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Why and When Do You Need a Project Discovery Phase in Custom Software Development? Why and When Do You Need a Project Discovery Phase in Custom Software Development?

Why and When Do You Need a Project Discovery Phase in Custom Software Development?

May 09, 2024

10 mins read

On average, large IT projects run 45 percent over budget. Common factors behind this problem are poor planning, lack of understanding of the factors that shape the software development cost, poorly defined project vision, lack of risk mitigation practices, etc. The discovery phase for software development eliminates budget and time overrun risks and gives you a clear understanding of what to do and what resources you need.

Today, we explore the value of a discovery phase in custom software development, cases when you shouldn’t omit it, core benefits of a well-organized discovery phase, and its essential stages. 

What is a Discovery Phase?

A discovery phase is an important part of the project, which, typically, takes place before the active development of the custom software solution.

During this phase, business analysts (BAs), UI/UX designers, and a software architect closely collaborate with the customer to analyze business goals, understand user needs and behaviors, define the project scope, and establish project goals and objectives. A successful project discovery phase involves much research, interviews, and project planning. 

While some straightforward projects with clearly-defined requirements may not need a discovery phase, there are cases where it is absolutely mandatory. In addition, the complexity and the duration of a discovery phase depends on the complexity of the project and the specificity of a customer’s vision. Therefore, a discovery phase can range from a mere research of high-level requirements and UI/UX concept blueprints to outlining a detailed and specific roadmap to project implementation. 

The most valuable and common discovery phase deliverables are outlined in the table below.  discovery phase of project

When Do You Need a Software Development Discovery Phase?

The discovery phase of a software project is beneficial to a broad range of cases, as it helps businesses reduce costs and the solution’s time to market. However, it is especially vital for complex projects involving a broad list of requirements. A discovery phase allows businesses to organize and define their business, end-user, and non-functional requirements more clearly, gaining a better understanding of the project flow and resources required for its implementation. 

The discovery phase is also essential for projects involving long-term cooperation, as it allows both the development team and the customer to come up with a roadmap for the continuous development of the solution. 

In addition, one of the most critical benefits of a discovery phase in software development is that it allows businesses to come up with a clear list of requirements. These are the important recommendations on whether to run a discovery phase or not:

  • If you don’t have a clear list of business and end-user requirements and/or a design concept, the discovery phase is mandatory. 
  • Without a vision of app architecture, the discovery phase is very important. 
  • You may skip it only in straightforward development projects, with simple requirements and small-to-moderate project scope. 

Companies that lack business and end-user requirements, design concept, and vision of app architecture are likely to face the following problems:

  • Misaligned project timeline and cost expectations, especially in the projects involving a fixed price model
  • Unclear project requirements leading to delays, misunderstanding, and inconsistencies through the development process
  • Increased risks due to the lack of understanding of the potential risks and the lack of risk mitigation strategies
  • Inefficient resource planning, which can also result in project delays, budget overruns, and poor technical decisions disrupting the project flow. 

In sum, the table below highlights the importance of a discovery phase, depending on the set of requirements you already possess. 

discovery phase service for software development


What Are the Benefits of a Discovery Phase for Custom Software Development?

A well-organized discovery phase of a project brings a wide range of benefits. Upon its successful completion, you will get the following advantages:

  • Aligned project vision and expectations for you and your development team, as a discovery phase involves much communication between the stakeholders
  • Detailed solution roadmap with time and cost estimates for each project phase
  • Defined solution architecture and tech stack, which positively impacts the pace and the quality of development
  • Risk mitigation strategies, as a discovery phase involves the assessment of risks (security concerns, project misalignments, failures to meet deadlines, etc.) and the development of risk mitigation strategies
  • Defined objectives and metrics defining project success, ensuring better manageability and tracking of the project
  • Сlearer project vision, which improves project planning and allows businesses to embrace a well-structured development approach saving cost and time

Key Stages of a Discovery Phase

The software discovery process can be roughly divided into 4 primary stages. These stages often include many activities, such as interviews with customers and involved stakeholders, research, brainstorming sessions, competitor research, analysis of technology trends, planning, etc. Let’s take a deeper look at each of these stages. 

1. Requirements gathering

The main specialist involved during this stage is a business analyst. It is a person responsible for understanding the business side of the project, researching the market competitors and potential market opportunities, as well as outlining the end-user needs. Client involvement is vital during this stage, as they help the business analyst (BA) understand the business-related project objectives and user requirements. During this phase, a BA interviews the customer and launches brainstorming sessions with them. 

Besides, this stage requires the involvement of a software architect responsible for collecting non-functional requirements. Some activities handled by a software architect during this requirements gathering phase include: 

  • Identifying metrics: A software architect identifies what performance, scalability, reliability, usability, and security requirements are vital in the context of the project. This specialist also determines specific metrics like response time, concurrency levels, uptime, etc. 
  • Prioritization: An architect assesses the impact of each non-functional requirement on the business and prioritizes them based on business needs. 
  • Documentation: An architect documents all non-functional requirements clearly, providing a reference for future phases of the project.

If a project involves the development of a custom UI/UX design from scratch, a design team should be also involved during this stage. The role of a project manager (PM) during the stage is minimal. It is typically reduced to setting up meetings and coordinating the communication between the customer and the team. 

2. UI/UX design concept preparation

During this stage, UI/UX designers take the primary role. They create several app design wireframes and, often, moodboards, setting the foundation for a UI/UX design concept. Client involvement is vital because they should help designers understand their vision and review the design concept. Depending on the level of control you, as a customer, need you can either approve all design concepts or focus only on the most crucial decisions, while leaving most of the job to a UI/UX designer. Active involvement of a business analyst (BA), as a professional responsible for adhering to the project’s business logic is also required during this stage. As a result of this stage, the team should come up with a vision of the solution’s design, which is vital for further planning, including architecture vision development.

3. Architecture vision development

At this stage, a software architect is a specialist responsible for transforming the project’s business logic into a vision of an architecture design

This stage involves: 

  • Architecture and technology stack selection. An architect should assess different architectures, technologies and frameworks to find the best fit for project requirements and non-functional requirements. This specialist chooses an architecture design, infrastructure and technologies for the backend (.NET, Ruby, PHP), frontend (Angular, React), mobile (native, hybrid) databases (Relational, No-SQL), cloud (Azure, AWS) and other necessary tools (Redis cache, CDN etc.).
  • Feasibility study. An architect determines if the current technology stack and the proposed technologies can deliver the project within the desired parameters. 
  • Risk assessment. A software architect identifies potential risks related to technology, team, project scope, and integration with other systems. This specialist should evaluate the likelihood and impact of the identified risks and develop strategies to mitigate or manage the risks. 
  • Prototype development. In specific cases, a software architect develops a prototype to validate assumptions, test the feasibility of critical features, and refine requirements. This activity leaves much space for research, allowing an architect to identify and solve technical challenges and innovate solutions for complex requirements. 

The architecture planning stage is followed by resource planning. That’s when a software architect defines team composition, roles and responsibilities based on the project’s technical needs. This specialist also identifies and arranges for necessary hardware and software resources required for product development, testing, and deployment. The next step involves the estimation of effort required for solving each task or developing each feature. It is followed by the estimation of costs, based on the effort, resource requirements, and other project needs.

Customer involvement during this stage is minimized, as almost all technical tasks are handled by a software architect.  

4. WBS completion and other documentation

The outcomes of all phases of the discovery phase are documented by team members involved, namely a BA, a UI/UX designer, and a software architect.

In most cases, a software architect creates a WBS document  that outlines all the tasks and subtasks required for completing a project and serving as a roadmap for the project execution phase. This document also includes time and cost estimates for different project phases. 

By the end of the discovery phase, all aspects of the discovery phase, including requirements, architectural decisions, design frames, risk assessment results, technology choices, and plans, are documented. This documentation should be accessible and understandable to all project stakeholders and team members.


A discovery phase is your safeguard from project cost and time overruns, as well as other risks in complex projects, long-term projects, or projects where you lack even high-level requirements.

A well-grounded software discovery process gives you numerous benefits, such as reduced development cost and time to market, aligned project vision and expectations for stakeholders, a detailed solution roadmap, defined solution architecture and tech stack, efficient resource allocation, minimized risks, and defined objectives and metrics for tracking project success

In most cases, it involves the four ultimate stages, namely requirements gathering, design concept preparation, architecture vision development, and WBS and documentation preparation. If everything is done properly, you will get very tangible and measurable advantages. 

For example, with a successful discovery phase, Leobit helped the U.S.-based externship company build a platform that streamlines the externship coordination process. The solution serves as a central hub where educational institutions and clinics can seamlessly connect, collaborate, and optimize the externship experience. A thorough research and planning during this phase helped the team avoid unnecessary expenses, reduce the solution’s time to market, and come up with a list of unique selling points, such as smart matching algorithm, integration with clinics database, and a monetization model for clinics. 

In addition, Leobit ran a successful discovery phase for a real estate business to minimize the expenses on the development of a large property bidding app. A clear understanding and organization of market demands of customer requirements, which has emerged as a result of a thorough research and planning, allowed us to decide on some functionality, significantly increasing the solution’s usability for its target audience. In particular, a discovery phase helped us plan features for selling property without involving agents, as well as an action to additional content management services within the application. 

Contact us to handle the full cycle of implementing your idea, starting with a well-grounded discovery phase that secures you from risks and allows you to deliver a solution in the most cost and time-efficient manner possible.