Rate this article
Thanks for rating!

According to Deloitte, more than half of failed software projects go awry due to overlooked requirements in the early development phases, underscoring the pattern: 

Mistakes made during the initial planning stage are the most expensive to fix.

cost of fixing defects

The discovery phase in software development ensures your project is able to seize the high ground in overall statistics without draining the budget and causing rollout delays. 

What is the discovery phase?

A project’s discovery phase is an initial exploratory and planning activity lasting usually three to six weeks. It involves running a discovery workshop, where your tech partner collaborates with you to align your vision with market trends, user demands, and business context, expertly shaping your idea into a detailed roadmap to a solid technical solution.

Despite its bite-size nature, the goal of the discovery stage is to deliver tangible value without limiting your cooperation options to a particular service provider.

A stitch in time: when the discovery phase saves more than nine

The crux of the discovery phase boils down to five words: danger foreseen is half avoided. 

At the discovery phase of a software project, a team of experts asks the right questions from different angles of software development to unveil any pitfalls you may face in advance, create a plan to prevent them, and, thus, make steps toward eliminating costly failures down the road. 

Reaching out to a tech partner with proven expertise in your industry already minimizes the risks such as budget overruns, wrong resource estimates, feature mis-prioritization, stagnant development, among others. 

Yet, even with top-tier experts on board, there are cases when conducting a software development discovery phase becomes a good call. 

1. Unbiased idea and as-is state audit

Not all business ideas turn out to be great. Some of them can be unrealistic and misleading and result in wasted budget and time or even question the existence of your business when it comes to startups.

The earlier you validate your ideas, the easier it will be to fix your concepts and plans. At *instinctools, we adhere to the principle: 

Better bank on project discovery than deal with project recovery.

If you’ve already started working on a project, stay alert to these warning signs that may signal you should have requested a discovery workshop from your vendor:

  • Your development team is stumped on the project’s further progress and can’t outline possible evolution strategies. 
  • Your project has got off track and can’t find its way back, draining your time and budget without bringing you any closer to the desired outcomes. 

Here’s a real-world example that proves the importance of the discovery phase in software development. One of our clients, a fintech startup, planned to develop a web platform to consolidate information for VC investors and funds. 

Despite its trailblazing ambitions, the company almost ended up becoming another startup failure statistic. The client’s former contractor rushed into web development without doing market research, clarifying the product vision and scope, collecting project requirements and technical documentation, reviewing available architecture options, discussing UX/UI concepts, etc. 

With such an approach, when halfway to rollout, the client found themselves developing a product that nobody needed. Fortunately, running a project discovery phase with *instinctools helped them to marshal the resources and launch a robust MVP that fitted the bill and turned end users’ heads.

2. Bridging the gaps in stakeholders’ perspectives

Connecting your business goals and ambitions with your end users’ needs and expectations might turn out to be tricky if there are multiple stakeholders with different visions for a project, its strategy, and outcomes.

In this case, at the discovery stage, your software service provider should verify the technical feasibility of each stakeholder’s vision:

  • If the concepts can be brought together into a single solution, a business analyst within the development team will prioritize the features and capture them in the scope of a decomposition document that will serve as a linchpin for further work on your software project.
  • If the visions are too divergent, your tech partner will highlight the problem, and help you choose the concept to build on top of.

A discovery phase is a not-to-be-missed chance to cut out all the disagreements that drag your project backward. 

Working out a clear product vision and keeping stakeholders and development team members on the same page helps stay on the right track during long-term software projects where losing focus is one of the top perils that can screw the entire idea. 

3. Preparing documentation for fundraising

You may be sure you know enough to start the project. But given the current turbulent market backdrop, if you ask for financial support to bring your idea to life, you need to make your business goals’ viability crystal clear for possible investors. 

Whether seeking private investors or competing for a tender, a compelling business plan indicating the return on investments, assets, sales, and equity is pivotal to persuading stakeholders to put their dollars into your project fulfillment. Above all, you should provide clear administrative, technical, and financial documents to make your project comparable with others and prove that yours can deliver the highest business value.

Embracing an Agile discovery process is the most beneficial way to prepare technical specifications. You get multiple value assets, such as a project brief, scope, system requirements specification, technology environment, delivery schedule, etc., without committing to a long-tenured contract with a tech partner who helps you prepare the documentation. 

On top of that, during the product development discovery phase, initial wireframes can be provided to assure your credibility in front of potential investors.

Running a discovery stage empowers you to answer any investor’s questions right away. 

Any way you slice it, having consistent and accurate technical documentation — with scope decomposition, features prioritization, and customer journey map — before diving straight into development waters saves you from dealing with a chaos of must-, should-, and could-have features.  

Are you struggling with the travails of the software development process?

What happens in the discovery phase? | *instinctools’ experience

As a fundamental stage of working on a project, the discovery phase reveals all the potential pitfalls and ways to bypass them. At *instinctools, we’ve distilled the process into seven definitive steps. Each one is packed with vital questions designed to steer you clear of blind spots and guide you toward the project’s ultimate success.

1. Defining problem and business opportunity 

  • What market demand do you want to cover? 
  • Who are your target audience, and what are they hungry for? 
  • Are there different groups of customers within the target audience? 
  • What is your plan to meet the needs of end users? 

2. Analyzing as-is state 

  • What do you already have in place: a bare idea, prototype, or a flawed solution that needs to be fixed? 
  • Have you prepared any project requirements and technical documentation? 
  • Who is a product owner? 
  • Are there any other stakeholders besides you? 
  • Do you foresee any bottlenecks?

3. Figuring out to-be state 

  • What is your vision of the future project? 
  • What business goals are you aiming to achieve? 
  • What are the success criteria? 

4. First validation session 

  • Are we on the same page as to the vision of a future solution? 
  • Did we define project goals correctly? 

5. Analyzing gaps between an as-is and to-be state 

  • How do you see this software development project’s major business risks and constraints? 
  • Do you have any legal, regulatory, liability, etc., requirements in your target market or markets? 
  • Do you have any preferences or limitations in the technology stack? 

6. Planning the technology environment, preparing project backlog, drafting architectural vision, and demonstrating the UX/UI concept

  • What core features will distinguish your solution from others? 
  • Which features are the most vital, and which can be developed later?
  • Does the draft correlate with your functional and non-functional requirements? 
  • Have all the integrations you need been covered?
  • Are you satisfied with the depth of the user research we’ve conducted?
  • Do the user stories we’ve presented match your vision?
  • Do you have anything to add to the customer journey map?  

7. Second validation session 

  • Do you have any remarks on the project so far? 
  • Do you agree with the estimate of the project timeline and development costs?
  • Do you want to forge ahead with us or consider another service provider?

With a software project discovery phase, you’ll clearly define your business objectives, pinpoint project milestones, break down the scope, and set a comprehensive roadmap to start the development and deployment process.

Still have questions on the project discovery phase process?

Turn raw ideas into tangible deliverables: your takeaways after the discovery workshop

Wellingtone’s report indicates that only 29% of software projects make it on time, and 43% of them stay within budget. Relying on solid deliverables is the approach that will help you hit that success statistic.  

Here is the discovery phase checklist of artifacts you get.

Vision & Scope

This document highlights your business problem, objectives and risks, captures the current product or process and the vision of its future state, identifies opportunities and success metrics, and describes the solution scope and roadmap. 


Competitor and target audience analysis

A vital part of a product development process is analyzing market trends and your competitors to spot new value-creation opportunities for your business and evaluate the viability of your project in the first place.

The software discovery process entails mapping the customer journey and creating documents such as user flow diagrams, user stories, and user roles matrix to pave a straight path to your target audience’s minds (and wallets).

Architecture overview

The documentation contains a review of the current state of your infrastructure, its functional elements, and technology stack. During the discovery process, a solution architect gathers technical specifications:

  • Architecturally significant requirements (ASRs) 
  • Software requirements specifications (SRSs) 

These docs help to outline your solution architecture, its components’ correlation, and integrations. 

UX/UI concepts

The discovery phase in Agile involves clarifying UX/UI concepts of the future software. At *instinctools, in some cases, we, in some cases, prepare the initial wireframes that can be leveraged for prototype development. 

Budget and time estimates

The discovery phase team also draws up a budget estimate for the entire project implementation and a clear timeline for its delivery. 

Tech vendors often bring an added value with the delivery proposal. This document highlights partnership strategies and flexible engagement models and ensures a seamless transition to a long-term collaboration if your current contractor meets your project expectations. 

The delivery proposal also outlines the project team structure, roles and responsibilities (RACI) within the dedicated team, vendor’s DevOps plan, QA approach, and a delivery roadmap.

Is taking care of these discovery phase deliverables on your to-do list?

Your project’s best asset: the role of a cross-functional team in the discovery phase

Here’s the project team composition for the discovery stage, which may vary depending on the complexity of your idea, the project’s current state, and the project development stage you are in.

team composition
  • Business analyst gathers project’s initial requirements from the business perspective and prepares a Vision&Scope document, conducts user research and prepares user stories and customer journey maps.
  • Solution architect captures significant architecture requirements and drafts solution’s architecture as a basis for development.
  • Project manager coordinates project’s development from gathering the requirements clarification to delivering the outcomes you’ve agreed upon with your discovery service provider. 
  • Frontend and backend software engineers are optional, their input is required if you already have a solution you want to dissect and need a code audit.
  • UX/UI designer is also facultative, yet they can bring more value to the discovery workshop if stakeholders already have clear UX/UI requirements and expect to get initial mockups and wireframes at the end of the discovery.

Book your dream team for the discovery process

When is it ok to skip the discovery phase?

If you already have all the necessary project documentation where every single nuance is specified, or your tech ally’s expertise is beyond question, then you can bypass the discovery stage and go straight to product engineering

The discovery phase checklist confirms that you have:

  • Completed thorough market analysis to gauge its demand 
  • Put a premium on user research to pinpoint your target audience and its needs correctly 
  • Aligned your vision with other stakeholders, if there are any 
  • Captured your product vision in the relevant, accurate, and consistent documentation  

Discover and obtain the full value your project can deliver 

Whatever the reason for running a discovery workshop, the outcomes of the discovery phase are always a pearl of great price. 

You get sufficient, accurate, and consistent documentation that makes a rock-solid foundation for any project you undertake. And with a reliable tech partner by your side, you won’t need to wrap your head around what comes after the discovery phase in a project – they will guide you throughout the whole development process to the planned outcomes. 

Contact your tech ally here


What is the discovery phase in software development?

The discovery phase in software development is a bite-size initial stage of cooperation with a tech partner. It highlights your business context, end-user needs, and technical capabilities, and leaves you with basic documentation for the project, such as Vision&Scope, competitors and target audience analysis, architecture overview, UX/UI concepts, budget and time estimates. 
Unlike a long-term contract, the discovery phase offers you the flexibility to choose the right tech partner for further development without being tied down from the get-go.

What happens in the discovery phase?

A dedicated team of experts validates your request from different aspects of software development. They identify the current and desired state of your project to uncover the gaps and strategize how to cover them, review risks and constraints to evaluate idea viability, and collect project requirements (both functional and non-functional). 
The development team provides you with a draft of the project’s architecture, backlog, UX/UI concept, etc., and approves them during the validation session with the stakeholders.

Share the article

Anna Vasilevskaya
Anna Vasilevskaya Account Executive

Get in touch

Drop us a line about your project at contact@instinctools.com or via the contact form below, and we will contact you soon.