Discovery Phase in Software Product Development: Why Do Startups Need It?

by Marina Hrytsiienko

According to McKinsey, 45% of software development projects overrun their estimated budget. And taking into account how hard it is to make a successful startup, the risks of exceeding budget and delivery timeline might lead to a total business failure. So what can be done to mitigate those risks for your startup? 

Having 14 years experience of working with startups at Unicsoft, and having analyzed more than 50 cases, we’ve come to the conclusion that failures are most often caused by skipping the initial planning and detailed estimation phase. We have hands-on success cases proving that the key to startup success is starting your software development project right. Fortunately, strategies and instruments exist to prevent putting the whole startup into jeopardy. Of course, there’s no panacea, but we can significantly help business owners to complete their project on time and on budget. We call it Discovery Phase. 

And believe us, we’re not trying to add a couple of extra dollars to the bill with subsidiary services. As a truly caring partner, with a mission to help your startup grow sustainably, we advise based on our experience of successful cases of project delivery. And here is what we’ve learned. 
 

What’s a Discovery Phase in Terms of Software Development?

 
Discovery Phase is the first stage of software development. It involves the project team and top managers working together to collect and produce essential data, to elicit product architecture, the functional and nonfunctional requirements, choose a stack, estimate costs and plan project development. At this stage we ensure every team member is 100% on the same page, and that ideas will be developed in the most efficient and cost-effective way, so that we’ve discovered and accounted for any unknowns from the outset.
 
Discovery Phase
 
The project team is involved during the whole project development life-cycle, starting with discovery. Depending on the nature of your product, the team may include a Business Analyst, РМ and Scrum Master, Solution Architect, UI/UX designer, Web Developers, Mobile Developers, Machine Learning/AI Techleads, Blockchain TechLeads, etc. 

The project discovery phase helps to reduce risks and minimize costs, as well as ensure the product is technologically perfect to fit the market. Let’s define the goals of the discovery phase in software development: 

Fundamental goals:

  • Work out architecture and functionality to be implemented – in terms of software development, this is the first and foremost objective of the discovery phase. At this step, essential functionality points are delineated while all redundant or excess elements are laid aside. And here you need to work with mature and experienced professionals.  
  • Very detailed project costs estimation – once the essentials of a software product are clearly defined, it becomes possible to evaluate precisely how much it all will cost. Software development is a complex process. It’s very difficult to estimate project cost and timeline for development without careful analysis of the general concept, business situation, objectives, technical details, and requirements. When you take time in the beginning and gather all project details in one ‘heap’ to see the maximum possible final cost, you see hidden costs and risks better. In such cases you won’t have to deal with unplanned costs nor over-budgeting. 

The main deliverable of Project Discovery would be formulating a clearly defined scope of work, how and in what order it will be done, how long it will take, and what resources and people you need for project delivery. Those guidelines can be used to make critical decisions by the project team as well as clients, upper management and marketing teams. 
 
Discovery Phase
 
You might produce in the agile discovery phase such deliverables: Solution vision document, Software Requirements Specification, Architecture design, UX wireframe design, Release plan and detailed cost estimate, Risk assessment and mitigation plan, Prototype, Legacy code review with recommendations for the improvement.
 

So why is it best to begin with discovery? 

 
Even if you have a very detailed business plan of your idea, it does not mean that you have considered all the possible risks, technical details, and requirements. And with the growing amount of data every year, it becomes ever more difficult to analyze the market. Research requires more and more time and effort. So why not use some professional help? There is always something additional an experienced project team will be able to spot, as they bring different experience, explore risks better, and suggest more effective solutions based on industry understanding. It’s very difficult to have deep knowledge and expertise in every field.

As they say, the devil is in the details. Creating a software solution is very much a joint effort. Even a tiny detail can influence the success of the entire project.  

Only 360 degrees analysis of the nuances during project pre-launch stages can help you designate close to a precise scope of work. During the discovery phase, any of your assumptions can and should be challenged. This will allow to get to know your expected results better, and define some challenges in particular aspects of the project. 

 
Discovery Phase
 

Project discovery also allows making sure you go with the right development team. During this phase you will check if your selected partner has the right business understanding, hard skills and values; and that you are comfortable working with them. It reduces the risks of spending too much money with the wrong company. The deliverables of the Discovery Phase can be used by another software development company. However, starting product development by shifting to another company is complicated. It will take time, a lot of communication, and paperwork. 

To sum up all the above into core takeaways, the most important benefits of discovery phase would be: 

Getting a higher return on investment, as the project discovery helps you to see the big picture of what’s about to happen next in your project workflow once underway, and avoid many risks, optimize costs while becoming more confident in a successful outcome in the long- run. It keeps you focused on the important things. 

Overall project costs can be optimized and reduced due to the delineation of unnecessary, excessive project features and development stages, which would otherwise pose hindrances and obstacles. In other words, by omitting redundant and irrelevant functional requirements, which may even harm the overall project, we decrease total project costs.

Creating a prototype during the Discovery Phase helps you to gain investment and test your product with real users, getting feedback from investors and end-users. The Discovery Phase allows planning various aspects of a future solution from the user perspective from the beginning, which is a sure way to achieve the main goal of any user-oriented product – user satisfaction. It means increasing user retention and loyalty.

Numerous risks and obstacles may arise during your project development if the discovery phase is completely ignored. Skipping project discovery won’t actually save you time and money. Here are additional consequences which may occur: 
 
Discovery Phase
 

Get the Most Out of Your Discovery Phase

 

So based on our experience of working with clients we’ve defined key points of making your discovery phase as optimal and efficient as possible. Here are some examples referring to success cases. 

A company from Singapore, Xypher Pte Ltd., started working with Unicsoft during the discovery phase. In particular, we conducted an initial  three-day joint on-site workshop at Unicsoft Kyiv office a few months ago. They wanted to meet the team in person and go through the extremely complex architecture of an AI/Blockchain-backed platform together. Unicsoft’s task was to integrate new logic into the existing sophisticated environment, ensuring data security and data encryption, scalability, speed of transactions, tokenomics, etc.  We navigated our partners from Singapore through the best cutting-edge technologies and approaches. 

After the workshop, our partner received a set of documents describing the required Scope of Work and investment needed to combine AI for predictive analysis and Blockchain for data storage and security. Such a detailed description and feasibility studies allowed Xypher Pte to complete a general development plan seamlessly. 

Xypher Pte Ltd. had a very positive experience working with Unicsoft, and was pleased with the expertise, communication, and the level of team motivation and customer service. The management of the Singaporean company decided to engage Unicsoft in another project. Due to the underperformance of a previous vendor, it is a challenging task. 

The deadline for the development of two native mobile and web apps is very tight, so a Unicsoft tech squad consisting of a Senior PM and Mobile Architect had to get to Singapore for a workshop very quickly. The team showed a true extra-mile attitude and within just three days had built out a detailed Scope of work, architecture and technical decisions, performed a code handover, and worked out a roadmap to ensure that a deadline by the end of September will be met.

Starting out with the project discovery phase helped our partner from Singapore to successfully plan a software delivery timeline, create a solution architecture by engaging the experts, (which Xypher didn’t have in-house). They were assured that the Unicsoft team is an easy-going, highly professional team with a culture of strong communication and get-the-job-done attitude. It’s an honor for us to continue to partner with Xypher Pte Ltd on challenging projects.

Benny Low, the co-founder of  Xypher Pte Ltd, Singapore, gave this feedback:

 
Discovery Phase
 

Another of our clients was a startup within an automotive company from California. They provide US automotive dealers with financial information about automotive stores. They approached Unicsoft already having an MVP of Dashboard Dealership. We suggest starting with analysis, as not all requirements were clear and the solution needed a lot of improvement. During the project discovery phase, we suggested the client change the interface of the solution. Having all the deliverables after project discovery, the client made a strong presentation with new interface design and clear vision. It was easier to pitch to their board of directors to acquire investment for tool development. We created an enterprise-level reporting tool, capable of analyzing data from a range of sources. Thanks to this tool, the company was bought by a large enterprise, CDK Global.

In our portfolio example of Airport Guide, the client had only a high-level business idea and description. As a caring partner, we’ve recommended him to being work with our discovery phase. We took some time with the client to analyze the business case and competitors, and identify the target audience. As the client was a pilot himself, and knew the application’s user requirements for that segment, we suggested that he develop the application for pilots first. This helped him to save costs for development and create a solution based on market need. The application is working and helping pilots around the world to plan flights. 

4B is a worldwide manufacturer of high-quality, technologically advanced material handling & electronic components. The company is more than 125 years old and the headquarters are based in the United Kingdom. 4B Group has been working with Unicsoft for many years. We’ve worked on a number of projects together and every project starts with the agile discovery phase. The effectiveness of such a workflow has been proven by many cases, such as Hazardmoon: a secure IoT monitoring solution for manufacturers. In every project for 4B Group we meet the estimated costs and deadline for solution delivery. 

As you can see from the above examples, we are here to stay with you and grow your startup, develop the solution and support it. We are striving for your startup’s success just like our own, delivering excellent service for you. We share your values and idea of true partnership. We build trust, loyalty, and common vision. We are the partner for full-cycle development and will be there for support and maintenance. 
 

What’s your choice: to discover or not? 

 
We’ve taken a deep look into the overall importance of the discovery phase for startups. The benefits are clear and crucial for business. Project discovery helps to reduce the overall project budget and also ensures the deadline is met due to detailed analysis prior to starting coding and interface design work. They say a bad beginning makes a bad ending. If you begin your startup incorrectly and chaotically, it takes a long time to finish it, because the poor start seriously affects the later work. But if you begin well, everything follows naturally and easily. Invest some time and budget into your project at the seed stage to have a sustainable operational business. All successful startups have paid a lot of attention to project discovery. 

So don’t hesitate to access all the processes of discovery we’ve discussed, during the initial stages of your project launch, and you will in turn reap all the benefits. Need professional advice on the discovery phase or technical expertise? Make a free consultation call right now and get up to 4 hours of free expert consultation!