What it really takes to build great software

Duane Tursi
September 3, 2019

If you want to successfully meet the needs of your business and your customers, it’s time to stop treating your software development as a project. To truly have an impact, the creation of digital tools needs to be handled more like product design and development. Working with a design-led and research-driven team can help you achieve this, while also providing the best product to suit your needs and your budget.

You’ve already made the decision to implement a custom software solution and now you’re faced with the looming choice of building it in-house or hiring a vendor to do the dirty work for you. Before you run off and grab your best engineer (who should probably be working on the stuff that’s already generating revenue), here are some things you’ll want to consider.

leading with the software at the start completely ignores the very people who will use it. 

Plenty of organizations try and fail

These are the businesses who try and fail at building software because they don’t have a product design and development mentality or the processes and controls to treat internal projects as products. This makes it difficult to fit any new software into a larger and more coherent digital strategy that aligns with overall business objectives. So, even if they’re building lots of tools, they’re not doing it cohesively. Instead, they’re making one-off applications that are disposable because there was no formal strategy in place from the start. In the long run, this ends up throwing far more money at an issue that could’ve been more easily and affordably addressed from the beginning by working with a skilled, trusted software design and development team. 

The “it’s not my job” mentality

There’s a laundry list of reasons that in-house software projects typically have low accountability, but the biggest one is that they’re often voluntary side projects that pull people away from their regular work. While the goal is to always work quickly, this distraction method can end up taking maybe ten times longer than it would with a contracted team, again reducing the benefits of keeping the project in-house. You can’t hold your regular employees accountable to get the software developed on time because it’s not their number one priority; it’s not their main job. With a vendor, you get a budget, a timeline, and a throat to choke when your deadline arrives. 

Great software development is part art, part science

While it’s true that business leaders have the most knowledge about their specific industry, this doesn’t directly translate to building good software. Unless you are an honest-to-goodness tech company, it doesn’t make much sense to tackle it on your own. Think about it like this: you generally understand how your body works but you would never attempt to perform surgery without a license and years of experience to back it up. While building great software (with equally great UX) is not a life-or-death matter, it is absolutely a science unto itself that needs to be aligned to its business goals. When designers, data scientists, developers, and programmers work together (as they do in top-notch tech companies), they can easily deliver your vision in a satisfying way for the people who need to use it on a daily basis. 

Technology is constantly changing, and so are user expectations

Technology is constantly shifting, so if you have people who are used to working on a stack internally, every effort that they have is going to be calibrated to their skill set. They won’t see things like the experts do simply because they’re not looking across the various industries on a regular basis. You need people building your software who understand best practice UX patterns and design conventions across industry verticals. These are the folks who see loads of different industries and all types of tech in order to create the most effective strategy for your solution. These experts can more easily help you get to the maximum value of the idea that you’re trying to deliver. 

It takes more than one really great programmer

“Give me a great programmer and we’ll figure it out.” We hear people say this a lot and while it’s true that programmers can build amazing software, starting here is doing the entire development process backward. This method almost always ignores sufficient up-front research, and then you’re suddenly in trouble at the eleventh hour. The difference between engineer-led and design-led software is a big one. A design-led process is holistic and inclusive, focusing on the business and user goals, and it starts well before anything gets designed. Most mature organizations understand this and realize that they need to fund these important activities the right way in order to have better success. To put it simply, leading with the software completely ignores the very people who will use it. 

Takeaway

Developing a winning custom software solution requires a great deal of knowledge and experience in building software. You need skilled UX/UI designers, developers, programmers, business analysts, information architects, UX researchers, data scientists, solution architects, content strategists, and product managers. If you’re hoping to scrap together this kind of team in-house, you’re likely looking at pulling important players from other projects that are vital to the payroll. And even if you’re successful in assembling the perfect internal team from the current employee roster, that solution is going to take twice as long because these folks have other day-to-day priorities that require their attention. Before you attempt to tackle it on your own, here are some of the ways we can help

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