Development Oct 15, 2021

Discovery Phase: Definition, Main Deliverables and Why is it Important?

Rigorous planning in software development is a prerequisite to the product's success. Hard statistics provided by McKinsey support it: almost half of the projects suffer from overspending. Moreover, according to the 2010 research, around 63% of projects failed, while 21% were canceled. The following infographics show that the team's skills deficiency is not the primary reason for the project’s failure. Unclear focus and requirements, which are precisely a subject of planning — it is what impacts a project's errorless flow.

Yet, many IT developers still disregard scoping and underestimate the project manager's impact. In this article, we will continue to stress the importance of meticulous planning, focusing on the primal stage: a discovery phase. 

Our mission at DataXDev is to address the gap between your idea and a successful, engaging, marketable final product. Our core values are partnership, mutual understanding, and trust. To ensure that, we always make sure to establish a discovery phase. With this article, we will try to show why the project discovery phase is an indispensable part of the project.

Definition of the discovery phase

Some managers who are not exactly comfortable with the term project management discovery phase. To some, this term feels pretentious and not informative. Other names you might come across are the preparation phase, discovery stage, or preliminary scoping. To avoid confusion, we will stick to the most variant of the popular term. 

So what is a discovery phase definition? If you were to define this preliminary phase with one sentence, you would fail. One can drive parallels with scoping, but it is not entirely accurate. A discovery phase occurs before scoping. A discovery phase, which is skipped in many (not very successful projects) is aimed to deliver a lot of results. So instead of simplifying this term, we want to unravel the discussed stage deliverables:

  • Analyze target audience and stakeholders requirements
  • Identify project’s value
  • Familiarize specialists with project’s course and outcome
  • Make sure stakeholders are on board with the requirements, prototypes, and final results
  • Determine the product’s success measurements

The complexity of planning correlates with the complexity of the final product and the number of specialists involved. One thing remains the same: no matter how convoluted and twisted your project design is: a necessity of a discovery phase of a software project.

The benefits and reasons for the discovery phase

We know how it is: when the client chooses between multiple vendors, you do not want to scare him with an additional cost and an extra month of required work. Yet,  it is simply impossible to proceed without a clear understanding (both for the developer and a client) of the project's goal and how it will be achieved. Eliding this stage can lead to:

  • Prototype dissatisfaction and rejection. If a client and a developers team have not brainstormed the ‘ideal’ product result before, many issues will occur in the process. It is highly unlikely that a team can randomly guess the features the client had in mind and magically meet his expectations.  
  • Unexpected budget changes. Unclear requirements and goals will lead to many misunderstandings in the production. 
  • Scheduling catastrophe. As you have already guessed, the following obstacles will make managers extend deadlines repeatedly. 

Sincere apologies if we scared you with our pessimistic predictions. Do not worry. They only concern those who have in mind to ignore the discovery stage. Nevertheless, we do not exaggerate problems that may occur if one chooses to neglect stage discovery. 

To make a smooth shift from a negative (or even scary) note, here is a direct and coherent list of benefits of including the discussed process in your project plan:

  • Risk Minimization
  • Transparent Product Vision
  • Well-Adjusted Communication
  • Clear understanding of resources and budget requirements
  • Optimized Time and Human resources

The procedure for the discovery phase

Those successful project leaders who acknowledge the importance of discovery phase deliverables are aware that before it comes to preparation. Perhaps you are getting tired from all the talk about the necessity of planning. We know: why are there so many 'stages' and 'steps'? Nevertheless, we will remind you that the golden rule of a flourishing project is rigorous planning. So here are the steps one should take before developing discovery phase activities. 

  • Identify and establish contact with those in charge and/or specialists you will be working with during the project discovery phase.
  • Brief your project manager on the data you already know and have a preliminary discussion about the stage timeframe/limitations.
  • Discuss and finalize budgeting for the discovery stage.
  • Make sure you have all the numbers, like a ballpark figure. 

There are simple, already apparent to some professionals, steps. Nevertheless, its completion guarantees you a smooth passage of the software development discovery phase.

The role of the discovery stage

Forth and foremost, a discovery phase is about communication. It is an insightful set of sessions that ensures proactive communication between stakeholders, users, designers, developers, analysts, and managers. Here are the milestones of a discovery phase in software development:

  • Determine objectives
  • Determine what constitutes a successful outcome
  • User research
  • Customer journey map
  • Identify competitors
  • Document outcomes

In some cases, truly well-budgeted discovery sessions can already have the following goals on their agenda:

  • Interface sketching
  • Mockups
  • Preliminary prototypes

In the following paragraphs, we will try to provide you with a clear requirement of each milestone: what should be achieved at each sub-stage? These stages do not necessarily go in the presented order, the sequence may change, or you can find yourself at multiple sub-stages at the same time.

Determine your company's objectives

The goal of this sub-stage is to determine the business objectives and ideas behind the product. You can facilitate this stage by answering the following questions:

  • Who is your user?
  • What is my organization's structure?
  • What is the project’s business value/aim?

At this stage, it is vital not to be tied to assumptions and not-yet-tested solutions. Be critical of what you already know. That is precisely why you have a discovery stage – to brainstorm hypotheses and play with them. It will be too late for this in the later stages of the project.

Recognize what constitutes a successful outcome

We already stressed the importance of communication and mutual understanding. All the concerns, issues, and juxtapositions should be voiced (and resolved) at the discovery phase of a software project. When you identify users, stakeholders and values, as well as features, it is time to estimate what will compose the desired product.

Conduct user research

At this somewhat flexible and creative stage, you have an opportunity to test your hypothesis against your target user. Be cautious about assumptions: the hypothesis is not just a statement. Drawn from a question, it is an analytical and investigative proposition. A hypothesis example looks like this: 

  • We can meet the specific goal, if the certain specialist, will solve the user problem with a concrete feature/solution

At this stage, it is vital to identify reliable sources and methods. There are numerous methods to conduct user research: interviews, surveys, focus groups, monitoring. We will not elaborate on this subject right now. What we want to highlight is that it is useful to create clickable prototypes in the earliest stage. Seeing this tangible result helps the team be on the same page and notifies a customer if you are going in the opposite direction from their ideas. This quote by Jeff Gothelf from his book “Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience” helps to see how business solution, customer journey, and hypothesis are entangled:

Each design is a proposed business solution - a hypothesis. Your goal is to validate the proposed solution as efficiently as possible by using customer feedback.

Create a customer journey map

The customer journey map is a descriptive and symbolic infographic of what is going on in the user's mind when interacting with your product. A clear understanding of a customer journey shapes the product and its features. Thus, it is directly linked to budgeting and scoping. The deliverables of customer journey mappings are:

  • Boosted customer engagement
  • Tested and removed ineffective touchpoints
  • Tangible assessment of ROI 

A visual user journey mapping allows bringing a hypothesis-driven design to a new level. It is a prerequisite for ensuring a transparent, user-tailored product.


The discovery stage is coming to an end, and everyone involved in the activity came to terms with the project's plan. You finally feel solace filling the room (or a Zoom meeting). Now it is time for that final push: define the end product by documenting all the discussed insights. This document should include:

  • Spec which determines the scope and requirements.
  • Project roadmap with schedules
  • Quotation
  • Design concept/prototypes
  • Customer journey map
  • Preliminary architecture
  • Product owner list
  • Defined values and goals

It is common to have a separate technical document compiled by BA and the lead developer. This document lists and specifies all the functional requirements for the project. Often this report – Software Requirements Specifications – is the only thing that is documented. So the decision on how to record or ‘cement’ the discovery session is yours.

Roles and responsibilities of the discovery phase team

The process of the stage is sound and clear, but who is involved at the discovery phase in software development? We have an answer for you. Keep in mind that based on the project complexity, budget and the intricacies of the product, the volume of a discovery team may vary. A basic team of Business Analysts, Project Manager and Account Manager can sometimes spread to Designer, Scrum Master, User Researcher, etc.

  • Business Analyst – a task of discovery phase business analysis is to define key stakeholders and users. Moreover, BA has to identify problems and risks that may occur through the project lifecycle. Identifying stakeholders and users, BA is highly responsible for deconstructing all the "wants" and ideas about the project and turning them into the product vision statement.
  • Developer – it goes without saying that a senior developer overlooks the tech requirements necessary at this stage. As a result of this activity, lead developers will analyze artifacts and come up with architectural solutions for the given idea.    
  • Designer – to build an engaging, user-friendly prototype, the designer needs to analyze. If the budget and timeframe of a discovery phase allow it, they will create preliminary clickable prototypes. 
  • Project Manager – firstly, it is most likely that a project manager initiated this gathering and dragged everyone to work a month before the project began. So how can they not come? We are only joking. At this stage, the project manager oversees the usual activities: scheduling, managing and documenting sessions, ensuring fruitful communication between specialists.

Discovery phase deliverables

If we were to summarize the expected product of the discovery phase project plan, we would use two simple words: a clear scope. Here is a more concrete list of deliverables expected after the completion of the discussed stage:

  • Transparent product vision
  • Justified idea and goals
  • Accessed and predicted risks and pitfalls
  • A better understanding of the customer's needs
  • A better understanding of how to satisfy market requirements
  • Rigorous analysis of a competitor's product allows you to explore how to beat the competitor's product
  • Preliminary Prototype
  • Project Budget Quotation  

Beautiful, isn't it? Yes, adding the discovery phase to your project will definitely add cost and delay the beginning of development. But the benefits of this stage overcome these 'complications'. We sincerely hope that we convinced you to say "yes!" to the discovery phase proposal for those who were in doubt. And for those who already were considering themselves discovery phase fans, we hope to provide sufficient tools and arguments to justify the necessity of this 'extra spending'. To conclude, we would like to say that it is time to accept the fact that the project management discovery phase is not something ‘extra’ – it is a necessity. We hope that this article could in some way reshape the ideas about software development project phases.

The discovery phase importance in product development

The project discovery stage allows the product's vision to expand and establish a collaborative approach within a team. This stage gives a unique room for inventiveness and collective discovery of the wider context.   

The discovery phase is sort of an epistemology of a project. Pardon the academic jargon, but as epistemology is knowledge about knowledge, a discovery phase is planning your work. You deliver how the project will go and what drives your project.

Wrapping Up: Discovery Phase at DataXDev

In this article, we sing praise to the project management discovery phase. We discussed the value of this preliminary stage, its deliverables, specialists involved, and ways to facilitate the project discovery. We showed you why it is not recommended to skip discovery and why these sessions are worth every cent in the long run. No matter how simple or complicated your project is: from the tip location systems for healthcare to automated platforms for the renting services, a discovery stage is a necessity. We at DataXDev believe that commitment and transparency bring the best results. One way to ensure that is to keep the customer on board and have a deep understanding of their needs. That is why we are so rigorous when it comes to the discovery stage. Let’s discover your idea!

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