October 26, 2023 Software Development

Top 10 Custom Software Development Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

If performance and productivity are going down, yet maintenance costs and downtime are going up, it may be a sign that it’s time to check out a custom software solution. Custom software can be a great option for many businesses. 

 Once you’ve made the decision to go with a custom solution, it’s important to be mindful of the ways in which a project can go off the rails. We’ve put together this handy reference guide to the top 10 common custom software development mistakes to help you more easily sidestep them. 

Top 10 Common Custom Software Development Mistakes 

At Whitecap, we understand the intricacies and difficulties that face many companies when creating an efficient and successful software solution. By being aware of the possible mistakes, not only can you minimize the risk, but you can also enhance project outcomes. 

1. Poor Planning

The Number 1 reason that any software project (external or internal) will fail is due to a lack of planning. Without a clear understanding of business objectives as well as a project roadmap that outlines the purpose of the software, its desired functionality and how it will integrate into the existing tech-stack (among other things), there’s a high likelihood that costs will go up and deadlines will be missed. 

 The Solution: Take the time to interview key stakeholders as well as to conduct a deep dive into processes, existing technology, and short-term and long-term objectives. It’s imperative to create detailed system specifications and requirements like integrations, customer journey mapping, UI/UX design, accessibility requirements, architecture, security, and hosting. All of this should be planned out before you start building anything.  

2. Cost Overruns

Who hasn’t heard of a story of a project coming in over cost? Sadly, blowing through a budget is now almost the software development norm. That’s because there are so many factors that impact costs, so the ability to provide an accurate estimate from the very beginning is virtually impossible. However, by nailing down the minimum “must-have” software requirements, it also becomes easier to nail down the budget. 

 The Solution: Recognize that an organization will likely add onto solutions in phases. By determining an MVP (Minimal Viable Product), it creates a baseline starting point – and this is critical for budget conversations. Like many things in life, you get what you pay for, and sometimes the allotted project amount and wish lists don’t match. Yet, when you take the time to separate the “must-haves” from the “could-haves” in the MVP outline, a more accurate budget can be established. Phasing your project is one solution to cost issues. (Get more tips for planning and budgeting here.) And don’t forget about licensing costs, as these can have a significant impact to project budgets. For example, Sitefinity can now cost $20K before any dev work begins. 

3. Skipping Testing

In a rush to either keep costs down or get the software launched and into the hands of the end user, clients sometimes want to skip or shorten QA and user acceptance testing (UAT). When any bugs or defects are discovered after release, they are inevitably much more challenging and expensive to fix. Skipping the testing and quality assurance process can have substantial risks and negative outcomes for the software, users, and business as a whole. 

The Solution: Testing is not as easy as it may seem. It requires specialized skills, knowledge, and experience to ensure software quality. Understand that it’s not something that should be left up to a single in-house developer, or worse, the end-user. Look for a software development company, like Whitecap, that prioritizes QA and UAT to deliver high-quality software products that meet the needs of users and ultimately protect your organization from potential risks. 

4. Not Planning for Long Term Maintenance

Can you imagine buying a new car and then driving it into the ground, without ever taking it for a tune-up or checking the oil? As we note in our Ultimate Guide to Custom Software, you can’t “build it and forget it.” When you don’t plan for ongoing software and technology maintenance from the start, you risk your project becoming inefficient, or worse, obsolete.  

The Solution: Ongoing maintenance, support, enhancements is something you need to plan and budget for. Develop a robust plan that will address regular updates, feature enhancements and security patches. Without a maintenance plan, small issues can — and will — turn into big problems over time.  

5. Loss of Momentum

The kick-off was fantastic, and everything was moving forward, tickety-boo, when suddenly the project seems to come to a screeching halt. Someone’s on vacation, or another project has come up that has a higher priority. When software development momentum slows, it can be an early indicator of project failure. To make matters worse, cost and timeline overruns become unavoidable as team members must re-acquaint themselves with the project and where it stands currently. 

 The Solution: In any custom software development project, it’s essential that all teams commit to a set schedule. When you hire a leading external development company, they will have the resources on hand to fill in for any vacationing developers. A dedicated project manager can keep a sharp eye on all the moving pieces to keep development on track. Lastly, be sure to celebrate the wins and milestones along the way as that will keep everyone engaged and motivated. 

6. Scope Creep

Software development is boundless; virtually anything can be done in the digital domain. And that can be a problem. As things start to come together, it’s not uncommon to want to add or modify functionality. It you aren’t careful that “one little thing more” can turn into an unwieldy list of expanded features and functions. Bells and whistles can happen later. 

 The Solution: There are a few ways to rein in scope creep: clearly defined goals, open communication, and (of course) thinking ahead. To mitigate against cost and timeline overruns, refer back to the MVP and focus on the essentials. Once your minimal viable product is put into production, gather information about user satisfaction and feedback for improvements. Then plan on implementing improvements in the next phase of upgrades. 

7. Third Party Integration

Many software systems require integrating with third-party solutions to provide a seamless customer experience or improve the efficiency of the software. These third-party integrations can include point-of-sales payment systems, GPS/GNSS hardware and software, robotic or machine vision systems, and other external components. Developing a new product that plays well with others isn’t always the easiest thing to do.  

The Solution: Conducting a tech audit and feasibility study from the very start of your project will determine if what you want to develop is practical. It is essential to understand how these systems work together and inherent to the business implications of each decision. An effective discovery process allows you to make the right choices for your custom software development project and your business.

8. Poor Documentation

“But we talked about it” is a very uncomfortable discussion to have when client expectations are not met. Throughout the entire software development process, documentation plays a vital role in assuring alignment between the client and the developer. As the project moves through each phase, it’s crucial to record project progress, any issues that arise and the decisions that were made. As well, poor or insufficient support and/or user documentation can make it very difficult for teams to understand, maintain, and extend the software’s functionality. 

 The Solution: It’s important to have project scope clearly defined to mitigate misaligned expectations. Document the agreed-upon design decisions to avoid revisiting the same conversations and ensure clarity and transparency by including the rationale for why certain decisions were made. A reputable custom software development company will provide all the training and documentation your team needs to ensure a successful launch. 

9. Not Knowing What Success Looks Like

You can’t improve what you don’t measure. In the excitement of the planning stage, it’s easy to focus on functionality and improvements to the user experience. However, you also need to know which key performance indicators (KPIs) you are trying to move the needle on. 

 The Solution: Setting and tracking success metrics and KPIs are essential to ensuring that both the organizational and user goals of your custom software are being met. These metrics provide opportunities to identify potential improvements and ways to optimize your investment by increasing user adoption and conversions. 

10. Poor Communication

From the start of the custom software development cycle, ongoing, open communication is important to ensure that all the stakeholders are on the same page. Without clear communication between the client and the external custom software development team, there is the risk of misunderstandings, inefficiencies and redundancies, and missed deadlines.   

 The Solution: Look for a vendor that has a collaborative, iterative approach to software development, with regular check-ins, status updates and meetings. It is vital to keep communication channels open so that everyone is aware of impact of changes or amendments to functionality, schedules and budgets. 

The Final Word 

At the end of the day, choosing a good partner is the best way to avoid problems. A reputable custom software developer will have the experience and proven process to understand your business, software requirements, and users. And they will be able to recommend the right solutions, provide a realistic budget and development project timeline. Post launch, they will also be able to supply the training and support needed for you to realize success. 

 Does every project go 100% as planned? No. There will always be unforeseen changes, requests, problems and bumps along the way. But a good partner will be able to help you navigate through those to minimize impact.  

 Are you looking for a custom software developer with a proven process to help you? We’ve got a lot of experience helping businesses build the software solutions that delight end-users and achieve organizational goals. Let’s chat.