Why Do App Development Companies Require “Discovery” to Provide a Quote?

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Why Do App Development Companies Require “Discovery” to Provide a Quote?

Why Do App Development Companies Require “Discovery” to Provide a Quote?

So you’ve been contacting app development companies to get a quote for a custom mobile app.

Each time, you hear the same thing – in order to give you a quote they need to complete a “Discovery” process with your team…and there’s a charge for that.

If you’ve never purchased custom software, and you work in an industry where upfront quotes are common, you’re probably wondering why they charge for a quote, or why they need so much information to provide one.

To you, this may be frustrating, or downright absurd.

It might help to understand why this process exists in our industry. I’ll explain.

What is Discovery?

Simply put, Discovery starts with your app development company meeting with your team to find out what your requirements are.


  • the business challenge your app will solve
  • who your user base is and what they need
  • features and functionality you expect
  • technical requirements
  • and so on

Your developer then takes all this information and creates a blueprint (scope of work) for your app. This ensures everyone is clear on what will be built.

In short, your app developer needs to know WHAT they are building. And you need confidence that they get it, and aren’t just slinging around numbers in order to win your business.

Providing a quote without knowing exactly what they are building is like throwing darts, while blindfolded, after having one too many drinks, and while dodging an incoming paintball gun assault.

You don’t want that.

Heads Up, a Quote is More Than An Estimate

During an initial call with an app developer they might be able to provide you with a rough estimate based on understanding the type of app you need built.

By “rough estimate” I mean something along the lines of:

  • “An app like that will generally run between $50,000 and $100,000”, or
  • “We built an app that is similar to what you are describing and the first version was about $150,000”

If your project is highly complex, or vaguely defined, an estimate might not be possible at all.

But wait, you want an exact quote, not a “rough estimate”.

Here’s What Your Developer Needs to Provide a Quote

In order to provide you with the quote you want, your developer needs to know exactly what they are building. Your custom-designed, custom-built app is not like the last new car you bought.

When buying a new car there is a sense that you are customizing it …leather or fabric, manual or automatic, colors and so on. But you know that these cars are already built and your choice just tells the dealer which to take you to on the lot.

You are not designing a new style of seat or building a new type of engine from scratch.

With a custom app this is exactly what you are doing. And until this is discussed, your developer knows little of what you need or want.

They find out during Discovery.


What Happens During Discovery

[ Scroll past the list to skip the technical jargon]

Traditional software discovery includes a mix of the following:

  • Meetings with your team to understand your business and what you need
  • Possibly meetings with groups of users and/or research to ensure we build the right solution to meet their needs (meaning, so that they will actually want to use it and find it beneficial to do so)
  • Determining your hosting and data requirements:
    • hosting capacity required to support the traffic your app will receive
    • will the app use existing data stored on your servers, or will a new database be created?
  • Understanding the backend requirements:
    • are we also writing all the necessary web services?
    • reviewing documentation in the case that the web services already exist
    • designing the backend if it does not already exist
    • ensuring an existing backend meets the needs of the app
  • Meetings with our team (developers, designer, project management, and so on) to determine and confirm what we are going to build
  • Writing out an in-detail list of features and functionality for your review and approval
  • Possibly designing the visual skeleton of the app (wire frames)
  • Estimating time and pricing all of this detail out
  • Writing the formal documentation, proposal and creating the contracts
  • Review with your team
  • Possibly more meetings depending on your feedback, or decision-making process

Depending on the complexity of your app, the Discovery process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

In terms of time and staff resources, the developer brings a lot of skin to the table, and expertise, to design a custom solution for your company.

There’s a charge because, well, would you work for free for two weeks or more?


“But, We Know Exactly What We Want and Already Have the Requirements Documentation Drawn Up”

Have you already completed the discovery phase with another company, but aren’t happy with the service or quote you received? Or perhaps your staff have drawn up the documentation and you need quotes from three vendors.

The reality is, even with rock-solid documentation from your team, it is still very time consuming for an app development company to read through it all, process it and price it out.

With your documentation in hand, some app development companies might respond to your Request for a Quote/Proposal (RFQ/RFP) at no charge. But, the investment of time is still high, and many won’t take the risk of throwing their hat and resources into what is essentially a bidding war.

“We’d Like a Quote From a Few Different Companies, How Can We Avoid Engaging All of Them in a Discovery Process?”

I’d actually advise you to avoid basing your hiring decision on an exact quote. Here’s what I’d do instead.

Find a few companies you are interested in working with. Contact them and book an initial meeting to learn more about their approach, breadth of knowledge, and as an opportunity to get some of your questions answered. Review any client case studies, testimonials or portfolio projects on their website.

Ask questions, including whether a rough estimate is possible. Which companies provided a rough estimate that fell within your budget range?

Do you prefer to work with a very large agency, or a smaller boutique style company? The experience will be different; have a sense of which your team prefers.

Hire based on all these factors…look for the best overall fit, and with whom you feel most confident.

Engage that company in the Discovery process. You’re still not locked in, and it’s a great way to get a sense of how you work together…before making the larger investment of development.


The Answer In a Nutshell

In short, app development companies require Discovery (i.e. requirements gathering, planning and documentation) in order to provide a quote because they can not quote without knowing, in detail, what they are developing.

Discovering that takes time (days or weeks), and time is money…would you and your team work for free for a couple weeks?

And believe me, you don’t want developers to quote without discovery – think about how much price padding would need to be applied to cover their bases if quoting based on a one paragraph email, or a single phone call.

And Finally

Regardless of whether or not you require a quote before hiring, the Discovery process is the first phase of any (properly executed) custom software build.

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