Discovery Phase of a Software Development Project

Discovery Phase of a Software Development Project

28 May 2021 • 11 min read

In this guide, we should talk about the discovery phase of a software project, as this stage is the most important in successful product development.

Most startups fail. According to Investopedia, the failure rate for a business within the first ten years is around 90%. There is no definitive statistic as to why startups fail, but the reasons usually come down to one or several of the following:

The top reasons startups fail after the discovery phase

CB Insights published the results of a postmortem of over one hundred startups with the top 20 reasons that startups fail — and three of the top five reasons startups face can be solved by doing the groundwork in the discovery phase.

So what is the discovery phase in software development and why is it so important? Let's dive in.

What is the discovery phase in software development?

The software discovery phase in software development is the earliest stage of developing any product that happens before any code is committed, also known as the planning stage. It's a business process that's there to circumvent problems and reduce the overall risks the business takes to create and establish its products. Besides setting clear goals and outlining potential pitfalls, the discovery phase is there to unite a team under a vision for the discovery phase of a project is there to unite a team with a vision for the product.

The discovery phase is a crucial part of the development process, as it sets the stage for the entire project. It involves research, analysis, and planning, which are all essential for identifying project requirements, assessing risks, and creating a clear roadmap for execution. This phase saves time and resources in the long run and ensures that the final product aligns with the client's vision and market needs. With over nine years of experience and over 100 successful products developed for startups and SMEs worldwide, Softermii's expertise highlights the value of the discovery phase in fostering a strong foundation for every project.

Softermii's CEO, Slava Vaniukov, emphasizes the importance of the discovery phase, stating, "From our more than nine years of experience and 100+ successful products developed for startups and SMEs worldwide, we have gained invaluable expertise in the discovery phase. This essential stage not only helps us to understand our clients' needs fully but also allows us to identify potential pitfalls and roadblocks, making it possible to create an efficient and effective plan for the entire development process. The discovery phase is the cornerstone of every successful project, and our track record is a testament to its importance."

The importance of the project discovery phase in software development cannot be overstated — the groundwork done in this stage can make or break a business before it even starts. The team involved in this phase should consist, at minimum of the following:

Team member Responsibilities description

Business Analyst 

Business Analyst This person has an outsized role in the process and is responsible for conducting market research, analyzing it, and synthesizing it into actionable plans for the teams involved at later stages.

Project Manager

The PM's role is to organize the whole team's work process, supervising deliverables and keeping track of deadlines.

Tech Lead / Architect

Their job is to choose the tech stack used during the development of the product and its architecture, including all APIs, SDKs, and non-proprietary code in the solution. They must also decide what timeline is most appropriate for the given project, as well as determine a budget for the scope of work defined by the BA.


During the discovery stage, the designer is tasked with creating the UI/UX wireframes for the software, which will be the backbone of the look and feel of the application under development. 

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When a Discovery Phase of Software Project is Needed

The discovery phase is a vital aspect of software development and becomes even more crucial under certain circumstances. Here are some situations when the discovery phase is needed to ensure a successful project:

When the idea is not validated

If the concept for a software project is still in its nascent stage and has yet to be thoroughly examined, the discovery phase is crucial. It helps validate the idea, ensuring that it is viable, meets the target audience's needs, and aligns with market trends.

Risk of contradictions

In projects involving multiple stakeholders or unclear expectations, the discovery phase can help identify and resolve any contradictions or misalignments. This step is essential to create a unified vision and set the project on the right track.

A complex project

The discovery phase is essential for projects involving numerous components or intricate functionalities to break down the complexities and create a clear roadmap. It helps in identifying potential challenges and creating strategies to overcome them.

Long-term projects

In the case of projects spanning an extended period, the discovery phase helps establish a solid foundation. By outlining the project's scope, requirements, and potential risks, this phase ensures that the development process remains on track and adapts to any changes that may arise in the long run.

When there is no margin for error

The discovery phase is indispensable in projects where mistakes can lead to significant losses, such as in safety-critical systems or financial applications. It ensures that every aspect of the project is meticulously analyzed, reducing the chances of errors and minimizing risks throughout the development process.

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Benefits of the discovery phase in software projects

The benefits of the discovery phase in software projects are so numerous, there is no question for the modern business whether it's a worthy pursuit. Let's look at a few of them in depth:

Optimize development costs

If you know what you're making and how you're going to make it (as opposed to figuring it out as you go), it will save developers from doing extra work they don't need to do and therefore save money for you.

Validate the idea

Your idea may have seemed amazing and novel when you came up with it, but what if there's already a business with that model that's been in the market for years? You need to validate your idea to reduce risks before proceeding to lose time and money on a business doomed to fail.

Increase trust

Starting a business really doesn't have to be a crapshoot. The process of the discovery phase of a software project will eliminate risks and therefore increase trust between participants, further increasing the success of the whole endeavor.

Develop the marketing strategy

Once you have a clear idea of what your product is, you should already have an idea of how to market your product. The discovery stage is when you should map the user journey throughout the funnel, outline the messages you'll be using in each phase, and have a pricing model.

Establish clear goals

With a clear roadmap that every participant of the process can refer to at later stages, you will be avoiding any possible confusion and disarray that can occur.

Main stages of the discovery phase

The top reasons startups fail after the discovery phase

There is no definite timeline for how things go during the discovery phase, as the depth of research that can be done while preparing for a project is vast. However, there is a generally agreed-upon method to the madness. Here are the step-by-step discovery phase activities of a software development project.

Identify stakeholders

The stakeholders are the participants in the process. See above for a detailed list of the roles involved in this project. You'll need to find one or several professionals with experience in this early stage of development to fill every slot. Bogdan Paiuk, head of PMO at Softermii, recommends, "The solution to this is either relying on your network, a robust HR and staffing firm with experience in this type of hiring or hiring an expert agency like Softermii."

Research the subject

Start by identifying the customer you're targeting. What are their pains and needs? How are they solving the existing problem now? Research your competitors — find out what their product can deliver, what it lacks, and how much it costs. What does it take to implement beyond the financial cost? Max Drug, head of BA at Softermii, emphasizes, "Knowing the playing field well is the first step to avoid being outcompeted."

Set business goals

What does your MVP look like? What are the resources that your business needs to get there? What is the optimal time to market? How does success translate into measurable units? According to Bogdan Paiuk, "You need to have answers to these questions before moving on to development."

Define technical requirements

The project discovery phase activities in custom software development are necessary from a technical point of view to have a clearly defined tech stack to be used in product development. Prioritize features based on how essential they are to your product and its intended target market, planning only the essentials for the MVP. Max Druz suggests, "You should also have an idea of what the product can be moving forward."

Design UI/UX

You can't develop a product without a strong UI/UX wireframe that will guide the further development of your product. This process should include some deep thinking about the branding of your product and its positioning in the market. Max Druz adds, "A well-designed UI/UX can significantly enhance user experience and contribute to the overall success of your product."

Define bottlenecks

Any project will have bottlenecks, and as the product owner, it's your job to prevent this problem before it occurs. At the end of the software development discovery phase, you need to clearly understand what the process will entail, including how resources, time, and dependencies might impact the project's flow. Bogdan Paiuk recommends, "By identifying and addressing these bottlenecks early on, you can mitigate potential risks and ensure a smoother development process, ultimately leading to a successful project outcome."

Project discovery phase deliverables

As mentioned above, when it comes to the discovery phase for a software development project, there is no limit to the depth of preparation and analysis that can be done. But there are several key documents that must come out of this process that will ensure the success of the project. Here are the key deliverables you and your team should focus on producing:

Technical Specifications

This document should contain a detailed description of the MVP that you're building, from the overall logic of it down to each individual feature and button.

Project Roadmap

Your Tech Lead and developers will benefit from a clear roadmap they have to follow. It should cover every part of the development process, including a plan for what to do after the release. Don't forget to include deadlines.

The Budget

Whether you're going to outside investors or self-funding, it's equally important to forecast any expenses that the project will incur. Estimates are OK in this phase, but it's best to be predictable in business, so do your research and be as accurate as possible.

The Mockup

The final product design illustrates the functionality, flow, and interface of your application. Finalizing this in the discovery phase of the project will ensure that the development team is united under a common vision during the process.

How much it will cost

The Discovery phase can be a significant expense to incur for a company that's just starting. Besides the more expensive forms of research like focus groups and purchasing access to exclusive market research, there is payroll to consider, as well as costs related to recruiting, and overhead.

If you're mulling over whether to conduct the research phase of software development completely in-house or using a dedicated team, here's a quick comparison for how much either option can cost:

In-house team Dedicated team

Business Analyst salary

$6000/mo — $8000/mo

Not billed for separately

Project Manager salary

$8000/mo — $10,000/mo

Not billed for separately

Tech Lead salary

$10,000/mo — 13,000/mo

Not billed for separately

Designer salary

$8,000/mo — $10,000/mo

Not billed for separately

Recruitment-related costs





From $20,000

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The software development cost difference can be truly stark. Remember — you want the best, most experienced people on this project, since they are the ones who will lay the groundwork for your future success. For a budget-minded startup, the choice should be clear.


By now it should be clear why the discovery phase of a software development project cannot be skipped or rushed. It involves deep thought on the part of multiple highly specialized professionals. And it's not going to come cheaply. 

No matter if your project already has funding or not, you will need to stay budget-conscious when delving into a new venture at least until you're found product/market fit and gotten some revenue. At the same time, later success will be a direct result of the quality of the work done now. It's an impossible dilemma without offshoring. 

The good news is that Softermii has lots of experience creating software from the ground up, including helping our clients through the discovery phase of a software project. 

Do you have any more questions about the product discovery phase and how Softermii can help you? Contact us here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does each software project need a discovery phase?

While not every software project strictly requires a discovery phase, it is highly recommended for most projects. The discovery phase is particularly valuable for projects with complex requirements, multiple stakeholders, or when the idea has yet to be fully validated. By investing time and effort into the discovery phase, you can establish a strong foundation for the project, identify potential risks, and create a detailed roadmap that increases the chances of success.

What happens if you skip a project discovery phase in software development?

Skipping the discovery phase in software development can lead to a range of issues, including:

  • Misalignment of expectations between stakeholders, which may lead to conflicts and delays.
  • Lack of clarity in project requirements, resulting in scope creep or constant changes to project specifications.
  • Insufficient understanding of the target market, increasing the likelihood of developing a product that doesn't resonate with users.
  • Inefficient allocation of resources, as the project may need a clearer roadmap or defined priorities.
  • Higher likelihood of encountering technical issues, as potential risks and challenges may have yet to be identified and addressed beforehand.

Ultimately, skipping the discovery phase can lead to increased costs, delays, and a lower chance of project success.

How long does a discovery phase of a software project usually take?

The duration of the discovery phase can vary significantly depending on the project's complexity, the clarity of the initial idea, and the resources available for research and planning. For small projects with well-defined requirements, the discovery phase might take just a few weeks. However, it can last several months for larger or more complex projects. In general, the discovery phase should be comprehensive enough to provide a solid foundation for the project while balancing the need for efficiency and a timely market launch.

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