Exploring Bespoke Dev Projects: A Comprehensive Guide for SMEs

How to Start a Bespoke Dev Project

In the realm of software development, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) often find themselves in a unique position. Unlike startups (that may lean towards simplified processes) or larger corporations with well-defined procedures, SMEs may lack the experience to embark on bespoke development projects confidently. With this in mind, we’ve curated a step-by-step guide to demystify the journey for businesses exploring bespoke dev projects.

Essential Steps to Realising Your Bespoke Solution

Navigating the intricate landscape of bespoke software development requires a strategic approach and meticulous planning. We’ve compiled a list of crucial steps to transform your initial web development idea into a fully realised bespoke solution:

  1. Assumptions About Bespoke Software Development
  2. Is Bespoke Development Inherently Risky, or Does Poor Project Management Lead to Failures?
  3. Understanding Why Bespoke Products Fail
  4. Preparing for a Web App Project
  5. Struggling with Project Time and Cost Estimates? Essential Roles in Bespoke Dev Projects
  6. The Project Scoping Phase
  7. Planning Software Development: Key Questions
  8. UI/UX Design Considerations
  9. Partnering for Success: Selecting the Right Software Vendor
  10. Finalising Your Project Roadmap
  11. Addressing Legal Requirements
  12. Start Your Bespoke Dev Project!

1.  Assumptions About Bespoke Software Development

Embarking on a bespoke project, particularly for novices, can be driven by various motivations. Primarily, a quest for improved efficiency fuels the pursuit. Businesses seek to tackle intricate challenges by leveraging bespoke software to streamline operations and replace manual processes. While the market often offers existing solutions, certain scenarios call for bespoke innovation to address unique needs and surpass conventional boundaries.

2.  Is Bespoke Development Inherently Risky, or Does Poor Project Management Lead to Failures?

Despite its prevalence, the notion that bespoke software development is inherently fraught with risks warrants closer inspection. In truth, the success or failure of bespoke projects often hinges on the precision of project management rather than inherent flaws in the development process itself.

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3.  Understanding Why Bespoke Products Fail

If you’re hesitant to begin a bespoke project because you’ve heard they sometimes hit a snag, here’s a rundown of the most typical reasons behind their stumbles:

  • Ambiguous business priorities can spell trouble right from the get-go of a project. Say you’re building a system for three different departments within your company. Each department may present its own set of requirements, leading to disagreement on which features should take centre stage. Moreover, crucial features might only be urgently communicated to developers when it’s too late to implement them.
  • When project stakeholders fail to engage effectively, it’s like missing a critical piece of the puzzle. They might skip product demos and meetings, neglect to provide crucial information when requested, dodge important questions, and remain too busy to review progress throughout the development journey. Then, they’re left puzzled when things don’t align with their expectations at the final stage. That’s why stakeholder engagement is paramount in the software development process. Without it, the project timeline hangs in the balance.
  • Scope creep is a sly intruder that can derail your project if you’re not vigilant. It happens when you start with clear goals and priorities but get side-tracked by new ideas along the way, expanding the project scope beyond its original bounds. Before you know it, your project scope balloons beyond recognition. What was once a neat 3-month endeavour with a $50,000 budget can morph into a year-long odyssey, costing you much more than anticipated.
  • Unnecessarily extending the development cycle is another pitfall many people encounter in software development. It occurs when there’s a long stretch of silence from your end, leaving developers with the initial requirements but no further guidance for months. When you eventually re-engage with the project, you find that what they’ve been working on doesn’t quite match what you had in mind. In bespoke development, constant feedback from your end is crucial. Without it, your project risks veering off course.

4.  Preparing For a Web App Project

Before diving into a web app project, laying the groundwork is essential. Here’s what you should consider:

  • Identify Key Business Problems:
  • The first step in bespoke development is pinpointing the core business issues that will drive the need for a custom application. Here are some common scenarios:
  • Existing off-the-shelf solutions don’t align with your business processes, circumstances, or unique priorities, making them unsuitable.
  • You’re looking to seize new business opportunities. Perhaps client interactions have highlighted a market problem that could be addressed through custom software solutions.
  • Existing solutions are prohibitively expensive. In such cases, investing in a bespoke solution may prove more cost-effective in the long run compared to recurring subscription fees or off-the-shelf products.
  • Have a clear problem statement: Define the specific problem you aim to solve through software development. This statement will guide all project decisions and is fundamental to ensuring your product’s success.
  • Prepare and Substantiate the Business Case for Beginning a Bespoke Dev Project: Align your business objectives with the envisioned software product. Begin by identifying the problem you aim to address and outline how the proposed software solution will effectively resolve it. Consider potential financing options, recognising that this process need not be overly formal but requires dedicated time and effort. When crafting your business case, address the following key questions:
  • Will the proposed solution genuinely solve the identified problem?
  • Do you comprehensively understand the budget, including estimates from internal or external development teams? (e.g. Is the project estimated to cost $10,000 or $1 million?)
  • Is the investment in this project justifiable given your company’s current stage of development?
  • Determine Your Project Objective:

Establishing a clear project goal is paramount, as it is the focal point without which the entire project loses significance. For example, if the primary aim is for an accountant to generate a list of transactions for a specific period, the absence of this feature renders the project futile. Frequently, the project goal forms the cornerstone of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), guiding development efforts towards achieving essential functionality.

Once you’ve meticulously crafted your arguments and solidified your business case, it’s time to present them to relevant stakeholders. This crucial step allows you to garner the necessary support from within your organisation. Engage with senior executives or other individuals responsible for project financing to ensure alignment and secure the backing needed to proceed. Effective communication and collaboration at this stage are paramount for advancing your bespoke development project.

5.  Struggling with Project Time and Cost Estimates? Essential Roles in Bespoke Dev Projects

Within any organisation, identifying individuals to fulfil key roles is essential for ensuring the project’s success. These roles play a pivotal part in steering the project towards fruition:

  • Project Sponsor

The project sponsor, typically a senior figure within your organization, approves the budget and funds the initiative. This individual may hail from a specific department or hold a higher executive position within the organization.

  • Project Champion

Distinct from the project sponsor, the project advocate is an individual who stands to gain from the successful implementation of your project. While they may not hold the role of sponsor or end user, they will enjoy the advantages of your project’s achievements. For example, the head of a company department may not directly utilise the product themselves, but their team members require it to enhance their efficiency.

  • Project Stakeholders

Project Stakeholders are individuals, groups, or organizations who have an interest in the project and can mobilize resources to influence its outcome in some way. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI®, 1996), stakeholders are ‘individuals and organizations who are actively involved in the project, or whose interests may be positively or negatively affected as a result of project execution or successful project completion’.

Project stakeholders keenly understand the problem at hand and the expected behaviour and permissible parameters. They serve as pivotal contributors to your project.

For instance, envision having to involve a member from your accounting department, or even the head of accounting, in the development of a robust accounting system. Similarly, when integrating the final product into your infrastructure, your IT department would be crucial in ensuring alignment with their expectations, requirements, and adherence to specific policies.

6.  The Project Scoping Phase

Entering the project scoping phase marks the progression towards defining the scope of your endeavour and involves the following steps:

Gather Initial Requirements

To facilitate effective communication with project participants, your project’s concept and vision mustn’t be confined to your mind alone. While a brief description of your primary requirements might suffice, compiling a set of essential artefacts will aid in discussing project specifics with other stakeholders and be crucial when engaging with developers.

These artefacts will typically include:

  • A comprehensive project brief
  • Diagrams illustrating system architecture or process flows
  • A high-level feature list outlining key functionalities
  • Wireframe mockups depicting the UI design

While there’s no exact checklist for the information needed before embarking on bespoke application development, the more detailed your specifications, the higher the likelihood of successful project delivery. Should you require assistance with business analysis, architectural planning, or UI/UX design, many third-party vendors can provide support in producing these artefacts.

When engaging with bespoke software development companies, ensure to convey the following crucial points:

  • Clearly articulate the project goals and the underlying reasons driving them.
  • Specify the intended users of the software solution and outline their specific needs and motivations.
  • Communicate how you envision the bespoke product functioning, including any unique requirements or specifications.
  • Provide a detailed outline of the desired feature set, encompassing the functionalities essential for achieving project objectives.

Consult All Relevant Parties

Collaborative input from all stakeholders, including end users, project sponsors, and relevant personnel, is invaluable when embarking on bespoke application development. Given the potential interconnectivity of your project with existing company infrastructure, it’s crucial to gather insights and perspectives from all parties involved to ensure seamless integration and alignment with organisational goals and processes.

Record All Requirements

Capturing all requirements is a crucial step in the software development process. There are multiple ways to document requirements, each catering to different project needs. Some opt for a high-level overview, while others prefer detailed user stories. Functional and performance requirements may be delineated across several documents, such as Software Requirements Specification (SRS) documents or other formal project specifications. The chosen approach should align with the project’s complexity, goals, and stakeholder preferences, ensuring clarity and alignment throughout the development lifecycle.

7.  Planning Software Development: Key Questions

As you transition from project scoping to software development planning, clarity becomes paramount. Answering the following questions will help crystallize your project vision and guide the development process:

  1. Determining the hosting environment for your bespoke software solution is a critical decision that impacts performance, accessibility, and cost. Consider the following options:
  • On-premises hosting involves hosting the software on servers located within your organisation’s premises or in-house. It provides full control over infrastructure but requires investment in hardware, maintenance, and IT expertise for managing servers and ensuring uptime.
  • Cloud-based hosting: Opting for cloud services such as AWS, GCP, or Azure offers scalability, flexibility, and reduced infrastructure overhead. However, it may entail ongoing subscription costs based on usage and resource consumption.
  • Hybrid approach: Combining on-premises and cloud hosting allows for a tailored solution that leverages the benefits of both environments. This approach offers flexibility and scalability while maintaining control over sensitive data. When determining the most suitable hosting environment for your bespoke software solution, consider factors such as security requirements, scalability needs, budget constraints, and IT capabilities.
  1. Understanding and managing project constraints is essential for ensuring your bespoke software project’s success. The iron triangle of project management, consisting of time, scope, and cost, forms the foundation for evaluating and addressing these constraints.
  • Each side of the triangle is interconnected, meaning changes to one aspect will invariably affect the others. Therefore, it’s crucial to identify areas of flexibility where compromises can be made. For example, if your budget is fixed at $50,000, you may need to adjust the project scope or timeline to accommodate unforeseen challenges rather than increasing the budget.
  • Technical constraints, such as specific technology requirements and resource limitations, also play a significant role. If you lack expertise in a particular technology stack or struggle to hire IT specialists, it’s essential to acknowledge these constraints and plan accordingly.
  • By understanding and acknowledging the project constraints upfront, you can effectively manage risks, make informed decisions, and successfully deliver your bespoke software solution within the established parameters.
  1. Selecting the right technology for your project is a critical decision that requires careful consideration. To ensure you make the best choice, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Cost: What are the financial implications of using this technology? Consider factors such as licensing fees, infrastructure costs, and ongoing maintenance expenses.
  • Technical Support: How easy is it to support the technology from a technical perspective? Assess whether you have the necessary in-house expertise or will require external support.
  • Expertise: Do you have the expertise to implement and manage the chosen technology effectively? Consider your team’s skill set and whether additional training or hiring may be necessary.
  • Reliability: Is the technology mature and reliable? Evaluate its track record, stability, and any known issues or vulnerabilities.
  • Fit for Purpose: Does the technology meet your specific criteria and requirements? Ensure it aligns with your project goals, functionality needs, and scalability requirements.
  • Long-Term Costs: What are the long-term costs associated with this technology decision? Consider factors such as upgrades, scalability, and ongoing support.
  • Viability: Is the technology viable for a long-term project? Assess its suitability for future expansion, evolving industry standards, and potential shifts in your business needs. Seeking the guidance of specialists can provide valuable insights and expertise to help you navigate these considerations and make informed choices.
  1. Integrating your solution with other systems is a crucial aspect that can significantly impact the duration and budget of your project. Before diving into integration, it’s essential to consider different integration models and potential challenges. Here are a few key considerations:
  • API Accessibility: Determine whether the systems you want to integrate have open APIs. Will your developers have access to these APIs, and are there any associated costs?
  • Proprietary APIs: If the APIs are proprietary, you may need to negotiate access with the original vendor, which could involve additional costs. Your developers will need time to familiarise themselves with the API before implementation begins.
  • Data Flow: Consider how data will flow between systems. If the integrated system will send data to your existing solution, ensure your current system can handle the incoming data without becoming overwhelmed. Necessary modifications to your system may require additional development resources and time.
  • Impact on Existing Systems: Assess the potential impact of integration on your existing systems. Will they need to be modified or upgraded to accommodate the integration? It could involve coordination with another team of developers and adherence to specific timelines. Integration can introduce various complexities and potential variables, so it is essential to allocate sufficient time and resources to address these challenges effectively. By giving integration the attention it deserves upfront, you can minimise disruptions and ensure a smoother implementation process.
  1. The project charter is a guiding document that provides stakeholders a clear understanding of the project’s purpose, scope, and expected outcomes. While not mandatory, it is a reference point for project governance and helps obtain stakeholder buy-in and approval. Moreover, the project charter serves as a mechanism for course correction, allowing stakeholders to realign efforts if deviations from the project’s objectives occur. A well-crafted project charter succinctly outlines project objectives, scope, deliverables, timelines, and stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities.
  2. Securing approval from company management is crucial before proceeding with any development initiative. It ensures that key decision-makers are aligned with the project objectives and are willing to provide the necessary resources and funding for its execution.

8. UI/UX Design Considerations

Creating a compelling user interface (UI) and ensuring a seamless user experience (UX) is paramount when embarking on a bespoke development project. Visualising key concepts through rapid prototyping simplifies communication with project sponsors and provides a tangible preview of the final solution.

Rapid prototyping allows you to showcase the anticipated benefits compared to existing manual operations or processes. Sketches and mockups are invaluable tools when soliciting quotes from developers and designers, preventing budget surprises down the line.

Before commencing actual development work, rapid prototyping becomes indispensable. It empowers developers to make informed decisions regarding technology selection and grasp the intricacies of user-system interaction.

In essence, early preparation of mockups expedites the presentation to developers, facilitating more accurate estimates and informed decisions regarding software technologies. By embracing rapid prototyping, you pave the way for a smoother development journey and a more polished end product.

9. Partnering for Success: Selecting the Right Software Vendor

Alright, it’s decision time! One great way to start your search is by checking out specialised platforms like TopDevelopers.co. They rank software development firms based on various criteria, and their verified reviews will guide you to the perfect tech ally to supercharge your business. Once you’ve generated a list of candidates you’re happy with, it’s time to narrow it down. Let’s kick things off with a project brief.

Compose a Project Brief

Crafting a project brief is the next logical step once your project scoping phase has yielded valuable insights. A project brief is a concise document containing essential details about your project tailored for your software vendors. Its purpose is to provide vendors with a clear understanding of your project, its context, and your company’s needs. Moreover, it helps vendors assess whether the project aligns with their expertise and interests, saving time for both parties by avoiding engagements that aren’t a good fit.

Identify the Software Development Team — In-House or External?

Determining the composition of your software development team — whether it will be composed of in-house personnel or external collaborators — is a pivotal yet straightforward decision in the development process. If your organisation lacks the necessary expertise internally, you’ll need to consider engaging external resources. In such cases, you can augment your existing team with external experts or outsource the entire project.

When opting for an in-house software development team, it’s crucial to secure the necessary resources well ahead of time and ensure that your teams will be available as needed, adhering to your internal procedures. Additionally, consider whether you’d like to recruit additional specialists to supplement or expand your team.

Alternatively, if you choose to engage an external team of developers, you’ll need to initiate a procurement process.

If your company already has a procurement department, consider delegating the task of sourcing suppliers to them. You can search for potential candidates by:

  • Conducting a straightforward tender process to identify a shortlist of suppliers, followed by another round to select the best fit.
  • Exploring other methods of supplier selection, such as obtaining quotations.

In addition to assessing proficiency and reliability, consider factors like location and company size. You may prefer to collaborate with larger, more established companies with proven track records of specialised expertise.

Evaluate Commercial Offers

Review the commercial proposals submitted by your potential vendors. They should include a detailed work breakdown structure (WBS) with their commercial offer. These documents should outline the following:

  • Their opinion of the estimated duration of your project
  • Technical considerations that are crucial to the project
  • The anticipated cost of the project

Project Roadmap

Furthermore, the commercial proposal should incorporate a project roadmap — a strategic plan that outlines a project’s goals, objectives, tasks, and milestones over a specific timeframe. The roadmap is a vital overview of how the vendor envisions implementing your project, facilitating easy comparison between different suppliers’ delivery plans.

When evaluating roadmaps, it’s essential to consider whether you agree with the proposed timeline and believe the projected dates are feasible and align with your organisation’s schedule.

Compare Deliverables

When comparing potential suppliers, it’s crucial to scrutinise their deliverables. These can differ significantly from one supplier to another. Ensure you select suppliers whose deliverables align closely with your project objectives and requirements.

Determine the Definition of ‘Done’

It might seem obvious, but ensuring that you and your software vendor share the same understanding of when the project is considered complete is important. It isn’t just about warranties; it’s about defining the point at which the supplier’s job ends and your responsibilities begin. So, practically speaking:

  • When will the project be finished, and what happens next?
  • Who will handle the deployment?
  • Who’s in charge of setting up monitoring to keep it running smoothly in production?
  • Who’s responsible for backups?

Non-Linear Criteria to Consider

Finally, here are a few other things to keep in mind when gearing up for a bespoke development project, in no particular order:

  • Terms and conditions: Take a close look at any disparities that might be hiding here.
  • Bug fixing and support: What’s the vendor’s plan for tackling bugs and providing ongoing support?
  • Knowledge transfer: Will the vendor share their know-how with your team? Can you count on your in-house experts to handle things once the project is delivered?
  • Warranty: Is a warranty included in the package? If so, what are the terms and conditions?

10. Finalising Your Project Roadmap

After examining the vendor’s proposed roadmap and project plan, it’s time for your company to solidify its own project roadmap; this is where your company’s specific needs and circumstances come into play. Perhaps you’ve already brought designers on board or have another team handling a third-party system integration. Whatever the case, you’ll want to ensure that the vendor’s proposed plan aligns seamlessly with your existing strategies and initiatives. If everything looks good, you can give the green light and move forward with their roadmap.

11. Addressing Legal Requirements

Before wrapping up our Exploring Bespoke Development Projects: A Comprehensive Guide for SMEs, we have one final thought: it’s crucial to thoroughly review the contract before finalising it. Contracts in business software development can vary significantly, so it’s essential to ensure that you understand all terms and conditions before signing. This step is paramount to mitigate potential risks and ensure a smooth collaboration with bespoke developers or any other project vendors.

12. Start Your Bespoke Dev Project!

Once you’ve navigated the complexities of software development and completed the steps in our guide, it’s time to start your bespoke dev project journey! With the contract finalized and agreements in place, you can entrust your vision to the software vendor and watch as they bring it to life. While they work their magic, remember to remain closely involved and ready to steer the ship should any challenges arise along the way. It’s smooth sailing ahead for your bespoke dev project!