Table of content
- Development process: Step-by-step from idea to product
- What is the Project Discovery Phase
- What will you get from the discovery phase
- Final thoughts
Project Discovery Phase, Product Scoping, Product Analysis, etc. – do you wonder what all of that means?
The software development process might be overwhelming. I’ll try to explain to you how it works step by step, and, most importantly, I’ll help you determine if the Discovery Phase is something you really need or if it won’t have a significant impact on your app’s success.
Development process: Step-by-step from idea to product
Let’s imagine you wake up one morning with a great idea: You want to build a revolutionary application! It will have amazing features, will be useful, will solve people’s everyday problems, and for sure, you’ll have millions of users in a blink of an eye.
Sounds fantastic! What should you do with such a brilliant idea?
Market research (part of the Discovery Phase)
Maybe you want to build software for rating places, browsing hotels and restaurants, and leaving opinions. Sounds very useful, but I have to cool down your enthusiasm; there is already an application doing all of that and much more. It’s called TripAdvisor.
Does it mean you need to drop your idea and forget about it? No! You should analyze if it gives potential users something more or different than the competition offers. If you can’t figure out why someone would use your app if they have all the other similar products on the market, unfortunately, you should bury the idea and move on before you invest more time or money in the project without perspective.
I am sorry for such a pessimistic vision. However, the product discovery process doesn’t need to look like that. It might happen that there are no similar products on the market and you’ve just found a golden goose, or there are similar products, but you can still offer some unique value, and the idea is worth further investment. In this case, analyzing the competition helps you specify your idea or can be an inspiration for additional features.
Either way, without proper market and competition analysis during the project discovery phase, you can’t know if your app-to-be has any potential to become a successful product. Competitor research is the very first step not only for software development projects but for any venture, as it’s the best way to analyze your chances and opportunity to find some great inspiration.
Customer Analysis (part of the Discovery Phase)
After initial market research, you know what you can offer, but you still may not understand who will buy your software project, and why will they buy it.
When creating any product, it is crucial to understand your target audience. Who are they? What are their needs and desires? What are their problems and joys? What is their financial situation? What are their habits?
All of that will help you develop the best product and market strategies. Application design, set of features, and even used technologies depend on the target group. It also has a huge impact on how you will sell your product, what will be your monetization mechanism and what channels you will use to get to the customers.
Let’s take a look at an example.
When you’re creating a high-end application for purchasing designer bags, your audience will most likely use iPhones and care a lot about the application’s UI style. On the other hand, if you’re building a software development project for elderlies to order medications online, they most likely use medium-class Android devices, and UI simplicity is most important for them. In the first case, you can most likely reach potential users through social media marketing and influencers, while for the second group, you’ll need to use more old-fashioned marketing strategies or reach their relatives and caregivers first.
As you can see, the target audience defines the whole approach to building (and promoting) a software product. This is why it is so important to take care of the discovery stage in the project initiation.
The right (or wrong) definition of the end-users can determine the app’s success. That’s why I think this is the most important one of all the steps in the product creation process.
Business Planning (part of the Discovery Phase)
The next step towards your own application should be planning and reviewing your goals. Nobody wants to lose money, right? Business analysis helps you establish goals for the product and put them in a financial perspective. Our clients usually do it themselves, but we always step in whenever our experience or knowledge comes in handy.
The discovery phase business analysis should answer the two questions:
- how much time and money will you (or other investors) put into this project?
- how much money (or other profits) do you (or other beneficiaries) expect to get out of this project, and in what timeframe?
Of course, to answer those questions, you need to figure out a lot of things about the project.
You need to know how much the project will cost and what is the realistic timeline for its realization. This might be tricky to do on your own, and I’d suggest asking experts for advice because if you underestimate it, the whole project’s success hangs by a thread.
Also, don’t forget that building software is not the end of expenses. Database, servers, maintenance, further development, and marketing all come with a price.
To estimate the return on investment, you need to figure out how the project will bring you money. In other words, what will be its monetization model? It might be a simple buy to use, where you charge users once before downloading the app, or you can decide on a subscription model popular for a SaaS platform or use a more complex mechanism based on advertisers and sponsors.
The hardest part (in my opinion) is to estimate how much money you can actually make and in what timeframe. This requires deep knowledge of the market, analysis of similar products, and predictions of the application userbase growth.
Proper business analysis helps you understand the risk you’re about to take with your software project. It’s also a good moment to think about external investors or to revalidate if you want to jump into this investment at all. Assuming you do, let’s see what the next steps are.
Project Scoping (part of the Discovery Phase)
At this stage, you should know who your go-to user is, what is the most important thing you offer them, and how you will make money on the product. Now’s time to start diving deeper into the application details and figure out what exactly users can do there.
Usually, I recommend creating user flows and stories for everything that users can do in the application. This will be the foundation to build wireframes and, eventually, a prototype that you can test on small user groups (which I strongly recommend doing in this phase of the project timeline).
Why is this stage important?
We create user stories to define what functionalities the application will have and what exactly users can do. Wireframes are the next step, it’s a low-fidelity design already defining what pages (screens) we need, what elements are on each page, and how a user can navigate through them and make use of all the features we prepared. Creating wireframes is designing the whole user experience of our software project. It’s not colourful and pretty yet, but it’s defining the most important layer of the app – functionality.
The next step of the project discovery phase after creating the wireframes is a clickable prototype. To build it, we connect the views with each other in tools like Figma, and as a result, we can see a well-defined user journey. Creating a prototype brings you two values. Most importantly, you can visually represent all the actions end users will perform in the application, which is a great check of the application’s logic and usability (it’s great to check during the project discovery phase, isn’t it?). The second value is that you have a very nice piece of work that can be easily presented to potential investors to gather external funds or to a testing group to gather feedback (but more about it in the next section).
Well-prepared user stories and wireframes at the point of discovery stage are also a huge help for estimating the project cost, so after having it ready, you can revisit your business plan and check if the expected cost of investment has not changed.
Idea validation (part of the Discovery Phase)
Now that you have a prototype or at least wireframes that you can show to the world, do it. The sooner you gather feedback about your ideas, the better product you can create, so, go for it! It usually lies at the client’s side of responsibilities, but it truly depends on the project, the company you work with and how much you want to engage in the whole process yourself.
I put this step here because this is the first moment you can check the idea against external users, but my strong recommendation is to discuss the idea over and over again with your friends, family, and coworkers.
Every feedback should be analyzed and forged into actions. Don’t be afraid to change the planned functionalities. The end-users are the ones who will use it, so they know best. Building a software product is a process of iterations; you mustn’t be afraid of that.
UI Design (not included in the Discovery Phase)
Designing an application, UI is one of the most satisfying parts of the process. This is when you can see your idea visualized and finally coming into shape. Of course, it’s not usable yet, but a good prototype lets you envision the final product. It is another great opportunity to present it to a testing group and gather feedback.
If you’re interested in how the design process looks, I recommend Patrycja’s article on that topic.
Architecture Design (might be a part of the Discovery Phase)
Simultaneously, a solution architect can start working on a technical analysis of your product. Good architecture design is crucial to minimize technical debt in the future and helps optimize maintenance costs.
Again, after this step, I’d suggest revisiting the project estimate, as knowing more details allows you to better estimate the development cost.
Software development & QA testing (not included in the Discovery Phase)
Finally, software development. The moment when your application is coming to life. It takes time, but the results are a dream come true.
I don’t want this article to be infinite, so I’ll prepare another one for you about how to get through the development process, what terms you need to know before starting, and how to get along with the dev team 😉
User Testing and Production Release
The development team has finished the work, so now it’s time to show the product to the world! Believe me, this can be an exciting moment. This is why before the fireworks and full-blown marketing, I (as a project manager) recommend a bit of user testing once again.
Again? Yes! Testing, gathering feedback, making sure that everything works smoothly, and readjusting the product are key to success.
I don’t mean that you should hide the app from the public until it’s shiny and perfect. Quite the contrary. It would help if you showed it to as many people as possible but do it in a controlled way. Make sure that when you’re presenting an MVP, the users expect an MVP and not a polished and mature product like Instagram or Uber.
When is the right time to release the app? As soon as it won’t scare the users. I’m a huge advocate of releasing rather sooner than later because I’m a fan of user-driven software development. It allows you to gather users, you have something to show to potential investors, and, most importantly, you have a source of feedback that allows you to create features people need and not waste money on irrelevant ideas.
Further development and maintenance
After the app is released, you can just drink tea and count profits.
Yeah, I wish.
In reality, it is the end of the most stressful and pricy part of building an application, but great products require constant improvements and further development. Don’t worry, if you select the right team to work with, you can still drink tea, and they will handle the rest.
What is the Project Discovery Phase
As you can see, there are many steps to go from an idea to a ready product, and I guess it might sound a bit overwhelming. This is why many software houses offer something called Project Discovery Phase. As they have more experience with building software projects, their discovery teams can help you with all the steps described in the previous section.
A project discovery phase is when a team of specialists makes the market, business, and product analysis for your idea with you. They help you cover the following points from the software development process:
- Market research,
- Customer analysis,
- Business plan,
- Project scoping,
- Idea validation,
- and Architecture Design.
A goal of a discovery phase
The main goal of the discovery phase is to prepare the project for the development process. A team of specialists will help you analyze the market, create user personas and build a business plan. They will advise you on the scope of the project, create wireframes and help test it against potential users. The solution architect will help you select the best-suited technology stack.
In my experience, a discovery phase can take from 2 up to even 10-12 weeks, depending on the project size and complexity. But worry not, it rarely gets THAT complicated 🙂
The discovery team
The discovery team combines the skills of a project manager, business analyst, UX/UI designer, and solution architect.
As the success of the whole project strongly depends on this phase, the discovery stage team should be well-qualified and experienced. Yes, it comes with a price, but it can help you avoid spending a lot more money on an application that nobody will use or just on poorly designed features.
What will you get from the discovery phase
Each software house will offer you a bit different outtakes from the project discovery phase because every discovery team uses slightly different tools. The elements that you can usually expect to see are workshops, user personas, and wireframes. I can tell you a bit about how TeaCode performs the discovery phase and what results we are offering.
The whole discovery phase is a combination of project managers-product owners workshops and the work of our specialists. We know that this is your idea and until you explicitly ask us to handle it differently, all the decisions are yours. We try to work closely with our clients on workshop sessions. In between the sessions, our specialists work on the analysis and materials, which we discuss together during the workshops. The cycle continues until we gather all the information and documents to start the UI design or the development process.
Below I described what value our discovery team delivers in each of the product creation areas.
During the project discovery stage, will help you with the competitor research and analyze the markets you want to target.
As a result, you’ll get a list of the most important competitors with information if your product stands out and what is your unique value proposition.
The competitor research allows us to provide advice for the project scope, what best things you can take from the competition, and which of their weaknesses you can improve in your product.
To define the target audience of the application, we like to use user personas.
Target audience definition allows us also to determine the potential size of the user database and how they will be using your software. This is very important for architecture design, maintenance costs estimate, and ROI estimate.
Scoping is my favorite part of the project discovery phase because this is when from a bunch of ideas emerges the first product draft. It’s also the part that requires the most workshops and iterations, so prepare to be patient.
As a result of scoping stage, we deliver user flows and wireframes. Optionally, we can connect the wireframes into a prototype, which is particularly useful if you want to perform tests on an external user group (which is highly recommended).
Scoping is also a place for validating ideas. We can advise you on how to test the idea against the target audience, and we’ll help you draw conclusions from their feedback.
It’s the developers that built TeaCode, so technical expertise is the core of our company. We can help you select the best technologies for your project’s needs and design the architecture setup. During the discovery phase, we can also advise you on what is possible, what is easy to develop, and what will be very pricy, so in the end, you can get a selection of the features with the best value-to-price score.
Additionally, if your project requires it, our solution architects can create a full database structure design, plan all the API functions and suggest the best 3rd party tools when needed. Although, I’m not a fan of planning the whole project in advance because, in my experience, the requirements always change during the development process, so there is no point in wasting time and money to plan every single detail.
Finally, we can estimate the project development process and the software maintenance costs. Our business analyst will be able to help you choose the best monetization model for your platform.
We know that you might prefer to gather your own software development team or proceed with the development in any other way. That’s why we provide all of the deliverables from the discovery phase in a form that you can just take to a different development team, and they can start coding right away.
I’ve promised to answer the question of whether the project discovery phase really is a useful service worth your money or is it just an addition that may not make a difference, so let’s try to answer that.
Can you do it all by yourself? It depends on your experience and knowledge of the business and software development processes. It all is more complicated than it seems and even an online project discovery checklist may not be enough.
If you have no experience with house building, would you design and build one by yourself after watching a couple of YouTube tutorials? I doubt it because the risk is too high and the costs are too big. Building a software application is very similar. Unfortunately, the fact that you use many applications doesn’t make you a software development expert. Software development might be a bit less pricy than building a house, but it is still a huge investment.
Because of all of that, I think the discovery phase run by professionals is worth the investment. It can help you build a much better product and avoid unnecessary costs.
If you have any questions feel free to contact me on LinkedIn or via email.
Good luck with your amazing project!
Gabriela is a lead project manager and keeps in mind that the crucial thing in project management is always seeing the business objectives. She takes care of clients' business outcomes, and that's why clients usually give her a lot of independence.
As a web developer, she understands teammates, which is an asset in project management. UX designer background is handy when clients ask her for advice or consult their app ideas. Having this knowledge, she can address their confusedness or curiosity.
Data analysis and research have no secrets from her as she's a physicist. She knows how to discover data patterns and dependencies, which brings additional value to her everyday work.