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Out of the twenty most common reasons for startup failure by CBInsights, at least half can be avoided thanks to a timely discovery phase. It’s the best way to identify the market need, ensure the expenses stay within budget, and find the right people to help you succeed. Before you ignore the IT vendor suggesting you include a discovery stage into the development budget and timeline, let us answer three insistent questions running through your head. Beware, by the end of this post, you’re likely to change your mind.
Why Do I Need a Discovery Phase?
I already know everything there is to know about my idea, and I can talk about it for hours.
That’s what every startup founder believes, and some of them are right, but even the enlightened few would benefit from three invaluable “side-effects” of the proper discovery:
- Mitigated risks. Late delivery and overspending are two serial project killers. Every other IT project strains the budget, and even more are delivered late. Going through a discovery phase lowers the risk of late delivery by 75% and secures 50% savings. Discovery is a tiny investment when you consider potential savings.
- Clear big picture. A couple of weeks is usually all it takes to transform a vague idea into a rough schedule, complete with development stages, overall timeline, and the list of personnel and resources needed. Besides, the team can jump straight into development using the initial analysis and documentation.
- Trial run. The discovery phase is great for getting to know the IT team members and checking their fit and expertise. If the initial stages run smoothly, your project is off to a good start. Otherwise, look into terminating the contract and finding another tech partner.
In other words, the discovery phase is three-dimensional. You learn more about your idea, its implementation, and the team you’re working with. If that’s not enough to convince you, let’s look at the tangible results you can expect.
What Do I Get Post-discovery?
System requirements specification (SRS) is arguably the most valuable and underappreciated outcome of project discovery. This vital document holds a detailed description of your idea and niche, primary and auxiliary requirements, as well as clear-cut metrics for expected results, scope changes, and other details. SRS translates your project’s needs into the technical language of analysts and engineers and keeps all team members on the same page.
You can also expect a rudimentary user interface (UI) prototype to come out of this. It will give you a rough idea of how the product will look from a user’s perspective so that you can make any changes early on. UI prototypes are also an invaluable fundraising asset that convinces investors of your idea’s viability faster than a presentation chock-full of research figures and market analysis.
Finally, at the end of the discovery stage, you’ll gain accurate implementation estimates based on the SRS and UI prototypes you approve. Unlike the guesstimates based on vague project descriptions, these people-hours and budget figures are unlikely to see dramatic changes throughout the implementation process. Unless your requirements change, the project should be finished on time and within the budget.
Keep in mind that no two IT vendors are the same, and all have different discovery approaches. However, we believe you can ask for these three tangible results at the end of this first project phase.
How Do I Run a Project Discovery Phase?
For small and medium projects, this stage lasts one or two weeks and requires the efforts of PMs and BAs, though engineers, designers, and tech leads can join the fun too. At first, they will want to talk to you and other project stakeholders to dig deep into your idea, needs, and aspirations. To speed up the process, you can share market study, competition analysis, audience parameters, and other materials you’ve already accumulated.
Once you transfer the info, the team will work on user personas and customer journeys to spur requirement elicitation and eliminate non-vital features that aren’t necessary for the initial launch. Business analysts will also look into the competition to learn more about the niche and help you formulate a unique selling proposition.
After aggregating the data gathered, the team will craft an SRS file for your approval and calculate the time and resources necessary for implementation. You need only approve their work or offer corrections to round up the discovery phase and shift the project to the implementation phase.
As we see it, there are no downsides to running a discovery phase and plenty of upsides, like reduced risks, better understanding between you and the development team, and a clear picture of the road ahead. Experience these benefits first-hand, and you will never skip discovery again.
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