You’ve decided to repair, upgrade or replace software at your company. You’ve done your research. You’ve found who you believe to be a vendor capable of getting this done for you. The process for developing an application is unique for every business, but there are basic steps in the process that need to happen before wireframing and developing a prototype.
You’ll be meeting with your vendor’s team, which may include an account manager or seller, a developer, or someone with a title like project manager. Their job is to find out what you want to build, what it will do, if anyone outside a manager or a super admin will be regularly using the application, and what features are most important to you.
Is it complicated? It is, but it’s not supposed to be for you. A great vendor is going to keep all of the crazy stuff off of your desk and keep you focused on features and endgame – launch.
Three things should be clear in your mind, for your sanity and the project timeline. Here are three critical questions to ask.
1. How am I going to stay updated on the progress of the job?
If the vendor suggests email, hold up. You’re asking them to build software, you’re not ordering sandwiches for lunch. An experienced vendor will have internal communication tools for the developers and project manager to speak with each other. But how will they clearly and concisely get to you? Imagine an email string with 15 reply-alls on it. You already have a headache thinking about that. Slack is great, and there are a bunch of similar messaging services available. As long as you are comfortable with it, great. Ideally, you’re going to have a stream of conversation, in a somewhat linear fashion so no one gets confused. Your vendor will schedule weekly or bi-weekly catch-up meetings to brief you on the project’s progress, and they should be able to show you who was working on what, and the billable hours they put in. Again, there are many tools for presenting this data. It needs (for you) to be visual, not a clunky spreadsheet, and it needs to clearly show the progress of your investment.
2. I’ve changed my mind about some features of my application. Can you adapt?
The most challenging customer is the one who doesn’t know what s/he really wants. In a huge company, this could be a mid-level manager on a fishing expedition. Their budgets are so vast they can dip their toes in the water on several possible ideas, and possibly not all stakeholders are really looped in on the process. A good software builder is going to go to great lengths to understand way up front what the goal is, to prevent mid-course corrections that require going back and re-doing something. Costs are going to escalate immediately, and nobody wants that. But stuff happens. Something at your company has changed, the business environment demanded a focus on a different feature. You’re not a bad customer if you have to make a big decision which happens to fall in the middle of a software build. But if you and your developers have been communicating well, a change can be less chaotic. The answer to question 2 is “Yes, we can. Tell us what’s going on. We may have alternative paths to take that’ll get us to the same place.”
3. We’re done with the build. Are we done?
Software is never really “done.” After the application is built, debugged and released, there will always be little maintenance items to keep an eye on. Security is #1. The tools the bad guys have are always improving, and you need to make sure your data is as secure as it can be. You may, over time, add users to your system. That may uncover a bug or two which will need to be fixed. And as you grow your business, there may be pieces you want to add to your existing platform. These don’t have to be expensive, they’re simply occasional tune-ups you’ll want to make to reduce downtime and improve productivity. A reputable software developer will be there when you need them, to jump in and correct issues as they arise. It’s like taking care of your otherwise great house: pipes leak, the front door lock breaks, things like that. Regular maintenance will keep your system running at peak performance.
These three questions, if answered properly, will go a long way toward building a relationship of trust with your software artists and support staff, it will save you money, and it’ll give you confidence you’ve chosen a great partner to help improve your business operations.