Embarking on a software development project without proper planning is like sailing a ship without a compass. This is where the Discovery Phase comes in, serving as a fundamental prep work for the successful execution of any IT project.
The phase ensures alignment with the client’s needs, feasibility, and a clear roadmap. All of these and other outcomes make it indispensable for software development. Below, we delve into the intricacies of the Discovery Phase, its necessity, steps, and key deliverables.
What is the Discovery Phase?
The Discovery Phase acts as the preliminary phase in any software development project. It is a dedicated period of comprehensive research and analysis. During this critical period, the development team dives deep to grasp the project’s objectives, requirements, target audience, and potential challenges. The discovery phase allows you to assess how feasible the project realization is. It also helps establish the approximate scope and timeline for the project, and what kind of resources it will require. Essentially, the Discovery Phase sets the stage for transforming your product idea into a market-ready solution.
Why is the Discovery Phase so Indispensable?
The importance of the Discovery Phase cannot be overstated. Some might think that it’s time-consuming and will require extra resources that you don’t have. However, our experience has shown that going through with a well-executed Discovery phase brings quite the opposite results. It truly helps you save resources in the long run: be it thoroughly preparing for the development, or chucking an idea altogether.
Here’s a list of key reasons that our team has defined that will convince you to start the Discovery Phase:
- Understanding the product vision better.
- Alignment of your expectations with achievable outcomes.
- Defining the project’s scope, deliverables, and functionalities.
- Identifying potential risks and challenges.
- Creating a clear roadmap for the project.
- Mitigating extra future development costs.
In our opinion, all of this makes the Discovery Phase a non-negotiable aspect of software development.
Who is involved in the Discovery Phase?
Most usually the team dedicated to the Discovery phase consists of 3 to 5 specialists. All their roles and unique knowledge cover analysis of the project from various angles: from technical to financial, to purely administrative.
A business analyst will be the person collecting all the information you as a client need to prepare (see the next section of this article), as well as market data. They will perform the analysis of all the data and provide reports based on their insights. The outputs can include functional and non-functional requirements, actionable insight, best practices recommendations, a roadmap, or a feature list. Business analysts are usually the key actors in ensuring the client’s expectations are fully understood and that the proposed solution aligns with their business objectives.
Project managers are here to define the timelines of your project. They manage resources and assess risks for future development, as well as create a preliminary budget for the project development.
Software Architects analyze the client’s idea from the development point of view. They can propose the best development solutions, tools, and frameworks. They can also offer insights on the infrastructure of the solution to make sure it’s scalable, easy to maintain, and meets the technical requirements.
UI/UX designers participate to make sure the user needs are understood and can start conceptualizing the user experience based on the business analyst’s reports. Their outcomes can also include wireframes.
How You Need to Prepare for the Discovery Phase
Before plunging into the Discovery Phase, clarity on certain key areas is crucial. These include:
- Articulating the Problem: Clearly define the problem that your software product is aiming to solve.
- Target Audience: Identify who your intended users are. Their needs and behaviors will significantly influence the product’s design and functionality.
- Potential Challenges: Make a list of any foreseen obstacles that might hinder the development. These could be technical constraints, regulatory compliance issues, or scalability concerns. Outlining these will prepare the ground for better risk management analysis.
- Client-Team Familiarizing: Prioritising meetings, questionnaires, brainstorming sessions, and presentations for us to understand your business idea and expectations thoroughly.
- Analyze Existing Business Processes: Use current business processes to sketch a concept for the future project.
By following these steps, you’ll provide a comprehensive understanding of your expectations. Together we will define what is required to turn your software development project into a success. A thorough preparation will help eliminate ambiguity, minimize risks, and set a clear path for the development of your project.
Main Deliverables of the Discovery Phase
As soon as our team is done with the analysis process, we will create a list of documents with our insights and findings. Here’s a checklist of deliverables you can expect:
Business Requirements Document:
Outlines the project’s primary objectives, success criteria, and user needs. It typically includes a description of the product, its intended (target) audience, and a list of potential competitors.
Main Use Case Scenarios:
Describes the central and complex use cases within the system. They may be accompanied by activity or process flow diagrams, which provide a visual representation of the use cases.
Functional Decomposition Diagram/User Story Map:
Provides a holistic view of your product’s structure, broken down by system roles and associated activities, where each activity is further broken down into related functions. This diagram will allow you to see the big picture of your product’s functionality, as well as serve as the basis for creating a work breakdown structure (WBS).
Roles and Permissions Matrix:
Outlines various user roles and their respective permissions, essential for the product’s technical architecture, and use case flows.
Lists quality attributes like scalability, security, and usability, and any domain-specific standards or regulations.
Helps to establish a common terminology list among all stakeholders in the context of the product.
Entity Relationship Diagram (ERD):
Shows the conceptual or logical relationships between business entities used by the system.
Depicts the interactions between the system and external entities, providing a broader understanding of the system’s context.
Business owners sometimes choose to skip the Discovery Phase thinking they are saving money, as they consider this stage not too important. In reality, it is one of the best ways to ensure a clear vision for your project and avoid unnecessary risks and wasteful use of resources.
The Discovery Phase clarifies the project’s main use cases and helps create an actionable plan and budget for the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). All of this helps to jump into the development process with much more clarity and confidence.
With the assistance of expert business analysts, project managers and software architects, you can be confident that your software product will align with your objectives and meet the needs of your target audience.