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Product Discovery Phase - Make it or break it in 3 steps

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

Initially posted on

It is estimated that 9 out of 10 startups fail. Yes, the numbers are staggering and the odds seem to be against us, but winning the battle could be as easy as figuring out what doesn’t work and doubling down on what does.

In 2019 CB Insights conducted a survey to answer the question on everyone’s minds: “Why do startups fail?”. Surprisingly, while this is rarely a single-culprit issue, the most common reason is a lack of market demand. Simply put, most startup failures happen because their product or service does not respond to the needs of the customer.

Other common reasons why businesses fail in the early years include:

  • Insufficient financial resources

  • Putting together the wrong team

  • Getting outcompeted by others in the market

  • Pricing and cost issues

  • Lack of a business model

  • Lack passion and innovation

So how do we beat the odds and make sure our product meets the needs of the market?

This is where the Discovery Phase comes into place—the most overlooked and underestimated phase of the product development lifecycle.

What is the Discovery Phase?

The Discovery Phase is the first stage of the software development process. Also known as the research or the analysis phase, its main purpose is to help you gain a deeper understanding of the business needs and requirements.

It brings together stakeholders, product experts, designers and software architects, whose combined expertise can offer a holistic view of the opportunities and challenges involved.

At this point in the process the main focus is to gather as much information as possible about the market, the target audience and the competition. What we want is to validate the business idea in order to determine if the project is worth investing your time and money in. More importantly, we want to ensure that the product is solving a real problem for real people. Keep in mind that, as mentioned earlier, the number one reason startups fail is because of lack of market need.

If done right, it will get your questions answered and from there on you can make calculated decisions whether to move forward with developing the project or not.

At MCRO we advise all our customers not to jump into design and development without having a clear vision of what their product will entail. The Discovery Phase means having a dedicated team of experts validate your idea, kickstart your project and lay the foundation for success.

So let’s jump right into it and take a look at how it works and how it can benefit your business.

How does it work?

While every project has its own unique needs and rhythm, the Project Discovery Phase typically follows the structure listed below:

1. Understand The understanding phase focuses on identifying the needs of the users and aligning them with the needs of the business.

  • Who are the users?

  • What are the challenges you are trying to address through the product?

  • Who are your competitors and how can we gain advantage over them?

Conducting extensive research, studying the competitors and identifying the personas are the first steps towards designing a solution rather than just a product.

2. Ideate

With the knowledge gained from the previous step we are able to start coming up with solutions, define requirements & software architecture, start working on wireframes and even engage with the potential users to get early feedback.

At this point there is no good or bad, it’s a trial and error stage where you have the freedom to experiment. At the end of the day, you need to provide something new to the market and solve problems that others were not able to solve.

There’s a quote from Daniel Pink which guides our mindset when it comes to providing creative solutions to our customers:

“Believe it or not, many people don’t care how awesome your product is. Instead, they care about how awesome they are when they use your product.”

3. Decide

You now have all the data you need, all the necessary requirements, wireframes and research information to make a calculated decision. This is the moment you decide whether to invest into the next solution for your potential customers or rethink the whole project.

It’s easier to decide which way to go when all the risks are identified and you have a clear understanding of the market and the target audience.

Let’s say you find out your idea is not worth pursuing—you dodged a bullet and prevented losing hundreds of thousands of dollars down the line. Moreover, identifying what doesn’t work is only bringing you closer to what does.

On the other hand, if the outcome is a positive one and decide to go through with development, you now have the advantage of having laid the foundation for a successful product.

What are the benefits of a Discovery Phase?

If you’re not convinced whether or not Product Discovery is a good fit for your project, let’s have a closer look at some of the benefits of undertaking pre-development research and analysis with a dedicated product team:

  • Clearly define the scope of the project and the desired outcomes;

  • Develop a solid understanding of your target audience, their expectations and the market in general;

  • Validate your idea against market requirements and make sure that your product solves real problems for its potential users;

  • Identify possible risks and develop a response plan in advance;

  • Prevent costly changes during the development phase;

  • Find out whether or not the contractor—or the team, in general—is a good fit before embarking on the development process.

Product Discovery Deliverables

The final stage of the Discovery Phase is where everything comes together into a viable product concept; the most valuable outcome is a shared, highly documented understanding of the project scope and vision.

So what exactly will you end up with?

Every project is different in size and complexity, but here’s what the resulted product documentation typically includes:

  • Customer Journey Map - A visual representation of the process your customers will go through while using your product. Getting into the mindset of the user can be tricky, but it helps you identify their needs and develop effective solutions.

  • Feature List - A list of key features based on business requirements and user expectations.

  • Information Architecture - A product blueprint designed to map out its infrastructure, features and hierarchy.

  • Wireframes - A low-fidelity representation of your digital product framework.

  • Technology Stack - A tailor-made technology stack to meet your unique needs, one that delivers the most value for your money.

  • Project Roadmap - An overview of your project’s goals and objectives presented on a timeline.

  • Budget - A cost estimate and budget required to successfully deliver the project.

What’s next?

At this point you should be ready to kick-off the implementation phase. Once your idea is validated and you have refined your solution to effectively respond to the needs of the user, you are ready to move forward with your project and build an MVP.

If you have a great product idea that you want to validate, or simply want to learn more about the Discovery Phase, drop us a line and our product team will be more than happy to help.

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