Discovering What You Need

Everyone is familiar with the lurking feeling than they need a change of some sort, whether at the office or at home. Sometimes, the problem shows the solution needed all of a sudden, (i.e. when the dishwasher floods the kitchen) and sometimes it is not at all clear what is required in order to solve the situation. However, something is needed.

Commissioning a custom software solution tends to be an odd mix of both scenarios. Perhaps you know what you need but the developers or agency don’t seem to fully understand. Maybe they have grasped the problem, but your proposed ideas led to a confusing mass of ideas and revisions. Or they have a solution–you just don’t understand how it solves your problem!

Even if those initial conversations and ideas weren’t labeled as such, they are the beginnings of a custom software discovery process. How do you as a consumer navigate this process and ensure that your needs are met in a reasonable way, while staying open to the fact that you aren’t a developer and may not know what can be done?

Every custom software company has a unique custom software discovery process depending on what they have developed over time. Regardless of the particulars, the initial conversations and the discovery process itself should roughly follow these four checkpoints in order to set the best possible stage for both parties to move forward.

Communication

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Communication is essential on both sides. Multiple people and teams are going to be involved throughout this project. If they are only talking at each other, or worse, only sporadically talking to each other, it is very easy for misunderstandings to arise. This only sets the stage for problems down the road.

Every project manager knows that most projects that fail do so before the first line of code is ever written. If the lines of communication aren’t open from the very beginning on the agency or developer side, this is a red flag. On the other hand, you as the customer must commit to communicating with the company. It works both ways.

Expectations on Both Sides

Good communication should naturally flow into good expectations on both sides. Questions regarding the overall vision, the project scope, outputs, and outcomes begin to be addressed and answered. Separate teams begin to understand how they work together and who works best with who.

Ideally, the customer has now seen past examples of work and is satisfied that the company can produce what is needed. The software company or developers understand the problems that the customer is facing and are beginning to ideate solutions. Both groups have a feel for the other’s culture and ways of working together. These and other expectations form the groundwork for the next step of the custom software discovery process, that is, estimates.

Accurate Estimates

Given the nature of custom software, changes will come up and need to be made throughout the process. It’s impossible to predict everything from the start to the finish. In fact, the Agile methodology, one of the most popular software development methods, acknowledges this right from the start.

However, on the customer side, we need to know when to expect our software! Plans need to be set into motion and people need to be notified. Sometimes, deadlines are unavoidable, no matter how amazing the software could be. This contrast between the developers and the business people they are serving can create a considerable amount of tension if it is not addressed.

This is where accurate estimates come into play. Some flexibility should be expected from both parties and some mile markers need to be set. Estimates should take both of these considerations into play and be created accordingly, with the understanding that things may change.

Moving Forward

If the first three checkpoints have been passed and are continuing to be followed, the teams will continue to work together. It really is as simple as that, at least as far as the custom software discovery process phase goes!

The Swan Software Solutions team prides itself on our discovery process. With thirteen years of experience and many happy clients, we are confident in our processes and methods. Check out our best practices and client page to see what we have accomplished in the past. And if you are interested in opening up a little discovery process about us, please do contact us. We look forward to hearing from you!

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