By: Dave Devitt on May 17th, 2018
5 Key Steps to Planning a Custom Software Development Project
Deciding that you want to pursue a custom software development project, instead of buying out-of-the-box software, is only half the battle. You also need to engage in careful planning to make sure that the final product will live up to your expectations.
Custom software development can be a major investment in terms of time and money. Crafting a well-thought-out plan will help you make sure that you get the most out of this investment. Before you pick up the phone to contact potential development partners, you should already have completed the five steps outlined in this article.
Planning a custom software project? Our planning checklist takes you through the key steps to set your project up for success.
The Value of Planning in Custom Software Development Projects
Simply put, putting effort into advanced planning helps you get the most out of your investment in custom software.
Planning helps you account for all the different software features your business needs, so that you won't have to request new features later on down the line. You need to make sure that you address all of the security features and key integrations in the project scope so that you won't drift over the defined timeline or budget.
If you don't plan well enough, then "scope creep" is the likely result. This occurs when the client comes up with new requirements partway through the project, often causing delays and cost overruns.
By covering all your bases before development begins, you can help prevent scope creep and get a polished final product as soon as possible. Key players and subject matter experts within your organization should be as involved as possible in the planning process.
1. Determine Your Goals
The most important question to answer when thinking about your next custom development project is: What do you want this software to accomplish for your business?
- Do you want to expand your company's productivity without having to hire new staff members?
- Do you want to reduce or eliminate errors in your business processes through automation?
- Do you want to streamline your processes by removing inefficiencies?
- Do you want to increase your quarterly sales numbers or improve customer satisfaction?
Before moving to the next step, first identify a few top priorities for the project, as well as the metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) you'll use to judge the project's success in achieving them.
2. Map Your Business Processes
When mapping out your business processes, the trick is to have the key players involved without putting too many cooks in the kitchen. Speak with people who know the most about day-to-day operations and the pain points that employees are facing.
By listening to these issues and suggestions, you can propose solutions such as custom integrations and reports that can make your employees better informed and more productive. On the other hand, failure to understand what your business fundamentally needs will result in a final software product that's not useful to you at all.
3. Establish "Must Haves" and "Nice to Haves"
Just because many things are possible with custom software doesn't mean that you should include them all in your project. Although you may have a grand vision for your custom software, you also need to be realistic and prioritize features in terms of the value that they bring to your organization (whether customer-facing or internal).
The "must have" features are the ones that directly benefit your business: for example, cost savings, reduction of errors, and greater output. The "nice to have" features are those that are desirable, but ultimately optional, such as better reporting features and an attractive user interface.
4. Make Room for Business-Specific Features
No one knows your business better than you do, so you need to proactively consider the industry laws and regulations that you deal with. HIPAA, for example, governs how healthcare organizations store and manage patients' sensitive information, while the PCI DSS standard aims to protect customers' payment card data.
Your development partner might be familiar with some of these standards and may have worked with other companies in the same industry, but they won't know the specific rules and requirements better than you do. It's crucial that you let your development partner know about these early on.
Many industry regulations also require that the software you use is up-to-date and free from security vulnerabilities. Your development partner should perform a sanity check of the software at least annually.
5. Set Your Budget
Custom software can fit budgets of all sizes. The scale of the project, and the addition of custom features such as integrations and reporting, can all play a role in the final figure.
Before speaking with a partner, create an estimate of the project budget. This will help the partner better understand what kind of bang you can get for your buck.
Finding the Right Development Partner
Once you've gone through the five steps above, you should find it much easier to narrow down your options for a development partner. When choosing a development partner, look for companies that are in a location near you, that have relevant experience and well-documented processes, and that are invested in the unique situation of your business.
By putting in the effort in advance to plan out your project and select the right partner, you'll be much more likely to have a successful final software product.