Why the discovery phase is important for your project?

A co-founder and managing partner of KISS digital.

Senior Editor.

Discovery phase. In search of the perfect product

Project discovery phase is one of key elements of software project development

Large IT projects go over budget by an average of 45 percent, generate 56 percent less value than anticipated, and their completion time extends by an average of 7 percent. In addition, 17 percent of them turn out to be flops to such an extent that they threaten the company's existence. This is according to calculations by experts at McKinsey and Oxford University. Why are we communicating this early on? Because in the context of the above data, it will be easier to understand what the discovery phase is useful for.

There is a nice-sounding term that managers may associate with a headache: imponderabilia. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, they are imponderables - "not ponderable; incapable of being weighed or evaluated with exactness", yet can have an impact on some issues. Imponderables are especially disliked in the IT industry, where projects involve very high costs and require very precise planning. The role of the discovery phase is specifically to eliminate imponderables. So that projects are completed on time and within budget, the user is satisfied, and the client receives the expected financial results.

What does the discovery phase involve and who needs it?

Discovery is a relatively complex set of procedures that enable, e.g.:

To put it more succinctly, discovery is the process of collecting and analyzing data to determine the purpose, potential, and limitations of a project. This is the stage of project execution intended for clients who want to be sure that the planned implementation is fully justified from a business point of view. The discovery phase helps to fully illustrate the value of the developed solutions and to make more rational budgetary decisions. It also allows you to create a product that will cause users to become more attached to your brand and appreciate its value. It is worth noting that this stage is usually chosen by clients who are sure of their budget and have a set time for the project.

Now it would be nice to provide a universal recipe for the discovery phase. However, there is no such thing. On the other hand, it is not the case that discovery has no rules and procedures, certain processes should not be ignored. The point, rather, is that the specific steps and approach depend on the specifics of the project and the client's requirements. Any example? An integral part of discovery is the analysis of user feedback on the developed solutions. It can be done through surveys and interviews. However, there are more advanced solutions in the form of product experiments. They help to more accurately verify customer expectations. All because users often fail to anticipate or express their desires, concerns, or intentions. There are more such nuances. But let's focus on the key issues, that is, what cannot be missed in the discovery phase.

What is the point of all this? The key products of the discovery phase

We will present a sample structure of the discovery phase based on a specific implementation, involving the preparation of a new application interface and a new product for a company in the financial industry. For obvious reasons, we cannot use proper names, but they are not relevant. The point is not the details of the project, but the presentation of the typical components of this type of realizations. When planning the discovery phase, we need to consider the set of outcomes (products) we want to achieve and the processes to support that.

For the project in question, we highlighted the following products:

A backlog is a prioritized list of tasks that need to be completed to successfully deliver a final product. It can also be described as a list of all the user stories we want to implement. In other words, the backlog includes all the requirements that the end product must meet from a user's point of view. Low-fi mockups are simply low-resolution mockups, there is no need to develop every detail of the interface at this stage.

Product Discovery Phase

Key areas and processes of the discovery phase

The processes that bring us closer to the end results are largely "conversational" in nature. This is because the source of detailed knowledge for the project contractor is the information obtained from the client and users from the target group. Therefore, the first part of the discovery phase involves interviews with relevant stakeholders, i.e., representatives of the client. These are obviously not chitter-chatter. Interviews are conducted with specialists in specific fields. In this case, we highlighted the following areas:

Interviews last between 30 and 90 minutes and are conducted in a structured manner based on a questionnaire that interviewees receive in advance. They are intended to gather ideas for specific solutions as well as to address implementation constraints and risks. For example, programmers will more easily assess whether a given function is feasible within the available resources, and lawyers will determine the compliance of designed solutions with regulations, e.g. in the area of personal data protection, better than experts in other fields.

The next step is conversations with users. In the case of new solutions for existing products, interviews are conducted with their users. When discovery concerns a new product, users from the target audience are engaged for interviews. Interviews last between 30 and 45 minutes and are paid. The questions ask about the circumstances in which the product or features are used, users' expectations of the product and any issues that bother them both in terms of specific solutions or lack thereof.

Backlog, session, workshop – and we already know what we want

We are slowly approaching the grand finale. New user stories usually emerge from the data collected during stakeholder and user interviews. We add them to the initial list of user stories and prepare a backlog that will be developed together with the client. This stage is called a scoping session. It takes roughly one working day, including coffee breaks and even lunch. The discovery phase concludes with a product workshop. We present draft versions of the products (the aforementioned assumptions of the discovery phase), discuss objections and make possible amendments.

Then it is uphill from there: the hardest work is still to be done, namely the implementation of the project. However, if you precede it with a discovery phase, you maximize the probability of its success and minimize the risk of failure and additional financial and time costs.

Are you looking for a partner who will carry out the discovery phase for your project? Contact us!


A co-founder and managing partner of KISS digital. Responsible for the development strategy and cooperating with clients and partners.

Przemysław Ćwik

Senior Editor.