Have You Doomed Your Software Development Project Before You’ve Even Started?

Here’s what you need to do to make sure you don’t.

For many businesses—and perhaps yours—it’s been a struggle to play catch-up with rapidly advancing technology. Mobile responsive websites, modern e-commerce experiences, API integrations, and moving on from antiquated CMSs are just a few of the common project requests we see on a regular basis. And for many of those clients, this is their first time taking on such a project.

So, if you’ve found yourself considering a similar undertaking, here are a few tips to help you navigate what can be a difficult and unfamiliar journey.

Choose a Product Owner

Nothing gets in the way of project success like too many cooks. By delegating power, though not necessarily all the work, to a single individual, you’ll minimize indecision and help avoid delays.

We call this decision maker the Product Owner, and it’s crucial they truly own the keys to making decisions. Make sure this person has the time and flexibility to take meetings with your design & development team, review their work, and do overall research into the work being done. An informed and engaged product owner makes collaboration a piece of cake.

Be Mindful of Product Lifespan

Technology advances at an exponential rate, not a linear one. That means whatever you’re building will likely become outdated sooner than you think. If you think your product needs to survive only six months of use, that’s going to require considerably different planning from one that needs to last for 5+ years.

For example, let’s say you’re in need of an application that chronically pulls data from one API and outputs in an excel format that’s specific to a team of people and sends it out in an email. There might be a few different third-party tools that, put together, can accomplish this.

But if the need for this product is long-term, it may be preferable to build a custom solution rather than relying on less-established platforms whose own lifespan isn’t guaranteed. But if the need is temporary, you could potentially save a lot of time and money by leveraging a set of other tools.

Platform vs. Custom Applications

There are a variety of platforms for nearly every technological use case. Wordpress, Shopify, Firebase, & Stripe are just a few of the platforms we’ve developed on, and we always find that, while we enjoy each of their unique benefits, we also grapple with their limitations.

Platforms, by nature, are highly structured and offer a specific way to solve a given set of problems. Their ways don’t always suit a given client’s needs and we’re then forced to discuss the feasibility of building a custom product instead. It’s important to know there are always tradeoffs no matter which path you choose.

In the case of custom apps, you may be salivating at the thought of getting the exact experience and feature set that you desire. But there are a few concerns to be aware of before you head down that path.

  • If your app starts experiencing bugs or needs critical security updates, chances are you’re going to have to go back to whoever made it to get those fixes. If you switch to another developer, it’ll take considerable time to get them acquainted with the project.
  • Custom builds usually take (much) longer and therefore cost (much) more.
  • Even the most successful products never perfectly do the job they were designed to do right out of the oven. So be sure to think beyond the initial build and what it will cost to support and improve the product long term.
  • With products built on top of established platforms (Wordpress, Shopify, etc.), you can usually find a lot of developers both locally and globally capable of working on your product. The best platforms support their developers as well as their customers and offer integrations with other tools that provide a level of extensibility that would be much more costly to accomplish with a custom app.

Start With Content

For content heavy products, especially brochure sites or blogs, projects often hit delays near the end after the design has been finalized and development is close to complete. It’s at that point that clients usually start putting in real words in place of lorem ipsum and real images in place of stock photography.

But this approach is deeply flawed. If content is the focus of your product, it should be the focus of your design and, therefore, the design shouldn’t happen until the content is finalized. We’ve too often seen designs built around perfect paragraphs of lorem ipsum that are all the same size only to find out later the real content doesn’t line up so perfectly; they needed bullet points instead of paragraphs, or they want a video instead of an image. These are all things to know when design kicks-off.

By thinking through what exactly you want your product to say and how it will say it, you’ve made your designer’s job much easier and greatly increased the likelihood of success for the project overall.

You Get What You Pay For

Like with most things, there’s good, fast, and cheap, but you can only have two. The best software takes time and involves additional resources spent on unit testing (additional code that ensures everything is still working before and after any changes), QA, and thorough user testing.

That’s not to say that only big budgets will find success; there’s no shortage of colossal projects that have never seen the light of day. But the right amount of time, preparation, & project management know-how, nearly any budget can have success.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Digital product development can be fraught with delays and cost overruns if everyone involved isn’t adequately prepared. At Helpful Human, our experiences working with a variety of technologies and project sizes have given us the foresight to know where those delays and overruns often occur. We’ve distilled those past experiences into practices and systems that give our clients the best chance at success, regardless of their budget.

So if you’re prepared to take the next step and want to find out more about how our team can help bring your digital product aspirations to life, give us a holler.