7 Steps of Project Discovery Phase You Should Know to Avoid Failure

If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.

Albert Einstein. 

The Discovery Phase of a project has transformed from a trendy approach to a new standard in the world of digital products. Why? What is it? And how does it work? This article will cover the Discovery Phase’s ins, and outs with detailed Discovery Phase steps guidelines.

About 20 years ago, Microsoft released “Worst Tech Products of All Time”: Windows Me.

Why did it happen? At that time, there was a totally different approach to product development. First, product managers spent tons of time gathering and documenting requirements from the stakeholders. Then they send it to the engineering team to build a product due to the requirements. Finally, they packed the product in a beautiful flat box. And only when the product stood on store shelves, they realized that nobody wanted their product.

Moreover, as time passed, the reception of Windows Me became so negative that PC World magazine named it “Windows Mistake Edition”. “Blue Screen of Death” came to be known thanks to Windows Me. As a result, Windows Me has disappeared without a trace on the market, with only a big budget loss. 

If we look at this model of how to build a product, we clearly understand: This model is not efficient. Maybe we should learn more before we ship our product to the market. How can we avoid failures before we start the building process? These kinds of questions drive us to the Project Discovery Phase.


  1. What Is the Discovery Phase?
  2. Discovery Phase Steps
  3. Who Makes Product Discovery?
  4. How Much Does It Cost and How Long Is a Product Discovery Phase?
  5. Discovery Phase Deliverables
  6. How to Avoid Failure
  7. Final thoughts

But before we begin, here are some materials you might also need:

1. What Is the Discovery Phase?

The software development life cycle (SDLC) Discovery Phase collects information about the product idea, and analyzes, defines a project’s core problems, values, competitors, solutions, and outcomes.

According to McKinsey research:

  • almost 17% of IT projects lead to general company collapses;
  • 45% of projects are incorrectly calculated and exceed the budget;
  • 56% of the projects bring less value to the end-user than was expected.

As we can see from a statistic, a great idea does not guarantee success. To avoid a project failure, it is crucial to start with a discovery instead of solution delivery. The Project Discovery Phase must take place even before the development process begins and includes a complete project development analysis. The discovery stage of a project consists of:

Idea analysis.

During the Discovery Phase of web development, the business stakeholders have to run through crucial moments of concept, desired features, intended market, and expected specifications. Discovery determines business goals, objectives, and product vision.

Discovering and defining the problems that need to be solved

As Steve Jobs said: “If you define the problem correctly, you almost have the solution.”

Here, the main question is: What problem is the software solution intended to solve? What impact might it have on the business?

Gathering requirements and expectations from customers

Through customer interviews in the discovery stage, we discover opportunities that would help us find the best solutions.

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Story mapping

The efficient Discovery Phase in a project strives for a customer-centered approach in the decision-making process. Here the discovery team can use story mapping. Story mapping demonstrates specific points of users’ friction or delight. As a result, dry statistics become more meaningful. In addition, it illustrates what a customer needs to do to get value from our solution. On each step of the map, we set a question: “What needs to be true for our customer to do this step?”

Analyzing the market and competitors

One more basic component is the business analysis discovery phase and market research. Just like a deep understanding of our target audience, discovering a competitive market is mandatory. Market research would help us gain a competitive edge and add value to our final product. Furthermore, it allows us to identify and reach out to unattended prospective customers. The comprehensive market analysis includes originality checking. Before starting the delivery process, we define: What makes that idea special? Do we have a strong, unique value proposition, or is the market already full of similar solutions?

Identifying the scope of work

A part of the Discovery Phase in project management is planning the scope of work. With the help of collected and analyzed data, we bring together everything from technical strategies and work details to schedules, terms, and expected outcomes. Here stakeholders work tightly with developers.

Building a timeline, priorities, and roadmap

Well thought-out Discovery Phase project plan always includes roadmapping. To effectively deal with a project that involves lots of tasks and subtasks, it is essential to accurately visualize a timeline, team members working on a task, and create milestones.

Budget estimation

The budget is the lifeblood of the project. The good Discovery Phase in software development estimates every aspect of a project. Therefore, it reduces the risks of additional costs.

Monetization Strategy

Your project has to generate income. Without investment in updates and bug-fixing, a project becomes a failure. Therefore, defining a monetization strategy is vital. Choosing the right monetization plan will ensure your product’s profitability. 

The Discovery Phase of a software project is meant to clear out all your doubts and uncertainty. Based on data research and analysis, it would identify your customer’s needs and expectations, technical strategies and project requirements, your budget, timelines, and risks. Thanks to the Discovery Phase, you will avoid many mistakes and get one step closer to your ultimate goal.

If you’re up to learning more about monetization here’s the article for you – Monetization. Or What is Pricing Strategy and why it’s important to work on it for Startup?

2. Discovery Phase Steps

Projects Discovery has a beginning, a middle, and an end. These seven logical steps of the Discovery Phase will reduce any future complications and help avoid failure.

Step 1. Identifying the stakeholders and defining their needs & expectations

From the very beginning, product owners, investors, senior management, developers, and all interested parties should be involved in discussing the future software project. Why is it so important? Let’s imagine a situation: the Discovery Phase activities are done, and the project is estimated. Then, a new investor, developer, or designer comes and starts to generate new visions and approaches. Well, maybe it’s not that bad, but it certainly leads to budget overruns and chaotic project implementation. So, to avoid scope creep, none should be neglected.

Likewise, every business idea, every solution, and expected outcome should be documented and explored. The interviews with the stakeholders and participants should provide insights into how they got the idea and what is so special or different about the product. This way would clarify the intentions.

Here we, in AMgrade, use the SMART objec­tives method. Objectives should be S – Specific and Stretching, M – Measurable, A – Achievable and Agreed, R – Relevant, T – Time-Bound. It gives us a deep look into the scope of the tasks. It precisely specifies what needs to be performed and how it plays into your overall idea.

Step 2. Review existing research and documentation

It can really save investors time and money if stakeholders supply us with all possible documentation, information, or user interviews that they already have. So that we won’t waste time on extra discovery research.

Step 3. Research the market and competitors

Statista research shows that, during the first quarter of 2022, there were over 3.48 million apps on Google Play that Android users could download. Along with 2.22 million available apps for iOS users. The competition is harsh. 

A market study allows us to gather the opportunities and threats, strengths and weaknesses of the existing similar products. Thus, it helps us to select a niche, pick an effective financial model, develop a business strategy, and evaluate project opportunities.

Step 4. Target audience research, creation of user avatars, and journeys

The solutions must be connected to our customers to ensure that our product discovery decisions will work for them. Only users should be the core of the product’s successful strategy. 

At this step of the Discovery Phase, we define who our customers are and conduct user interviews. Thus, when we start to engage with users, we can see the gap between how we think about the product and how our users think about the product. 

At this step of the Discovery Phase of a web project, we can quickly make a rapid assumption test to understand which solutions have promise. A/B testing requires us to construct the full solution before we know if it is the right product we have built. There’s no need to do all of this work before we have some proof. Rapid assumptions tests are prototype tests designed to simulate a specific moment, one-question surveys, data mining, and research spikes. With the help of assumption tests, we collect the data and compare different solutions. That gives us confidence that we are on the right track and secure the project budget. 

After interviews and tests, we create user avatars. Avatars display our customers’ desires, needs, occupations, hobbies, motivation, and pain points. All that information we receive in the context of specific stories that drive our outcome. 

Then we create a customer journey map. It’s a diagram that illustrates how the user will interact with the product and what steps need to be made within the website or app. A customer journey map is also helpful during prototype testing as it compares actual user behaviors with our assumptions. 

All gathered information would be used in creating the technical solution and marketing strategies.

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Step 5. Analyze the data and create the SRS

There is no such thing as too much research. The best in the Discovery Phase is that it provides the stakeholders with tons of information needed to evaluate the project. The more numbers and calculations there are, the more transparent and worthwhile the product is going to be. Investors trust numbers. 

At this step, the team turns aggregated data from statistics into a list of technical requirements. Software requirements specification (SRS) describes how the software would be developed in the form of use cases. 

SRS includes many elements: the purpose and scope of the project, the user journey, app workflow, features, and technologies. It also contains functional and non-functional requirements that affect user experience. Any details that could help developers finish the job would be added in the form of appendices, glossaries of terms, and references. All the necessary information is gathered in one document.

Answering more questions about Software requirements specification (SRS) and elaborating on how to make it right here.

Step 6. Prototyping and Wireframes

All previous phases of discovery give us a fundamental base to create the design, wireframes, mockups,  and interactive prototypes. 

Before moving to the next step, it is important to run final A/B tests to understand the impact. The intention is to validate the assumptions on which the prototype is based. The collected feedback is a valuable input to enhance the prototype.

Step 7. Estimate the timeline, budget, and roadmap

The final stage of the project discovery process is assessing the time and money needed to implement the idea into MVP (minimum viable product). Lastly, we create a roadmap. The roadmap displays the project timelines, step-by-step stages, and milestones. Basically, it is a Discovery Phase proposal with an accurate time and cost estimation and reviews possible cost reductions of the project.

Here are some more insights about Software Development Estimation.

3. Who Makes Product Discovery?

The Product Discovery Team may vary from project to project and from step to step. Typically, the product discovery team is comprised of:

  • Project Manager
  • Business Analyst
  • UX/UI Designer
  • Software Developer

However, that doesn’t mean other team members don’t contribute. On the contrary, we appreciate different specialists’ expert meaning and collaboration during the Discovery Phase of website development.

4. How Much Does It Cost and How Long Is a Product Discovery Phase?

Since all projects differ, have unique features, and different requirements, the cost of the Product Discovery Phase may also vary. A website Discovery Phase usually costs between 5% and 10% of the overall product development cost. It all depends on the project’s complexity and scope of work.

The time needed for the Project Discovery Phase may also differ based on the scope of work. On the average, it takes around 2 to 8 weeks.

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If you still doubt it is worth your time and money, here are the Project Discovery phase deliverables and their benefits.

5. Discovery Phase Deliverables

Structured Goals

37% of projects fail because of the lack of clear goals. The Discovery Team would define project goals and the ways of their implementation. Thus, you receive a clear vision of goals execution: from the leadership to every level of employee. As a result, you can align and measure the Project Discovery phase deliverables with your business’s goals.

Accurate Data

You receive a comprehensive analytical review of your project. Collected data inputs every point to your systems, every process for which the data is used, and the output of that data. Hence, you have opportunities to automate and improve your internal processes.

Wise Technological Usage

Clear goals and vision create ultimate technology use. You clearly understand what technical solution would be best for your project based on analytical research. The Discovery Phase gives you an excellent base to evaluate your vendor. You know what tasks have to be completed and what challenges could be met through the process. 

Thanks to the IT project discovery phase, finding and hiring a dedicated team that best suits this project is much easier. You can check whether they meet your goals, evaluate your contractor’s experience, and do they have the features necessary to consume accurate data and deploy all customer experiences.


New products demand innovative ideas. The software development Discovery Phase always explores such questions as: What innovations can be adopted with the new product? What features can you use to improve your operations and customer experience? Due to the market, competitors, and user analyses, you understand what works best and what may be possible next.

Investing in technologies improves your business. It innovates, and adapts the idea to the modern market demand for a superior sales and customer experience that drives acquisition, retention, and increased value.

Focus on user needs

As we build digital products, we know everything about them: how they work, their capabilities, and resolutions. We make decisions based on our assumptions. Meanwhile, we forget about our users and can’t imagine what it’s like not to have all this knowledge. A Project Discovery Phase determines your user, captures users’ capacities, and creates a user flow. It is a connection between a value proposition and customers’ real needs.


A software Discovery Phase gives not just a detailed action plan for your project but also who is responsible, the deliverables laid out in chronological order, and the expected completion date.

Budget Planning

Investing in discovery, the first stage in program development has an incredible return on your business investment. The budget planning in the discovery phase limits budget exceeds and financial risks in developing software or apps.

For example, creating a clickable prototype and gathering actionable feedback before the development starts, committing large sums of money to the venture. For budget-oriented companies, the choice should be obvious.

Ready to use software development project plan.

A key benefit of the process is that you get a solid Discovery Phase project plan in your hands. All hard work is done. Just implement it.

6. How To Avoid Failure of Discovery Phase

70% of development agencies require a discovery stage before moving forward with a project. However, so many startups fail. Let’s take a look at the most common reasons for failure.

Shallow Market And Audience Research

42% of startups fail because there’s no market need for their products or services. That fact reminds us once again that many businesses fail because of a lack of market research. Thus, this is a step that should be made diligently. Get it wrong, and you won’t avoid a flop.

We should start with a question: does the product idea already exist? If it does, what makes us better? If somebody failed with a similar idea, what did they do wrong? How can we avoid those mistakes?

Narrow your audience. Narrowing your target allows focusing on those who would most likely buy your product. We can accurately discover and understand their needs and reach them with perfect solutions. It would secure a place in a niche from the early start. You can always expand later on.

Faulty Value Proposition

A value proposition has to convince stakeholders, investors, and users that products or services are worthwhile. If the value proposition is weak or unconvincing, it may be challenging to attract investment and consumer demand. 

One more factor is the lack of originality. The highly competitive market demands drafting a desirable value proposition that clearly defines your competitive edge. To be on the right track, we should use the voice of customer copy, design thinking, rapid prototyping, and testing.

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Faulty Budget Estimations

Without careful analysis and a risk response strategy, all project plans are bound to fail. Underestimation of future costs or project complexity (too optimistic assessments) is the primary cause of project overruns. Scope creep, project execution failures, and design errors are also common reasons to cost overruns. The business analyst Discovery Phase would prevent unnecessary waste of money.

Faulty timing and priorities

Time means money. Setting realistic deadlines will positively structure your budget. Delays always lead to higher overall costs and budget overruns.

7. Final thoughts

Digital products are never done. There is always space to turn back to the Discovery Phase and improve the product. Facebook, Uber, Shopify, Airbnb, and Google Search will never be finished projects. If they stop discovering and developing, their competitors will catch up. New features, enhanced user interface, and recommendation search create more value for users. Hence, more value for their business investors. 

A Discovery Phase of software development clarifies the project vision, its perspective and minimizes development risks. Besides, it empowers the team to execute the project just as planned. 

If you want to discuss your project idea, contact us. We will be glad to conduct a software project discovery phase and transform your concept into the most cost-effective MVP or full-featured product.

Looking for a reliable vendor to implement your idea?

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