5 Surefire Ways to Ensure That Your Custom Software Project Doesn’t Fall Off the Rails
There are fewer things in business more frustrating than a project with no end in sight. Over-bloating budgets, moving target schedules, and project scope that always seems to change depending on who on the project you talk to. As a customer working with a software development team we have 5 surefire ways to ensure that your custom software project doesn’t fall off the rails.
1. Maintain a Firm Project Schedule
The holy grail of all types of projects is ensuring that the project stays target and on time but how do you accomplish this? There are several aspects as to why a project schedule gets moved. While some reasons are valid, others can be avoided quite easily with a little organization and consistent communication.
Remain calm, and stay organized
Developing software can be a bear. There is lots of code, lots of little features, and lots of places that things can go wrong. The best way to avoid a mountain of problems is to first, stay calm. During the development process, the project will undoubtedly be in various stages of completion. First, set up a weekly schedule with your development team with a well maintained agenda. Use that time to discuss major issues and pass along smaller items.
Use a spreadsheet or if supplied, bug tracking software. Keep a log of your questions and communicate them during meetings. Many issues can get lost in email which then never get dealt with until it’s too late.
Schedule and attend weekly status and check-in meetings with your development team
These status meetings are important. This is a perfect time to discuss progress on the project and prioritize tasks and items that may be important for that week, month, or phase of the project.
Avoid ad-hoc calls and late night emails about bug fixes, feature requests, and support requests. By using a structured and scheduled meeting format, everyone will be prepared for the discussion and can take notes. This helps mitigate potential problems that may arise because it gives a venue for progress discussion while allowing all stakeholders involved to see what potential problems what may occur in the future.
Set reasonable goals and milestones
First, work with your team to discuss and maintain items high on the priority list. Outline these milestones and let the development team give you a reasonable release date for these milestones. Remember, just because you want to launch on the 15th of January, doesn’t mean that everything you’re asking for can be reasonably delivered on that date.
Take into account holidays and feedback lead times. If you need a few days to get feedback to your developers based on something that they’ve delivered, take that into account when planning your project. Their ‘wait’ times will stretch the project timeline and move a launch date.
2. Deliver Provisions as Requested
Sometimes your development team may need information from you. This could be images, it could be the deliverables from a separate project, or access to resources, etc. Ask for a delivery date on when they need this from you and stick to it.
Often times a project manager may ask for items from a customer and it takes several days to weeks for the stakeholder to acquire and deliver. Remember that your timelines are just as important as their timelines. If you miss a deadline then undoubtedly so will they.
If something has been requested and you’re unsure of exactly what it is they need or how they need it delivered, ask. For example. Let’s say the software development team is building a visual database of parts that your company services, and they have requested images for each one of those parts. If you deliver them a PDF document with images and text of all of those parts, they’ll need to perform extra work in order to breakdown the elements of that PDF to acquire those images. In addition, the images within the PDF document once broken down, may not be in a usable format for them.
Provision specifications are very important. Ask your development team what format they need that information delivered. If you are unable to deliver it, work with them to find a workable solution.
3. Manage Your Wants Versus Your Needs
Scope creep is the biggest offender to throwing a project off the rails. This happens when the list of wants overtake the needs of the project goals and stakeholder eyes literally get large than one’s stomach.
If this is your first rodeo with this new software remember the term Minimum Viable Product (MVP). An MVP is the minimum set of features that would enable quick validation of viability of the goals of the business to be achieved by the custom software project. This is a good measure of the future validity of the software product. During the planning process product managers and stakeholders tend to make a lot of assumptions of their users, customers, and goals. The proof is in the pudding as they say, and only a working piece of software is going to enable that to happen. Now, minimum doesn’t necessarily mean reduced scope. It simply means narrowly defined. The beauty of software is that so long as we know what we want to achieve in the future, we can always start with solid foundation and add on to it; or in some cases refactor it as necessary. There are many great books on MVP development, the process of measuring, and the process of validating.
If this is a new feature release for an existing software product, the best way to avoid scope creep here is to stay focused on your Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) If the feature or component that you are requesting will not push the needle forward in your KPI analysis, it’s probably a want and can be deprioritized as necessary.
4. Put a Pre-Launch and Post-Launch Marketing Strategy in Place and Be Ready to Ship It
Whether your software is internal facing to your company or external facing to customers (B2B and B2C), plan and execute your pre-launch strategy before and during the development phase. This includes internal processes, such as how the day to day of staff members might change with the release of this product. Inclusive if your software product is outwardly facing start doing the legwork on preparing your potential customers for launch.
Growth hacking tips, tricks, and resources are abundant and great things can be learned by others. For instance, before CryptoKitties launched, they got the word out through gorilla marketing tactics. There was also a live stream video of kittens on YouTube supported by their potential fans that pointed to their website as a way to encourage pre-launch signups. As well during their development they asked the hackathon community to create some kitties for them of which more than 6000 CryptoKitties were made just before launch. So in essence, be creative. Find out what your audience or users value and use that to help push adoption for your software once it’s launched.
5. Pay your Developers on Time
Though it should go without saying, this happens time and time again. When it comes to money, it’s the little things that count. Work with your software development team and set expectations early.
First, in some cases, remember that a cheque is not just a cheque. If you are working with a company that you’ve never worked with before, be mindful that they may have to certify the first few payments or wait for clearing house times. With many banks this costs extra time and money. If this may be an issue, look for alternative payment methods such as electronic payments.
With electronic payments, especially cross-border there may be additional wire transfer fees. Some fees are fixed while others are variable. Ask your development team manager for details if going this route. No one wants a tussle over $100 or even $1000 transfer fee. Depending on the project, this could have an impact on your development team’s margins which in the end can cause a strain on the business relationship.
Finally, ensure that you pay your development team on time. If you have questions about an invoice, bring it up right away before the payment deadline. An honest development firms will more than willing to provide reasonable explanations and valid documentation.
With the new year just around the corner and the launch of your new software pending, now is a great time to revisit your project plan then work together with your team to keep your project on track. If you have other tips to keeping software development projects on track, we’d love to hear them! Email our suggestion box with your software management tips!