07 May Building Custom Software: 5 Essentials for Long-Term Benefits
Custom software can be a life-saver, making your days easier and business more profitable for years to come. Or, it can be a massive headache when it fails to solve real-world problems or evolve alongside your needs. Failure or success hinge on key steps that must happen before you dive into software creation.
But first, you need to figure out if custom software is right for you, or if you should buy off the shelf?
If repetitive data entry, manual processes or mistakes take hours to resolve, that’s a strong case for automation, ensuring your business remains competitive. In that case, custom software is ideal if mass-market solutions simply cannot solve the challenges that are unique to your organization, or can’t do so without forcing you to rework processes and workflows so much, it ends up creating new headaches.
You see, the goal of custom software is to ease everyone’s workload, eradicate mistakes and barriers so you can direct your resources to other priorities, like attracting more customers and keeping current ones happy. Custom software development also should be a no-stress process when following a proven path to software planning and execution.
If you’ve determined custom software is the way to go, we advise you to carefully consider (and don’t rush past) the following steps.
(Not sure whether to build or buy? We’ll link to a handy guide below to help you discern what’s best for you. We’ve also written about key considerations here.)
1. First, evaluate existing processes.
Resist the urge to start with a wish list of software features. Your initial idea for the perfect design may be inadequate, and could even create new problems. Instead, understand current processes, where blind spots or gaps lie, and get crystal-clear on the problems you want your custom software to solve.
2. Next, build your plan and define your budget.
Knowing what your problem is costing your business today is important to discerning what’s a fair investment in a custom solution. We’re talking hard costs as well as manpower, service delays, lost productivity and opportunities hindering your profits.
Simple questions that can spawn good discussions and clarify your best path forward include:
- Where do delays or errors occur today, and what are the ramifications?
- What tripping points do prospects or clients seem to have a hard time with?
- Is there a better or faster way to your desired results?
- Is your model scalable? Can it support evolving needs as your business grows?
Use the Inverse-Square cost calculator to help you.
At this stage, don’t expect to nail a specific budget number. Instead, aim for a range. Your custom software developer needs to determine what it will take to solve the problems you want solved, and what can be reasonably accomplished with your resources.
Once the initial budget range is established, it’s time to tackle the design and refine the scope of work.
3. Enter the design
Ask questions and ensure you understand your developer’s design process. Also be sure to clarify roles, including your role as a client. If anything seems hazy, ask for clarification.
Expect the design phase to include a gathering of both high-level info as well as detailed requirement documentation. Your development team will also want to meet you face-to-face a few times to thoroughly understand your needs and ensure expectations are aligned.
4. Nail the final cost.
After an effective design phase, we aim to have a 95% complete wireframe — a blueprint of your solution. If all looks good to you, your development team can proceed with a final cost analysis.
Keep in mind this could be a flat fixed bid, or a cost estimate that can fluctuate by 20%.
5. The contract.
Now that you’ve defined goals, pricing, plan and service terms, it’s time to tighten the scope of work and get everything in writing. Typically we see four types of custom software development contracts, each with its pros and cons: time and materials, fixed fee, fixed budget, and capped budget with an accelerated bonus.
With the contract signed, we’re onto the build and installation phases, which you’ll find outlined in the resource linked below. Do take a moment to familiarize yourself with factors impacting your project post-contract. Your input will still be needed, and both you and your developer should be prepared for the possibility that something may go wrong, or the scope or work may change along the way.
When built correctly, your custom software will leave you breathing sweet relief and increase your profit potential for years to come. Need a roadmap to ensure that outcome?