Development process

Mastering the Discovery Phase: A Definitive Guide to Project Success in 2023

Marketing Manager

Sikorskaya Kate

Marketing Manager

June 14
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The discovery phase is a crucial step in the project development process, as it helps to prevent the natural temptation to take your idea and immediately turn it into an app without adequate planning. As many other companies have experienced, skipping the discovery phase often leads to the following mistakes: creation of a product that does not adequately solve a problem or meet customer demands, budget overruns, scope creep. 

According to a recent research from McKinsey, almost a half of software or mobile development projects end up demanding more money as it was initially planned. This is a common problem of most startups and those companies that want to launch an app but don't really have a clear picture about product requirements. Having extensive experience working with startups, SolveIt can confidently state that without the discovery phase, a product is almost doomed to failure. 

The harsh truth is that the lack of preliminary planning can eventually turn any great project into a sinking Titanic leading to constant budget overruns, broken deadlines, and increased risks of failure. Our practical experience shows that 90% of the time the so-called “discovery phase” works as a very effective solution, especially if done by a team of experts.

In this blog post, we'll talk about the importance of the project discovery phase in the process of product development, its goals, steps, and deliverables.

What is a discovery phase in a project?

Discovery phase is the preliminary stage of a software development project. During this phase, the experts conduct in-depth market research, analyze the client's business goals, create functional and non-functional requirements for the future product.

“I believe that a discovery phase is an integral part of any project: a startup building realizing its unique idea or a software product development for an established business. 

Each project should begin with the definition of the needs: whether it is a problem or a potential business opportunity. Not always the solutions requested by stakeholders are the very tools they need to meet their real business needs. The discovery phase is here to determine the most relevant solution for each case.”

— Waleriya Bagnyuk-Yurkantovich, Business Analyst at SolveIt.

This results of the discovery phase in a set of documentation like a detailed description & overview of the whole digital product development process (product vision, technologies that should be used, integrations, product architecture, etc.). Also, the discovery stage includes creating a design concept, interactive prototype, and roadmap to draw the most clear picture of the final outcome. The main goal of the project discovery phase is to stay as close as possible to client’s expectations and fulfill all product requirements.

What is product discovery process?

Even though most software development companies already have the discovery phase included in their development process most of the time, it’s a simplified version of the actual discovery. In other words, they won’t be focusing much on market research & analysis. And users’ needs will be studied just to a certain extent.

Needless to say, reputable agencies like SolveIt won’t even consider working with clients without a discovery phase. The reason is to avoid the potential risks, downfalls, and mutual misunderstandings which 99% of the time will come up during product development.

Read Also Mobile app development process: step-by-step guide

Why discovery phase is crucial for your project?

Yes, in some cases the project discovery phase may seem time-consuming and resource-intensive. But, at the same time, it works very effectively for determining the project's timeline, budget, final product requirements, and specifications.

Moreover, it often helps to reduce the cost of development because it helps to identify clearly what features have to be in the first MVP and what can be added to the future iterations. For example, a discovery phase performed by SolveIt helped to reduce the cost of medical mobile app development by 25% for one of our clients.

Medical app case study

What specialists are involved in the discovery phase?

Commonly, a project discovery team consists of 3-5 specialists: Business Analyst, Tech Consultant or Architect, Designer, Project Manager (sometimes, a Business Analyst may take on PM’s tasks), and a certain specialist (like industry expert) needed for a particular project.

Business Analyst collects all the necessary data from a client and market. Subsequently, a Business Analyst will interpret data into actionable insights, functional and non-functional requirements.

Designers use the results of the business analysis to create a design concept to target the audience and build wireframes using user journeys. Designer also creates a working prototype to test user experience prior to product development.

Tech Analysts evaluate the project from the developer’s point of view and analyze the technical part of the project like best tools, platforms, and other effective technical solutions. Technical analysts will propose the infrastructure and development approach the most suitable for your product.

Project discovery phase

How does SolveIt conduct the discovery phase?

The discovery phase serves as the starting point for 90% of development projects at SolveIt. Now, let’s go into more details and talk about how everything works in the discovery phase at every step of the way.

Discovery phase steps

Step 1: Introduction

If a client decides to start collaborating with us, we arrange a preliminary intro call with a Business Analyst. This specialist then gathers initial requirements to understand the idea, the current state of the client’s business, main goals, as well as future product value.

Step 2: Analysis and research

This step of the discovery phase includes the meticulous market research including analysis of industry trends and problems in order to get a general idea about the market state and motivation of the client’s target audience. This step also involves studying and analyzing competitors for having a clear idea how to make a competitive solution that will be capable of winning a decent portion of the market.

Step 3: Design

Designer creates a design concept and builds wireframes or a prototype using user journeys. This ensures that user experience will go smoothly while the client can change the concept any time prior to estimation and development, including app design cost considerations.

Step 4: Technical analysis

Tech architect creates a scope of documents in accordance with all the requirements involved in the project. The clearer and more detailed these requirements are, the better all the process participants understand what the product should look like.

Step 5: Presentation and deliverables

After completing all stages of the discovery phase with all necessary data & insights being initiated in the set of documents, now is the time to meet up with the client. The company arranges a meeting to discuss the details and provide the product vision from the business and technical points of view. If the client accepts the project proposal with estimated financial and time investments, the company goes ahead and jumps into the MVP development.


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Discovery phase deliverables

Once the required data is collected and thoroughly analyzed, the team is ready to provide the client with a pool of documents required for further development. These documents give a clear understanding of the product’s vision, structure, and functionality of the product. It allows you to review the concept, as well as understand the cost and timing of development.

  1. Vision and Scope document includes data derived from market research & analysis, numbers, and trends to provide clients with an action plan.
  2. SRS (Software Requirements and Specification) lists all tech specifications and functionality that are required for upcoming product development.
  3. ERD diagram which illustrates business objects such as people/roles (e.g. end users), tangible business objects (e.g. product), intangible business objects (e.g. log), etc. Infrastructure diagrams show how these entities relate to each other within the system.
  4. 3rd parties integration document describes in-details all necessary integrations including costs and additional comments. This document helps the client to decide on what services he really needs to be integrated with the product.
  5. Design concept describes a future product through images, sketches, written statements which helps a client, designers and developers to stay on track all across the creative methods.
  6. Prototype - an interactive model that looks and works just like an actual product and proves a concept.
  7. Proposal - a strategic document with a step-by-step development plan and the estimation time/money for the future workflow.

How long does the project discovery phase last?

Typically, the discovery phase takes about 2 to 8 weeks.

The total length of the discovery phase depends on the project complexity and the level of expertise of the company that works on the discovery process. For instance, if we talk about developing a custom software product for an enterprise to automate in-house processes, the discovery phase in this case may take up to 1,5 month or even longer.

On the other hand, the discovery phase for digital products, which don’t require any complex technologies or integrations, in most cases takes less than a month.

Cost of the discovery phase

Generally, discovery phase cost takes up to 10-40% of the total project budget. A very simple discovery phase may cost about $5,000.

At SolveIt, the cost of a discovery phase starts around $7,500 and varies depending on the project complexity. We propose three tailored packages to various objectives: for startups, to build a product for business, and to develop custom software for business automation. There is also an option to craft and calculate custom project discovery phase.

The discovery phase, if it’s been worked through responsibly, becomes a powerful tool that shapes an idea into a detailed and well-structured plan of actions. This plan would even boost chances for any startup to get investments from a third party to proceed with the development.

What are the benefits of the discovery process?

1. Clear goals and product vision

Conducting thorough research, market and competitors analysis, gives valuable insights to the project team. All this helps the team at collecting information about the project to identify its vision, goals, and scope.

2. A deep understanding of the target market and user needs

This includes gathering information from potential users through surveys, interviews and usability testing, competitor and market analysis. An accurate understanding of the target audience's pain points helps to make decisions and develop a product that is tailored to user needs and market requirements. 

3. Detailed product architecture

The discovery phase aims to define specific goals that contribute to project success. A well-designed product architecture established during the discovery phase sets up a foundation for product scaling in the future. A detailed product architecture includes technical considerations, features, and specific product functionalities.

4. Defined technologies and seamless integrations

The project team carefully takes into consideration the project's technical requirements and objectives to define technologies that should be used in the development stage. Additionally, the discovery phase involves identifying and planning integrations with external systems or platforms.

5. Reduced development cost and less of a risk

The discovery phase reduces risks and development costs by providing a precise product description and minimizing changes during the development stage. Project managers can assign the appropriate individuals to specific tasks within the project, taking into account the previous discussions and insights.  

6. Effective product roadmap

Product roadmap is one of the key deliverables produced during the discovery phase. This strategic plan includes product goals, features, assigned deadlines, prioritization and sequencing, dependencies and integrations, and a release plan.

7. Procurement Cycle

Efficient procurement is crucial for successful software development. This process involves selecting the right supplier to meet specific needs, consistently assessing supplier performance, and negotiating contracts for maximum value at competitive prices. Maintaining each stage of the procurement cycle from the start is essential for smooth operations and positive results.

What problems you may face if you skip discovery phase?

1. Insufficient investment estimation

Skipping the discovery phase can cause the problems of underestimating the necessary investments, resulting in financial challenges and potential budget overruns.

2. Changes in functionality and requirements

If your team decides to skip the discovery phase you should be ready for frequent changes and adjustments in functionality and requirements during the development stage. It can cause difficulties between the team and stakeholders

3. Unnecessary work

With thorough planning, a product roadmap, and the right objectives set up during the discovery phase, you have no risk of engaging in unnecessary work. However, skipping the discovery phase causes a product with no measurable and ending results. This leads to a never-ending scope of work.

4. Overused budget

The lack of in-depth understanding of project requirements and scope can result in greater expenses and exceeding the allocated budget. 

5. Market value risk    

To make a product succeed, make sure to validate your idea and how it aligns with your target audience needs. If the discovery phase is skipped, there is a high risk of developing a final product that no one needs.

why is the discovery phase important


Clients often tend to omit the discovery phase thinking that this stage is unimportant. In reality, when it comes down to practical work, the discovery process works incredibly well for getting the clearest product vision/strategy and obtaining a precise development plan with all necessary specifications already listed in there.

Discovery phase helps to dive into the development workflow with confidence knowing that all risks have been carefully thought through and minimized. Most importantly, the client is 100% sure that all processes connected to product development will stay within the budget and meet deadlines.

As of our development approach at SolveIt, it’s tied to the business needs of every client. Contact us for detailed information on our product discovery phase services!


Discovery Phase FAQ

What is the discovery phase of a project?

The discovery phase refers to the initial stage of a software development project where the team conducts activities to identify and define the project's goals and objectives. During the discovery phase, the project team gathers relevant data and research to gain an understanding of the project's requirements, constraints, and potential opportunities. This information helps in clarifying the project's goals and scope, as well as identifying any potential challenges or limitations that may impact its successful implementation.

What happens if you skip the discovery phase?

Skipping the discovery phase of a project can have detrimental consequences. While it may be tempting to neglect this crucial step and jump straight into execution, it often leads to failure in the long run. Projects that lack structure or fail to identify the correct goals have higher chances of failure due to insufficient investigation. By skipping or rushing through the discovery phase, you put your entire project at risk.

How long does the discovery phase take?

The discovery phase can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks or even months. The duration of the discovery phase varies depending on factors such as project complexity and scope of work.

How much does a discovery phase cost?

The range for discovery phase costs typically falls between $5,000 and $15,000. It's important to note that the price you need to pay for the discovery phase can vary based on factors such as the scope of work, the expertise required, and the extent of research and analysis involved. For instance, at SolveIt  the discovery phase for startups costs around $7,500, and there are different packages available.

Read more

What are the steps in the discovery phase?

The stages of the discovery phase can vary depending on the project and methodology. Generally, the discovery phase involves steps such as team creation,  requirements gathering, analysis and research, design, presentation, and deliverables. These stages help establish a project foundation, inform decision-making, and facilitate effective communication with stakeholders.