The key to project success is to lay a strong foundation. A process that guides you to rigorously understand the project’s vision and objectives from the get-go is what can help you and your team define the scope more efficiently and accurately. In software development, we call it Discovery.
What is Discovery in software development?
At its highest level, Discovery can be defined as the process of identifying and gaining a comprehensive understanding of problems faced by a company or their users. It creates the framework and baseline understanding that will influence the rest of the project’s decisions, designs, and implementation process.
In Discovery, you must ensure all relevant stakeholders come together to share their views and perceptions, collaborating towards a shared vision for the project. This process supplements the shared understanding of the project and problem space while simultaneously providing an onboarding experience between project members from all teams involved. The relationships created during a Discovery set the foundation for the partnership, ensuring goals and expectations are aligned, and a unified vision is shared.
What to expect from a Discovery process
A Discovery process involves identifying and understanding the underlying business problems the software will solve and clarifying what is currently available or what needs to be created. As part of this process, you can expect the following activities depending on the scope and the task at hand:
- Design review (legacy software only): Design reviews identify concrete opportunities to improve a pre-existing platform's usability, accessibility, and efficiency. Our team leverages tools the Nielsen Norman group developed, like Heuristic Evaluations, to ensure that our recommendations are based on recognized usability principles.
- Technical audits (legacy software only): Technical audits enable engineers to understand how the current experience works and the envisioned future functionality. Technical discussions and thorough code analysis identify what’s working and what needs improvement.
- Design research: Comprehensive competitive and contextual research is performed to understand better what is currently available in the market.
- User research: User and stakeholder interviews and surveys are conducted to develop a deeper understanding of the users and the existing ecosystem. Customer journeys and empathy maps are created using the survey and interview results, and technical workshops are performed.
- Interactive workshops: A Discovery will typically involve a series of workshops, guided through either business, design, or engineering frameworks, which aid in establishing a comprehensive understanding of the software’s problem space, business objectives, the stakeholders involved, or the technical implications of the proposed project.
What are the benefits of going through Discovery?
Clarity of scope
Discovery clarifies the project's scope, ensuring the right thing is built based on insights and research rather than assumptions and guesswork.
Rapid onboarding process
Discovery is a rapid onboarding process for the client and the software developer, kickstarting the relationship between both parties.
Discovery helps mitigate risk due to its focus on user understanding to tailor the software experience.
Discovery lays out costs and resources more accurately due to a detailed understanding of projects’ inputs and blueprints.
Promotes outside perspective
Discovery promotes outside perspectives, which leads to unexpected findings. Here is where innovative solutions come to light.
Guarantees informed decisions
It provides an informed prioritization strategy that allows you to focus on tasks with the most impact, which maximizes value during the development process.
What outcomes can you expect from the Discovery process?
The outputs vary depending on the activities curated for each project. Generally, there should be a shared, documented understanding of the project’s problem space, users, goals, and vision. Some key examples of these deliverables include:
- Research artifacts: A summary and key insights from the discovery research.
- Visual targets: A visual representation of the users’ experience and potential concept directions that resolve user issues in the current state. Examples are storyboards, sketches, or user journeys.
- Problem statements and key challenges: Concise descriptions of user issues needing to be addressed, the context of the problem, and why it’s essential to the project. The problem statements and key challenges highlight the identified gaps between the current state and the desired state of the process.
- Design review & technical audit results (if applicable): The results from having reviewed the current application, its code repository and the existing UX experience. These documents outline what needs to be developed and why.
- Project roadmap: A high-level roadmap that outlines the plan, what needs to be done, the risks, and how long it will take.
Who are the project stakeholders, and why are they important in Discovery?
In a client-facing project, the Discovery requires engagement, participation and collaboration from team members on both sides.
Diversity of the stakeholders involved in the process is encouraged, ranging from end users, key personnel, or subject matter experts. The viewpoints brought forward by different stakeholders can clarify business problems impacting the organization, providing essential user insights and tangible context that may influence the project's results.
Below is a list of key stakeholder roles on both the client and software developer sides which we recommend to involve in a Discovery phase.
- Product owner: The primary contact for all aspects of the project. The product owner would manage and coordinate the project from the client's side.
- Design approval: An individual who can provide guidance and insights regarding any decisions that need to be made that will impact the project's design (UX or UI).
- Technical support: An individual who can speak to the technical aspects of the project, advising the team on the current technical state, future decisions, and technical feasibility.
- User advocate: An individual who can represent the users of the proposed solution, providing insights and first-hand experience
Note: These roles can be filled by separate individuals or by a single individual taking care of multiple perspectives.
From the software developer’s perspective, stakeholder roles include:
- Project manager: This is the client’s primary contact during the project’s development. They are responsible for planning, organizing, and overseeing the entire development process.
- Design lead: This individual manages all aspects of the design process, from research and ideation to creative conceptualization and UX/UI execution.
- Tech lead: This role manages all aspects of the project's technical research, architecture, and feasibility.
- Business analyst: This individual ensures that business goals are clearly defined, helping the product owner create a feasible solution that maximizes ROI while minimizing risk.
As a rule of thumb, we recommend involvement from more than one person but ideally less than four individuals from each participating organization. Too many voices in the room at one time may cause friction and mixed opinions, hindering the Discovery process.
“What happens to my product if I don't go through Discovery?”
You wouldn’t build a house without a clearly defined blueprint. Imagine completing a puzzle without a picture as a reference or making furniture without an instruction manual acting as your guide. Even though you may have a rough idea of what the final output should look like, without a detailed understanding of user expectations and the problem space, the creation process will inevitably be messy and inefficient.
There’s a lot at stake when developing custom digital solutions. Without a Discovery engagement in your project journey, you’ve become vulnerable to significant risks, this includes the following risks listed below.
A mid-developed product
The product becomes unfinished. With no initial research to back decisions about the product’s requirements or developments, it’s most likely that you’ll run into issues that could have been avoided with a discovery.
An increased timeline
The project timeline could double your initial expectation if your decisions are not based on strategic planning to solve the underlying business problem.
An increase in cost
With all of these revisions required, you can guarantee the associated cost is also bound to increase. No one feels good about expending additional capital on something that could have been avoided.
The concern of reputation
To release an unfinished product to the public, your customers, or your staff will not hold well. This negative reputation and faulty user experience can fall back on you and cause long-term harm.
In the long run, investing the necessary time and resources into a discovery phase can significantly reduce time during the development and implementation phases, saving both time and money by ensuring that the correct business outcomes are met.
Discovery: A real-world case study
Our past client project was with IoT lighting manufacturer, Sengled, the world’s most advanced light bulb manufacturer. They integrate sound systems, security cameras, Wi-Fi extenders, backup batteries and motion sensors into their light bulbs.
Sengled has a lighting system called Snap that doubles as an HD security camera. Sengled Snap is designed and produced in Beijing and had very successful sales within China. However, when expanding sales into North America, they experienced a significant rate of returned products. Sengled was under the impression that their mobile application, which was cloned and translated from China for the North American market, was to blame for the high return levels. As a result, Sengled approached TTT Studios to redesign and refresh its current platform.
Entering Discovery as part of our process and working through the problem space, it became clear that the current application was not the root cause of the high return rate. On the contrary, the onboarding and setup process left Sengled’s customers frustrated and dissatisfied, leading to increased returns within two days of purchase. This revelation dramatically reduced the scope of our engagement, shifting the focus of our efforts from a complete application rebuild toward a mission of redesigning the onboarding process for the Snap app. By conducting extensive user testing, analyzing customer feedback, and revamping the UX and UI for the Snap app - we were able to solve Sengled’s problem efficiently with minimal disruption.
Ultimately, Sengled saved considerable money and time by identifying the root cause of their symptoms through our Discovery process. The final output was clear, delightful to use, and decreased Sengled Snap returns by 50%.
TTT Studios’ dynamic process, coupled with our talented specialists, sets us apart. Our goal is to build the foundation for our client’s projects; this collaborative endeavour sets the stage for a long-term relationship between our organization and our clients. For more information, contact us at email@example.com.