Why is a Discovery Phase Essential for Project Success?

You have an idea for a software project that will have a big impact on your business. Before jumping into the design and development it is crucial to understand exactly what problems it addresses, who the target audience is, if the solution will genuinely add value and a number of other key factors. This is why a Discovery Phase is an integral part of the project lifecycle. It bridges the gap between a concept and its realisation and defines success.

What is Discovery in project management and why does it matter?  

Project discovery is the initial step of project development (check out other services we offer). It’s aimed at collecting information about the project to identify its Vision, Goals, and Scope. Let’s take a look at why this phase really matters for project success.


According to Mckinsey research on implementing software projects, an average large IT project overruns its budget by 45% while benefits shortfall is 56% less than expected.

The Discovery phase is helpful to:

  • Better identify project scope and goals resulting in a more accurate estimate
  • Make design decisions based on data, not assumptions
  • Help ensure a higher return on investment 
  • Create a user-oriented experience
  • Avoid the need for making costly changes during advanced stages of the development process
  • Involve in-house specialists at an early stage to maximise the impact of their familiarity with the problem to be solved 

Skipping discovery can result in the following:

  • Never-ending scope creep. A lack of measurable expected results can cause constant extensions to project duration which delay release.
  • Climbing costs. Blurred goals and requirements generate changes in direction with further associated cost increases.
  • Missed deadlines. Without precise project boundaries, the development timeline can easily stretch out, postponing launch. 
  • Project doesn’t meet your expectations. A misunderstanding at the initial stage of cooperation can lead to more confusion further down the line, wasting both time and money.

Discovery Preparation

Before the discovery phase begins, there are a few things that need to be in place, a short “pre-discovery phase” if you will. Here’s what it includes (and what it doesn’t):

  • Identify your business goal.
  • Identify who is fulfilling the role of service owner or main point of contact.
  • Provide your project manager with any existing information or documentation about the project, if they think there is anything missing which stops the project from moving into the discovery phase, they would let you know.
  • Receive a ballpark quote for the project. The main quote for the project will be estimated as part of the discovery phase. This rough figure can be used to help with the next point: 
  • Secure a budget for the discovery phase. While pre-discovery is essentially free of charge, the discovery phase includes the fulltime work of a team of specialists and you should expect to be billed for it. 
  • No need for research. The discovery phase includes a large research element, so you don’t need to run additional studies beforehand. You should though be ready to provide any existing project information you have available.

Discovery Team

As soon as pre-discovery is done and the budget is determined we build a Discovery team to help achieve our objectives. The team usually has four experts – Business Analyst,  Developer, UI/UX designer, and Project manager.

Who’s responsible for what?

The Business Analyst  – in cooperation with the client the business analyst prepares use cases and requirements for the project. This includes identifying the main aims of the project, who the users will be and how they will use the software etc.

The Developer – during the discovery phase the developer keeps tabs on which technologies will need to be employed. Our senior tech team will carry out additional research to make sure the tech solutions used are those best suited to solving client’s business challenges.

The UI/UX designer – this team member is in charge of creating a user experience in keeping with the projects aims. This is likely to include easy navigation, intuitive design, and a visually attractive project. She makes wireframes and prototypes to bring the product vision to life and make sure target users understand how to use the software.

Project Manager – the project manager is in charge of:

  • Scheduling and arranging client meetings
  • Making records of all the details discussed during the meetings
  • Ensuring productive engagement between the product discovery team and the development team.

Optionally, other specialists might also be involved in the discovery phase if their expertise is required.

Discovery Steps

The project discovery phase includes the following steps:

  1. Identifying the stakeholders. The listing should incorporate product owners,  administrators, end-users, investors, developers, or any other people involved in building or utilizing the final product. 
  2. Identifying business goals. This action helps to determine the main aim of your business solution, the problem that needs to be addressed within discovery to increase company productivity or boost revenues.
  3. Defining how to measure success. As the product owner, you should have a clear vision of the end product and make it clear to the team what the specific goals are that help to define project success.
  4. Project awareness. The team occasionally needs to be in touch with other people involved in the project to make sure all the requirements are successfully met.
  5. Checking existing research and documentation. If you already have any market survey results or user interviews, there is no need to waste time on extra discovery research. Provide the business analyst with the appropriate papers.
  6. Building a user journey and identifying the target audience. These tools will be helpful when creating the technical solution and help you to achieve your objectives via efficient marketing strategies. 
  7. Researching competitors. A market study allows us to figure out the pros and cons of existing products in the same or related niches. Thus, you will be able to find the niche your solution can occupy to engage customers. 
  8. Reviewing the data prepared so far and making a Software requirements specification. This process turns aggregated data from cold statistics into an applicable list of technical requirements. 
  9. Estimating the timeline and budget. The ultimate goal of the preparation is to reach the stage where the team can give an accurate estimate of the time and costs they need to create an MVP or full-scale product. 
  10. Creating Roadmap. The other essential document the discovery phase leads to is this full project timeline with specified milestones, deliverables and deadlines.

Some steps might be reordered or omitted if necessary. As a result, the duration and cost of the Discovery Phase will change.

Discovery phase sessions

Discovery sessions are the meetings between our team and yours when we: 

  • examine the domain area
  • explore your business processes 
  • learn about your expectations from the product
  • identify bottlenecks
  • define high-level solutions to meet the challenges and bottlenecks identified
  • specifying priorities and list a backlog
  • generate project roadmap

Remote interviews allow us to dig deeper into the knowledge and expectations of other stakeholders outside the core team:

With specialists from your wider team:

  • We might ask them to fill out a form with questions. In this way,  the interviewees are not distracted from work and can provide us with information at their convenience. 

With product users:

  • If your project already has some users, you might come up with a questionnaire for them to complete and give their feedback on the product. 
  • A/B testing is sometimes appropriate to find out what users prefer. 
  • Additionally, user feedback can be collected with the help of tools like Hotjar, Google Analytics or similar services.

Duration and price

Conventionally, project managers split a project’s life cycle into five phases: initiation, planning, execution, control, and closure. Within this model, Discovery should be understood as a core element of the project initiation and planning phases, bridging the gap between the two. 

Within the modern Agile management framework, Discovery Phase is usually placed in the first sprint. It helps to clarify how well a development team and client understand each other from the beginning. 

The discovery phase can last from a couple of days to a couple of weeks or even months depending on the project complexity and scope of work. The average time frames are:

For a small project — 1-3 days.

For a medium project — 1-2 weeks.

For a large project — at least 3-4 weeks or more.

The billing is carried out according to a fixed price or on a time & material model based on hourly rates and the working time of all members of the discovery team involved in the process. 

Discovery phase deliverables

Discovery phase deliverables might vary according to the project size, complexity, phase and degree of urgency. As a result of the Discovery Phase you should receive the following items (depending on the needs of the project at a particular time ): 

  • Software requirements specification (SRS). This is a document fully describing the project, feature set, recommended tech stack and architecture outline. Review it and suggest changes before approving it.
  • Preliminary UX prototype. Long before the development team starts working on the project, you will get a simplified representation of the future interface and its core features. Along with the SRS, it provides insights into how the software will function once it is finished.
  • Development roadmap and estimates. You will receive a recommended team lineup, an estimate of the development budget (see how we make fixed price estimates) and deadline. The final numbers calculated during the client discovery phase are unlikely to change (unless the project scope significantly changes during the process of development)
  • Discovery phase proposal. A development process proposal based on Discovery conclusions will help ensure that the project team will create a product that meets all the client’s requirements and needs.

Building a great house requires a solid foundation. A Discovery Phase helps to clarify the project vision and minimise development risks. It empowers the team to implement the project just as it was intended.