Companies are increasingly investing in software to help streamline operations, improve efficiency, and gain a competitive edge. But investing in custom software development solutions presents some unique challenges.
If you’re prepared to embrace these challenges and navigate the intricacies of custom software development, you can unlock its potential to bolster your business's growth and competitiveness. To aid this journey, this article provides the top 12 do's and don'ts of custom software development, offering critical insights and practical guidance to help you steer clear of common pitfalls and maximize your ROI.
- Why should a business consider custom software?
- What are the challenges of custom software development?
- Custom Software Development Solutions - Do’s
- Custom Software Development Solutions - Don’ts
- Custom Software Development Services - SoftKraft
Why should a business consider custom software?
You might be questioning whether or not custom software development is the right choice for you. It’s no secret that custom development requires a significant investment in time, money, and internal resources, so it’s critical to ensure it’s worth this investment.
Before getting too far, you should take a step back and think about the systems and processes you have in place today. With this information in mind, it may be the right choice to pursue custom development if:
- You are spending too much time on manual tasks and processes
- Your existing software can’t keep up with the growth of your business
- You are dealing with complex data that’s difficult to manage
- You are manually transferring data between systems or platforms
- You need to reduce costs and increase productivity
What are the challenges of custom software development?
Custom software can bring a business significant advantages ranging from increased productivity to streamlined operations and increased revenue, but many businesses underestimate the complexities that a custom software development project brings. It’s our goal to help you understand the common challenges that teams face, so you can take steps to minimize software development risks. Let’s review some of the key challenges you can expect:
- Requirement gathering and definition: A common obstacle arises during the initial stages when outlining and specifying requirements. Conflicting, poorly documented, or otherwise unclear requirements can result in project delays, increased costs, and a final product that doesn't align with user needs. Learning how to write software requirements properly and employing meticulous stakeholder interviews, surveys, and documentation can alleviate this issue.
- High cost of development: Developing custom software from scratch is a considerable financial undertaking, involving both direct costs and opportunity costs in terms of time and personnel. If the project is not scoped correctly and the custom software development costs exceeds what was budgeted, a project can face major challenges.
- Lack of in-house expertise: Companies may lack the necessary in-house expertise to manage the software development process and maintain quality assurance. This can create challenges such as finding the right team members to hire or finding the right outsourcing company.
- Data security concerns: Ensuring the highest level of data security in custom software can be challenging, particularly when dealing with sensitive data structures. It is crucial, however, to maintain customer trust and comply with data protection regulations.
- Integration with existing systems: Custom software often has to interact with current systems. This integration can be challenging if the existing systems are outdated or incompatible, requiring frequent adjustments to ensure smooth operations.
Custom Software Development Solutions - Do’s
We’ve looked at some of the most common challenges that companies face during custom software development. To help you overcome these challenges, there are some proactive steps you can take, and that’s exactly what we'll focus on in this section. Let’s start with our top recommendation for businesses before the software development life cycle even begins.
Be clear on your business goals
Before anything else, you need to understand your business’s needs. In other words: why are you looking for software in the first place? Without a clear understanding of what business processes you are trying to optimize or what problem you are trying to solve, it will be impossible to build the right solution.
Are you trying to optimize a specific business process? Offload your team from tedious or manual work? Prepare your business to scale? To help you gain clarity on the specific business processes that a custom software project can help to optimize, you should:
- Interview the people who are doing the business process today. This could be the people who are using an existing software solution or those doing the manual work that you want to replace with custom software applications. This will help you avoid any assumptions and, instead, accurately document the needs of the end users and what the process looks like today.
- Pull usage reports for existing software tools to understand the processes that are being done in the current tools. This can help you to see not only what needs to be replicated in some ways in the new tool but also where there may be room for optimization.
- Inspect off-the-shelf products before building a custom software solution. This can be helpful for business owners even if they do not intend to buy pre packed software, as they can make note of things they like and dislike about existing tools. Typically you can simply request a free trial or even just look at demos online to get a feel for what’s on the market.
7 Critical Steps to Assess Your Small Business Software Needs
8 Powerful Methods for Better Requirements Elicitation
PRO TIP: Depending on the complexity of the business process you are looking to optimize with the help of software development services, you may want to create a business process map to help with your analysis. Doing so can give a more complete picture of how the business process works from start to finish as well as allow you to collaborate with internal end-users or team members who are involved in the process to ensure it is well-documented.
Work with an expert to define requirements
Defining software requirements can be a real challenge for many businesses. It may sound like a simple process, but it often requires a skilled project manager, technical staff, and business leaders who understand the project goals. If you don’t have the right team internally who can sufficiently document your project requirements or if you simply do not have the time to do it, consider working with a solution architect or business analyst to help you thoroughly and accurately document your software requirements so that you can:
- Verify that there is a legitimate need for software development services rather than simply purchasing a pre packaged software off the shelf.
- Ensure the custom software development company has complete clarity on the requirements of the proposed custom software.
- Provide a high degree of transparency right from the beginning of a project to all stakeholders who may be involved.
- Prevent the final custom software from needing extensive rework or changes due to missing criteria.
- Ensure the accuracy of the cost estimates you receive from custom software development companies.
An experienced solution architect or business analyst can ensure that your needs are properly communicated and understood by the development team, helping to avoid costly mistakes.
PRO TIP: A Software Requirements Specification (SRS) is a valuable tool for prospective vendors, as it will allow them to create more detailed project estimates. By providing a complete and detailed SRS, vendors can identify the scope of the project and the potential costs involved.
An SRS should include:
- Product summary and scope
- Intended audience
- Assumptions and dependencies
- Functional requirements (what the system is supposed to do)
- Non-functional requirements (how the system should perform)
- Acceptance criteria
Leverage existing tools & platforms
Leveraging existing software infrastructure or off-the-shelf software to build custom software can be a cost-effective way for businesses to develop custom solutions that meet their specific needs. By integrating existing software solutions or piecing together a few off-the-shelf solutions, businesses can reduce the cost of development, secure a more reliable platform, and benefit from the added value of well- established solutions.
For example, our own software development company streamlined a core business process - time tracking and invoicing - by leveraging existing software infrastructure. We made the decision to leverage time tracking software with strong project management tools integrations instead of implementing this solution on our own, which would take a lot of effort. The initial version of our time tracking and invoicing integration tool was built in just one week using a rapid application development process!
Creating a custom solution like this that takes advantage of existing software can be a great way for growing businesses to reduce upfront development costs but still see a significant ROI on custom software development services.
PRO TIP: If you’re considering going this route, it’s very important to work with an experienced custom software development company with skilled software engineers who can advise you on appropriate solutions, costs, trade offs, and more, so you can make the best decision on how to proceed.
Find the right software development company
Anyone that has been through the process of custom software development will tell you that your business partners matter. Every business is unique, and you should look for a custom software development company who specializes in working with companies of your size, within your industry, and who can provide you with the technical skills needed to bring your software idea to life and maximize your ROI.
Finding the right custom software development company isn’t easy. There are thousands of options on the market, offering a wide range of services. However, a good place to start is to look for software development companies that offer:
- A portfolio of work with SME clients. Look for a custom software development company with a strong reputation and track record of delivering successful projects specifically to business clients within your industry. Ask for references from previous clients and check their reviews online.
- Knowledge and expertise in your domain. Determine if the custom software development company has the necessary knowledge and expertise to develop the software you need. Consider not just their technical expertise but also their industry knowledge, project management expertise, and business acumen.
- Strong communication skills. It is important to have clear and consistent communication with the custom software development company. Make sure that you can easily get in touch with them and that they are willing to listen to your feedback and concerns.
- Appropriate security practices. Make sure the custom software development company has the necessary security measures in place to protect your data and ensure the safety of your business.
- Documented development methodology. Having a well-documented and well-executed custom software development process in place will improve efficiency and help the team tackle challenges that pop up along the way.
PRO TIP: Eastern Europe has become a popular region for custom software development services due to its relatively low labor costs and access to a large pool of highly-skilled frontend and backend developers. Countries such as Poland, Ukraine, and Romania are becoming increasingly popular for technology companies looking to reduce their software development cost. Why do companies outsource to Eastern Europe?
- Highly-skilled, growing IT workforce
- Cost-effective developer rates compared to Western Europe and the US
- Strong English language proficiency and cultural affinity
- Convenient time zone overlap for US clients
Compare development cost estimates
Software development cost estimation is notoriously difficult. While no estimate will ever be 100% accurate, you should always have a working estimate up front to ensure you can plan proper resources, look for cost saving opportunities and generally ensure everyone is on the same page.
You’ll likely be requesting cost estimates from development custom software development companies you are interested in working with. When you do this, ensure you are looking at the whole picture and taking into account the following cost factors:
- Requirements analysis: Compare costs of initial efforts required to understand the scope and specifications of the project. This involves a thorough understanding of the client's needs, which forms the basis for the project. The cost estimate should include the time and resources required to conduct a comprehensive requirements analysis. This includes activities like user interviews, stakeholder meetings, creating user personas, defining user journeys, etc.
- UI/UX design: This cost relates to the design of the user interface and user experience. The vendor should provide an estimate of the cost of designing the software solution, which can include wireframing, prototyping, user interface design, and user experience considerations.
- Software development: The development phase will require the most significant amount of resources and thus, will likely take up the majority of the cost. It will include front-end and back-end development, database design, integration with other systems, etc. Be sure to understand the number of developers that will be on the project and how this will affect the costs and project timeline.
- Testing and quality assurance: The cost estimate should include thorough testing of the software, including unit testing, integration testing, system testing, and user acceptance testing. Quality assurance costs would also include things like bug fixes, security audits, performance optimization, etc.
- Project management: If you are asking custom software development companies to provide project management support, these services should be included in the estimate. This involves managing the entire project lifecycle, facilitating communication between the client and the development team, tracking project milestones, managing risks, etc.
- Maintenance and support: After the software is delivered, it will require regular updates and maintenance to ensure it stays functional and relevant. Also, the vendor might need to provide support services to help the client troubleshoot any issues they encounter while using the software. The costs of these services should also be included in the estimate if you are interested in them being part of the custom software development services.
Estimate your project’s ROI
During the planning process, you will likely investigate more than one way to accomplish your goals. For example, you may have cost estimates to:
- Create custom software from the ground up.
- Build a custom solution by integrating existing software.
- Buy pre packaged (off the shelf) software.
Each of these scenarios will have a different ROI and in order to decide how to move forward, it can be very helpful to compare them. Software ROI can be defined as an organization’s gain or benefit from implementing new software or technology. It can be calculated as:
While it may look like a simple formula, in reality benefits or gains from a custom software investment or even the purchase of an off-the-shelf product can be difficult to quantify. Consider benefits such as increased revenue, improved employee productivity, a rise in automation, or even higher cost optimization.
PRO TIP: Because ROI can be seen in a variety of areas (some more qualitative than quantitative), calculating ROI can be challenging. Consider selecting one or more areas where you specifically want to see the impact of your software and go from there.
For example, you could calculate ROI as it pertains to:
- Revenue over the next 2 years.
- Employee productivity over the next 5 years.
- Average time to close a sale over the next 12 months.
Custom Software Development Solutions - Don’ts
As we’ve seen, there are many paths you can take when considering custom software development. It can be a complex process, where careful management and sound day-to-day decision making are paramount. In this section, we’ll help you navigate this process more confidently by sharing some of the key things that your business should avoid during custom software development projects.
Overcomplicate the UX design
An overcomplicated UX not only impacts user satisfaction but also significantly extends development timelines, inflating costs and project management challenges. Complexity introduces more variables to code, test, and debug, leading to longer development cycles. Look for the most straightforward approach to satisfy your users’ needs. To avoid this, businesses should focus on user-centered design principles:
- Look for the most straightforward way to satisfy the needs of your users. When in doubt, always go back to what your users need. That should be the core of your design.
- Aim for simplicity and intuitive design. Less is often more when it comes to UX. Reduce unnecessary elements and focus on core features that directly benefit the user.
- Use consistent and familiar design patterns to make navigation intuitive. Users should not need to learn how to use your software – it should be self-explanatory.
PRO TIP: Using standardized UI components and libraries can expedite the design process, as these elements have already been user-tested and optimized. By employing design systems, style guides, or component libraries like Google’s Material-UI or Bootstrap, teams can maintain consistency across different parts of the application, reduce redundancy, and speed up the development process. Remember, creating a good user experience isn’t about reinventing the wheel, but rather about using proven elements effectively for a seamless user journey.
Mismanage user and business data
Business leaders should not skimp on software security when building custom software solutions. Security breaches can cost the business financially, damage customer trust, and negatively impact the business' reputation. To protect the business, its customers, and its data, it is important to invest in secure software development practices and tools.
This will help prevent costly security breaches and ensure that the business is compliant with industry regulations and standards, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Furthermore, you need to be aware of the risks of a software development partner mismanaging your data or IP. Anytime you share sensitive information about your IT systems, you inherently reduce security. Of course this is often a risk that is necessary to take on, but it’s important to think through the implications before engaging with vendors and sharing sensitive data.
PRO TIP: How to avoid data breaches and IP mismanagement?
- Enter into an non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with the vendor (following your local IP laws). Make sure this is in place before you share any confidential information.
- Conduct research on independent review platforms before entering into an agreement with a vendor. You should look into the vendor’s reputation and any past breaches of its clients’ intellectual property rights.
- Investigate the vendor’s internal risk practices, their ability to safeguard your IP, and what their response would be to a data breach within their organization.
Ignore integration requirements
Every company will have unique software integration needs. Many off-the-shelf software systems will have some integration services, but they might not be the right ones for your business (or flexible or robust enough to handle complex data).
When building custom software, you get to decide what existing software or enterprise apps the new solution will integrate. Direct integration with other software tools can help improve process efficiency and reduce the overhead of maintaining 3rd party integration tools.
All integrations necessary should be documented during the requirements gathering phase, implemented during the software development phase, and thoroughly tested before deployment.
PRO TIP: If you aren’t sure what your integration needs are, an expert software developer, software architect or consultant can help analyze your current systems and workflows and provide assistance scoping out the requirements for proper integration. It’s very important to plan integrations up-front rather than trying to retrofit a solution after the fact to meet your integration requirements.
Read More: 10-Step API Project Planning Process
Underestimate the impact of scope changes
Custom software development requires a great deal of effort and resources, and any changes to the scope of the project can significantly impact the timeline and budget of the project. To avoid being hit with an unexpected extension to the delivery timeline or unexpected costs, you should:
- Thoroughly document project requirements up front. Many businesses developing custom software think they have a good idea of what they want but as development begins, they realize that they didn’t have a truly comprehensive set of requirements - and these missing requirements can massively affect the overall project scope - and your final bill.
- Resist the urge to add features. It can be tempting to add features or want to integrate new ideas into the software during development. These changes will not only come at a hefty cost, but changing priorities can also throw your developers off course and cause delays to your project.
- Take care to put together an accurate cost estimate. As we discussed earlier in this article, estimating development costs is notoriously difficult, but the more effort you put into gathering an accurate estimate, the less likely you’ll be hit with unexpected costs.
The main thing to understand here is that while you may think a change to the project scope will be simple, it likely won’t be. A small change could cause the need for UI/UX design rework, software architecture redesign work, changes to resource allocation, budget changes, and delays in delivery. Because of this, any change should be carefully considered before it is handed over to the software developers.
PRO TIP: If your custom software development company uses agile development, you must manage the project scope throughout the project. It’s not a one-time thing. New discoveries from the users, product owners, and others may bring in new requirements. Additionally, feedback from stakeholders may require the project scope to change.
As the scope changes, so will your budget and timeline. The agile approach makes budget management a shared responsibility between the client and outsourced team. The product owner manages the backlog, the sponsor agrees on the budget, and the team delivers the backlog and spends or manages the sprint budget within agreed constraints.
Wait too long to start user testing
A thorough testing plan is a key element of any software development process. You should not wait until your software is fully built. Instead you should integrate user testing into every stage of development. In this way you can get feedback in real time that can be used to improve the software’s design.
Work closely with your software development company to create QA test plan and ensure you have adequate staffing to assist with on-going testing. A few things to consider when you’re conducting testing:
- All operational processes should be tested systematically. Bring in real users if needed to ensure all operations that are essential to the business are functional.
- All integrations should be thoroughly tested. Make sure the system is working with other systems or software used within your organization as you expect.
- The application should be tested on both desktop and mobile devices. Additionally, if the development included any mobile apps, those should be tested as well.
- The final software features should match what was defined in the requirements list. Things may have changed over the course of development, but the testing team should be checking the final software against the requirements list.
Forget about post-deployment support
When building custom software for your business, make sure to plan for maintenance and support. Performance monitoring, on-call support, and technical improvements are all necessary for ensuring your software remains secure, reliable, and up-to-date.
You should clearly understand what specific post-launch support is included and how you can get into contact with the team should you need them in the future. We suggest you consider the following:
- Performance monitoring. Custom software should be reviewed regularly to ensure that it is running as expected. This could include things like checking system logs, tracking usage, and identifying potential areas of improvement. If a system is not monitored properly, problems may go undetected and result in costly repairs or system downtime.
- On-call support. Since your business is ever-evolving, your use of your software may evolve as well. You may need to use the software in unexpected or new ways. Having a team of technicians ready to respond to inquiries and provide technical assistance can help reduce the amount of time required to resolve issues.
- Technical improvements. As your business grows and new technologies become available, you’ll find you want to enhance your custom software. Technical improvements could also be required for things like bug fixes, security patches, or feature upgrades. Failing to keep software up-to-date can lead to security vulnerabilities and poor performance for users.
PRO TIP: Depending on the number of users you have using your software, it may be worth investing in an automated monitoring tool. Automated monitoring tools can provide you with real-time alerts if any issues arise, and can provide metrics to help you quickly identify and resolve any problems.
Additionally, setting up automated tests can help you uncover any potential issues with the software before they become an issue for users. This can save you time and money, as well as help you ensure your software is running smoothly for your users.
The complexities of custom software development should not deter your business from harnessing its potential. By adhering to the do's and avoiding the don'ts we've outlined, you can maximize your ROI, ensure efficient project execution, and achieve a competitive edge in your industry.
Custom Software Development Services - SoftKraft
Looking for a custom business software development company? At SoftKraft we offer software development consulting services, we’ll work closely with you to understand your unique business challenges, map out a strategic solution, and build software to your specifications so you can maximize your ROI. Get in touch!