There are many reasons why your organization or business may need a new custom-built software solution. You might need a new platform to manage future growth, or a set of features to exceed what your competitors are doing. You could be looking to improve your workflows for employee productivity, or better solutions to enable customers and partners.
There are also many ways that your software project can go down the proverbial rat hole. Haven’t we all heard of the software project from hell? In the recent past, the well-publicized problems and cost overruns of implementing the health insurance market for the Affordable Health Care Act (AKA Obamacare) were a painful reminder of how many things can go wrong in a custom software project. Without delving into the particulars of that instance, it’s important to note that even projects on a much smaller scale can go awry if not well thought through.
Below we have listed some key areas to think about carefully in order to plan for success.
What is the big picture?
It sounds trite, but often the overall goal and value proposition to be delivered is lost amid technology, competitive pressures, and personal goals. For example, one retail company may decide it needs a mobile app for telling customers about in-store specials when they walk in the stores. It may very well need that, especially if a competitor has just implemented a similar product. On the other hand, the right question to answer may be “how do we best communicate in-store specials to customers as they walk into the store?” The former is a solution that may or may not address a problem. The latter is a question that frames a potential business problem. Mobile technology may be a solution and even a leap forward, but the answer for a given retailer may not even be a technology solution at all.
Is there a real value proposition to an important constituency within the organization?
This can be internal or external: employees, customers, suppliers, partners, or channels. Understanding who a proposed solution helps, and being able to measure how they will be helped, is an important part of understanding the value proposition.
How will you measure a project’s value?
There are traditional ROI measures as well as more subjective measures. plus competitive reasons that can be cited for moving forward with a new project. What do we mean by more subjective ones? Perhaps a new user-friendly internal system for documenting company policies and procedures puts them at the fingertips of every employee, from any device. There may not be any measurable productivity improvement initially, but employee satisfaction may eventually increase dramatically and that may be measurable in several ways down the road. Sometimes taking a long term approach to measuring value may be key in justifying something that intuitively is the right project to do, but may not be justified in short term metrics.
If it’s a big change in the way business is done, will the organization – or customers, partners, etc. – be ready for the change?
What happens if the system doesn’t work right? Are there fallback options? These need to be considered. For example, a new system in a support call center that has multiple glitches can have mission critical implications. The solution needs to be tested at scale in the right way.
Emotional decisions can also drive a project down the wrong path. This may be due to an executive decision that a project needs to happen by a particular date. This could be to meet a competitive threat or some quarterly goal already communicated publicly. That might be a good rallying cry for a complacent organization – or it may not be rooted in reality. It’s important to plan projects for success, with the right amount of resources allocated and a realistic plan to achieve an aggressive timeline.
Are there competitive risks?
For example, while your company is still working on developing a new customer portal, might your competitors leapfrog you with something you never considered? Of course that may happen, but it’s important that you understand how you might address that issue in the future.
What if the constituents are dissatisfied with a new system you’ve deployed?
How can you address the issues? Architectures and frameworks need to be thought through so you can react to problems in a reasonable time frame.
Do you believe the project time and cost estimates?
Estimating what you know how to do is often hard to get right. Estimating what you don’t know how to do is really hard. Consequently, estimating what you don’t know that you don’t know – that’s often where most of the trouble is. You can’t know all the answers to issues before you start a project. However, you can build a plan that has contingencies for the unknown.
Do you have a responsible, realistic budget?
This can often be a huge factor in getting something completed. Funding a long term custom software project that spans multiple budget cycles may be tricky. Furthermore, custom software is expensive and unfortunately, cost overruns are common in our industry. At FrogSlayer, we pride ourselves on being ruthlessly efficient with your budget. We work with you to agree on a scope of work upfront. We make sure there’s a responsible budget for the project and then we’ll back it up with the industry’s only 100% cost guarantee. If your project runs over-budget, we’ll eat 100% of the additional cost until it’s caught up.
How committed is the team/management to the project?
The highest level of management necessary needs to be brought in for a project to succeed. As a result, they will commit the funding and other organizational resources necessary. Does management understand the value of the project? If they can’t articulate it, chances are they’re not going to be committed to seeing it through. And if they don’t understand the value of it, the chances of getting more funding if there are overruns will be slimmer.
Do you have any personal experience with failed software projects? We’d love your feedback on this and your experiences in planning and implementing your custom solutions. Please leave a comment below or contact us to get in touch.