Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Software Development (But Were Afraid To Ask)

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Software Development (But Were Afraid To Ask)

Rather than talk about how wonderful we are all the time, in our latest blog we thought we’d try a different tack and let you know how an ‘average’ conversation goes with a potential customer.

Like a frequently asked questions and answers approach with a 'mythical' (but also a kind of real company) as we think it’s a good way of setting out what an early stage discussion actually looks like when someone engages with Purple Crane.

Think of it as a human algorithm made from our customers asking the questions…

Q. “I run a marketing agency and we need a better workflow management system. None of the products on the market suit our needs. Is this something you could build for us?"

A. It certainly sounds like the kind of thing we do and have done.  What products on the market have you looked at and what was it about them that didn’t work for you?

Q. We’ve looked at a few; Kissflow & Monday.com, to name a couple, but they all seem to have limitations and stop short of doing exactly what we want. That’s what I’m after, something tailored to us and not what a company 'thinks' we need.

A. OK, so what is usually best is if we arrange an initial meeting where we can go through things in a more detail.  It’s often helpful if this is face-to-face, but can be by phone or video chat.  We also have a pre-meeting questionnaire that we ask people to complete if possible.  This gives us a bit more information about your project and allows us to do some research and have a think before our meeting.

Some key things for us to find out during this initial meeting would be getting a good overview of your business and how you operate.  In particular we would focus on the problems your facing and the unique areas of your business which the off-the-shelf software can’t help you with.

Other useful things for us to know at this stage would be other goals you have for the project, budget and time constraints and any technology requirements you might have

Q. "Great that sounds useful. Could you explain how the project would progress after this initial stage even we decided to take it forward?”

A. Well, based on what we’ve discovered after the initial meeting and any discussions to clarify things, we’d come back to you with an initial proposal.  This summarises what we’ve learned so far, to ensure we’ve understood correctly and we’ve haven’t missed anything major.  It would also set out a likely budget range and timescales with a plan for how the project would progress.  Once you have engaged with us, it pretty much runs like this:

- We talk to your teams and your users

- We observe your processes

- We ask a lot of questions about how and why you do things.

By thoroughly understanding your business goals and how and why people work and your present system, we can develop the software that fits your brief and will help to increase productivity and add to your bottom line.

Q. "I know off-shoring is cheaper, but I’m sceptical. I am also realistic and only have a certain amount of budget. What is the advantage of using you over an off-shore outfit?"

A. Off shoring, may be cheaper if you’re comparing developer hourly rates against those in a country with a lower cost of living.  However there are many other things to think about.  If you’re purely thinking about staff daily rates, you could possibly offshore many functions in your business not just software development.  It is rare in our experience that a software project ends after the initial go-live.  It usually does (and in our opinion should) result in an ongoing project of enhancements to adapt to your organisation’s (and other) changes

One thing to think about is developing an ongoing relationship and the fact that it’s often useful to have regular (even if not frequent) face-to-face meetings with your development team.  We think it’s important to develop a long-term trust based relationship with people who know you, your team, and build up knowledge of how your organisation and industry works.  Of course this could happen with an offshore team too, but there are certainly obstacles and associated costs which come with that.  There could also be legal or regulatory aspects to consider amongst other things.

Q. "I’m sorry to go on about cost, but a bespoke software solution sounds expensive. What sort of budget are we looking at (piece of string wise) and what will the longer-term cost savings for the business be?"

A. project could be £20-30K upwards.  However, ‘expensive’ is a relative term.  You wouldn’t be thinking about a new software solution if you didn’t believe that it was going to deliver you value. 

Even if a solution cost you £200K but then saved you £500K and helped you deliver an extra £500K in revenue, then obviously it’s not expensive at all.  We believe that before we even get to the functional requirements of the proposed projects we should be looking at your business goals and how the project helps towards them.  That way you can work on measuring the potential value that could be delivered which helps you make a much more informed decision about whether to invest. 

There are tools and techniques which can be used to help with this, one of which is 'Impact Mapping' which helps focus the functionality towards business goals with measurable results.  We’d be glad to work with you to help define the value if that would be useful.  Of course you may already be well aware of the value to be delivered in which case we can help you work out the costs involved to enable you to make a decision.  An important thing to remember is that with a software development project, there will also be costs involved on your side as to be successful it will require at least an investment of time on your part.

Q. “Ok, thanks. Here’s another tough one! How long does a project like this normally take and is there an ongoing relationship?"

A. It’s difficult to say at this stage because it depends very much on the scope of the project.  However a typical project might range from 2-12 months.  What we recommend is taking a phased ‘agile’ approach.  We focus on delivering the core functionality first where possible and then incrementally add functionality in phases or ‘iterations’ on an ongoing basis.  This way you could possibly have a useful, working application more quickly and then add the ‘bells and whistles’ later.

We aim to become an extension to your team and work with you on an ongoing basis to both support your new system and help you adapt it as your business evolves.  One of the benefits of bespoke software is it’s yours to enhance and modify as your requirements change.   This is something that is difficult with off-the-shelf, where you often end up adapting to the requirements of the software rather than the other way round.

Q. “OK great, thanks for that. I have another idea for an in-app marketing platform that I’d like to discuss with you. Is this something you could also look at with me?"

A. Of course.  We’d be very happy to discuss that with you and give you our advice and ideas, sounds like the sort of project that really fires up our imagination!

Tune in next month for the second part of this blog as we scope out this new project with our mystery prospect!