Custom software is becoming increasingly common and valuable in almost every industry — even in non-tech verticals.
From professional service businesses like law and accountancy firms to financial providers and manufacturers, businesses of all types are turning to a custom solution to scale and grow in ways that off-the-shelf solutions can’t achieve.
Embarking on a custom software project is a big commitment, even for founders with engineering backgrounds. This is a journey that can make even veteran entrepreneurs wary.
But it doesn't need to.
Preparing for a customer software development project means becoming familiar with the process, choosing your development partner carefully and having as many of your ducks in a row as possible before development starts.
That’s how you put yourself in a position to make great decisions, budget accordingly and set your businesses up for success.
Start By Vetting Potential Development Partners
Your choice of development partner will be a big factor in your success.
Time spent vetting applicants can be incredibly valuable. Finding the right development agency for your organization is a case of knowing what to look for and understanding what red flags to avoid.
First and foremost, look for an agency that wants to be a strategic partner rather than an order taker, says Kingsmen Software CEO and partner Bill Clerici. You should also choose an agency that is output-driven rather than input-driven. Agencies should care about delivering real business value, rather than billable hours.
Avoid large agencies that flood you with resources. Size does not equate to expertise or output. In fact, we’ve seen many instances in which our small team — perhaps five or so developers — has outproduced a team three or four times bigger. That’s because coding scales with complexity rather than size.
Nor do you want an agency of people who say “yes” to everything. Both parties must respect each other’s domain expertise. You’ll be in a much stronger position with a development partner that pushes back and questions your requests rather than partnering with an agency that promises you the world and ultimately delivers very little.
Ask questions to learn about each potential dev partner. Ask what their values are, and ask questions about their previous projects. Specifically, you’ll want to find out how the agency measures its performance and predictability, says Bill Clerici.
The more predictable an agency is, the better it can set expectations. Any agency can say they delivered what the client wanted. Far fewer will be able to prove they delivered work on time, on budget, and in a way that delivered genuine and measurable value to the business.
Finally, be mindful of what a development partner may be looking for from you. Do you have the internal personnel and processes ready to embark on a custom software journey? Are you willing to take advice as well as give orders? Great software development agencies regularly turn potential customers away.
Review the Core Technical Concepts
In an ideal world, custom software development projects would come with their own dictionary. In lieu of that, you should spend time reviewing some of the more common terminology. We recommend brushing up on the following areas:
Discovery and Product Roadmap
Discovery sessions get all of your team’s ideas down onto paper, ensure everyone is reading from the same playbook and prioritize features for development.
Once your goals are clear, your development partner will break down all of those requirements into smaller and smaller tasks. That eventually creates a roadmap, which will highlight exactly who will do what and how long it will take to deliver the project.
Think about which stakeholders will participate in product discovery. This will help ensure you take their ideas and concerns into account, product management expert and author Roman Pilcher explains. “It also takes advantage of their expertise; and it maximises the chances that they will support the resulting strategic product decisions.”
Time to Market vs. Time to Revenue
Your development priorities will change depending on whether you want to reduce time-to-market or time-to-revenue.
- Time to market is the length of time it takes to get software into the hands of users.
- Time to revenue is the time it takes to start generating revenue from software.
While most applications should prioritize time to revenue, innovative projects may prefer to get the application into users’ hands as quickly as possible and then pivot where necessary.
Minimum Viable Product
A minimum viable product is the smallest number of application features required for end users to use your software. It’s ideal for testing applications before committing to the final development.
“Gathering and analyzing qualitative feedback is a primary task of MVP development,” explains Oleg Romanyuk, head of inbound marketing at KeenEthics. “Based on these findings, you can modify your MVP and test it again. This process turns into a cycle of MVP product development which takes place over and over again until the ultimate customer satisfaction is reached.”
You’ll need an idea of what your minimum viable product should look like, which features you want to focus on and whether your budget can meet the requirements of your MVP.
Consider Additional and Technical Requirements
While your project’s requirements will be defined in detail during the product discovery and road mapping phase, it is important to think about some of the more technical requirements of your project before starting work.
Take change management, for instance. “Change management is a systematic approach to dealing with the transition or transformation of an organization's goals, processes or technologies,” says George Lawton and Mary K. Pratt at TechTarget.
“To be effective, the change management strategy must take into consideration how an adjustment or replacement will impact processes, systems and employees within the organization.” In other words, your project’s goals may change over time, and you’ll need to think about the systems and personnel you have in place to handle those changes.
Your personnel planning should extend across the project. Having a product owner is paramount, but so is identifying who will be responsible for signing off each stage of development, which developers and stakeholders will be involved with discussions, and who has the final say.
Technical requirements, although often best handled by your development partner, should also be considered in the planning stages. Understand the underlying infrastructure of your existing systems, how applications are hosted, and what security standards or other credentials your application will need to meet.
Finally, have project timelines in place. Do you have a hard deadline for when work needs to be completed, or are you flexible? Do you know which features you’d prioritize to meet tight deadlines?
Ultimately, you’ll need to decide whether you can trust your development partner to meet those deadlines. We have met many frustrated customers who tried to save money by choosing a dev firm with a cheaper rate and faster deadlines. They ended up having to spend more time and more resources because their dev partners missed their original deadlines.
That doesn’t happen when you work with Kingsmen Software. We work in partnership with our clients, offer an honest assessment of each project and meet the deadlines we set. Find out more by speaking to a consultant today.
Images used under license from Shutterstock.com.