The journey to build custom software, especially when outsourcing to a development shop, can be a daunting and stressful path if not done right. That's why it's important for development teams to break down the process into pieces.
That's why the complicated task of building custom software can be compared to a jigsaw puzzle. Where the end result is defined long before the most crucial pieces are separated out of the pile. Just as the puzzle's guide lies printed on the box, the blueprint for a software's success lies in the Discovery Phase. This phase creates a strong foundation for the project where future pieces of development can be assembled with ease. Unfortunately, many dev shops these days disregard the importance of this phase. Either leading to 'fake solutions' that waste valuable resources on both sides, or building a product that is doomed to fail.
In this article we'll piece together what a Discovery Phase includes, what makes this phase so critical to the software process, and how this process will help you in your search for investors. Get ready to become a Discovery Phase genius!
What is a Discovery Phase?
The first step in the custom software process is known as the Discovery Phase. Why? Because in order to start a software project, developers will need to dig deep to 'discover' and understand the real problems that need to be solved. Without discovering the root of a business's problem, every 'solution' will come up short. As if two harmonious-looking puzzle pieces are forcefully connected together, the solution may seem great at first, however later down the road you realize the problem still exists.
That's why professional dev teams put so much energy into the Discovery Phase. If developers can target the root of a business's pain point from the beginning, it'll result in success for the product and the client's business.
What takes place during the Discovery Phase?
Although the goal of the Discovery phase stays the same, the order and depth of the process may change depending on the type of software being built, business size, client budget, development shop skill level, team size, and more.
In our sake though, the Discovery Phase starts with a project consultation.
Consultation. Scary word, right? Well In our case, what we really mean by consultation is a friendly conversation about your project. Dev teams like ours prefer to first figure out if the business relationship is something we could both have success with. No need to reach for your excel spreadsheets before sitting down for an initial consultation.
Once both parties agree we're the right fit for each other, we transition to the next step of the Discovery Phase.
Undoubtedly one of the most important steps of the Discovery Phase is the wireframing process. Wireframes detail what the software will look like, how other features will flow with the main functionality, and how users go from point A to point B within the interface. This is called the user flow.
Wireframes are created by first meeting with the client to discuss primary goals and visuals. Next, a sitemap is built to further explore the user's flow. Finally in our case, a team of UI/UX designers will design screens using Figma or Adobe XD based on the previous info provided, with update meetings sprinkled throughout.
With wireframes being so visual, many people make the mistake thinking that the wireframing process can be skipped if they don't care about the design of the software. But most development companies will tell you that design shouldn't be an afterthought. It's no surprise that aesthetically pleasing software is more popular than something that looks like it was made out of someone's garage in the 90's. However, when you compare two applications based on how they perform, the bad looking app that has perfect flow and functionality will win every time. Remember, user flow is most important, while the design and aesthetic are secondary (but still very important!).
That's why development shops like us who use an in-house UI/UX Design team have the ultimate advantage of piecing together the best of both worlds. Software that has great functionality, is easy to understand, and is aesthetically pleasing!
What wireframes do:
- Provide a clear example of what the final product looks and feels like.
- Discover the missing pieces needed to fully reach your product's goal.
- Provide an easy way for users to test design and flow choices.
- Act as a marketing tool to find investors and supporters of your product.
- Give developers an easy-to-follow guide during the architecture and development phases.
What wireframes DON'T do:
- Have any real functionality other than a visual guide.
Now that the puzzle's box is visually documented from the wireframing process, it's now time to build a detailed roadmap to reach it.
The Architecture Phase does this by having developers re-engage with the wireframe—breaking it down into individual systems that will make it function correctly in the end. The idea here is to make sure the systems are thought out in a way where there's a proper foundation for future features and integrations to connect to.
Developers then take those pieces of development and attach an hourly estimate to each of them. Resulting in an estimated completion time for the finished application. We then multiply the hours estimated by our hourly cost and bam! We have our estimated project cost.
Since development is tricky, things are likely to change or experience a hiccup. That's why these 'estimates' are purely estimates. However, the more experienced a developer is, the more accurate their estimates will be. That's why as a company who holds transparency in high importance, we only hire developers who are software development veterans.
After architecture is complete, the estimated timeframe and cost is presented to the client to talk about next steps.
The Discovery Phase is an integral step in the development process. If you're a business that's about to embark on a custom software development journey; starting your 'puzzle' with a detailed image on the box is important. Clients who take the time to prepare for their project by participating in the Discovery Phase will meet their actual product goals MUCH quicker than those who skip out!
And remember, be careful when choosing a dev shop!
It's normal for development companies to show off beautiful-looking project examples. And when those products actually solve their client's problems, then that's a home run case study. However, when dev shops neglect the Discovery Phase, they will make their fake solutions look good in order to generate more leads.
Our advice is to not let beautiful design overshadow the developer's solution. What might LOOK good, may not FUNCTION good. Always take product showcases with a grain of salt. Instead, look at both product showcases, AND customer testimonials before hiring a development shop.
If you'd like a more in-depth list of tips you need to know when hiring a dev shop for your project, read this article!