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  • product

Discovery phase in product development: How to reduce risks and save money

Read time

~12 minutes

maksym.jpg - Discovery Phase in Product Development – Goodface agency - goodface.agency
Max Yakubovych
CEO & Head of design
dmytro.jpg - Discovery Phase in Product Development – Goodface agency - goodface.agency
Dmytro Ushakov
Head of delivery

Publication date

09.04.2024

Goodface agency - Discovery Phase in Product Development_ How to reduce risks and save money.png - Discovery Phase in Product Development – Goodface agency - goodface.agency

Creating a new product is always a worrying time: you've got to map out every phase and lay a solid foundation for the project. The big where-to-start question - design, scouting, or defining the project vision - trips up plenty of companies. Each one leans into their approach, shaped by their past experiences and expertise. 

In this article, we're gonna walk you through our take on shaping these processes and the moves to make after that initial step in project development.

Project discovery phase: Unpacking the basics

Discovery is one of the first, but at the same time one of the most important stages in the project. It sets the stage for everything that follows in a project — it's like laying the foundation for a house. 

At this stage, we look at the project from three key perspectives: Business Analysis, Design and Development, defining the business goals, user needs, and functional requirements, and also developing specifications.

Goodface agency - Project Discovery Phase_ Unpacking the Basics.png - Discovery Phase in Product Development – Goodface agency - goodface.agency

So, we write documentation and describe the project to know what and how we’ll do during the development stage. 

The main goal of the Discovery stage is to define for the client all details that can be blurred in his requirements. We make it constant and clear. For example, if the client has some general vision about the needed functionality, we choose the specific features, how, for whom, and on which stage they would work. We learn it together with the client, come to a particular conclusion, and clear vision of what and how we will build. And finally, we then fix it in the documentation.

In the discovery stage, we dive deep to answer five key questions:

1. What major problems is this product tackling?

We get to know our target audience inside and out through business analysis and UX research. It's all about figuring out who we're designing for. A client might perfectly know his audience, but we come in to help pick the right visual tricks, schemes, and strategies to connect with people's needs cause we dive deep into the user experience.

2. What are the users’ pains and how can our product solve them?

Different audiences have different motives. Business-focused products often go for a more flat model, while creative ones can afford to be bolder and more expressive. We gather insights to grasp what our users expect and craft the product's functionality around these expectations. By the way, it is the basis of the Product Mindset - one of the main parts of Goodface’s philosophy.

3. What's going to be in the business solution?

Understanding what our audience is looking for lets us define the right features. Here we could help to shape everything that follows: the features that should be included, how they'll function, the product monetization strategy, and how we'll meet our audience's needs.

4. What's the product going to look like?

We conduct UX research. We get a clearer picture of people's expectations with user flows, customer journey maps, and user interviews. User stories give us a peek through the users' lenses at how the product functions. And wireframes? They're our blueprint for the project's structure and a sneak peek at the product's style.

5. What tech stack will we use and how to plan it properly?

Lastly, we learn the roots of clients’s expectations about technologies. Maybe a client wants basic features to quickly launch an MVP due to budget or time constraints. Or perhaps they're chasing the cutting edge, craving the latest tech to ensure their product outpaces the rest. Every desire leads us to specific choices in languages, technologies, servers, and strategies to achieve those goals.

As a result of the discovery stage, we have: 
  • The User needs that we will cover; 
  • The visual approach that we take; 
  • The tech strategy that's gonna meet our business objectives and resolve our audience's issues; 
  • The project's scope, cost, and timelines, all mapped out.

Unlocking the benefits of the discovery phase

Goodface agency - Unlocking the Benefits of the Discovery Phase.png - Discovery Phase in Product Development – Goodface agency - goodface.agency

Many see the process of Product Development as a combination of Design and Development stages. That's only part of the story. These two processes stand based on Discovery, which lets us get the full scope of what's coming down the pipeline. It slashes risks and dodges delays, hiccups, and big blunders that could tank the whole project. 

Discovery is all about understanding and planning. The client can come with a request for some features and budget. We help to understand if this is efficient and calculate the cost of the needed features. If it doesn’t align with the client’s opportunities we can plan what should be included in the main scope, and what can be postponed for later. 

With Discovery, you sidestep a heap of unnecessary design re-dos or heading down the wrong development path (like spending six months on a feature you don't need because the tech stack was off from the jump). 

Nailing the Discovery stage is like having a safety net for both the design and development teams and the client. It's a crucial step to map out the project, understand the ins and outs, and, most importantly, steer clear of most of the troubles.

Having the discovery phase behind your back you probably would: 
  • Get a project vision 
  • Cut down on risks 
  • Estimate resources 
  • Set your top priorities 
  • Lay out a Roadmap 
  • Have a tech implementation strategy 
  • Make development more budget-friendly 
  • Discover your unique competitive advantage

How does it work: The team behind the discovery phase

Goodface agency -  How does it work_ The Team Behind the Discovery Phase.png - Discovery Phase in Product Development – Goodface agency - goodface.agency
Stakeholders and domain experts 

The discovery phase kicks off with them. The main drivers here are the product owner and visionary. They share an idea and a business model: how the project will work, what user problems it will solve, and why and how people will want to pay for it. It’s about the value of the product. 

Design team: Lead designers and UX experts 

Product designers play a crucial role in analyzing competitors, investigating the audience, crafting design concepts, keeping the user experience in mind, and also taking care of the aesthetics side. A deep understanding of user needs connects here with closely aligning the client's expectations. 

Tech team: Tech lead, senior engineers and architects, CTO 

The tech team is all about strategizing and forecasting. They dive into details, like how many people are going to use the product, what platforms it's going to live on, and how it'll operate. Next up, they're choosing the perfect frameworks, solutions, and tech stack. Getting this stuff right from the get-go is crucial because if something's off, your developers might have to backtrack and redo work, which is a situation we all want to avoid. 

Product management team: Business analysts, product managers, and delivery managers

BA is in charge of market research and understanding project objectives. PM or delivery manager orchestrates seamless collaboration among all team members, ensuring alignment on requirements and project vision. This team gives a plan and a crystal-clear roadmap for the client, so they know exactly what's happening with the project and what to expect in the coming month.


Stages of discovery

The scope of the discovery process depends on the size and complexity of the project, but our classic Discovery routine includes such steps:

Goodface agency - Stages of Discovery.png - Discovery Phase in Product Development – Goodface agency - goodface.agency
1. Collection of information 
  • Stakeholder interviews 
  • Market analysis 
  • Сompetitor research 
2. UX research 
  • User interviews / User stories 
  • CJM / User flow 
  • Wireframes / Prototypes 
3. Specification 
  • Tech stack 
  • Feature set and description 
  • Obligations and requirements 
4. Project estimation

Collection of information

Stakeholder interviews 

Here we turn requirements into plans. We learn business ideas through interviews with clients and other stakeholders. It's just the starting point, so we aim to get beneath the surface of the future product's concept. The primary objective of this stage is to grasp our client's expectations and objectives and gather insights about their audience, competitors, and existing infrastructure. Together it allows us to paint a comprehensive picture of the business idea at hand, envisioning the scale and form of the future software. 

Market analysis

Data collection is at the core of what we do across all departments — the backbone of our discovery process. Understanding the nuances of the market is crucial because every industry has its own unique set of rules. But the market is always evolving, so we make it a point to dive deep into research at the start of every project. It's our chance to stay on top of the latest trends and tendencies and build a road map based on what's happening. 

Сompetitor research 

At this stage, we must determine the level of competitiveness of the market, and figure out its major players. By studying other companies, we can spot common patterns, learn from their wins and losses, and draw inspiration from their innovations. 

We take into account and use advantages and rid of vulnerabilities. 

Competitor analysis also helps us fine-tune our strategy by showing us where we can make improvements. After all, the market mirrors what the audience wants.


UX research 

CJM / User flow 

To ace the architecture, you gotta start with the basics. That means diving deep into UX research. The first step? Crafting a customer journey map. It helps to define the dependencies of functions, and role management and gives us a visual roadmap of what needs to get done. 

User interviews 

User interviews are a super handy tool for digging deep into what users want, expect, encounter as problems, feel as pain points, and prefer. It's like a direct line to uncovering solutions that genuinely resonate with real humans. For us, it’s also an awesome opportunity to get on the same wavelength as our users and see the world from their perspective. 

Wireframes / Prototypes
Goodface agency - Wireframes_Prorotypes.png - Discovery Phase in Product Development – Goodface agency - goodface.agency

Then UX research slowly flows into the design phase. But before that step client has a quite wide window of opportunity. The timeframe largely depends on the project's terms and complexity. During this period, we can swiftly develop a series of wireframes outlining detailed user flows and system functionality. This phase is all about establishing structure but also allows us to outline the visual components, refine the functional requirements of the product, and segment the project into manageable release stages. 

Furthermore, we can even take it a step further by creating a clickable prototype and design concepts during this phase.


Specification 

Next up, we hit the specification phase, where we polish, document, and record the requirements. 

Tech stack 

Every project calls for its own set of tech tools. This is where our developers break down the tech necessities for each solution, covering programming languages, frameworks, databases, deployment environments, and more. 

Features description 

This part is all about detailing what the final product will be able to do. We're mapping out user features, admin capabilities, integrations with other systems, etc. 

Obligations and requirements 

At this step, we must define some requirements for the developing product, like safety, scalability, productivity, compatibility, and other key factors.


Now, let's explore the impact of the discovery stage on the project

Let's dive into two hypothetical cases: one in design and the other in development.

Development case 

Imagine we're tasked with creating a custom software solution. Let's explore how things might unfold.

Without discovery

Risks

Overlooking critical compliance and data security requirements for the project's industry. The development team decides on a technology stack that only partially supports needed compliance, thinking it's more cost-effective. 

Issues

Shortly after launch, it becomes apparent that the software doesn't meet industry-specific compliance standards, putting the business at risk of violating privacy laws and facing penalties. 

Result

The software requires significant backend rework to meet compliance standards, disrupting business operations. This oversight increases project costs substantially and damages the trust between the company and users of the product.


With discovery

Risks

The likelihood of overlooking compliance and security needs is minimized. Discovery insights ensure the selection of a technology stack that supports needed compliance and robust data security from the get-go.

Issues

By conducting thorough compliance checks and stakeholder interviews during the Discovery phase, the team aligns the software development with industry standards, preempting any compliance issues. 

Result

The software is developed with compliance and security of foundational elements, meeting the business's needs and regulatory requirements. This alignment boosts users' trust, enhances the company's reputation, and avoids the financial and time costs of post-launch fixes.

Goodface agency - Development case.png - Discovery Phase in Product Development – Goodface agency - goodface.agency

Design case 

Picture this: we're developing a web platform for a firm. Let's run through a couple of scenarios.

Without discovery

Risks

The lack of understanding of the client's audience. The team went for a bold, playful design, assuming it would make the platform stand out.

Issues

Upon launch, feedback shows that the vibrant design didn't sit well with the firm's clients, who prefer professionalism over playfulness. 

Result

The platform's design misses the mark for user expectations, getting down the firm's professional image. This mismatch could even cost them clients and lead to pricey redesigns.


With discovery

Risks

The chances of running into big trouble are way lower. With insights from the Discovery phase, the Design and Development teams will aim for a more subdued style and the right features that line up with industry norms. 

Issues

Due to user interviews and market research, we got ahead of what users were expecting, avoiding not meeting audience needs and, therefore, dodging negative feedback. 

Result

The business needs are aligned with user expectations, so the Design and Development efforts hit their targets, enhancing user satisfaction, solidifying the firm's pro image, and steering clear and avoiding costly redesigns.

Goodface agency - Design case.png - Discovery Phase in Product Development – Goodface agency - goodface.agency

Summary 

The discovery phase of a software project is the ground part of the project. It’s a serious process, that needs evolving experts from various fields: business analysis, design, and development. We advise you not to skip it; it’ll save a lot of money and time.

FAQ

How long should the discovery phase of a software product last?

The timeline varies based on the project's scale. On average, it takes a couple of weeks, sometimes even a couple of months. We need this time to go through all the necessary stages and ensure we deliver strong capabilities in the end. 

 

The point is, we've got to pin down the duration of the project early on. It's a strategic move that can't be postponed.

What do we end up with after wrapping up the discovery stage?

By the time this phase wraps, everything's on the table. The client knows the ETA, and the project plan, and better understands how much money it will cost, and what risks we're dodging thanks to this stage.

Can we skip the discovery phase?

We strongly advise against skipping it; doing so can save you time and money in the long run.


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