a Discovery phase

People having a story points meetingEvery time we plan something, the more things are done correctly from the beginning, the more success we can achieve. The following are some benefits of having the Discovery stage:

  • A better understanding of the goals, the product, and the scope of the project.
  • Better planned budget with good management of expenses.
  • Full knowledge of your customer’s or client’s needs.
  • An opportunity to offer better products than your competitors offer.

What makes unique a Discovery team

Several professionals in software development usually handle the Discovery phase: Business Analyst, UI/UX Designer, Technical Architect, and Project Manager. You will need a team 100% focused on the task with good communication skills, extensive knowledge in business processes, and technical aspects of software development. Let’s look at a few more of those skills that a Discovery team must have.

1.   Communication skills

During the Discovery phase, it is important to understand the stakeholders’ interests and their role in the project, as well as the processes and associated pain points. Having good communication skills plays a relevant role in that.

You have undoubtedly participated in meetings where the objectives were not clear or the topics were not relevant. This can be exhausting, as well as unproductive. In order to have effective meetings, here are some guidelines you could follow:

  • Design and plan the meeting.
  • Guide the dynamic of the meeting.
  • Record the key points efficiently.
  • Make sure that the participants understand what they need to do after the meeting.

Spend some time explaining what the problem and vision statement are. Point out it is not a personal view but a collective interpretation of perceived issues that need to be addressed.

2.  Business processes knowledge

Of course, your people are the ones who know your business from top to bottom, and that’s why they must be actively involved in the project. However, a Business Analyst will give you the stakeholders’ vision.

A Business Analyst will interact with business owners to understand the company’s needs, assess the business impact of process changes, capture, analyze, and document requirements, and support the communication and delivery of requirements with relevant stakeholders.

3.  UI/UX design knowledge

Young man hanging posts it over a wall It is essential for organizations to adopt User Interface and User Experience design, not as an isolated element to software development but as an essential reason for success. It should be considered from the beginning of the conception of any software development project.

Attempting to do so towards the end of the project — or not considering UX/UI design at all — negatively impacts your company. These are strong reasons to believe that the Discovery Team must have the right skills for UX/UI.

4.  Technical knowledge

Technology is in constant change, and new knowledge generates new opportunities. To see all those possibilities for improvements your business can have, you will need software professionals that know about the best technologies, practices, and methodologies for a specific project. The Discovery team should be capable of finding those scalable solutions that you are looking for. They will help you to make the right decisions to mitigate risks early in the development process.

How to define the Discovery phase

Now it’s time to put some words into action! This is some advice that should be taken into account to define the Discovery phase:

1.  Give the right dimension to the Discovery phase

A well-defined Discovery phase should be proportional to the overall budget of the project. It could take a few hours or many hard-working weeks.

2.  Include the whole crew

Make sure you have identified the stakeholders, especially the users of the project. All of them should understand the context. Take time to meet with them in separate meetings to hear what their needs and expectations are.

3.  Define deliverables

The deliverables will depend on your needs and should be defined by the entire team. Bear in mind that internal and external software don’t have the same needs, neither does the migration of an obsolete application against the development of a brand new one.

Two young men having a conversation at the officeThe deliverables can range from a document to a software product. The most common deliverables in the Discovery stages are background research, functional and non-functional requirements, wireframes, architecture definitions, or a development plan.

You might find it useful in this stage to work in defining the user’s journey, specify a Minimum Viable Product, or even developing a Proof of Concept (PoC). If your application is going to compete with others in the market, try doing a benchmark study and identifying opportunities to exploit the differential value of your proposal.

4.  Consider outsourcing

As we mentioned above, this stage could involve a lot of work. A good idea might be to hire a software development company to set up a team with the needed experience in these kinds of projects.


The beginning is one of the most crucial yet challenging phases of the entire project. Any mistakes you make during this period can cost you and your organization significantly.

During the project Discovery phase, the development team and the client create a thorough plan that defines how the project will proceed, including the scope, technologies, methodology, and team needed to do so.

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