What do you imagine when you hear the words “Discovery phase?”
Do you picture a team of people sitting around talking? Coffee, water and snacks everywhere. An almost university feel to the situation, as if everyone is only pretending to work.
Discovery phases often involve notebooks and Post-it Notes, a whiteboard, and a number of laptops and phones to make written and audio recordings.
Even when these sessions are done remotely, the visuals remain the same (except the teams are in two rooms, connected using video conferencing). And this process is the same the world over, whether this is the discovery phase for a new advertising campaign, or new software product.
Discovery phase: what does this mean?
Firstly, we need to remember that a discovery phase of a software project is work. Yes, there is often a collaborative, sometimes wandering, university-like feel to most discovery sessions, but there is always a serious purpose behind this activity.
When a software project has been given the go-ahead, the company commissioning the project needs to get to know the team doing the work. Trust is essential. Likewise, the development team/firm delivering the project needs to get a feeling for how the client communicates and who they’re going to be dealing with on a regular basis.
Developing software is as much about communication and collaborative problem solving as writing code. Hence the benefit of spending time getting to know one another, and even talking about topics other than software is often useful too.
Beyond that, and getting into the purpose of the discovery phase, this is when a client can clearly define the scope of a project in more detail. Everything from what they expect, to features they’re hoping for, systems new software needs to integrate with, and what needs to be done/delivered to ensure a development team can do the work.
Imagine skipping this phase. Even if a company laid out a detailed specification, roadmap and other documents, would that be enough?
In our experience, the answer is, “Not likely, and often not nearly enough.”
In situations where communication is poor, slow, and there hasn’t been an effective discovery phase, projects often take longer, cost more, and expectations aren’t always met. It’s always better to over-communicate during any software project, starting with the discovery phase.
What needs to be made clear during the discovery phase?
• Let’s start with a big one: “WHY?”
Too often, companies commissioning software are sold on an idea without fully appreciating and understanding the original why behind a project. Within this question are a whole load of others:
• Who is this for? Think about the primary and secondary users; who’s going to be using this software day-to-day, and what are they currently using instead?
• Is this software replacing something or is this completely new?
• How does this software fit within current workflows, the user-experience internally, or with customers if that is who this software is for?
• What features do we know are needed for definite, and what questions do we need to answer as part of the development process to understand the full scope of this software?
• Are there ways of user-testing the software during the development process to ensure it aligns with what is really needed (compared to what we imagine is needed)? Beta testing, for example, is an essential part of developing new software, to get user feedback and key metrics to understand how to iterate and evolve the development process.
Alongside questions about the software, the scope and specification, the two teams working together need to nail down a few other details, such as:
• A phased deliverable timescale, or product roadmap;
• Responsibilities: who’s doing what, and what does each side need to deliver in-order for work to progress?
• Communication expectations and processes: What do both sides expect, and how can/should expectations be managed?
Once both sides are clear on everything, and the relevant post-discovery follow-up tasks have been finished, then the work can properly start. Without this, neither side will be clear on what’s needed and how those expectations can be met. It may take more than one discovery session to ensure a project moves forward; but once it does, everything should run smoother.
If you have a project idea and need professional advice on the discovery phase, feel free to get in touch with us.