There’s no disputing that app development is a complex process. Developers follow a process that’s hard — and expensive to change once it’s in progress. So getting all the details straight before development begins is vital for you and your development team to work effectively. Product discovery is an essential early step in bringing your application to market.
However, not everyone shares the opinion that product discovery is useful or necessary. Well, spoiler alert: it is.
Here’s what you should expect as you start to hand off your app development project to an external team. Communicating your unique needs and features will help start your development on the right path.
What is product discovery?
Product discovery is the stage where your developers and project managers learn everything they can about the application idea and start thinking about how to delegate work. It’s also a chance for developers to propose better ways of delivering a feature or improving UX.
In our early talks with clients, there’s a common refrain. That they know their businesses, don’t need advice, and will not waste time on product discovery. Here’s why that’s a mistake. Developing an application is difficult and there are lots of features that have to work together.
You have to juggle functional, stable infrastructure with user-friendly design — and do it in a way that fits a market need.
As a business leader, or a developer, or anyone really it’s impossible to think of everything from all perspectives from the beginning. Developers may not understand the business or industry needs and business leaders may not know the minutiae of programming frameworks. So taking the time before development starts to align the vision and goals will save you in the long run. You want your developers to understand the product and the market it will serve so they can make informed decisions.
Part of the reason to hire an external team is to access the comparative advantage of professional developers. If there’s a simpler solution, developers will usually find it and this can mean better usability in the final application or less resource-intensive functioning.
Empowering your tech partner to take the initiative and run product discovery sessions is a great way to set the tone for further development. Product discovery at Applandeo follows a methodical approach divided into three steps — discovery, analysis, and alignment.
As soon as we sign on new clients, we start the discovery phase of product discovery. These early meetings are the vital first steps in an app development project. Developers, project managers, product owners, and often the business leaders themselves join in to give insight and answer any questions the team has. Some common questions from your developers at this stage are:
- What’s the main goal of the product?
- Who are your ideal users?
- Are there any industry-specific considerations we need to know about?
- Who are your competitors and where do they fall short?
This is the moment for developers to learn as much as possible about business goals and the target market. Also, what features as well as the overall look and feel of the final application is laid out. Often a UI/UX designer joins the discovery phase to consult on design choices or to align on existing creative assets if they exist already.
Most important for the discovery phase is to communicate your vision and get everyone on the same page. As I mentioned, it’s impossible for one person to have every aspect of app development figured out. It’s a process of creating, testing, and adjusting that needs a solid, intentional plan from the start.
Once the discovery phase is complete, you and your team can move on to the analysis phase. It’s here that you take the items you discovered in the previous phase and start suggesting solutions for how to delegate and deliver.
This is the time to dig into details about requirements, your tech stack and to start fleshing out wireframes. It may also be a good time to start testing out some of the ideas, which makes the app easier to change later on.
At this stage, encourage your developers to suggest ways they think you could improve the final product. Get their input and feedback about tech stack, user interface design, or anything about the application.
You may think you want developers who simply follow directions but you really don’t. Find a team that will be honest and open with you and listens for ways to improve the app early on. It’s much cheaper to change something in discovery than it is once it’s in production.
One recent example of this from an Applandeo project was a requirement in an app to fill in a contact form. In the specs, the form had a long list of data points including address, mobile and work phone and other really unnecessary fields.
Our UX designer pushed back and suggested we only require one field — a work email since prospects are more likely to fill it rather than bounce off the page. It was a simple suggestion, but one that’s an easy fix when everything is still on the drawing board.
To fix it later would cost development and testing hours to resolve. Or could cost you valuable leads if people don’t leave their contact details at all.
After discovery and analysis, it’s time to decide on a product backlog based on the list of requirements and wireframes that came out of product discovery steps 1 and 2. Some initial features may not make the final cut. And some solutions your development team proposed may not be a good fit in the end. Here are some of the tasks in the alignment phase:
- Agree on a final list of features
- Build a backlog of tasks
- Agree on designs
- Prioritize tasks in your backlog
- Start delegating work to available developers
Alignment is for everyone involved to come together and agree on a final game plan for further development. It helps your development team and product owner refine their thought processes to continue to focus on the product you and your users want.
It’s the final step before development begins, so it’s time to prioritize tasks in your backlog ordering them from most to least urgent, and start assigning work to developers.
Product Discovery Outcomes
By the end of the product discovery steps, you’ll have a solid plan for further development. Wireframes, feature lists, and designs help speed up app development since everyone involved already knows where to start.
Product discovery also refines the time estimates your vendor quotes. Project managers are essential parts of the product discovery phase and help break down tasks and delegate. With a very clear picture of what the product aims to do and how it should look, it’s much easier for project managers to give you an accurate figure.
Without a product discovery phase, you’ll likely end up frustrated with development progress and may even end up with an application that does not do what you want it to do. No one can know everything about an app from the beginning. Not developers and not business leaders. That’s why it’s essential to iron out all the details before you’re in too deep.
Product discovery clarifies your developers' questions about your business, its users and the overall design. It also gives developers and designers a chance to offer features you may not have thought of, or of solutions that improve the overall application.
While many think product discovery is a waste of time, it’s actually a time saver. Hours you spend early on means you’ll spend a lot fewer later.