It’s time to stop ignoring the Discovery Phase

Why you should invest in Discovery for your digital product

Discovery is a crucial part of a digital project’s lifecycle because it’s where we collectively discover and share knowledge about a project’s goals with the client. It is in this phase that a project’s problem is defined, users are identified, and functionality is documented. All of these activities combine to set expectations about the problem we’re trying to solve. Doing this work before you start building grants greater flexibility to accommodate changes without incurring the costs of changing priorities of a development team.

With digital transformation prevalently changing the way people do business, I wonder why this type of pre-planning doesn’t happen more in application development. When it does happen, why it is often rushed or deprioritized? To properly prepare for a digital first world, companies need to carefully plan their next moves with Discovery. Unfortunately, too few companies place an emphasis on it, and while every project and client are different, a few reasons we’ve heard over the years for avoiding a Discovery phase stand out to me.

It costs too much

A criticism of Discovery engagements is often centered on financial and time costs. This is most common when the value of Discovery is not understood. When this happens, expectations are not set for anticipated outcomes which leads to a perceived lack of value. It’s important for businesses to understand that Discovery is less of a cost and more of an investment in the success of your project. Its value lies in defining what success for a project looks like before a line of code is written or a pixel is designed.
You don’t have to be afraid of letting timing and budget out of control during this phase. In fact, a successful Discovery is dependent solely upon you. With your organizational and project needs, Discovery can be tailored to meet any specific needs you have.

Isn’t this waterfall?

Agile organizations can sometimes compare Discovery projects to waterfall Analysis and Design phases which is typically where you document detailed requirements about every facet of an application before any development occurs. While Collective Idea typically practices Agile as our software development methodology in an effort to provide value to our customers quickly and iteratively, we tend to do so in the most pragmatic way possible that allows us to work with whatever approach our clients prefer.
To that end, we also try to always use the best tool for the job and we’ve found that performing Discovery up front makes our agile process more efficient. It results in more detailed stories, a clearer understanding of the end goal from the start, and most importantly, a shared vision of how to get there.

We already know exactly what we want to build

If you already know what you want to build, that’s great! Discovery is still a great opportunity to share that knowledge with the implementation team to develop a strategy that aligns with all parties. Oftentimes, a client will come to us with well-defined requirements, a hands-on product owner, and even UX/UI comps and then hope we can jump into implementation. We can, but this kind of situation is a great opportunity to leverage a Discovery. This can quickly bring our team up to speed with all the forethought and planning done prior to contacting us. It also gives us the chance to better understand your visions and best use our expertise to get in front of any potential roadblocks or pitfalls prior to any implementation code being written.

Do I need a Discovery phase?

The answer to this question is almost always yes. For the same reason you wouldn’t start building a house without drawing up some plans, you should always put some forethought into what and how you are going to build your product. And just like a home builder walks you through the details before breaking ground, having a plan to guide you through scope options and timelines, define specific features, and establish expectations will all aid in creating a successful project from the start. This plan can then serve as your product’s blueprint to guide design, development, and delivery along the way.

If you think your digital product or idea could benefit from a formal Discovery or if you would like to just learn more about how Discovery can best benefit your project, we would love to hear from you.

Photo of Tres Trantham

Tres focuses on strategy and technical architecture for clients big and small. He leverages a diverse background in product engineering and enterprise data warehousing to shape solutions that are both pragmatic and forward thinking.


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