Custom Software Development: Exploring Beyond the Conventional Approaches
For years, businesses open to digital technology had to face a severe drawback – their growing reliance on software solutions was evolving into a pain point due to the lack of the right solutions in the market. Even though the IT leadership knew that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is a sure shot way to counter-productivity, they had nothing to fall back on. Off-the-shelf offerings were made to cater to the mass market, which explains their inefficiency, inflexibility, integration-resistance, and limited and unwanted features. Users wanted solutions that seamlessly merged with their workflows without the need for additional coding, connectors, or performance compromises.
The concept of custom software development began gaining traction even in its nascent stage. Business and IT leaders had long ago envisaged the productivity boost that a well-planned and adroitly built custom solution tailored to their ecosystem’s DNA could deliver. Thus, they began to invest seriously in developing their own solutions either by hiring a team of developers and testers or by counting on an external software development services provider. Over the years, custom software development has kept transforming to keep pace with the industry metrics by incorporating the latest features and phasing out the outdated ones. This has also led to the evolution of the best methodologies and practices associated with building efficient custom software solutions.
An Overview of the Shortcomings of the Conventional Software Development Approaches
Earlier, although it was custom software, development was through traditional methods characterized mostly by the trial and error approach. The old ways facilitated the building of only basic solutions, which were not enough to handle the operational complexities of most users. A few areas where the traditional methods were miles behind the expectations of the user included data security and turnaround times. Here are a few of the shortcomings of the traditional application development life-cycle.
For popular methods such as the waterfall model, the biggest limitation is the linear sequential flow of development that facilitates a new development phase only once the earlier phase is complete. There’s no option to revert to the previous phase to handle any changes in the requirements.
Reliance on Prototypes
A limitation of some of the old development ways is that developers can demonstrate the functionality of the solution only through its prototype. This requires the modifications to be made before the actual application is developed. The consequences aren’t difficult to guess – high costs, greater client involvement, and a vulnerable development workflow owing to the need for a large number of modifications.
Users could get satisfactory results only if they decide on the requirements beforehand as the traditional development approaches are not known for honoring new requests in the development phase. This is a big deterrent for industries such as IT, where needs and specifications keep changing frequently and for whom defining the problem statement at one go is not always possible.
The traditional ways allow product testing to be carried out only when the development is over. And once the testing is underway, developers can rarely make changes or edits as it would adversely affect the delivery dates and project costs, thus exposing the developer and the client to high-risk threats.
Building New-age Custom Solutions
Owing to the limitations such as the ones listed above, the need for fundamental changes in the custom software application development process was urgent and critical. Businesses were desperate for a silver bullet that would allow them to make modifications throughout the project development phases, optimize their costs, equip their manpower for higher output, and serve their customers better. The intent was to build solutions that are in sync with the expectations of the user while saving on resources.
This led to the identification of practices resulting from years of efforts by custom software development solution professionals. Over the years, these best practices have provided measurable benefits in building custom solutions when adhered to during the custom software application development life cycle. With time, variations of these to-dos keep emerging while their foundation principles stand intact. The following are a few such handy tips for building custom solutions that have been established as best practices for SDLC.
Define the Ecosystem and Identify Future Needs
Since the solution being planned will be an integral part of the operational ecosystem of the organization, it’s critical to document the existing processes and workflows in detail. This is the first step to successful software development which must be followed by delineating the expectations from the product and the success metrics.
A clear picture of the current state of the organization vis-à-vis its objectives is important to analyze how the final product would influence the existing workflows and to identify the important adjustments that must be made to the system to realize the objectives. This is possible when the management is aware of the current organizational measures and the pros and cons of the system.
Summing it up
- Know the current processes inside-out. Discard assumptions and count on subject-matter experts to orchestrate the software development journey.
- Before commencing the real-development work, the theory must be evaluated and studied in detail while getting all stakeholders on the same page.
- Sketch out the functionalities of the final product. Also define the desired workflows and processes that the digital solution would support.
Enlist the Best in the Business
The urge to go with the internal team may be overpowering for the management owing to factors such as transparency, trust, flexibility, cost benefits, and more. But this move doesn’t guarantee success. To begin with, the probably understaffed team would already be busy with daily firefighting, leaving it with little time to focus on tasks as critical as building a digital solution from the ground up. Furthermore, while the team may master small-scale development, hot-fixes, and system maintenance, building ambitious custom solutions might not be its stronghold. This explains the need to join hands with an experienced custom software development company that specializes in designing and implementing custom software.
Outsourcing the solution development job keeps the internal IT team focused on what it is best at. The client also gets the opportunity to work with IT professionals who have hands-on experience in handling similar projects and are aware of the dynamics of the client’s industry that can have a bearing on the project outcome. The flexible engagement options of such custom software development services also give the client the much-needed flexibility in scaling development operations while keeping the costs in check.
Summing it up
- Partner with a software development firm only after thorough homework. This comprises verifying its experience, analyzing its strengths and weaknesses, and ascertaining if it fits well into the client’s way of working.
- Ensure that the client doesn’t have to invest in the project infrastructure or train the vendor’s people on the job. The vendor must appoint a dedicated project manager who would act as the conduit between the client’s side and the development team.
- Negotiate terms that cover post-launch support, price, future scope, continuous optimization, turnaround times, and the like.
A Project Blueprint
One of the prerequisites of successful software product development is a well laid out project plan that is realistic and incorporates milestones and time-bound goals. For this, consulting with the subject-matter experts and all stakeholders is indispensable. This helps the management to keep the project from deviating from the set route and facilitates project review at scheduled milestones to accommodate changes to the pre-decided timeline or budget.
Engaging is careful planning is a non-negotiable requirement as it helps to identify potential threats and avoid unpleasant surprises at a later stage by allowing the client to cover all the bases before the actual work begins. It also helps account for the different features the user needs, eliminating the need to request new features later on down the line. The maximum return on investment remains only a fanciful wish if the client undermines the need for crafting a well-thought-out plan.
Summing it up
- While designing the roadmap, focus on the timeline and the allocated budget. This helps in pinpointing changes and improvements if needed immediately.
- While involving the key players while mapping out the business process is a must, caution should be exercised to ensure not to put too many cooks in the kitchen.
- Consider the laws and regulations that govern the client’s industry and let the development partner know of these early on to make the necessary preparations and adjustments.
A Rigorous Testing Phase
The hard work of the development side must be complemented by a super-competent testing team that comprises developers among other IT professionals. The technical testing phase is done to ensure that the fundamental elements are working as desired, while user testing is carried out to check if the software is being developed as per expectations. User tests are usually conducted by a selected sample of real users who provide honest feedback to the developers about the app features and user experience.
In the real sense, application testing, more than an advantage, is an intrinsic part of the SDLC and one of the ingredients of five-star software applications. Efficient testing helps identify bugs and lags that can otherwise trigger a storm of negative feedback, leading to poor user approval. Testing allows app developers and designers to put themselves in users’ shoes and assess the user experience of the product, thus promoting user-friendly, scalable, and high-quality applications. Impressive results in UI and UX can be assured by double-checking if the solution is intuitive enough and convenient to follow, which is possible by running UI and UX tests throughout the SDLC.
Summing it up
- Strike the right balance between manual and automatic testing tools and establish a smooth reporting and feedback implementation method. Everything must be done while keeping an eye on the bigger picture and testing the product with user experience in mind.
- Testing only in the QA stage of the application designing process isn’t sufficient. It’s an ongoing practice that comes to play particularly for checking the major outputs/features of the software. It’s mandatory to decide on the testing schedule right at the beginning of the SDLC.
- The best practice is to test smaller segments (such as security features, UI elements, functions, etc.) of the product to save on time and resources. An effective regression test using a bug graph helps in the quality assurance of the end product.
The Way Forward for Software Developers
With the growing dependency of the world on digital technology, the road ahead for custom application development only gets more exciting from here. Today software applications are infused with cutting-edge stuff, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, analytics, and the like. The growing demand for applications that facilitate ubiquitous access, provide actionable insights, and other smart features will create more opportunities for all those involved. Custom software solutions have a pivotal role to play in making the world digital and open the door to next-level possibilities. However, the opportunities are accompanied by certain responsibilities revolving around security, privacy, and ethical values that the key players must honor. The bottom line is that software development is an undertaking that presents a few challenges, which, if navigated well by leveraging people, tools, and technology, helps all stakeholders realize their ambitious objectives.
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