What Is the Discovery Phase & Why Do I Need It?

Scott Batchelor

Capturing users’ attention is becoming increasingly difficult. Whilst the digital economy continues to expand, users of web and mobile applications are now more selective than ever in the things they download or use. The result of this is that only the most detailed, well-planned products are able to gain the traction necessary to cause disruption to their respective markets.

Discovery is the phase of a mobile or web application’s development life cycle that happens prior to active building and is designed to ensure that brilliant products do not fail. In it, business analysts, designers, developers and marketing teams collaborate over research pertaining to your target audience, competition and strategy.

In short, Discovery lays the foundations for a successful digital product, creating the project direction and minimising the risk of creating an application that underperforms.

How Does Discovery Help in Project Management? 

We recently released a Netsells Report: The State of IT Project & Programme Management in 2020, in which we uncovered the main challenges faced by delivery professionals at both an organisational and individual level, alongside exploring how and where third-party suppliers are being used to support successful project delivery.

One key takeaway from the report is that scope creep is currently the biggest detrimental risk in the creation of large-scale projects, with over 50% of respondents citing it as a key challenge. One Project Manager even recalled how scope creep resulted in more widespread damage to their organisation:

“Scope creep has resulted in the termination of contracts, a one year legal battle and the loss of a number of highly skilled members of staff due to stress and frustration.”


A key advantage of the Discovery phase is that it allows for close accountancy of project scope. Working collaboratively, businesses and third-party suppliers are able to create detailed functionality and timescale plans, allowing for closer monitoring of internal teams and ensuring resources are not mismanaged. 

Steps in the Discovery Phase

While the kind of research you do and the information you gather largely depends on your business goals and application type. We typically adhere to the following stages to ensure a platform is built on the right foundations:

1. Concept Analysis

So, you have an idea for an exciting new digital platform and business model, but is it viable? Although the idea of building an app can be very exciting, in some cases it might not be a well-informed business move, leaving you with a hefty development bill and an underperforming product. 

In Discovery, thorough research and analysis determines how much business potential your idea has, testing demand, paid model feasibility and long-term value forecasting. The outcome of this is a complete view of your idea’s commercial viability, including an informed opinion on whether or not your web or mobile application is likely to be successful.

2. Market Analysis

One of the most important parts of Discovery is market analysis. Deep knowledge of your audience is integral to informing the functionality of your app - attributes such as age, occupation, income, region, gender and other attributes are all influencing factors in your monetization potential. 

In addition to market research surrounding potential users, you also need to perform a competitor analysis at this stage. You need to be sure that no one else is already offering the solution that you are planning to develop. If they are, you need to scope them out thoroughly and find gaps in their services that you can fill.

3. Requirement Gathering

Once the relevant background research has been completed, we move on to the requirement gathering phase. Here, features and functionalities are carefully mapped and all of the different tools required to create a fully functioning app are accounted for.

It is important to do this during the Discovery phase, as you will develop only the features that are essential to your user experience, increasing the efficacy and ‘stickiness’ of your app, helping you to attract the right users and keeping them engaged.

4. Wireframing

The next phase of Discovery is wireframing. Here, the basic user experience of the app is laid out, allowing you to see where the functionalities of the project lie as well as how they are connected. Although you do not gain a sense of how the product will appear visually at this stage, it allows for the deepest possible understanding of the mechanics of your product.


5. UI Prototyping

Wireframes are expanded upon to include graphical elements, allowing you a full view of exactly what the finished product will look like. At this stage, you will be able to put yourself in the shoes of the user and begin to navigate your web or mobile application as if it were the finished product- functionalities (particularly those which are reliant on databases) won’t work at this stage, but this is your first visually-aligned prototype.  

6. Tools and Technology

At this stage, you decide all the languages, platforms, frameworks and other technologies you will be using for development. It is important to cover this in Discovery as the right tools need to be used in order to create a robust, secure product that fully reflects Discovery-driven frameworks. 

Why Have a Discovery Phase?

There are massive advantages to conducting the Discovery phase which often prove crucial to creating successful digital products. In taking the time to analyse your target market and gain a full understanding of the needs and preferences of your user, you are able to create a personalised experience that is both attractive and engaging. 

Additionally, by clearly defining project goals, you can accurately account costs and overall timelines, minimizing loss and errors. You are able to avoid last-minute charges, ensure the application is timelined appropriately and ensure that resources aren’t mismanaged.  

Share this insight