So you think you need bespoke software?

Remember when you had a very bad headache and walked into the hospital and requested a surgeon to operate on you because you’ve read some articles on the internet and you think you have a brain tumour? No? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. Would anyone actually do that? Worse, would any self-respecting surgeon say “sure, hop right up on the table” and then proceed to crack open your skull?

Yet this is often where we, as developers, are asked to start. A potential client will spend about 15-30 minutes on the phone telling us how they would like some new software and what they want it to do, and how much will it cost, please? All too often in our industry, there are plenty of firms out there who will provide a price based on this information. Each price the client gets from the companies will be different, often wildly so. They have no way of using that information effectively to choose an agency to deliver that software. The client will have given each agency slightly different information, and each agency will have made their own set of assumptions.

A critical part is notably absent. Did anyone, client or agency, stop to ask why this project is being considered? Perhaps bespoke software is not the most appropriate solution to the problem?

Medical professionals would be found guilty of malpractice if they accepted their patient’s self-diagnosis and prescribed treatments without first doing their own diagnosis. Unfortunately, our profession doesn’t yet have the same kind of malpractice rules. But we must adopt the same mindset, responding with “You may be correct, but let’s find out for sure.”

Diagnosis

So, as a client, what should you be thinking about and be prepared to answer?

First, what is the specific challenge or problem you are facing which led to the conclusion that new software is the right solution? You may need to dig down deep to uncover the core underlying problem.

Then ask yourself these questions:

  • Why not leave things the way they are?
  • Is the situation so bad that it’s worth embarking on a costly and risky project?
  • Has this problem been around for a while?
  • If so, why do something about this now? Has something changed that has increased the urgency?
  • Can you keep an eye on it for 6 months and then decide?
  • Have you considered alternative solutions to this problem?
  • Is there existing software that you can evaluate and use to solve 80% of the problem?
  • Is solving the last 20% the part that will result in 80% of the benefit?

If your honest answers to these are mostly “Yes’s” then maybe bespoke software is a viable solution.

Value, budgets, and trust

You also need to be able to quantify the value that solving the problem could bring to your business. Often, it’s monetary but you can gain a lot of value from having headaches and stress removed from your life.

A common problem at the beginning of a client/agency relationship is the lack of trust. Clients don’t want to give away their budgets believing that they could be fleeced. This is a valid and justifiable concern. The reason it’s asked comes from a good place though. Agencies ask this because clients are usually more able to answer it than the better question of what value solving the problem can bring. Further, the agency cannot advise in the best way possible if you can’t or won’t give them guidance on how valuable it is to you and what sort of budget you are willing or able to allocate. It wastes time and helps no-one if the agency is suggesting a Rolls Royce when all you have is the budget for a Mini.

To continue with the tortured car sales analogy, imagine you’re in the market for a new car. You likely already have a sense of what your maximum budget can be. This is often indicated by the fact that you only consider dealers with cars within your budget price brackets. Prices of a car are known because it has already been designed and built. It exists. Developing custom software is more akin to designing and building the car in the first place. At this early stage, the best anyone can do is provide an estimated range of prices based on the initial information you tell us and our experience with similar sounding projects in the past.

Going back to the analogy, I started out by saying you’re in the market for a new car (aka bespoke software) but here’s the step that’s often missed — taking a step back and considering exactly why you’re looking for a new car in the first place. The likely true underlying problem you’re trying to solve is getting from one place to another. There are many solutions for this that don’t involve a car and if you did the analysis you might realise it’s a poor solution.

  • If you don’t travel that far or often you could go via public transport (train, bus or taxis)
  • If it’s only to transport you, then how about a bike (motorised or pedal-powered)?
  • If you often need to transport large or heavy items you might need to consider a van or truck

These are all alternate solutions to a car, and they have their own pros and cons depending on your actual needs. Some factors are monetary, but others are less quantifiable such as speed, comfort, and convenience. But maybe you know you are willing to pay some amount for those things.

You need to apply a similar kind of analysis to your business issues and weigh up the value of something to you and your business. This is different for every single business.

Expert Analysis

This can be hard to evaluate if you’re not an expert in software development and what software can (or can’t) do for you. This is why every engagement must start with a diagnosis, or as we like to call it — discovery. We take the time to learn about your business and dig into the problems you’re experiencing to guide you through the options available to you. Only then can we prescribe courses of action you can take so that you can make the best decision.

It may sound odd to say this but one of the best outcomes would be to discover that bespoke software is not the solution to your problem. You will save a huge amount of time, effort and money. We avoid the inevitable headaches that come from us trying to achieve a flawed outcome. Often the result is an unhappy client who feels they were sold a pipe-dream when the delivered software doesn’t move the needle in their business.

If you think new software could be valuable for your business, then get in touch. We help you make sure bespoke software is really what you need before you embark on a costly project with a much greater chance of success.