The discovery phase in software development is the first and required step where specifications are identified and set business goals are analyzed to make an offer for technical implementation, identify project boundaries, and estimate development costs.
This step is among the most important stages for successful project implementation. Depending on project complexity and estimated scope of work, the discovery phase can cost from 3 to 10% of the total project development expenses.
In this article we will write all you need to know about the project discovery phase and its importance for software development.
How Long a Discovery Phase Should Take
There is no clear timescale to limit the duration of this development phase. Much depends on the specific project and peculiarities in the interaction between the development team and the customer. However, it takes 3 to 8 weeks on average.
If the team has previously had to deal with a similar problem and possesses considerable experience in this business domain, they will complete the discovery phase faster than when working on non-standard tasks.
What’s Included In the Discovery Phase and How the Process Looks
There is not a single ready-made chart for discovery phase implementation, but in general, it is a step-by-step work, during which it is necessary to proceed from global business goals and tasks to specific user interaction with the system. After each step, a separate artifact with fixed requirements is provided.
Artifacts are conveniently classified into mandatory and optional, but the final set depends on customer goals. Roughly speaking, to represent the idea to stakeholders, we will make a presentation or design concept, but if the design is on the customer side, we exclude these works.
The first artifact implies a general scope of identified business goals and objectives. The final one comprises the development assessment with a detailed breakdown by functional capabilities along with the approved non-functional requirements and an approximate assessment of the necessary labor costs denominated in hours.
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Within the discovery phase, the following works can be carried out:
- Subject area research
- Interviewing the stakeholders
- Project bottlenecks identification
- Competitor and existing solution analysis
- High-level problem-solution discussion
- Budget development and project completion deadlines
- Project workflow chart creation
- Backlog formation and prioritization
When the discovery phase is complete, the customer receives a document with functional and non-functional requirements, customer journey map, user flow, wireframes, and project development plan.
What Are the Benefits of the Discovery Phase?
It might seem that the discovery phase increases the entire project complexity and cost. However, it is not actually so, as both a customer and contractors get several important advantages if they implement this phase.
- Risk reduction. The development team can evaluate the time and budget required for project implementation more precisely if they clearly understand the goals, requirements, and customer capabilities. The risk of delays in the software release is reduced, and it is clear what and in what order the development should take place.
- Cost efficiency. The likelihood of costly changes and edits during product development is reduced, and that allows saving money.
- Prototype development. Based on the data received, the designer creates mockups for the upcoming product, which are the foundation for future functionality adjustments and technical specifications development.
- Road map creation. A clear set of requirements allows the development team to draw up a step-by-step plan for project implementation. It includes the description of the intermediate goals and the expected end results.
- Mutual understanding and transparency. When a customer defines their needs and capabilities, and the contractors offer certain options, it is possible to discuss and approve the main points important for project implementation. Uncertainty disappears and all parties understand they can move in the required direction.
- Time and budget assessment. The absence of clear goals or work plan leads to a constant change in requirements and increases development costs. Besides, it causes shifts in the development schedule and release dates. Such circumstances may deplete the customer’s budget before the time when the team is able to present a usable product.
- Contingency rundown. Detailed analysis and expert evaluation at the discovery phase reveal some project aspects that were initially unconsidered.
The discovery phase of the software project requires some time and effort, but if you do everything in compliance with the plan, everything will go smoothly. If you carry out this phase, you will build the foundation of relations between a customer and the team involved in the development.
What if You Skip the Discovery Phase?
Even when people realize how important this phase is, they can skip it, hoping to make up for the lost time a bit later. It is sometimes possible, but when skipping the discovery phase, you put the whole project in jeopardy in most cases.
- Enforced customizations during the launched project workflow that affect deadlines and budget and pose unexpected obstacles.
- Errors and failures caused by insufficient focus on user requirements when implementing major features.
- Budget assessment-related issues that can put off stakeholders and investors.
- A sudden need for redoing major parts of the project caused by the narrow business planning and superficially established technology stack.
Projects may fail for many reasons. The discovery phase reduces or completely eliminates lots of risks and maximizes the likelihood of success.
When Can You Skip the Discovery Phase?
This development stage is important but still optional. In some cases, you can skip it and proceed directly to development. This approach is justified under the following circumstances:
- Customers already have everything necessary for successful development: a design brief, technical documentation, a road map. Things like that happen but rarely.
- The project is small and is based on the use of standard solutions.
- Developers will have to make just minor changes to an existing project, rather than creating a product from scratch.
In any case, customers have to be ready to work closely with the development team, see their goals clearly and have realistic expectations.
A discovery phase is essentially a bridge between the theoretical product concept and its actual technical implementation. At this stage, we find out customers’ and other stakeholders’ needs, pinpoint the project’s strong and weak points, and create its implementation plan.
This approach allows us to lay the foundation for efficient workflow, reduce costs, shorten development time, and provide customers with quality software solutions tailored to their business needs.
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