For many entrepreneurs, the decision to leverage custom software might be an easy one…especially if your core business is built around it (for instance, a new app). The steps to take once that decision has been made, however, can leave many business people frozen like a deer in the headlights.

While there isn’t a universal process for software development, there are some common elements to most software development projects. Some of these elements are potentially Do-it-Yourself actions that can be taken to accelerate the process. These actions ensure that, once software developers are brought in to provide proposals and execute the project, everyone starts on the same page.

The first three steps of our Client-Centric Development Model are a great place for businesses to get started.  By pulling together all of the information needed to define a desired outcome, customers can save time upfront and costly misunderstandings later in the development phases.

One additional benefit to gathering information ahead of time: you’ll be better able to compare apples to apples when choosing a software development partner, since all proposals you receive will be starting with the same background information.

Here are 5 things you can do to jumpstart a software development project:

Client-Centric Model

#1 What’s the Problem and How Do You Define Success?

Your first question to answer is: what problem will your software solve? It is important to clearly and concisely describe the objective of the program. Here are some examples of simple descriptions you may want to emulate:

  • We will create the best way to organize and enjoy the music, movies, and TV shows you already have and shop for the new ones you want.
  • We will create a way to always know what’s happening on the road ahead: including traffic, construction, police, crashes, and more.
  • Our cloud-based Backup and Recovery Software will use the best encryption available to protect your files, photos and more.
  • The new desktop utility will be used by internal employees to check their assigned duty schedules, request time off, and report time spent on each daily task.

Your descriptive statement should clearly and quickly convey what your software (or app) will accomplish for the user.

Once you know what you want to accomplish, it’s time to define what ‘success’ means to you.  How will you and your development partner know you are happy with the outcome?

Before starting a project – but also while the project is in motion – you should beware of moving the goalposts. Don’t set yourself up for failure by shifting objectives late in an active project.

#2 Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

The next step in a custom software development project is collecting samples which have elements you want to emulate or avoid. The example software traits might come from a similar industry, or they might be completely unrelated to your business. At this point, you are just trying to identify elements you like or dislike.

The reasoning behind which elements to include comes down to user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design.

From a post on (“The Difference Between UX and UI Design – A Layman’s Guide“) at Career Foundry:

“UX Design refers to the term User Experience Design, while UI Design stands for User Interface Design. Both elements are crucial to a product and work closely together. But despite their professional relationship, the roles themselves are quite different, referring to very different parts of the process and the design discipline. Where UX Design is a more analytical and technical field, UI Design is closer to what we refer to as graphic design, though the responsibilities are somewhat more complex.”

The point of good UX design is to ensure that the customer journey is straightforward – whether it’s retrieving data to populate forms for an internal report or moving a customer along the road towards ‘buy it now.’

Having this library of examples you are familiar with is to facilitate a smoother conversation with your development partner.  “I want our app to move from A to B like this one does… but I like the button layout this one has.  I tried this other app and it didn’t work well for me because…”

Depending on the desired functionality (e.g., an in-office business system versus a consumer-facing app), mobile will likely play an outsized role in design. Remember, back in 2015, mobile internet use surpassed desktop use for the very first time…and there has been no looking back. The limits on mobile – even in the business world – are crumbling as businesses increasingly employ platforms which support it. Will your service or informational channels be optimized for the handheld experience?

#3 People, Places and Things

In any custom software project, there are a number of factors that must all come together to ensure success.

It is important to remember: code is code. It’s the people who will play a role in the software project that make a difference. Clearly define who will be involved in the project, and consider how they may need to modify their routine activities in order to ensure the project is a success. You may need to work closely with them to develop a solution that maintains business operations while allowing time to be invested in the project’s success.

Think ahead to what you’ll need to prepare for once the software is up and running. What training will need to be created, and what resources will be required to leverage the new tool? Create a plan to ensure all of the appropriate materials are in place prior to roll-out.

#4 Document Everything

A big chunk of the work that precedes software development is documentation. When considering modifications to existing software processes, document the current process and how you want it automated or improved.

Define all data integration points your new software will need. It is typical for all custom business automation tools to require multiple data exchanges with other key systems like payroll, inventory, and billing.  It’s common for new products to have integrations with other common tools like social sharing, payment processors, and package tracking.  It is important for the software development team to know this up front since it fundamentally impacts the software’s design.

You will also need to analyze and list exactly what will be needed to market, sell, and support the software – either to your external customers or internal users.

#5 Check Your Budget – and Your Existing Tech

Your ability to implement your software development project will depend largely on your budget. Clearly define not only your cost constraints, but also time limitations.

The cost of software development & implementation can be influenced by any number of factors which you need to consider.

  • For internal or connected projects, take a hard look at your current technology investments. It’s much easier to own and support new software when it fits in well with the other systems you already own or use. As we explained in a software engineering FAQ: “If a client has several existing custom systems on Windows with SQL Server and has three career .NET developers, it would be doing a disservice to deliver a new product built on Linux with MySQL.”
  • Maintenance and upkeep should never be an afterthought. Long after the new system has been implemented and users have been trained on its use, you’ll need to understand the ongoing costs of maintaining the system. Equally as important, have you identified who will maintain the system?

Software Development: Educate Yourself Before Taking the Plunge.

Having a solid grasp of what you want to achieve, what success looks like, potential technology restrictions, available resources, and budget helps your business develop your software project in the most efficient way possible. It also provides you with a clear understanding of your own technology resources and limitations.