If you are starting a software project today there is a seventy percent (70%) chance that it will experience one or a combination of delivery delays, budget overruns, or outright failure. Similar to other types of projects, there are a variety of things that cause software projects to fail in the same way that there are numerous things that have to be managed in order to deliver successfully. To make things even worse, it is very easy to derail a software project and have no idea it is derailing until it is too late.
There are 4 things I’ll like to share that I believe lay a foundation for successful software projects, they are:
1. A clear business goal.
2. A set of requirements.
3. Unbiased estimates.
4. A delivery plan.
These things may seem obvious but they are commonly overlooked and done poorly. Let’s examine each one how together they form a foundation for a successful software project.
Software projects exist to achieve a specific goal or set of goals (even if experimental). A software project goal could be to make sure a piece of software is available by a certain date or to deliver some business value within a given budget. This goal is what will determine the end of the project, and this has to be set and made crystal clear at the beginning of the project. It also has to be clearly communicated to project stakeholders. It is ok if the goal changes during the execution of the project but then, everyone needs to know it has changed and what the new goal is.
It is not uncommon to find ongoing software projects that have no clear definition of what the goal of the project is. It is also common to find a lack of shared understanding of the project goals among project stakeholders.
Not knowing the end target or goal exposes a software project to delivery delays, budget overruns, and possible failure.
To achieve the business goal of a software project, several features have to be built (or not built, just as important) and these features make up the requirements of the project. The nature of the software project will determine if how much upfront work needs to go into the definition of the requirements. Exploratory projects may tend to leave the detailed definition of requirements till later on in the project. Software projects that value predictability (this is of concern to business leaders) would need to have more effort put into the detailed definition of requirements early on in the project.
Real-world software projects will have their requirements change before the project is delivered and provision has to be made to manage this.
Poor estimation leads to delayed projects. Mistaking estimates for delivery commitments also leads to delayed projects. When coming up with estimates they need to be unbiased and molded or forced to align with the business goal. In coming up with unbiased estimates, one has to ignore what the business goal is and simply come up with estimates based on the nature and complexity of the requirements. Doing this and coming up with high-quality estimates that are unbiased will assist with the next step. Planning.
Coming up with a plan is what ties everything together and reveals the true state of what can be achieved on the project. The business goal highlights what the end is, the requirements define what needs to get done, the unbiased estimates reveal how much budget and time is required to implement the requirements.
The delivery plan lets you lay out what can be realistically achieved on the project. Most times you may have to forgo a number of requirements. Businesses value predictability as it is better to know early on what will be ready by deadline than falsely expecting to have every requirement ready.
It is important to put in the time and effort required to come up with a business goal, a set of requirements, unbiased estimates, and a delivery plan. Stakeholders on a project need to work together to develop these. As mentioned earlier, these 4 things lay a foundation and do not guarantee software project success. Software projects evolve as they get implemented and managing all those moving parts is just as important as having a good foundation when starting out. (Video below)
Simple reason: You’ll end up with a high-quality app.
Here are some details…
Let’s look at the options you have. People looking to have an app built end up choosing between hiring a freelancer or an agency. At first glance, freelancers generally appear to be cheaper than agencies and most people end up going for this option until somewhere down the line they encounter problems such as the freelancer “ghosting” – suddenly becomes unreachable, it becomes harder and takes longer to make modifications to your app, your app keeps breaking down or certain aspects of it never work as expected, you keep putting money in but get very little value out. All these in addition to the time and effort it cost you to get the right freelancer in the first place.
Going the freelancer route involves a lot of hidden costs and you may have to start your app all over again in a lot of cases. The reason for this is mainly because unrealistic timelines (presented to impress you) force the freelancer to cut corners, sounds and appears ok at first but always, always comes back to haunt the project. It is a very bad thing to do.
There are clear reasons why at first glance agencies appear to cost more to build your app. You need to accept that it pays to invest your time and money into building your app right. Here are some of the reasons why you are better off with an agency.
Building an app requires a lot of specialized skills and that is why the best apps are built by teams. Someone on the team has to play the role of understanding and documenting your requirements and communicating these to the rest of the team. The team needs a software architect who will translate the requirements into evolvable system designs that will guide developers. This is a key role that is often overlooked when dealing with freelancers (and of-course not part of the freelancer’s cost). Without a carefully and skillfully designed system, apps fail to evolve and the very nature of apps is to evolve. Constantly.
Other important skills required on the team are developers who will carry out the actual building of the app. Most freelancers are lone developers with a pinch of other skills. Testers are another set of team members that are crucial to app success and often overlooked. A team responsible for building an app needs to stress-test the apps they build at the code level. The team also has to have quality checks at the requirements and design levels. In addition to the technical skills/roles described, the team also requires some people to support them so that the technical people can focus squarely on delivering their very best.
Keeping standards requires a lot of discipline. Agencies are “going concerns” therefore their relevance and reputation matter a lot, if not the most important thing. In other words, the survival of an agency depends on its relevance and reputation and for an agency to achieve this they need to have well-defined processes for building apps that deliver great results each time. These processes guarantee a high level of output each time, no matter who the individuals who make up the team are. Your needs and requirements go in through one end and a high-quality app, which does exactly what you want pops out the other.
This is one issue that is hardly considered when choosing who should build an app. It is also the most painful one to deal with once your app gets built poorly.
The nature of any piece of software is to evolve. It is easy for anyone to build you the first version of an app but the true challenge is “how easy is it to change, modify, improve, evolve after the first version?”. Once you have an app built, at some point you are going to want to improve it and it’s very frustrating when making changes to your app becomes almost impossible. This is where most people regret hiring a freelancer in the first place.
The solution to this type of problem is to make sure that the app is designed for change right from the beginning. It takes quite some effort & time to ensure an app is built for change, this is why agencies insist on having a design phase for any app that gets built. At Intellectual Apps, we never skip this part due to its importance, or any other part for that matter. The reason freelancers will not bother to insist on the design phase is that they generally think short term. You need an app, they build it, it kind of works, they get paid and that’s it. Once a freelancer gets paid he/she doesn’t expect to be the same person to improve the app in the future and even if you do get a hold of them to do this you’ll notice that it takes ages for anything valuable to be produced. An agency on the other is a “going concern” and knows that they exist to create value now and in the future, so it makes a lot of sense for them and you to invest in the design of the app so it can evolve easily when it has to.
There are some exceptional freelancers out there, in the same way, there are some poor agencies. The fact though is if you need an app built, then you need to think long term and the partner you choose to build your app has to also think long term as well. You need to trade lower costs today for a good investment in your app. You are better off doing this with an agency that has the skills, processes, and experience.
The software development industry has challenges that have plagued it for years. You need to get a partner that acknowledges these challenges, actually understands them for what they are and clearly has processes in place to mitigate them.
Yes, we are an agency. At Intellectual Apps, we help our clients Imagine, Design and Create apps. Get started by telling us about your idea.
Beauty comes from within. Learn about how we ensure code quality for the Apps we create at Intellectual Apps.read more
Clients that need software built always want to know how much it will cost them, and a lot of times (at least as we have experienced at Intellectual Apps) they want to have this information before work begins. In order to get a “realistic” estimate of how much it will cost to build the piece of software, agencies would elicit the requirements and then based on that come up with an estimate of the cost. Client has a cost for getting their software built while the agency is happy they got the project. Great!
Work starts and in a couple of weeks (in some cases days), the client asks for some features to be included in the project. If a change request management process was put in place before the project started then that process kicks in to evaluate the impact of the change and its priority. Long story short, the client will always find a reason to have more features added and will expand the initial scope by several features. In my experience building software systems over the past 12 years, I have never seen a software development project start and end without the scope expanding. In essence, software development is an exploratory journey, things become clearer only after embarking on this journey. This is simply a fact of software development.
The issue with the scenario described above is that the agency hardly ever gets a corresponding expansion in the cost of the project (which determines their income). Since more features mean more time and effort, the agency simply suffers. One may argue that the change request process be tighter in an attempt to discourage clients from expanding the scope but this rarely works. There is a very high tendency for a client to take the features they are trying to introduce more seriously than all the others put together, refusing to let the scope of the project expand is like taking a sweet from a child, they become upset.
Fixed-cost-custom-software-development projects will always be plagued by expanding scope. Software development agencies generate revenue by offering professional time and effort, so the moment a project takes longer to complete with no corresponding payment for that extension, the agency looses.
From how I see it there are two options:
Option 1 hardly works and leads to all sorts of problems. The waterfall approach is closely associated to this way of building software and the fact remains that it is very hard, near impossible to know and freeze all the requirements for any piece of software upfront.
Option 2 on the other hand is best suited to deal with the uncertainties of software development. It does require the client’s trust in the agency and without trust, it just won’t work. With this option the agency asks the client how much they are willing to “invest” in the software rather than how much it will “cost”. Simply using the word “invest” turns things around as this forms a foundation for the client and the agency to work as partners in exploring a software solution to the client’s problem.
Core to this option is the need for the agency to know their burn rate such that, the agency can easily determine how much it costs them to have a team working on a software solution for a short period of time (say a week, two or even a month). Even though the client is willing to invest x amount of money this approach helps in mitigating the financial risks associated with any software development project by requiring that payments be made for short periods of time to work on parts of the scope of the software. If everything works fine to the satifaction of the client, only then will the next set of requirements get dealt with. The client is free to make adjustments as they wish, as long as they can pay for the time spent by the agency.
Determining the cost of a software development project based on “perceived” requirements is more likely to lead to a project failure. The nature of custom software development is such that a lot of the requirements stated at the start of the project turn out to be incomplete, and once clients get a clearer picture of what they want (after work has started) they expect the project to accommodate such. If the cost of the project was determined based on the initial scope then it becomes very hard to convince the client to pay more.
Based on the fact that custom software development is actually a process of discovery and building, the cost of any project is best based on time. Software development agencies will need to know how much is needed to keep the team running for say a month and let the client invest funds into getting them to work for a defined period of time. Within this period of time, the agency works on whatever the client feels is of the highest priority to them.
Cost estimation techniques should not be confused with software development methodologies. For example a client can pay for 12 weeks worth of development time and the agency applies a waterfall software development methodology in developing the solution. Also note that certain approaches to building software work best with certain techniques for cost estimation. In my opinion, Agile software development methodology works best with cost estimates based on time.
It’s obvious. Fifteen years ago the saying was that if you don’t have your business online, you’re out of business. Businesses did all they could to make sure that they had presence online by having a company website. It’s obvious that the business climate has changed and today if your business is not connecting with customers via mobile then you are out of business or somewhere close to that.
To better understand this, we’ll continue by answering the following questions:
1. Why does your business need to go mobile?
2. What does going mobile mean for your business?
3. What steps can you take to get your business mobile?
Simple answer: we are now deep into the post-pc era. Longer answer: well, your customers expect it and studies have shown how much time people spend on their devices doing virtually everything. One of the ways businesses ensure that they remain in business is by staying fresh in the minds of their existing customers and by being visible to potential customers. So when people do everything from their mobile devices it makes sense to have your business present in this new virtual world. Another reason why your business needs to go mobile is that you will get to generate and analyse lots of data and in turn use that for more informed business decisions that will ultimately give you an edge over the competition, but most importantly let you offer customers a better experience.
If you sell a product, imagine what this will mean for your business to be able to tell on which days you get the most sales and from which demographic the sales come from, and also being able to know if there are specific things outside of your business that trigger a spike in sales of a particular item so you can prepare for such scenarios. All these are just examples and more meaningful insights can be derived for your specific line of business.
It means positioning your business in such a way that it responds to your customer’s mobile behaviour. The way people consume information on mobile devices is slightly different from how they do it with other sources of information. People are on the go, they want things fast, they have a short attention span and need the right information at the right time. For example, if all your business has online is a website, then that website needs to render correctly and fast on mobile devices.
What your business needs in order to go mobile would depend on the type of business you have and what you want to achieve with your mobile strategy. Some steps you can take are:
1. Ensuring that your current website is responsive. What responsive simply means is the ability of your website to render and display well on different screen sizes.
2. Ensure as part of your mobile strategy to build and release new features with a mobile-first approach.
3. To take things further and in solidifying the interaction between your business and your customers, you can get a mobile app built to meet your specific requirements. If you seek a deeper and richer engagement with your customers then having a mobile app built for your business is the way to go.
4. Another thing you need to consider in going mobile is that it isn’t all about building this or building that, going mobile also has a lot to do with how you disseminate information to your audience. The information you put out there will be more useful to your customers if you consider the context within which they are most likely to consume that piece of information (stay tuned for a post giving more details on this).
5. If you are really serious about this, which we believe every business owner or stakeholder should be, then you can get a competent company to help you come up with a mobile strategy and chart a way to get your business from where it is today to where you need to be. You can start by talking to us.