How to Approach Building Your Web Service or Mobile App

About to embark on a website or mobile app development project? Getting from idea to working software is a lot harder and riskier than you think. Statistics show that 68% of software development projects fail. That doesn’t even include the fact that most projects come in way over budget and were not delivered on time. How can you ensure you don’t end up another statistic?

What Causes Failures

We’re often called upon to rescue failed web development projects. We get these calls every… single… week.

It usually goes something like this,”I’m calling to find out if you guys can help me complete a web development project. I hired a company to _________ and now it’s 6 months later and it’s still not complete. We’re at an impasse and I’m sick of dealing with them and I’m ready to move on. Can you help?”

This situation represents a huge disconnect between client and vendor. It usually means several key parts of the project have been flagrantly misunderstood and that project requirements were not clearly defined. It can also mean that the developer was simply not up to the task and suggests that the customer is possibly naïve and/or not detail oriented. Both customer and developer can be at fault.

The Devil is in the Details

People often don’t realize how important planning is to their project. If you don’t invest in adequate planning, there’s a good chance your project will fail or get bogged down.

There are several different software development approaches you can take to complete your project. These have fancy names such as Agile, Waterfall, and a hybrid approach which combines these two. Whatever the names, it’s important to take a systematic approach to your project. The first and most critical step in this process is planning. Below we have some recommended approaches and what you would expect to need for planning services, also known as a RoadMapping Session.

Approaches Based on Project Sizes

Projects Between $5,000 – $25,000

These projects are usually website or e-commerce redesigns. At this price point you should be careful to ensure that your vendor documents out exactly what they will do for you in detail. We’ve seen many of these projects where clients went to other vendors and suffered from multiple disconnects in expectations or gross misunderstandings, which caused the project to be abandoned or fail, at a financial loss to the customer.

It’s better to have a written plan created so both of you know exactly what will be done and when you can expect it rather than risk leaving it up to someone else’s assumptions. For small projects under $10,000, we don’t charge a fee but as your project starts approaching the higher end of this range, you can expect a nominal charge of between $250 – $500, to craft a planning document that assures your project success.

Projects Between $25,000 – $100,000

These are usually web services or mobile apps, in a particular niche where the person is acutely aware that there is a definite need for the product or service and they have the know-how to solve the problem, making such projects less risky from a business perspective. For these, we recommend a hybrid approach.

A hybrid approach allows for a little more planning upfront, during which a specification document is created that will be used as the basis to build your system– a sort of blueprint. By creating a specification document you will gain a level of clarity that you wouldn’t otherwise have had, and you may realize that many features you originally wanted were unnecessary. A hybrid approach will also help you to get a firm handle on what functionality the system should have in Phase 1, and it will also provide a more accurate estimate of costs. We may also consider creating visual screen mock ups for key parts of the system, which can be very eye opening & motivating and serve to clarify written words into visuals.

By the time this planning step is completed you will be confident your developer knows what’s expected and the developer will be much more confident in the estimate that is provided. While it is difficult to get an exact estimate down to the dollar on a project of this size, you will have a much better idea of the realistic range you can expect after this process.

You can expect the planning phase to cost somewhere between 5 to 10% of the total expected project cost. Planning will illuminate all the areas of uncertainty and risk in your project. It will clear up confusions and bring to light weaknesses that you must work through before moving forward. In the end, you will have a sense of clarity, empowerment, and certainty that will make it possible to succeed.

By planning you will also receive another very important benefit: you will get firsthand experience of what it’s like working with your development company on a much lower risk project by collaborating and achieving a clearly defined objective. If all goes well, you will feel a lot more secure about spending more money with your provider and about the outcome of your project.

Larger Projects Exceeding $200,000

Projects of this size are often very large and complex in scope. In this case, spending too much time planning may prevent you from getting to market in a reasonable amount of time. In addition, it is often extremely difficult to detail out every feature, nuance and required function without spending an inordinate amount of time. In the end you may end up with a beautiful plan only to find you’ve wasted valuable time thinking and planning for features you now realize are not needed.

It is very common during these larger projects to gain new insights, change ideas and realize different ways of doing things. You want to be able to react and adjust to these new insights as they arise. There are two reasonable approaches depending on how speculative the project is:

For Highly Speculative Projects

For highly speculative projects, our recommended approach would be an Agile software development approach with a focus on building a minimum viable product (MVP). An MVP is the minimum product you need to create, in order to test the viability of your idea. For example, in its simplest form you could drive website visitors to a simple landing page with a video and a sign up screen to test your idea. Or you may develop a scaled down version of your software or a prototype that you can show to your target audience or prospective investors so that you can get their feedback, to determine whether there is actually a need or want for such a product or service. The idea here is not to go out and spend a ton of money on an unproven, untested idea, when you don’t even know if there’s a market for it. You start small, get feedback from your target users, and adapt and integrate features once a firm need and demand is established. Once you’ve proven the validity of your idea, we would apply the approach outlined in the next section covering less speculative projects.

For Less Speculative Projects

For less speculative projects we also recommend an Agile development methodology but these projects are started with some initial planning (1-2 weeks) so that everyone can get their head around the following:

  • the major features that are desired in the system
  • a clear definition of the project goals
  • the expected or desired result
  • the level of interest the product or service might have with its target audience

All of the features are documented out in writing and all the functionality of the product is broken down into logical groupings of similar tasks which can be roughly estimated and assembled into a prioritized list. Discussions clarify how things should flow, what users can do and what their expectations will be. Every major component of the system is clarified and challenged as to whether it’s really needed for Phase 1 or not. As a result of this process a plan of attack is developed that will focus on the most promising features of the website that must be built for Phase 1.

Once development starts, the product is then built little by little, usually in two week increments. Every two weeks the system is presented to the customer and reviewed and features are discussed and planned for the next two weeks. Little by little the system comes to fruition. Ideally you are granting very early access to a select group of end users who can provide their valuable feedback to help guide the product development.

Avoiding Costly Mistakes at All Costs

Whether your project is large or small, be sure to avoid these simple mistakes to increase your chances at success:

  • Avoid companies who want to rush you & start without a detailed plan.
  • Never, ever leave any feature or function implied.
  • Always clarify a feature when in doubt.
  • If it isn’t written down it likely won’t be included in the project.
  • Never assume the developer knows or understands what you want.
  • Ensure you and the developer sign off on the specification document.
  • Avoid/ignore low project bids.
  • Be careful of providers who estimate projects too quickly.
  • For your protection, try to work with companies that have been around 10 or more years.

Let Us Build Your Software

Since 2003, ClearTech Interactive Corp. has been a leading software development provider in the Tampa Bay area. We specialize in custom web projects, SaaS (software as a service), online marketplaces, mobile apps and community websites in the financial services, medical and general business sector.

Our systems are easy to understand and use. We use open source technologies so you’re not locked into licensing agreements or any particular vendor.

If you have a project you want to create, call 727-562-5161 today or inquire online and work with an expert web development team who has 15 years of project successes.