The Discovery Phase of App Development: Key for Success

1 year ago
The Discovery Phase of App Development: Key for Success Image

The discovery phase of app development is crucial for the success of your mobile app. What is app discovery? The first of the app development phases, app discovery lays the foundation for design, development, and deployment. Comparable to strategy development, discovery phase goals are to:

  • To build a shared understanding of your vision and objectives through detailed research, discussion, and analysis of your idea
  • To visualize the entire scope of the app, defining a feature set that will drive app goals and create real value for users

Those new to the app development process might wonder what on earth we are unearthing in the discovery phase, so we’re going to devote this post to a deep dive into what’s involved. As a best practice, we recommend the discovery phase include two parts—first, research and then, the discovery workshop—described in detail below.

Discovery Phase Part 1: Research

Most mobile app development companies use a workshop-style meeting to discover, or “get to the heart of,” your idea. But there’s work to be done first to make that meeting more effective.

Before launching into an app development project, it’s critical to clearly define the opportunity you have in mind and reflect on what solutions already exist. Research at the outset of the discovery stage includes:

  • Opportunity analysis
  • Competitive analysis
  • Industry analysis

This analysis is necessary regardless of whether your target user is an internal team or a consumer external to your company. Even for gaming apps, differentiation is always valuable.

Opportunity Analysis

The Opportunity Gap

In app discovery, opportunities arise when there is a gap. That gap exists between what is currently on the market and possibilities open up for economic change, technological advancement, or new social trends. 

When you develop an app to fill the opportunity gap, it’s part science and part art. But the app development process always involves creating a solution perceived as meeting three criteria: the app must be useful, usable, and desirable. Even apps aimed at improving internal productivity or systems must meet these criteria. If people don’t perceive a benefit from using your app, they won’t bother.

Customer Development

The more you can do to define the opportunity you see at the outset, the better your success at creating the right product and knowing how to market it. This process, sometimes called customer development, is a way to reduce business risks by challenging assumptions about who the customers are, what they need, and why and how they do their work.

In her book Lean Customer Development: Build Products Your Customers Will Buy, Cindy Alvarez writes, “Customer development is critical to success but grossly underutilized.” Alvarez offers practical education in customer development, noting that only customers make a product successful. In her words, “Without customers willing to buy a product, it doesn’t matter how good or innovative or beautiful or reasonably-priced a product is: it will fail.” 

Every hour spent defining the customer pays dividends in the development lifecycle. That’s because knowing your customers means knowing which features are critical and which are not.

Market Considerations

To help define the opportunity and be best prepared for the discovery workshop, start by answering key questions about your app. Work together with your team to consider areas like these:

  • Your Value Proposition: What problem will this app solve?
  • Your Target Market: For whom will you be solving that problem?
  • Your Market Size: How big is the opportunity?
  • Minimum Expectations: How does your target market address the problem currently?
  • Requirements: What features are critical for success?
  • Your Differentiator: Why are you best suited to do this?

Competitive Analysis

External & Internal Solutions

Once you’ve defined the problem as clearly as possible, you’ll need to learn about the currently available solutions—the alternatives to your app, which will help reveal key factors: 

  • External Competition: If you’re selling an app externally, alternatives to your app will become your competition. You’ll need to quantify what unique value your app will bring relative to them. 
  • Internal Efficiencies: If you’re looking for a solution to gain internal efficiencies, what you need may or may not already exist. Competitive analysis will reveal whether you can use an off-the-shelf app, which could save you money and time, or if you need to have something built that’s tailored to your unique needs.

Market Intelligence

Where do you go to find out more about the competition? Here are three places to look and analyze:

  1. Search Engine: One of the best places to begin is simply on your favorite search engine. Look for products using relevant keywords that describe the functionality of interest. 
  2. App Stores: You’ll also want to search Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store similarly. If you find apps that seem relevant, download them on the appropriate device and experiment with them so you can see their strengths and weaknesses. 
  3. Reviews: Reading reviews will also give you insight into potential gaps in functionality that might be opportunities for you—or red flags if you were planning to use the app in your organization.

If a similar app already exists, consider whether developing something new is worthwhile. Your app development partner can help sort through this market intelligence to help determine where and how you could differentiate.

Industry Analysis

Understanding the competitive landscape can give solid insight into obvious hazards opposing your market entry. But there’s no guarantee of success if the current competition is weak. Here’s where industry analysis comes into play. This type of analysis may not be possible until later in the app development phases, but we’re including it here because any insights you can bring to this end are always helpful. 

Industries are constantly changing, and buyers, suppliers, and other companies are all dynamic factors influencing who will prevail and profit. Sources to understand these dynamic factors can include: 

  • Industry experts—what has worked, what hasn’t, and what trends do they foresee?
  • Conferences & events—how does your competition interact with and attract customers?
  • Tech trend reports—what are the newest companies and technologies?

Industry analysis can help put you ahead of competitors, elicit additional ideas for your app, and improve your market positioning overall. 

Discovery Phase Part 2: The Workshop

Once you’re equipped with as much information as possible on the user’s needs and business opportunities, you’re ready to engage in a discovery workshop with your app development partner.

Discovery Workshop Goals

At InspiringApps, we want to analyze the opportunity from every angle. We use the discovery workshop to marry our technical and process expertise with your user and market knowledge. Our goals are to visualize the entire scope of the app and to help you define a feature set that will drive app development and create real value for users.

While we want to “dream big” during the discovery phase, we advise our clients to avoid creating a product that “does it all” in its first iteration. Instead, the aim is to leave discovery with a plan to build something that allows users to accomplish just a few core tasks perfectly.

This concept often referred to as the minimum viable product (or MVP), is derived from Steve Blank and Eric Reis’s lean startup movement. The MVP is an app (or other digital product like a chatbot or an Alexa skill) that is as simple as possible while providing a useful and enjoyable experience.

Why do we suggest the MVP approach? Simpler products are easier and less expensive to design, build, and maintain. Building an MVP also enables you to get honest user feedback on your product before you’ve invested a lot of money building something that wasn’t quite right. Even the best market research isn’t as good as a trial with your user base.

Discovery Workshop Methods

User Story Mapping

While there are various ways you can define your MVP, we recommend and apply a method called user story mapping. User story mapping outlines the users’ needs and ensures the use-case scenarios align with the product objectives for your app.

Minimum requirements for a viable app are best able to surface when we clearly describe who your users are and how, when, and where they will use your product. This user-centered approach highlights fundamental technical decisions that need to be made early on, such as starting platform (iOS, Android, web, etc.), device form factor, integrations, and analytics.

Success Metrics

While we cover app analytics in another post, we’ll note here that it’s important to define success metrics and desired ROI at the beginning of your project. Doing so enables your app development company to help you determine how to measure these metrics and build the right analytics tools later in development. Even the first iteration of your app should have at least one key metric you’re evaluating to know you’re on the path to success.

Discovery Workshop Output

Once the MVP has been defined, app designers should spend time developing sketches and then wireframes to help your stakeholders visualize the user experience. These wireframes can serve internal teams and provide a way to get external feedback through user testing, saving time and money before developing code. For more details on wireframes, see our post describing the app design process.

Closing Thoughts on the Discovery Phase

It may be tempting to gloss over the app discovery phase, but time invested before digging further into the app development process reaps significant benefits later. App discovery enables you to identify your user base, define what will create real value for them, create a matching feature set, and test assumptions while it’s still easy to make changes.

To learn more about the app development process and fine-tune your app design ideas, visit:

Let’s build something together

Have an idea? We help clients bring ideas to life through custom apps for phones, tablets, wearables, and other smart devices.
Recent Posts

Business & Strategy

How Company Culture Drives Innovation in App Development

In today’s fast-paced, high-demand digital world, clients expect app development agencies to deliver highly innovative and top-notch solutions—an impossible task without the right people working. Companies that prioritize creating creative workplace cultures are well suited to hire and keep talent that drives productivity, teamwork, and respect.  A company’s culture is critical to its success in the app development industry. This blog post explores how an innovative workplace culture within an app development agency can lead to better solutions and experiences for digital product owners. What is innovative company culture? An innovative company culture is a collaborative environment that encourages out-of-the-box thinking and fosters a spirit of exploration and experimentation. It’s a paradigm that values diversity and inclusion, understanding that unique perspectives are the bedrock of originality and innovation. A supportive company culture: Practices clear communication and mutual respect, creating a space where everyone feels heard and validated. Emphasizes creativity and intellectual curiosity, encouraging employees to challenge norms and create disruptive solutions. Trusts employees, cultivating a landscape where individuals feel safe to express ideas without fear of judgment or ridicule. Shies away from office politics, focusing on collective progress rather than individual agendas. More and more employees are seeking this innovative and empowering company culture. A recent study by Glassdoor found that 77% of job seekers consider company culture before applying for a job, and 56% of employees rank culture as more important than salary. These numbers indicate a shift in the job market, with employees prioritizing personal growth, creativity, and job satisfaction over financial remuneration. This shift changes how companies attract talent and significantly impacts team synergy and client satisfaction. How Company Culture Fuels Innovation Among App Development Employees Consider a high-performing app development team. Behind their success, you’ll often find a vibrant, supportive company culture providing the backbone for their achievements. This culture doesn’t just exist; it actively molds, empowers, and inspires the team in key ways. Employee Longevity & Retention A positive company culture: Fosters employee loyalty. Boosts morale. Reduces turnover rates. Leads to a more dedicated, efficient, and satisfied workforce. This culture is a noteworthy factor in retaining talent and attracting new, competent employees, thereby contributing significantly to an organization’s success and efficiency. At InspiringApps, we prioritize building a workplace culture that inspires creativity and empowers employees to innovate and contribute meaningfully. All these facets of the company culture allow our team to thrive and grow at the company, leading to long tenures. Nearly 40% of our team has worked together for six years or more.  A statement from an InspiringApps team member on our recent anonymous survey illustrates the power of culture to impact retention: “I have never worked with such a talented and supportive group of people. Management is incredibly honest, transparent, and ethical, and if anything, I never want to leave!” Collaboration, Teamwork & Respect Maintaining respect in the workplace and presuming the best of your teammates is essential for any successful company. Errors are usually a result of process problems, not people, and a good company acknowledges that to make room for understanding and learning rather than blame and defensiveness. This approach significantly reduces the negative impacts of office politics on team dynamics, fostering a more supportive and collaborative atmosphere. An environment where each member feels valued, heard, and judgment-free, truly fuels innovation. When people feel safe to think differently, take calculated risks, and push boundaries without fear of retribution, they can contribute to creating innovative products that resonate in the marketplace. InspiringApps values teamwork and collaboration, with employees contributing in good faith and focusing on producing the best work. The absence of politics and the encouragement of mutual respect create a positive atmosphere where everyone’s voice is valued. In another quote from our recent employee survey: “Management finds the best people to hire in every department. Mutual respect is genuine among all team members.” Impact of Positive Company Culture on Clients A vibrant and positive company culture benefits employees and profoundly impacts clients. When employees are motivated and respected and work collaboratively, it translates into their work and service quality. Clients receive exceptional quality products and services, building trust and strengthening relationships. The energy of a positive work environment permeates through every interaction, making clients feel valued and appreciated in a few specific ways. Client Benefits of a Positive, Supportive Culture Good communication with app partners brings clients a significant business advantage. Working with a flexible, positive, and problem-solving-oriented team ensures that client needs are accurately understood, prioritized, and effectively addressed, resulting in tailored solutions that align perfectly with their business goals. This transparent, open, and consistent communication minimizes misunderstandings, reduces project delays, and increases efficiency. It fosters a synergistic relationship in which clients are regularly updated and are part of the decision-making process, thereby nurturing trust and satisfaction. Ultimately, these elements contribute positively to the client’s bottom line, as the more accurately the solution addresses their needs, the greater the return on their investment.  InspiringApps’ style brings these benefits to the forefront. While bringing an outside expert perspective, our honest approach to problem-solving helps propel solutions forward. For example, our client, Fidelity National Financial, commended our collaborative approach: “We appreciate that the InspiringApps team is straightforward and honest. If there’s something we’re doing that doesn’t make sense, or that’s hard, we just have conversations about it. No games, no dancing around it—you just tell us, and we work through it together.” Client Benefits of a Collaborative Culture In many situations, clients who partner with app development companies boasting a robust collaborative culture enjoy amplified project success. Having access to a top-tier talent pool, they are privy to the best and most innovative ideas coming to the fore. This collective talent shares many perspectives, brainstorming ways to approach the project to optimally meet the client’s vision and goals. The collaborative culture ensures that the team is not merely ticking off a task list but engaged in a continuous process of ideation, refinement, and innovation.  At InspiringApps, our culture results in a bespoke solution that encapsulates the client’s unique needs and aspirations, far exceeding a standard, one-size-fits-all product. As a recent InspiringApps client, Good Nutrition Ideas, stated: “Working with the InspiringApps team of designers and developers was an excellent first app experience for us. They were already familiar with accessibility issues in apps and app development, and they continued to learn and deliver on this app directed at people with disabilities. We anticipate working with them again, which is the best recommendation there is!” Supportive Company Culture: A Win for Employees & Clients An innovative workplace culture within an app development agency is vital in creating better solutions and experiences for digital product owners. Creating a supportive work environment emphasizing teamwork, innovation, and respect leads to a highly motivated, engaged, and productive workforce. Moreover, these qualities lay the groundwork for creating a solid foundation for employees’ personal and professional growth, resulting in an overall positive experience both for employees and clients. At InspiringApps, we remain committed to fostering an exceptional workplace culture, driving employee engagement and productivity, and developing innovative solutions. We’re proud that, as a result, we’ve been Certified™ by Great Place to Work®  for three consecutive years. Discover how culture fuels everything we do by viewing our Inspired Employees Make InspiringApps series.

3 months ago

App Development

People, Process & Scalability

The goal of building an app is to eventually watch it grow in popularity. No business owner has ever said, “I’ll spend money on an app and hope it stays at the bottom of the download chart!”  Scalability is the end game for most apps, but it is more than just building the app and hoping someone downloads it in a crowded app store. Defining scalability—the balancing act between taking an application’s capacity to grow while maintaining its performance—should be top of mind for any organization developing or adapting applications. Dozens of factors complicate scaling. Development teams must consider future-proofing code, responding quickly to scope or requirement changes, and focusing on the people involved: end users, developers, and designers. People-first scaling demands thoughtful strategies on how best resources can efficiently meet customer needs while aiming for superior results. In this blog, our engineers and developers offer insights into the power of people and processes and how they work together to reach scalability goals. What is scalability? Scalability refers to the capability of expanding a system in a focused and strategic manner, allowing it to effectively handle increased traffic and accommodate growing demands. App scalability involves thorough documentation and the accumulation of knowledge right from the outset, ensuring a solid foundation for future growth. When done right, scalability enables you to spend more time solving business vs. technical problems—and saves money in both coding and maintenance. While there may be multiple approaches to achieving scalability, the key lies in carefully selecting one method and remaining consistent throughout the system’s development and evolution. By doing so, organizations can ensure the scalability of their systems and effectively adapt to changing needs and requirements. Considerations for Scalability Clarify Your Goals: Engineering teams need to set crystal-clear goals to achieve scalability. Understand different ways to achieve scalability, including a surge in traffic, orders, sales users, or speed. Map out a timeline and budget for your scaling endeavors, ideally before you begin the project. Build for the Future: Launching a minimum viable product (MVP) is a quick and cost-effective way to get started on a small virtual machine. However, it’s crucial to approach it with a forward-looking perspective. Engineers and developers may need help with the temptation to optimize too soon, so leaving room for future optimization and app growth is vital. Plan for Scope Changes: In a project, it’s not a question of whether the scope changes but when it does. Scaling brings changing requirements in terms of technology and features. It is crucial to acknowledge this from the beginning while building. The key is to ensure extensibility. People-First Scaling Developers and engineers should remember that their creations are not solely meant for fellow developers (although a widely used application will inevitably involve interactions with many developers along the way). It is equally important to consider other stakeholders who will interact with the application, such as designers, stakeholders, and end users. Here are some valuable insights on scaling with a people-first approach. Test Assumptions Don’t rely on untested assumptions about what users want from an app. Users generally desire fast, high-quality, cost-effective solutions, but achieving all three can be challenging. Instead of presuming, ask the right questions. For example, inquire about the importance of loading videos quickly or whether security or speed takes precedence. You can gain valuable insights to guide your decisions by asking these pertinent questions. Delay Decisions Delay decisions as long as possible. Small decisions made over time can compound into something unattainable. This is especially true with end users, particularly in the case of native mobile apps. Users have specific expectations regarding how these apps should operate compared to web apps. While many things may change and evolve, having good, clean code will facilitate these changes. Investing time in writing quality code is always worthwhile. Stay Focused To achieve scalability, developers should decouple components to enable independent functionality, making updates more manageable. When considering mobile scaling, there are three key aspects to focus on: Evaluating how to scale new features effectively. Implementing compartmentalization to enable independent work for future developers joining the project. Developing strategies to ensure updates are tolerable. Respect Your Team You’ll undoubtedly add new team members who bring a fresh perspective to a complex project. However, it’s essential to carefully evaluate recommendations and changes. How one new person does something could lead to developing a bad habit that becomes the norm. To scale an app with your people on top of your mind, it all comes down to respect. You’re all learning from one another, from the developer to the designer to the user who downloads. Focus on building a collaborative environment for everyone to be able to scale together. Establishing a Process To Scale Your App Maintaining and managing a project is crucial for building a solid code base. If you continuously onboard developers to work on an ever-expanding list of features, prioritizing your process becomes paramount. Avoid taking shortcuts and establish a robust foundation for long-term success. Here are a few tips for creating a process that will stick. Defining a Process When working with multiple developers, teams, and leaders, it is crucial to establish transparent processes. Leaders play a vital role in determining the essence of the application, while smaller teams focus on tackling specific feature sets. Frequently, these teams operate in parallel but independently, emphasizing the need for proper staffing and training to ensure consistency and seamless integration. However, avoiding overstaffing is essential, as involving too many individuals can hinder progress. Research suggests that there is a tipping point where additional resources slow down progress in the wrong direction. Documentation Matters To mitigate potential issues, anticipate future questions from your team, establish well-defined tickets, clearly define your workflow and responsibilities, and clarify specific acceptance criteria. Things To Watch Out For Rushed coding can lead to sloppy development and an app vulnerable when scaled. Refactoring or restructuring the code without altering its original functionality may be necessary to address these issues. However, refactoring can pose a significant challenge when it comes to scaling, as it requires keeping the base code of the project intact, even as scope and requirements change. Refactoring can add years of work to the project, especially at the platform level. Secret to Scaling: Value Your People & Process Successful scaling of an application is not solely dependent on technology but equally hinges on the people involved and the processes they follow. People-first scaling, focusing on the suitable composition of teams, well-defined roles, and proper training, is integral to achieving streamlined operations and meeting project goals. Equally important is establishing robust development processes, which guide the production of high-quality code and form the bedrock of a scalable application. Processes ensure an app remains resilient despite changing requirements. Scaling is about balancing the human element with the technical and ensuring that one complements the other.

5 months ago

Blog Categories
App Design
App Development
App Marketing
Business & Strategy
Client Projects
Culture & Innovation
Digital Products
InspiringApps News
Mobile Industry