One thing we emphasize a lot on this blog is that every organization is different, which means there’s no one-size-fits-all rule or solution that can solve every organization’s problems. But that doesn’t mean that every business requires custom software or a custom app to address their unique needs.
That’s good news, because custom solutions take longer and cost more than the alternatives. In this piece, I’ll highlight the three questions we typically ask to assess whether an organization should build or buy software – or do something else entirely – and offer some insight about how we solve problems for organizations regardless.
Question 1: What’s Your Goal?
This may sound like an obvious question, but it’s easy to skip. A retail company might have determined, for example, that its current ecommerce functionality doesn’t work well and assumed that it needs custom software to address the problem.
But when an organization comes to us, we always take time to understand what they hope to achieve. Here’s why: there’s no business case for building custom software in and of itself (unless you’re a software company).
Software or an app or any other digital product should exist to serve some larger business goal. So before we can understand what to build or buy (i.e., whether we need to build anything) we aim to understand those larger goals.
It’s important to note that we don’t just talk to one person or even one team within an organization. In fact, one of the most important parts of our process is the very beginning, where we spend time talking with every stakeholder.
For example, a few years ago we worked with a company that distributes cakes to the entire United States. The company came to us because its existing website made it nearly impossible to make purchases – a huge problem for a national retail company.
Before we launched into the website update, though, we talked to…
Once we’d had those conversations, we had a fuller picture of the current state of the business and what various stakeholders wanted and needed in the future state.
Then we were able to determine whether existing solutions or resources were sufficient for achieving the company’s goals. But the goals themselves are only one part of the equation – which brings me to the second question we consider.
Question 2: What’s Your Timeline?
Admittedly, we often get this information right away, especially for projects with a tight deadline. It’s important to note that even when we’re working on a project that needs to be finished quickly, we take time to understand the business’s goals by talking with necessary stakeholders.
Skipping that step may seem like a good way to save time, but it really isn’t. If you don’t take the time to identify the right problem to solve, you may end up wasting time and resources solving the wrong problem – which doesn’t benefit anyone.
With a clear sense of what problem we need to solve and the time we have to solve it, we can identify possible solutions.
For example, I come from a testing background. If a client needs a new website up and running in time for their rush season – and that season is just a few weeks away – I know we’ll have to look to automated tools to test the new site. If the timeline is longer, I’m more likely to recommend human testers.
We make those kinds of calculations throughout a client engagement: if we determine a client needs something that doesn’t yet exist but they have a tight deadline, we may look for ways to customize an off-the-shelf solution or adapt what they already have rather than attempting to build something entirely new.
Of course, these decisions are also informed by the project’s budget.
Question 3: What’s Your Budget?
Small projects tend to come with small budgets. If I determine that tool A is best for testing, given a client’s goals and timeline, but tool A is too expensive, I find an alternative.
In most engagements, if we determine that testing tools are necessary, we’ll present four or five options to the client and help them make a decision – which will, of course, be informed by the timeline, budget, goals, and resources they’re considering for the rest of the project.
Choosing the right solution on a tight budget can be challenging. My recommendation: during the proposal process, decision makers should ask for a breakdown of the following:
I also recommend requiring weekly check-ins. If a provider isn’t willing to provide that information and check in weekly during the engagement, run away! Even if they promise to do the work you want within your allocated budget and timeline, they likely will not.
Custom Solutions Don’t Always Include Custom Software
I started this piece by mentioning that every business is different. That’s why, at Apexon, we dedicate time at the start of each engagement to understanding the business, its people, its customers, and its systems. Only when we have that understanding can we deliver the unique solutions to solve its most pressing problems.
In some cases, custom software will be one of those solutions; in others it will not. Regardless of your organization’s situation, we’d love to see how we can help you do what you do better. Get in touch to start the conversation.