Any business that needs cloud software quickly comes to a fork in the road: Will an off-the-shelf software product work, or is it time to build custom software?
Worthwhile is a custom software developer, but we always encourage companies to explore and vet software as a service (SaaS) options. That’s because a SaaS option can provide more bang for the buck — more features at a reasonable price. That’s why Worthwhile uses SaaS options like JIRA and Salesforce in our business every day.
But not every software need can be solved off the shelf. That means that your company will need to choose a custom web portal, mobile app, web application, cloud software, or integration.
Even when this is the right choice, department leaders or project managers can feel anxiety about what to do next. And with good reason — stats show that year after year, 30% or less of software development projects are completed successfully. About 50-55% of projects are challenged, and around 20% are considered failures.
And the larger the project is, the greater the chance it will go off the rails. If the project is moderately sized, the chance of success falls to about 20%. If it is medium-sized or large-sized, the chance of success is less than 10%. And a grand scale software development project is successfully just 2% of the time.
At Worthwhile, we have worked with countless businesses to deliver successful custom software solutions. Here are the 9 key steps we encourage prospective clients to begin with so they can end their software project with no regrets:
1. Define Success
The first question to ask is “What are we trying to do?” There are two key aspects to consider as you set your goals.
- What problem is the software trying to solve? This is relatively easy to answer. What are your customers complaining about, when it comes to your business or your industry? What are your employees complaining about? What processes are you having to do manually every day, in a way that slows your business down or drains your employees’ time? Eliminating these kinds of pain points is a worthy goal for a cloud software or web portal project.
- What opportunity is the software trying to seize? Maybe, the issue isn’t a pain point. Maybe it’s an opportunity. If you had software that did a specific thing, how could you increase sales? What new customers could you gain? What recurring revenue could you add to your P&L sheet? What market share could you capture? Putting dollar amounts to these opportunities helps everyone in the C-suite understand why custom software development is the right choice.
Answering at least one of these two questions will allow you to calculate the return on investment your business can gain when the project succeeds. If you can, put a dollar amount or a manpower hour total on this number to create a smart goal. This will help you decide how much your business can or should spend on custom software development.
2. Decide What to Measure
Once you understand what success looks like and what your goals are, you can start to think about how to measure success. Doing this early in the project will help to ensure that your goals and your plans are aligned from the start.
Usually, the best thing to measure when it comes to a customer-facing web application or mobile app is conversions. Having a clear definition of what kinds of conversions happen in your business, and how valuable each conversion is, can help to inform the way you build your software.
3. Understand the Complexity
Knowing what success looks like and what you want to measure helps you to understand exactly what your project is trying to do. This defines the complexity of a project. It’s vital to understand the complexity of your project, because complexity is a major determining factor for project cost and project timeline. A clear view of complexity will help you align with a software development partner that’s pointing toward project success—and not just telling you what you want to hear.
4. Set a Budget
There’s a reason we list budget after you define success and understand complexity. That’s because your budget should consider what you’ll gain from your new software, both in terms of revenue and efficiency. It should also be sufficient for addressing the complexity of what you want your web portal or cloud software to do.
Then you can begin to understand what the budget for your project will need to be in order for you to accomplish your goals and also achieve the ROI your business wants and needs.
5. Set a Timeline
The complexity of your project also helps to define how much development effort it will take to build. This in turn determines your software development timeline.
Of course, effort isn’t the sole determinant of timeline. How many developers will be working on your project? Will you be working directly with the developer, or will a project manager help to steer the project? What kind of testing and revision process will you use? All these factors help to determine the timeline, which can vary from firm to firm.
Knowing what kind of timeline you can expect will help you identify when it’s time to start a software build.
6. Understand Timing
As you create a timeline for when you want to launch new software, make sure you also consider timing. Your organization’s leaders will need to invest time to successfully integrate custom cloud software into your business. So do your best to intentionally decide the best timing in terms of:
- Time you’ll need to spend training employees on new software
- Time your project leads will need invest in presentations, revisions, and launch procedures
- Busy seasons for your business that require more customer focus instead of focus on projects like software builds
7. Choose a Programming Language and Framework
One of the core questions a business must answer before building custom cloud software is what programming language it will use. In addition, you will probably need to pick a framework that matches that language. Overwhelmed with choices? Not a problem, an expert will be able to help you (hint, hint).
8. Decide What Kind of Software Partner You Need
Once you understand what kind of software development project your company needs, what kind of complexity you need to solve, and what language and framework you plan to use, then you can pick the right kind of software partner you need. The options include:
- In-house development resources
- Directly hiring a developer or team of developers
- Freelance developer
- Overseas developer
- Software development firm
Using in-house resources — whether they’re currently in place or hired on — provides more direct control, and allows you to adjust to changes during the project more easily. But it comes with the opportunity cost of other work that must wait to pursue your project—or of a project that’s repeatedly paused because of emergencies that arise.
Hiring a developer adds to internal capacity, but it’s not a cure-all. Usually, it’s not wise to hire a developer for a specific project unless your business has a senior developer or experienced project manager in place to ensure code quality and enforce deadlines. Otherwise, your in-house developer ends up working like a freelance developer, only with a steady paycheck.
Freelance and/or overseas developers can provide a low-cost option. However, clients who come to Worthwhile have shared countless stories of freelance developers who bit off more than they could chew—leaving a project unfinished and a business in the lurch. We’ve also heard about many problems with communication, delivery, and quality of code. It will require a lot of time for your business’s project leads to ensure that using a freelance or overseas option will lead to success.
A software development firm like Worthwhile costs more than some other options, but an established firm with established software development processes can provide a level of certainty for your project. A firm can usually help guide you through some of the previous steps on the list if you need advice or more information. Worthwhile does this frequently.
9. Pick a Software Development Firm
If you decide that a software development firm like Worthwhile is the right choice for your business, then it’s time to pick one. If you have decided on one programming language and/or framework, that should be a key factor in your selection.
You’ll also want to make sure that your business and your firm are aligned in terms of approach. To do this, ask questions like:
- How will our business review development?
- What is the revisions process?
- What is the scope of the project? How clear is it?
- What happens to the project timeline and budget when something changes?
These questions will help you identify a software development firm you can trust to partner with you. This is vital to the success of a project.
Because this is such a crucial decision, it’s important to consult with a firm before hiring it.
Congratulations! You’re Ready to Begin
After completing these steps, you’ve done the due diligence required to set your business up for a win. And remember this: starting well is just the beginning of the software development process. You’ll need to be diligent throughout the timeline with things like revisions and feedback to ensure your project stays on the path to success.
Let’s end with good news: It is possible to launch successful custom cloud software, web portals, web apps, and mobile apps. Worthwhile has done it time and time again. You can beat the odds with the right approach and the right partner.