A software solution is a tool to address business challenges or ensure an engaging user experience. From my experience in working in different companies, I observed many cases when software products were created with little or even no contextual consideration of the customer industry-specific needs and objectives.
As a result, these apps, websites, and complex systems failed by various essential parameters such as NPS, ROI and churn rate. What’s more, I analyzed projects that ended up with a total fiasco by consuming a dedicated budget without even getting it 100% done for the same reason. Bringing my expertise in YSBM Group, I’ve managed to enhance development processes helping the team build the right software faster.
In this guide for C-level managers and business owners, I will consider how to increase chances to achieve goals by making the right software.
Defining the project goals to build the right software
Custom software is generally built for internal or external purposes.
- Internal goals (B2B) imply the use of mobile and web apps to support business processes by improving communications, enabling online service delivery, automating inventory tracking, or simplifying document management.
- External objectives (B2C) mean the resolution of user needs by addressing a particular problem, offering a unique value, or ensuring an amazing experience.
Unfortunately, most software projects fail due to a dim idea of the product goals.
In this article, I will consider only those aspects that are associated with software design and development.
To build the right software, you should design its finite strategic goal before the development process begins. If you aim to create an additional module to the existing system, the target should be defined for it. This goal should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable Relevant, and Time-bound.
Some consultants assume that this action can be postponed for the future while you can start working on the project. However, for many times I saw how wrong decisions were on early development stages due to the lack of a precise strategic plan.
Furthermore, when starting making software without a clear understanding of business requirements, all previous decisions have to be revised when you finally get it. As a consequence, you may have to rethink not just some software features but the whole concept.
Therefore, it is reasonable to determine goals and make sure that a software engineering company has the same vision. This will allow you and the vendor to take all decisions focusing on the Big Goal.
When setting a strategic aim, you can use one of the following examples:
- For online delivery service: to increase the average monthly revenue by 20% within 6 month by reducing waiting-for-order time, labor efforts, and paperwork.
- Before creating a new analytics module of an e-learning platform: to increase the number of paid subscriptions by at least 10% within 4 months by analyzing user behavior, segmenting the audience, and providing personalized recommendations.
- When planning the Internet of Things-enabled system for cleaning and sanitation office buildings: within 3 years of operation, the organization needs to sign contracts with the 10 largest real estate companies and earn $100,000 on each agreement.
How will you plan software project development?
Before making a software solution, the company needs to estimate the time and budget. However, software engineers may face tough realities such as tight deadlines or scarce funds. If not planned properly, the project may get out of control at the very beginning. For instance, it is impossible to create a complex customized system consisting of mobile and web apps within three months.
When there is discrepancy between desires and possibilities, decisions can deviate from the plan. The team may attempt to add multiple features within a short period while not focusing on quality. Or software development processes, changes in the requirements, decisions of managers may be not documented in a hurry. As a result, no one wants to take responsibility for the outcome that may appear to be really different from what was demanded.
To keep the project on track and build software that aligns with expectations, business owners and C-level executives have to not only identify a strategic aim but also estimate time and budget necessary to launch the app or website.
Here is how I suggest planning software project development:
- Define the primary objective of your product and analyze its achievability in the context of real-life business conditions. If you see you are not able to accomplish it with the existing resources, try to redefine it accordingly.
- Split the main goal into smaller objectives that:
- are easy to measure
- can be accomplished under the current business conditions
- will be beneficial for your organization even in case of putting the work on hold
- Estimate the spread of activities and divide it into tasks. Assign a specialist responsible for managing software development. Allow him or her evaluate and control resources, track deadlines, analyze risks. Monitor the project completion to make sure it is on the right track.
- In case some unexpected issues arise, review goals and make adjustments—e.g., associated with timeline, budget, feature prioritization—if necessary.
By following these recommendations, you will increase chances to build the right software. When goals align with possibilities, it is much easier to meet deadlines and avoid extra expenditures.
Also, remember that any successful idea needs a proof of concept because this is one of the main points of its successful implementation.
How do you set priorities before building software?
As it is often difficult to divide the main objective into small ‘local’ goals, you need to properly prioritize them.
I recommend that you:
- Distinguish vital aims that your software will not work without.
- Put the most impactful and less resource-consuming purposes at the top.
- Set goals with a similar priority and estimate how long it takes to accomplish them and how many resources it will consume
- Mark aims that can be abandoned without a negative impact on the project
- Focus on design and planning tasks related to more prioritized objectives. Allocate resources, set intermediary checkpoints, analyze risks, and estimate the outcome of each stage.
With a well-prioritized list of small business goals, you will be able to build software faster starting from the most crucial functionality and then moving to less important features.
Let’s consider an example.
Delivering an E-learning Platform that provides online courses and tutorials, you’ve identified the following intermediary goals:
- develop a new 'Live consultation' service and get first 100 paid customers
- create analytics for RFM analysis of the existing customers for further usage
- increase revenue by 20% with the help of tailored product offerings
However, how do you define priorities depending on different conditions?
Resources Setup #1: There are no limitations and tight deadlines for available teams, delivery time, and scope of work.
In this case, we can prioritize objectives in any possible way, including options with working on deliverables related to each goal in parallel. The main targets are to provide qualified management of multiple implementation teams and build software that aligns with business-specific requirements.
Resources Setup #2: Having only one team available but no tight deadlines:
In these conditions, all tasks should be planned and performed one after another but with the most optimal (that potentially provides the highest return) expected outcome.
For our list of goals, I would go for prioritizing goal #2 as it adds the highest value. After delivering the results of RFM analysis, you should move to the goal #1. Creating a 'Live consultation' service, you will be able to attract paid users.
Then, you can focus on achieving the third aim. I suggest to set the lowest priority as it is probably the most time-consuming. Furthermore, it will be much easier to increase revenue with new customers and analytics.
Resources Setup #3: Having only one team available but the product has to be shown to investors ASAP.
Since we have already had an e-learning platform, it has a certain number of users. In this case, it is reasonable to begin with the first purpose. Thanks to live consultations, you will not only increase touchpoints with the existing audience but also raise conversions and boost engagement.
Two other goals can be left for the future for result optimization when presenting the outcome to investors. It is worth noting that you can improve the result by attracting more users and converting them into paid customers before and after the new service will be demonstrated to capital providers.
Please note that I’m not talking about goal lists or feature prioritization but about Real Business goals as a foundation for setting well-defined software development tasks, describing modules, and user roles.
How to define KPIs to build the right software
When building software or working on any other project, you should set metrics of success to analyze the process of goal accomplishment. All KPIs must be well-defined, relevant for your business case, and describe valuable parameters tailored to your industry-specific goals.
Software development should involve a step of defining success metrics for working in progress, delivery, and utilization stages. At any given moment it must be easy for a decision-maker to estimate whether the project is moving in the right direction or not, which is convenient to do when having the possibility to evaluate results in numbers.
These metrics are generally time-based, money-based, scope-based. If you set a KPI that measures a level of ‘Investor Satisfaction’, you would better split it into more specific parameters such as 'Investor Satisfaction' = 'Money Earned', or 'Delivery Time' * 'Hours Spent', or 'Investor Satisfaction' = 'Number of New Users' / 'Delivery Time'.
Why do you need to define the target audience?
Previously, I have considered how to make sure that you will build the right software. There is another important element of success I would like to focus on. Before making a software product, the target audience must be defined.
Although this question may seem to be quite easy at first sight, it is crucial to describe Customer Personas, understand their needs and expectations. This will help you address real-life problems of the end users and increase revenue.
It is worth noting that sometimes business goals for the planned software are not just about adding value and earning money. For instance, the target audience may be limited to the product owner, or investors, or a section manager.
In these cases, the solution success will be identified by the personal evaluation performed by these specialists. For this situation, you should validate ALL steps above with them to ensure the software meets expectations. Remember about documenting software requirements before work starts.
When the target audience is not limited to a single group of users, it will be very beneficial to collect and analyze user feedback associated with software goals, design, and functionality before release, so that you can adjust your plans to customer preferences.
In order to build the right software that will allow you to address industry-specific challenges, make sure that:
- plans are aligned with the existing business goals and resources
- the responsibilities are well defined for every team member
- software development processes (e.g., a technical specification, changes in the requirements, important decisions) are documented
- the project is managed by an assigned specialist or specialists, including task monitoring and deadline control
- the value of the future software solution is confirmed by the actual target audience due to market research and/or user feedback analysis.