Discovery Phase in App Development: A Cost and Time-Saving Approach
Products do not exist in a vacuum. Even if you truly believe in your idea, unfortunately, that's still not enough to guarantee its success.
A discovery phase addresses the uncertainties of a business and sets the foundation for further actions. Mistakes revealed during discovery are the easiest and cheapest to fix. On top of that, after the discovery, you are able to enter the development stage armed with a clear vision and plan.
Illya Mazurenko, Project Manager at Design Key, shared our team's approach to organizing and executing the discovery phase. In this article, you will find valuable insights that will help you navigate a discovery phase and estimate its efficiency.
Understanding the Product Discovery Phase
The discovery phase is the initial stage that precedes a development process. It is designed to uncover the client's requirements, plan project scope and releases, estimate costs and timelines, and mitigate potential risks.
According to Marty Cagan, there are four significant risks that product management faces:
Value risk: will customers actually buy or use the product?
Usability risk: can users easily understand how to use the product?
Feasibility risk: can the engineering team build the necessary features within the given time, skills, and technology constraints?
Business viability risk: does this solution align with the different aspects of your business?
The product discovery is a way to reduce the risks before you start to build something. This is a baseline process that helps construct the business logic of a product and strategy for future development.
When Should You Start the Discovery?
You should start the discovery phase before you begin the development process. This phase plays a vital role in various scenarios:
Launching a New Product. The discovery phase is crucial for understanding the market, identifying customer needs, and demonstrating how your idea can fit into reality. Read our article about the main phases in the journey of every startup.
Upgrading an Existing Product. It's almost like introducing a new one. Changes may open up opportunities with new target audiences or competitors. It's important to predict and plan for these.
New Business Opportunities. It's crucial to consider the scalability of the product and its ability to handle increased demand. Project architecture should be designed with growth in mind.
If all you have is an idea, then deep product discovery is a must. Even if you already have design ideas and a feature list, it is still important to go through the discovery phase, although to a lesser extent.
Can You Skip the Discovery?
Apart from inventing a product, you also need to:
Identify a need;
Understand what already exists;
Identify what is possible and where is the potential risk;
Find a way to create what is needed, using available resources.
If you already know what needs to be done and have a clear plan for future product development, scope of work, and planned iterations, then a discovery may not be needed. But if you're still unsure, a discovery process will save you time and money.
What may happen if I skip the discovery stage?
McKinsey's statistics show that 45% of IT businesses overrun their estimated budgets. 7% run over time, and 56% deliver less value than predicted. That happens because of poor diagnostics before the start of the IT project.
Skipping the discovery stage can lead to a lack of clarity and direction, making it difficult to prioritize tasks and make informed decisions. The project may need to be reworked or revised multiple times.
Discovery, instead, involves research, brainstorming, and collaboration between the client and the development team. For the client, this is a tool to gain a deeper understanding of their project and identify any potential challenges or opportunities before they occur.
This is a crucial moment where your dreams and visions can become a concrete plan. So, the question of whether skipping discovery saves money and time is debatable.
Steps in the Product Discovery Phase: Our Process Explained
Our team follows a structured approach to organize and execute the discovery phase and adjusts it to the type of project and client's needs.
Here is a breakdown of the common process:
Project intro. We conduct an initial meeting with the client to gather information about their business goals and objectives. We also define roles and responsibilities, establish communication channels, and set project milestones.
Research and Analysis. Our team conducts market research, competitor analysis, and user studies to gain insights into the target audience's preferences and needs. This information helps inform the development strategy and enables us to create a user-centric solution.
Requirements Gathering. We collaborate closely with the client to define the functional and non-functional requirements of the project. If the client doesn't have a clear vision of functionality, we help to create user flow and feature map.
Prototyping and Testing. Once we have discussed the structure and received approval, we can proceed with creating user stories, wireframes, and prototypes to visually represent the structure and features of the app. A prototype is needed to show the project to the client and test its usability. Testing the layout helps find and fix errors early, saving time and resources before investing in the final design and code solution.
Cost and Time Estimation. Based on the requirements and technical assessment, we provide the client with a breakdown of the project costs and estimated timelines. This transparent approach allows clients to make informed decisions and allocate resources effectively.
Documentation. We create comprehensive documentation throughout the discovery phase, including a project brief, user stories, technical specifications, and a development plan. This documentation serves as a roadmap for the entire project, keeping all parties aligned and facilitating efficient collaboration.
If we upgrade a business or product, we add a stage of technical feasibility assessment. We consider technology stack, scalability, and integration capabilities to ensure the end product aligns with the client's goals.
The Value that Discovery Brings to Business
After the product discovery phase, the client typically receives a set of deliverables and actionable insights that help them make informed decisions about product development, upgrades, or new business opportunities.
The project deliverables may vary depending on the specific requirements.
Ideation and Concept Exploration: Business Analysis of the product ideas or concepts generated during the discovery phase.
Prioritization Recommendations: Guidance on which product features or concepts should be prioritized based on their potential value to users and alignment with business goals.
Prototypes or Wireframes: Low-fidelity prototypes or wireframes that demonstrate how certain features or concepts might work.
User Testing Results: If applicable, the results of user testing on prototypes or concepts, including feedback and observations from users.
Business Model Considerations: For new business opportunities, the product discovery phase may include recommendations for potential revenue models, pricing strategies, and go-to-market plans.
Risk Assessment: An evaluation of the potential risks and challenges associated with the product or business opportunity, along with recommendations for mitigation.
Roadmap or Action Plan: A proposed plan of action that outlines the next steps, including development, testing, and iteration.
Cost and Resource Estimates: An estimate of the resources, budget, and timeline required to move forward with the chosen product development or business opportunity.
Documentation: Detailed documentation of the product discovery process and research results for future reference.
These deliverables serve as a foundation for moving forward with confidence, knowing that the chosen path is based on a well-informed understanding of user needs and market dynamics.
Who takes part in the process?
The process is led by a Project Manager, Product Lead, and Business Analyst. Developers can assist in choosing the appropriate tech stack based on requirements and available resources. Sometimes, using custom code is necessary, while other times it's more advantageous to opt for third-party solutions.
The Duration and Resources Needed
The duration of the product discovery phase can vary depending on the complexity of the problem and the resources available. It typically ranges from a few weeks to a couple of months. The resources needed include a dedicated team, user research tools, prototyping software, and access to potential users for interviews and testing.
Helpful tip: If your goal is building an MVP, avoid inflated time frames for discovery. Based on our experience and the experience of our clients, one month is enough for most cases. An overexpanded timeframe can lead to an abundance of feature ideas, which may hinder a quick and budget-friendly launch.
In any case, before we begin the discovery phase, we always provide clients with a rough time estimation and our recommendation. This allows us to plan precisely.
How to start a product discovery?
All you need to start working with our team is to tell us about your project or idea. Schedule a call so we can discuss our cooperation.
Our team has experience in conducting product discoveries for various stages of products. Whether you have an idea or crafted vision for the functionality, we can adapt our approach to suit your project's needs. We have worked on cases ranging from startup MVPs to large-scale enterprise solutions and are ready to provide our methodology to you.
Looking for a reliable tech partner?
Our team is ready to help! Book a call with the Technical lead to discuss your project.