How to prepare for a software project

So you have a project on your desk, and you need a team of developers to help make it happen. That’s a great place to be. You’re at the beginning, and there is so much flexibility and freedom in those early phases, including your options for hiring the team that will work with you to bring your vision to life. But there are many hills left to climb.

One hill might be finding a small list of development firms that are available and able to do the work required. Sorting through your choices will be daunting, especially when you take into consideration factors such as the project management method each company uses, and whether or not these companies outsource their work or do it locally. These are tricky curves to navigate, but they aren’t the last of the challenges.

Having an app or website built can be a lot less painful if the process gets off on the right foot. Sticking with these three keys is the best way to make that happen.

The one that follows picking your handful of options is the spot where a project can either stall or succeed: requesting a quote. But if you can master a few simple keys to requesting a project quote, you can smooth out the road that runs between the vision and the completed product.

Be Specific

Ask any web developer and they will tell you a handful of stories about potential clients who have called or emailed, looking to hire them for a project. These clients will often say something similar to, “I need a website built. How much would you charge for that?”

The misconception is that web development is a one-size fits all type of profession, and that’s completely untrue. It’s a lot like building a new home. The only way two brand new homes could cost the same is if they use the same floor plans, same building materials, and same number of employees and hours to build each. Identical pricing is only possible with identical builds.

The same is true in the web and app industry: each website is a snowflake, unique to itself. The specific needs of each project, driven by the website or app’s purpose and function, combine with other details such as how much content there is to organize, what type of content is being presented, and how the user will interact with in. Asking a developer for a quote without discussing any of these details is like asking for a quote on a custom home without ever talking about how many bedrooms you want.

When you approach a developer with a project, the most important thing you can do is have more than words to show what you are looking to create. You should have a list of the kinds of features you are looking for, or screenshots of other websites that use similar features or functionality to what you would like for your own project. You should have a list of the webpages you will need created (i.e. Home, About, Contact, Team, etc), and possibly some sort of a “map” that shows how those pages or screens are related to each other in the navigation.

Open to Input

Another key to getting an accurate quote from a development firm is to approach the company as someone who has a solution to your problem. It’s fine and wonderful to present your detailed plans for the site or app you need, but you would do yourself and your users a favor if you also took a moment to describe the problem you are hoping to solve, in order to allow them to offer solutions that might better meet your goals.

It’s important to remember that a development company lives and breathes programing languages and software solutions for mobile challenges. A client might have some experience with certain web technologies or mobile app approaches, but that’s not their job. For the developers, this is at the center of their profession.

Let’s imagine a dentist who needs a refreshed website for her business. She might have a vision for allowing her patients to sign up on her website to track a score assigned by the dentist after each visit (work with me here!). Chances are good that she has an idea of how she wants it to look. She might even have some ideas about how it could function. But she doesn’t understand web technology, so her ideas and perceived solution might not actually be the best choices. The developer, however, who lives and breaths mobile app solutions, does.

Share your vision and be open to input from the developer. They might know of a better way to solve your problem, and that’s always a good thing.

Have a Budget

I know it sounds a little counterintuitive, but it is important to approach a developer with at least some idea of the project’s budget. For some clients, that is a budget set by a supervisor or partner, and for others it’s a figure that they get to decide on themselves. Either way, there is usually a ballpark dollar amount that represents what a client is willing to spend on a new app or website.

The fear, I think, is that a development company might look for ways to pad out their services to reach the high end of that budget figure. But while that is a minor risk, the benefits to having a budget are far greater. For example, if a client requests a website with a certain functionality and provides a limited budget to fund it, an experienced development company is able to weigh their options and tools and adapt.

This lets the developer provide a quote that is affordable by adjusting what is actually delivered. Scaling back on one technology, or swapping out a certain functionality for a similar, but cheaper, one can allow the developer to offer a solution that fits inside the client’s budget.

Three Simple Keys

The keys to getting an accurate estimate from a developer are simple:

  • be specific about everything you want,
  • be flexible enough to allow the professionals to guide you toward the best solution,
  • and come to the table with a budget that can help guide the choices you both make.

Having an app or website built can be a lot less painful if the process gets off on the right foot. Sticking with these three keys is the best way to make that happen.

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If you’re still not sure where to start, we’d be happy to guide you thru the process.

When not searching for weeds to pull in his non-existent New Mexico lawn, Robert can be found reading requirements documents and translating geekspeak for humans.

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