Let us tell you a secret.
We want to tell you how to spend less money with our company.
Why would we do this? It’s because at Worthwhile we care about our clients. One of our values is honor, which means we don’t try to gouge you for every dollar you’re worth. When you purchase a custom software project from Worthwhile, we want it to be the right size and the right budget. We want every dollar you spend to be in your best interest—and that means we want to help you keep some extra dollars in your pocket when it’s possible.
How do we do this?
- First, our internal systems are strong, which allows us to do work profitably.
- Second, we work to build relationships in which we serve as our clients’ software partners over the long term. We believe that doing good work for you and earning your trust every time will be more profitable for you and for us in the long run. So we act in a way to build that kind of partnership.
- Third, we use an established process that helps us right-size projects from the beginning.
When your company is considering a custom software project, you should look for a vendor with these three things. The first two you can discern for yourself, based on the conversations you have during the consideration phase.
In this post, we want to talk in more detail about the third item—process—and how it can help you right-size your project and spend only the money you need to spend so you can get the best price on custom software.
Step 1: Set the budget
The first step is to figure out what kind of budget you plan to allocate to a custom web app, portal, mobile app, or website. This will determine what kind of firm you can afford—and it will allow you to quickly mark potential firms on or off the list.
Your budget may need to be flexible, because the process may help you understand addition ways to return money on your investment. That may change the value calculation determining how much money you spend.
A firm may also tell you that your budget is not big enough for the custom software project you want to build. If that’s the case, you may need to set aside more funds, or reduce the scope of what you want to build at first.
But knowing your budget from the start is a key step in making sure you don’t overspend, because it will keep the software development companies you vet honest in your initial discussions.
Step 2: List your requirements
Once you have estimated a budget, it’s time to sketch out your requirements for the custom software project you want to build. Answer basic questions like these:
- What does it need to do?
- How does it need to work?
- Who needs to use it?
- How do they need to use it differently?
It’s important to be focused as you do this. At Worthwhile, we read way too many RFP (request for proposal) or similar documents that list every option under the sun. These documents appear to have gone through multiple decision-making levels, and everyone added their favorite feature on. The end result looks like what a five-year-old creates at one of those self-serve frozen yogurt topping bars.
Since your business isn’t run by five-year-olds, you need to act like adults and choose the features and functionality that are really vital to business success.
Your in-house team may be able to list requirements fully. If so, you’ll be able to gain a ton of certainty about the price of your project quickly. That’s what happened in our engagement with Athene Annuity. The Athene team had an incredibly thorough and considerate list of requirements, which allowed for price certainly and a quick timeline. It was an impressive document.
But many businesses don’t have the in-house manpower or experience to produce that kind of document. So go as far as you can on your own, swallow your egos, and move to step three.
Step 3: Know what you don’t know
Now you know what you want to build, and you know roughly how much you’d like to spend. Now it’s time for more questions:
- Do these two things match up?
- Is what you want to build the right thing to build first, or will a different order get you more bang for the buck?
- How great is the chance that your idea will actually lead to ROI you can measure?
- Will your idea actually make life better for your employees?
- Will your idea actually be attractive enough to gain enough users to make the finances work?
This is the point where most business leaders run into a wall. That’s why it’s important to do research—competitor research, user research, employee surveys, and more.
Let’s look at two key categories to see why this is important.
You might have an idea to build a great piece of custom software, and you’ve run the numbers to see that adding efficiency will deliver solid ROI.
The mistake some companies make at this point is assuming that the gained efficiency is automatic. It’s not. You’ll have to sell the software to internal users to get their buy-in, and you’ll have to train them on how to use it.
Here’s one antidote to this issue: a shadowing session with employees will help you understand where the true inefficiencies are. It will also reassure your employees that you’re solving the real problems that make their work annoying on a regular basis. It will also help you see where problems you see aren’t actually big deals—saving you from building software no one wants or needs.
It’s just as vital to know what you don’t know in terms of your end users. We’re currently working with a startup that is talking to potential customers for an innovative software offering, but does not yet have a contract. Because of that uncertainty, they’re building their software prototype one small step at a time, and then gathering feedback.
This approach allows them to make progress without spending their whole budget on software that might have to change depending on which sales domino falls first. It’s a wise approach that puts this business in the best position to succeed long term.
The bottom line is that asking good questions helps you focus on building software that solves problems. This right-sizes your project and prevents you from building software no one wants or will use.
This always reminds me of the way comedian Chris Hardwick described Google Plus: a beautiful playground that no one actually visits. No matter how good software is, if it doesn’t fit a user need, it’s not going to be valuable in the long term.
Step 4: Build the minimum viable amount of software
This step is one of the hardest for big-picture business leaders. They see all that software can do, and want to build all the features and functionality now.
That can be a mistake, unless you’re building software to meet an established business process or user need. In these cases, a waterfall development approach can work well.
But most of the time, there are variables and uncertainty around a project, and that means a more agile development approach makes sense. This means building one section of software at a time, testing it and getting it working, and hearing back from users. Repeat this process, and you’ll eventually get a great system—one that fits together and works for users, without much waste.
Sometimes, the minimum viable amount of software isn’t even software—it’s a clickable prototype. This is especially true in situations where a startup is trying to gain investment or sell an idea to customers. You don’t need fully functioning software to give people a picture—you only need something that gives the flavor of what you’re doing. You can build this in a prototyping tool (we often use MarvelApp) without spending any time, effort, or cash on back-end programming.
The good news is, this can actually serve as a form of user research as well. It’s easy to make changes at the prototype level, but much more complex to make changes once software is linked to a data warehouse or integration.
One More Secret
Here’s another secret about process that most firms won’t tell you: process of presenting work and getting you to approve it during a project has a huge effect on the overall budget.
At Worthwhile, the value of process doesn’t stop with deciding what to build. An established, proven also allows us to intentionally streamline things like approvals, revisions, and feedback loops that can so easily knock software projects off course and off budget. The process around feedback is an important thing for you to consider, no matter what software development firm or development approach you choose.
A true software partner should help you navigate uncertainty so you can build the right amount of software at the right time.
This will let you avoid paying for software you don’t need, or for software that you’ll have to replace quickly.
This is how process can help you save money on software development.
So take the time to make good decisions at the outset. Your bottom line will thank you.