Launching a custom software development project is an enormous undertaking, and depending on the scope of the project, it could represent a significant financial risk to your business. So, you have every incentive to get things right. The best way to do that is to ensure best practices are followed at every stage of the software development life cycle. The four main phases of software development are: planning, design, development and testing. By understanding what happens at each stage and the role you need to play, you can position yourself for successful custom software development.
Creating a comprehensive and well-thought-out plan for your software development project is the number one thing you can do to improve your chances of success. Here are some of the most important things to consider when developing your action plan.
Build a business case
If you’re considering a custom software development project, you’ve likely already identified the problem you’re hoping to solve or the opportunity you’re looking to realize. But articulating those objectives and building a business case is important to ensure the final deliverable meets your needs and produces a solid return on investment. Consider the pain points your employees experience and how the new software will improve operations. What are the risks involved and how do you stand to gain in terms of hitting both short-term objectives and long-term goals? Custom software is an investment, just like a new piece of machinery, and you need to understand how that investment fits into your larger business strategies to create a truly successful software solution.
Establish software requirements
In establishing the product requirements for your new system, you will want to answer the following questions: Who will use the system? How will they use it? What are the data needs? How will this make my organization work more efficiently?
The requirements you identify will ultimately provide direction for the rest of the development process, so be as intentional as you can and think about both the user action and the desired result. You will also need to identify the platform(s) (web, mobile or desktop) on which your system must operate and the specifications you’ll need to integrate it into your existing infrastructure.
If technology isn’t your passion and answering these questions seems impossible, don’t worry. A quality software development partner will use a discovery process to tease out these details and identify what kind of system design and functionality will work best for your business.
How to prevent scope creep
The planning phase of the process is also crucial for preventing scope creep. When developing a new system, it’s always easy to say, “What if the software also did this?” But these kinds of changes have the potential to delay projects and increase costs, particularly if the requested scope change comes later in the development process. The best way to avoid those problems is to clearly define your scope from the beginning and then stick to that vision. It’s OK to have lofty goals for your new software, just make sure they’re included at the outset or you could run into major problems.
Project management basics
Creating a vision for your new software is one thing, but there are other practical aspects of software development that need to be accounted for in order to be successful. These include estimating costs, laying out timelines for development milestones, establishing communication channels and identifying key stakeholders. These kinds of activities fall under traditional project management. But because custom software development projects are often large in scope and involve many different stakeholders and business segments, it’s important to get these things right. Establish your project management processes in the planning stage to ensure the rest of the software development life cycle goes as smoothly as possible.
In the design phase, your software development partner will begin developing designs for both the site architecture and the software interface. The architecture will largely depend on the type of software you’re developing, your existing digital infrastructure as well as the developer’s own personal preferences. While the architecture may only be of real significance to your IT personnel, it’s crucial the system is built correctly to ensure optimal performance.
The interface is where you’ll likely want more input. Consider the systems your employees are currently familiar with, the key features they will need to access on a routine basis and how the new software will fit into their daily workflows. Use design and UX best practices to develop a system that is simultaneously intuitive, simple and robust. Getting input from frontline employees who will eventually become end users is a great way to guide your thinking in this regard.
Once plans have been established and the requirements and design clearly defined, it’s time for your software development partner to take over and do what they do best. Most of the actual nitty-gritty coding and development work will happen without your direct involvement. But a quality partner should supply regular status updates per the schedule you set out in the planning phase.
As code is written for your new software, it will be tested to ensure it not only functions properly, but also to make sure it meets the specified requirements and scope. Your software development partner will test elements of the program internally, but they will also deliver components for you and your employees to test as well. This may happen all at once when the software is essentially completed, or you may be asked to test different functions on a piecemeal basis throughout the development life cycle. This will depend on your development partner’s methodology and the timeline you set out in your plans. As tests are completed, your developer will make any necessary changes, removing bugs and improving functionality to get the software ready for implementation.
Still more work to be done
While the actual software development may be completed, there’s still a lot of work to be done to count the project as a success. Your IT team, along with your development partner, will need to oversee deployment, implementing the system so that it integrates seamlessly with your other technology systems. You will then need to gain user acceptance and train employees on how to use the new software effectively. Once your employees are comfortable using the system in their daily activities, you will still have to perform routine maintenance on the software to ensure everything is working correctly and your data stays protected.
The custom software development process can be a long road. But the benefits to your organization can be extraordinary, so long as your project stays on track and on budget. By implementing best practices at each stage of the software development life cycle, you’ll be better positioned for success and will ultimately create a software solution that drives results for your business.