Susan Fennema, one of our project managers, is this week’s guest blogger.
You’ve decided you’re ready to invest in a custom development project – your very own software – for your business. But, how do you navigate this new world you’re stepping off in?
It can be challenging to learn how and when to communicate as a customer, but here are some quick tips to help you navigate through your project.
Always communicate through the project management software. In The Scarpetta Group’s case, this could be Basecamp or Smartsheet. Maintaining communications in a centralized location ensure that the full development team and project manager are aware of the communication. Additionally, you can find all of the information about the project in one place. You should also try to keep to only one topic in each string of communication so that none of your requests get lost or mixed in with each other.
Expect bugs. This project you are embarking on is not the same as buying Microsoft Word, which has been in existence since 1983. Millions – if not billions – of users use this software, and a lot of bugs have been reported over its 34-year history. It has a huge team of developers who create version after version. There is a huge testing team to make sure it goes out without bugs. And, guess what? It still has bugs. A custom development project will have more.
You will have to find and identify bugs so your developers can repair them. While developers test their work, it is a little like trying to proofread your own writing… you sometimes can’t see what’s apparent to others. Also, as a user who knows your own process, you approach use cases differently than a developer who knows how the back-end is built would.
Provide as much detail as possible when reporting bugs. Proving information such as “the report doesn’t work” can prove very challenging for your development team to figure out what’s going wrong. Providing information such as what layout you selected the report from, what your found set was, what you expected and didn’t get – even a screen shot with call-outs – is intensely valuable. By providing that information clearly, your developer can fix the bugs faster and more in line with your expectations. As an added benefit, there will be less back and forth with the developer.
Involve your team. Include the main users and managers from your team, as you work through your custom development project. Let them see the steps that pertain to them and accept their input. If you try to go it alone, you could end up creating a solution that doesn’t solve the problem of your users. Getting them to embrace it (everyone fears change!) is a lot more challenging if they are taken off guard or they don’t know how to do their daily work any longer. In the end, the users should feel well-served by the software. So, while you still might have to make some decisions that won’t please everyone all the time, you can at least make sure that your decisions serve your business and team the best.
Approve things in steps. Along the way, the development team will ask for your approval or sign-off on part of the solution. It could be a layout or a workflow. But know that once you approve a step, it becomes much more challenging to go backward. Developers build code consistently throughout the solution because of your decisions, and last minute changes might become expensive.
Understand that this will be in addition to your regular job. Custom software development is invasive. It will take some of your time. While we understand you have a full-time job to do and you are creating this software to make it easier, during the development process, you will have to give of your time. You will need to describe your process, to provide examples of forms and reports you are already using, to provide input, to test, and to explain bugs you find and changes you might need. In most cases, you will have a weekly meeting to discuss the status and you might have additional discussions via email or conference calls throughout the week to discuss things more in depth.
Expect ongoing support needs. After your solution is in place, you will need, usually, to engage in a support or maintenance project with your development team. Usually, you can choose annual or monthly support. But, ensuring that someone is there to fix a bug you might not find until later is important. Perhaps you want to be able to add small features as you think of them. Additionally, your development team will need to update your software as new versions released for servers, operating systems and FileMaker. Think of support/maintenance as the insurance policy on your custom solution. You can skip this part, but know that (as with insurance) you take on some risk.
Hopefully, these steps can better help you better navigate your custom development project. Generally, a project manager will help you along the way to know when to do what. And, in the end, you gain value from your very own software. And, it can evolve and grow with your company and team.
Susan’s contact information is: