The Project Discovery Phase, Dissected

March 14th, 2013 by Dominick Accattato

When clients first reach out to Infrared5, they are often extremely excited about turning their ideas into a reality. We share their enthusiasm and can’t wait to dig into the project details. However, sometimes, there are numerous great ideas and not a lot of concrete information. This can be true for any project — games to enterprise applications. When this is the case, we sometimes suggest a Discovery and Planning Phase.

The Discovery and Planning Phase allows both the client and our team leaders to work together to elicit requirements and document the system architecture in a way that is meaningful for developers, designers and the client. It is typically very collaborative in nature. This phase also ties in disciplines such as business analysis, domain driven design, technical writing and design.

It’s important to note that not every project requires a Discovery and Planning Phase. Not all discovery phases are set up the same way. Some clients have a very detailed understanding of what they are trying to accomplish. In these cases, the client may already have specifications, but they are unable to develop the very complex technical component. In these cases, we suggest a separate path; one in which a focused Proof of Concept is provided. (We will cover Proof of Concept in a future post.) For now, we’ll assume the client has a larger system and is in need of defining the project. This is what the Discovery and Planning Phase attempts to achieve.

What is a Discovery and Planning phase?
A discovery and planning phase allows for the client to have direct access to our senior software developers and/or creative lead in order to define project requirements. With these requirements in hand, our development and design team can investigate and document the software/design components of the project. The goal is to clarify scope and verify the parties are on the same page prior to beginning production. Another benefit of the discovery phase is that certain technical challenges may surface from these discussions. (Pioneering applications are a specialty of the house here at Infrared5.) These high risk items may lead to a phased approach whereby the highest risk items are given their own Proof of Concept phases. (This is discussed with the client so that they have an understanding of our findings and why we have suggested a multi project, phased approach.) In the end, clients have the opportunity to remove the high risk item if it doesn’t fit with their release date or budget.

Who is involved in the Discovery Phase?
During the Discovery Phase, the team consists of a project manager and technical lead who are in charge of assessing the technical challenges that lie ahead for the development phase. The technical leads here at Infrared5 each have their own expertise. For instance, if the client approached us with an immersive 3D game, we would allocate one of our senior game developers to the Discovery and Planning Phase. The same would be true of a complex web application. One of the potential benefits of using a group like Infrared5 is that we also maintain a diverse group of developers who are experts in their own field of discipline. From gaming to streaming applications, we employ a renowned team of developers and designers who are truly experts in their field. Also during this phase, our creative team works closely with the client in order to flesh out UI designs, experience design and branding needs of the project. The creative team helps clients define their goals and the best strategy to meet them.

What can be accomplished during the Discovery phase?
One of the common questions we get from clients is, “What are the benefits of doing a Discovery and Planning Phase?” In most cases, there are a few documents produced. These are the Technical Requirements and the Software Requirements Specifications. It can be noted however that depending on the needs of the project, this may only require one of the two or a hybrid of each. Another document which may be produced during the Discovery and Planning Phase is a High Level Technical Overview. Just as it sounds, this document is high level. It does not aim to get into too much detail at the software component level. Instead, it resolves the more general system architecture and specifies which components may be used for the development phase.
For gaming projects, there are different details to focus on and these must be determined before the developers begin programming. A Game Design Document is necessary for describing the game play and the mechanics behind some of the simulations. Often this requires the technical lead and game designer to work together.

For both gaming and applications, the creative team delivers initial design concepts and wireframes to be augmented later in the design phase. The creative team also works closely with the client in regards to the user experience.

Ultimately, the Discovery Phase ensures both parties are aligned before any, more extensive, design or development begins in later phases.

What is delivered at the end of a Discovery Phase?
At the end of the Discovery Phase, the three important documents delivered to a client are:
• High Level Technical Overview
• Technical Requirements Specification
Software Requirements Specification

In the case of a gaming project, the typical document would be:
Game Design Document

In the case of both gaming and application projects, the following design related material is provided:
• Design Concepts
Wireframes

Upon completion of the Discovery phase, Infrared5 has enough information to provide more accurate estimates and timelines for completion.Each of these documents are important and we suggest searching online in order to further your understanding of their purposes. This article illustrates what steps are taken and what is delivered at the end of our Discover and Planning Phase.

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