The meaning of a thorough discovery phase to optimize software development

Lena Wesche

Lena Wesche

software development

discovery phase

Planning software projects or new digital applications is challenging, and sometimes the initial plan does not work out. Often, the reason for failure is a missing or insufficient product discovery phase.

Especially in the past, product and software developers focused first on solving technical issues instead of thinking about how to make the software more user-friendly. In many cases, great and technically superior products were developed, however the products or digital applications could not solve user's problems or created more/different problems for them. The resulting time and financial expenses often exceeded the budget and led to the failure of the project.

To avoid as many risks as possible that could lead to a failure of the project, it is recommended to conduct a careful exploration phase before writing the first code.

This article aims to highlight the importance of a discovery phase in software development and to describe the steps of a good product discovery.

Imagine you are building a house and need an accurate architectural plan to start, but you decide to ignore it and build the house intuitively. Sounds ridiculous, right? However, a great number of software products are developed like a house without an architectural plan because businesses choose to bypass the discovery phase.

The 7 steps of software development

  • Pre Development Stage - Develop understanding of the job and its clients
  • Stage 1: Discovery Phase - Creation of a project plan, development of a deep understanding of the issues to be solved
  • Stage 2: Design - Creation of wireframes and first prototype
  • Stage 3: Software architecture - Development of the infrastructure
  • Stage 4: Development - Kick off software development
  • Stage 6: Launch - After multiple successful test phases and fixation of all technical issues, the software is ready to be launched

Stage 1 Software Discovery Phase

The software discovery phase is used to create a concrete project plan for the development of a software before the solution is implemented.

Goal setting

It must be ensured that the planned software meets the client's business objectives. Not only a product vision, but also the business goal for the project must be defined, including the project scope and the requirement specifications for the software. In summary, that means defining what the software must and must not be able to do. This includes non-functional requirements, such as performance, security, scalability, speed and more.

Defining the target user group

The most effective way to develop a solution is to apply a 'User-First' approach. Therefore, it is tremendously important to understand who will be using the solution regularly.

Definition of key users

If the software solution is used internally, the people who use the solution daily should be interviewed. User-interviews help to understand the core user requirements for the solution.

In both cases, creating a target audience alone is not enough. Conducting in-person interviews with real users in an online or live format can help to further specify requirements. Once the interviews have been successfully completed and evaluated, personas can be created. A persona is a fictional character that matches the characteristics and needs of the general target audience. Creating a user journey is easier thanks to personas.

Competitor- and market analysis

Not in every discovery phase both, a competitor- and a market analysis are necessary. In many cases, it is useful to understand the business environment of the client. To develop a competitive and future-proof solution, it is necessary to understand what standards exist in the business environment and how it can stand out among them. The competitor analysis helps to understand what niches in the market can be filled and what needs can be satisfied.

Resource compilation and risk analysis

From this point on, the project will grow. All technical, functional and specific resources, which are necessary for the development of the project must be defined and written down. Through a risk analysis, possible risk factors can be identified and solutions can be developed.

Creation of Wireframes / Prototype

A user experience flow will be created, which represents the everyday use of the final product. Based on the previously accumulated knowledge about the users, competitors and understanding of the market in which the product operates, a realistic scenario can be created. The User flow aims to be user-friendly. Possible difficulties that occur during this process can be solved directly and therefore will not negatively influence the later development. For a better understanding, the user experience flow is presented in wireframes (blueprints of the application).

User Interface (UI)

The user interface (Design) does not always play an important role, generally it is important to have a consistent design, which also influences the user experience.

Creation of the project plan

Contrary to many opinions, we do not recommend creating a project roadmap or schedule. Despite careful planning, unexpected events can occur. For this reason, a project plan or project scope should be created instead. The project plan contains all development steps and tasks. The project plan also contains all the information about the project, the people responsible for each development step and all other stakeholders, as well as a detailed description of all product features.

In addition, all technical resources are mentioned, including a detailed estimate of the project duration, a list of potential risks, and when to expect which milestones.

After the project plan has been created, the results are presented to the client and made available.

Advantages through a Discovery Phase

  • A well-planned budget, reduced expenses
  • A better understanding of the scope and goals of your software solution
  • Knowledge about the problems and needs of your customers and users
  • A unique value proposition and defined market positioning
  • The ability to outperform your competitors by identifying their weaknesses and improving your product

Want to take a deep dive into your users and figure out their needs, pain points, and wants?

Kerstin Manninger

Kerstin Manninger

Book a call with our Product Owner Kerstin to talk about how you can gain clarity with a Discovery Phase.


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