Research & Discovery

What Happens During the Discovery Phase of a Software Project?

Mar 29, 20226 min readBY Yozu Discovery Phase Of Software Project

By Yozu

Following on from our recent article, Why the Discovery Phase in Software Development Can Transform Your SaaS Project, we wanted to break down the process even further for you, covering exactly what happens during this critical stage of software development.

Following on from our recent article, Why the Discovery Phase in Software Development Can Transform Your SaaS Project, we wanted to break down the process even further for you, covering exactly what happens during this critical stage of software development.

Broadly speaking, you can expect the following to take place during the Discovery phase of a software project (but keep reading for the nitty gritty details…):

  • The development team will become acquainted with you, your associated stakeholders and, of course, your business idea. Collation of this information typically takes the form of questionnaires, workshops, meetings and presentations
  • The market, competition and end users of your future product will be fully researched and defined
  • Different technologies and architectures will be explored to determine those that best suit the needs of the project
  • The concept and vision of your new SaaS project will be fully mapped out, taking into consideration your expectations and goals whilst maintaining realistic deadlines and costs
  • Roles will be assigned to experts and specialists within the development team to ensure that work is completed efficiently and effectively
  • A scope of work may be drafted for developing the MVP (Minimum Viable Product); the first version of your new SaaS product

Now, let’s break this down further…

Collating key information

From interviews to workshops, putting in the necessary work to understand your business and new product idea should be the top priority for your development team at this early stage of Discovery. Doing so ensures that the developers have a clear understanding of the expectations and objectives for your new SaaS product, which inevitably leads to more aligned results. It’s essential that relevant stakeholders are also included at this point of the conversation, ensuring that all different perspectives, considerations and objectives are taken into account. The metrics that you and your stakeholders deem critical to the project will also be discussed at this point; most notably, project objectives and KPIs.

Market and competitor analysis is typically undertaken at this stage too. Surprisingly, determining that there is actually a market for your new product is something that is often overlooked in software development – and believing that you know your market (without actually doing the research) is a sure-fire way to negatively affect results later down the line. Competitor research, meanwhile, allows you to understand similar products that are already on the market; what do they do well? How can you learn from them? And, critically, how can your product do it better?

Arguably one of the most important elements in the Discovery phase of a software project is collating real information on your end users. Who are they? What are their pains, problems and needs? How do their behaviours determine their choices? Your development team will work tirelessly to answer these questions (and a whole lot more) with the support of you, your stakeholders and in-depth customer research. This ensures that your product is built with a ‘user-first’ approach, ensuring that the features and functionality of your new SaaS product best serve the needs and desires of your target end user.

Once your development team has an in-depth understanding of your end user, user stories will be created to help them build your product with the most important points in mind – from key information on user behaviour to the best approach to design and interface. User stories should be short and easy to read, allowing developers to understand exactly what needs to be done in order to build the most user-friendly and engaging version of your SaaS product. If and when new insight becomes available, the user stories can be easily updated to reflect this.

Structuring ideas and determining functionality

With your product vision and goals clarified, your target audience identified, and your market position confirmed, you’re ready to start deciding on which features of your SaaS product will best serve your users – and your objectives. At this stage in the Discovery phase of a software project, your team will ensure that all features are refined and necessary, including only those that move your user towards a business goal.

There are typically three factors that determine the features and functionality of a SaaS product – especially at MVP stage. These are:

  • The goal of your SaaS product; how does each feature within the user journey contribute to the fulfilment of that goal?
  • Budget
  • Industry standards/user expectations

Your development team will help you to prioritise functionality in line with these factors, ensuring that your MVP includes only the most important features. Further down the line – especially after user testing and feedback, your feature list may tweak, change and grow, but at this stage, this approach ensures that you have a solid foundation to work with.

Finalising project requirements

With your project starting to take shape, it’s time to formalise the details in a specification document, typically referred to as a PRD (Product Requirement Document). This will include all of the technical and functional requirements for your SaaS product release, ensuring that the tech stack being used is maintainable, scalable and able to perform at the required level. All functionality will also be clearly defined and, put simply, if it’s not in the PRD, it won’t be in the product release! At this stage in the Discovery phase of a software project, your development team will also identify any technical risks that may affect the scope of work and associated deadlines.

Developing the roadmap

The final piece of the Discovery phase, the product roadmap is essentially a step-by-step blueprint for how your product will be developed. The level of detail inputted into the roadmap ensures that the whole development team is on the same page when it comes to processes and their sequence. This allows them to work harmoniously at each stage and milestone. The roadmap also ensures that you, the client, have total transparency on what’s happening too – from project timelines and key project stages to cost estimations and final deadlines.

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