Discovery Stage, or What to Do If You Need an Agile Project Analysis

You can have the most stunning and smartest software idea, whether it's a website or an app. However, having such an idea doesn't mean you'll get what you want. Often, the final product doesn't live up to the client's expectations, or it turns out to be too costly and time-consuming to implement. All this might lead to the project's failure, no matter how promising it may have seemed at first. 

The logical solution to the problem is to conduct a preliminary analysis... but where to start? The concept seems rather vague and inclusive. That’s why we offer a more agile option, namely, a standard Discovery stage. It’ll help you define the project blueprint and estimate the development cost.

That’s the approach our Agilie team practices. Interested? Then take your time to read our article. We'll explain to you what the discovery phase of mobile and web development is and why you need it.

Why Does It Matter?

​​If you're looking to create a digital product, you should start by estimating the development scope and budget. And indeed, according to the research, more than 15% of IT startups fail due to poor planning, and 45% of software projects are ultimately too expensive to implement (contrary to initial high hopes and too enthusiastic expectations). 

So you have three ways to get things done without adding your project to those 15+% (as well as 45%):

  • performing the market analysis yourself;

  • conducting full-fledged analysis;

  • carrying out the project discovery stage.

The first option can only work if you have the appropriate expert experience (otherwise you're unlikely to achieve success). If it's not the case, you face two ways to go... so what should you choose and why?

Difference Between Thorough Analysis and the Discovery Stage

In fact, Discovery is analysis too, the difference is in the approaches to research. As we said, Discovery Phase is a more agile solution, ideally suited to the ever-changing and evolving IT market.

In the past, any IT project was carried out in stages: first, specialists started lengthy and expensive research (also known as analysis), then they proceeded to design, development, and testing of the product, followed by its launch. The pattern (it’s called Waterfall) seems to be logical and correct... alas, far from it (especially when it comes to the digital market). The thing is, a website or application may already be outdated by the moment it appears on the network (which often happens). Research data is losing its relevance over time.

So a new agile development method was created, and it involves the Discovery Stage. The entire process of building a product is now divided into certain cycles (the so-called sprints), and each cycle includes all the steps described above. Surely, we begin to work on the project by analyzing its prospects and estimating possible time and money costs, but our research doesn't stop there. Each next sprint starts with the Discovery activities: that is, we analyze the data and discover what needs to be done in this particular sprint, what result we're striving to obtain, and what goals we're willing to achieve.

In the end, you get market research to the required scale (the one you really need) and in stages. What's more, the data stays up-to-date and keeps your product on trend as you conduct Discovery throughout the development process.

The role of the discovery phase in a project is to find out how to implement your idea without wasting money and time while ensuring your IT product fully meets the users’ needs.

What is a Discovery Stage Team?

So what kind of experts should you hire to initiate the product discovery stage?

Project Manager

PM assembles a Discovery team, participates in project discussions, issues invoices, and performs other similar duties. He is also among those who study the end result of the Discovery Phase.

UX Designer

The UX team visualizes the user experience, figuratively speaking. So far, it's not about creating a full-fledged interface design (the time for it will come later), but rather about designing a sequence of user actions when working with an application or website. Moreover, the emotional component should also be taken into account.

Business Analyst

The business analyst is one of the key Discovery players. He takes on a coordination role in the project discovery process. And he also translates business goals into functional and non-functional requirements and helps in building the logic of the system.  

Business analysts dig much deeper than UX specialists. Their task is to determine, among other things, those systems' interconnections that aren't visible to the eye (but they do exist!). Say, under what conditions should notifications be sent to the user? Who can edit product information? There are a lot of similar examples.

Solution Architect

The Solution Architect is responsible for the technical architecture of the product. His task is to select a technology stack to achieve the client's business goals while maintaining the necessary quality attributes (such as performance, security, scalability, etc.). 

discovery stage

Other possible participants in the Discovery Stage project (although not all of them are invariably required):

  • Product manager, who manages the product creation and combines (at least, ideally) the roles of business strategist, market analyst, product designer, and client. Typically, the Product Manager is the link between the customer and contractor teams.

    • The responsibilities of the Product and Project Managers can be combined and performed by just one person (one specialist). If Discovery requires the participation of these two experts at once, then the Product Manager is responsible for the product itself (which is obvious), market and user research, marketing activities, and the tasks of the Project Manager include planning, reporting, budgets, etc.

  • Marketing/Sales Managers: Experts in charge of marketing activities and sales, respectively. Their role in the Discovery team is to find how to implement a project to ensure product recognition and high sales.

  • Tech lead, who, together with the Solution Architect, helps to find an approach to the technical implementation of the project's business logic.

  • CEO, who is in full control of the project.

  • SME (Subject matter expert). Each project belongs to a specific domain (medicine, financial market, construction, etc.) and requires the involvement of a specialist with a deep understanding of it.

  • ISME (Implementation subject matter expert). Also, it won't hurt if the Discovery team includes a developer who has experience in creating a similar product.

Key Benefits of the Discovery Stage

  • A clear plan of action. You'll have a document detailing all the product requirements and describing the best way to bring it to life. 

  • Estimation of the development time and budget. You'll know when the product is likely to be implemented and how much money you might need to make it happen.

  • Carefully selected expert team. You’ll be informed of how many specialists are needed to develop, test, and release a product.  

    • By the by, a smart move is to find a company, which offers a complex solution, starting with the Pre-sale and Discovery phases and ending with the Delivery step. This ensures smoother work on the project, which means a more effective discovery process.  

  • Getting a visual product concept. A prototype is a great way to test your business idea.

  • Reducing risks when creating/launching a product. Discovery experts will analyze the pros and cons of your project, identify possible pitfalls, and find ways to avoid these obstacles. Of course, nobody is able to give you a 100% guarantee of the product’s success, but you'll be much closer to your benchmark.

  • Raising funds. Surely, a concrete plan of required actions increases your chances to get the desired investments. After all, you don’t just ask investors for money, you provide them with a detailed report, which refers to the timing, deadlines, budget, and other related issues.

  • The ability to stay in trend. We've already explained that the agile Discovery phase allows you to receive analysis data in batches, so to say, and thereby keep the project up-to-date.

But the most important thing among the benefits of the discovery stage is the opportunity for the client and contractors to find a common language and establish mutual understanding with each other. Being on the same page, they can work on the project much more productively.

What Does the Effective Discovery Process Consist Of?

First, we’d like to briefly describe what is usually included in the Discovery process, in the classical sense of the concept in question. Then we’ll explain to you how our Agilie team chooses to work on these projects.

  • Setting the goals of the project. We’re talking about both the goals of the product itself and the business objectives of the company that orders its development.

  • Analysis of what you (as a client) already have. If you have some ideas, ready-made sketches, preliminary studies (or whatever), the Discovery team needs to analyze them. The same applies to the case when you have an existing product, which you'd like to see improved in one way or another. 

  • Study of the target user. Of course, it's also important to study the nature of the target audience and determine the user's pain, so to say. We have to find a problem you're trying to solve with the help of the digital service. It’s going to form a basis on which the entire project Discovery Stage should be built.

  • Market and competitor analysis. Market trends, its main players, similar product examples,  and solutions: this and other data also have to be clarified, analyzed, and structured.

  • Processing the information received. All collected data must be turned into product requirements (which may relate to a wide variety of aspects of development and design).

  • Estimation of the development time and budget, which is one of the main Discovery points (surely, you don't mind knowing how much money to invest in a project and how long it'll take to implement it).

  • Preparation of results, usually presented in the form of a Vision & Scope document.

And now it’s time to describe our approach to discovery phase project management.

project discovery stage

Discovery Initiation

The first stage is a kind of mutual introduction and attempts to find a common ground, make sure we understand each other. We discuss the client's project and determine the area for future actions. Among others, we determine who will be involved in the project on the part of the client and the contractor.

Business Case Definition

Any digital product exists within a certain business system. Therefore, a mandatory part of the discovery phase in a project is the collection and organization of basic business requirements, including company goals, expected results, indicators of success. 

At this stage, the active participation of all parties to the process, including you (that is, the client), is extremely important. No one knows better than you what you want and what you strive for. 

By the way, we’re working on Discovery requirements (not only of a business nature but also of any others, including the ones below) in accordance with a certain scenario that has proven its effectiveness.

benefits of the discovery stage

Functional Requirements Definition

We need to collect and prioritize the functional project requirements.

These requirements describe what the software system should do. For example, a shopping application must send a notification to the user when certain conditions are met (such as a change in the order status).

Quality Attributes Workshop

Next comes non-functional requirements, which impose restrictions on how the system will perform a certain function. Let's say, a non-functional requirement for a shopping application is sending notifications within a few minutes after the order status has changed (placed, packed, sent, received).

These requirements deal with factors like software reliability, security, performance, flexibility, and so on. 

BA Process Definition

To conduct an effective discovery process, it is important to determine which tools to use in order to analyze the chosen artifacts and provide the client with the result he needs. There is no point in listing all the available tool options: in the end, each project requires its own unique approach and should be started with a clean slate.

Plan Implementation

The next stage is obvious and requires no explanation: if the plan is approved by all parties to the process, we proceed to its step-by-step implementation.

Discovery Deliverables

At the very last stage, we form the concept of the project. It is a Vision & Scope Document, which describes the client's tasks and the solution we offer: product architecture, list of features, main screens, expected development time and cost, and the like.

And of course, we provide the client with a Discovery presentation to detail and illustrate all the results obtained and explain each one if needed. We're happy to answer arising questions so that there are no uncertainties left.

With a product development plan, you can safely go to investors! Details are in our article.

We'll go into more detail about what the project discovery stage would result in when discussing one of the following sections of our article.

Artifacts we’re working with

Artifacts may come as required and optional, and their final set is influenced by the client’s goals. Much depends on the scale of the project and the amount of work.

  • Business analysis artifacts. There are a lot of BA artifacts, and we could devote a separate section to each if desired (which we won't do, since it's outside the scope of the article). In general, these artifacts include business goals, competitive environment, market trends, user pain (needs), roadmap, feature list, and more. An important point is the analysis of the risks and limitations of the project, as well as the study of potential bottlenecks: all this is inevitable if the project is new and no one has a full understanding of the situation.

  • Design artifacts:

    • User Flow/User Journey. These techniques give us an idea of how the user interacts with the product. The User Flow specifies the steps the customer takes to achieve a certain result (say, to order a taxi if we're talking about an Uber-like application). The User Journey, in turn, illustrates this flow in a more visual, large-scale, and comprehensive manner (sometimes with a user experience involved).

      • User Journey isn't always required to implement the project discovery phase successfully. Sometimes you can do with simpler ways of displaying user scenarios, such as Flow Chart or Screen Flow.

    • Rapid Prototype, which provides a preliminary (rough) understanding of the future UI/UX software infrastructure. It isn’t a complete website or app design, it’s just a starting point for future UI/UX work.

      • You may also need a clickable version of the prototype to evaluate the UI/UX concept even more fully.

  • Technical Expert artifacts, which enable technical and structural system analysis and give architectural product vision. These steps are necessary in order to understand which IT solutions and tools might help you cope with the task in the best way.

To wrap it up, we'd like to add a few words about the 2 main types of discovery stages: onsite and offsite. The onsite approach implies personal meetings with the client and his representatives, visits to certain objects (if they're critical for your research), interviews, and so on. Offsite Discovery allows you to do with just remote activities, which is very convenient under the quarantine restrictions. However, it all depends on the specific project and its tasks.

The Product of the Discovery Stage: Main Deliverables 

The client receives a document containing the following deliverables:

  • project goals and requirements;

  • recommendations for system features;

  • analysis of possible limitations; 

  • the optimal technology stack, infrastructure architecture, and expected load; 

  • estimated budget and deadlines.

Of course, Vision & Scope documents may differ from each other in one way or another, and a lot depends on the client’s wishes. After all, what one doesn’t need would be useful to another, and vice versa.  

Below, we provide a project discovery checklist so that you can see if you have the basis for your software development. 

product discovery stage

When You Can’t Do Without the Project Discovery

Still thinking Discovery isn’t a must? You have a point but although this pre-delivery stage is optional, it is highly desirable anyway. It’ll help you save a lot in the long run.

To ground our opinion, we’re going to list a few basic cases when you cannot do without the Discovery Phase in software development:

  • Product idea with limited funds. Just an idea, albeit a bright one, is hardly enough to ensure your project success... especially with a limited budget and inability to attract investments (at least at the first product development stages). The discovery phase will help you understand which features are a must-have, and which ones can be neglected for now (thereby, you save at the start).

  • Cool software idea without a clear vision of the final product. Limited budget isn't the only thing hindering the successful implementation of the project. Another bump on the road is a lack of understanding of what the final product will look like. You may have an idea, but it is very vague and not fully defined.

  • Too many client-side participants. Sometimes the client's side is represented by several people (stakeholders), and each has his own ideas about the product and the best way to implement it. In order to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings, it is important to conduct the project discovery phase, analyze all the requirements and wishes, and find a common denominator on that question.

  • Complex project requirements. If the conceived project is too complicated and therefore difficult to implement, a preliminary analysis of the situation won't hurt either. And when we talk about complexity, we mean one of the following (although these are just examples of a great many likely scenarios):

    • Intricate, multi-level hierarchy of users with different levels of access to functionality.

    • A long list of features that need to be prioritized.

    • Unfamiliar industry (to the customer or contractors, or both).

    • A unique product (to the extent that uniqueness is generally possible).

  • The need to reorganize an existing product. Sometimes it’s not about creating a software product from scratch, but about modernizing and improving the existing one. There can be many reasons to remake it: falling profits, growing competition, the need to scale the project, and so on. And whatever the motive, you need to start work with discovery stage activities.

  • Long-term projects. And let's not forget about large projects, work on which runs for months and even years: say, the developers support a software product, be it a website or a mobile app so that it constantly meets the market requirements and follows the latest trends. Surely, developers need certain data in order to know what should be improved and changed in the project. And Discovery Phase experts must provide them with this kind of information.

    • That’s where the agile approach comes in handy. In simple terms, the above Discovery processes are being repeated in a cycle (depending on the project needs).


It's time to go beyond words. And we're happy to help you get down to business and conduct the mobile or website development discovery phase. We'll perform only the steps you really need, so you won't have to pay a single extra penny.

You can learn more about our expertise in Discovery by clicking here. You'll find out what we offer you and what our Discovery services include.

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