We meet new prospective clients on an almost daily basis, and one way or the other they all come to us with the need for custom software or consulting. What separates the clients with super successful final products from the others is their understanding of the business value behind a software project. This isn’t to say we don’t put 100% behind every project, because we do. But this understanding makes a huge difference in overall satisfaction with the final product.
Every business has a number of problems that could probably be solved by software. For example, maybe your business has trouble keeping track of contracts. Or maybe a set of complicated algorithms that are currently housed in an Excel worksheet could be better utilized as part of a custom application. But not all business problems are created equal, and no business can address every need at once.
The best way to begin is by understanding the true business cost for a given problem. Once you have done this, it is much easier to evaluate what the solution is worth to you. If contract management is costing your business hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of dollars every year, it is probably worth a significant investment in both money and effort fix it. If by contrast, the problem only costs a few thousand every year, the solution should be smaller in scale. It is also key to evaluate the costs in time and personnel, not just money, for an inefficient process. Once you know the complete cost, it is much easier for your business to set priorities and measure the return.
When we pose these questions to some clients, they don’t have a good level of confidence about the full cost of the problem their company is facing, the order of magnitude, or the scope. Absent a good understanding of these factors, it can be hard to decide what success means, or when a project can be considered complete. We cover some of this in a previous post about developing user stories.
While it might sound time consuming or overwhelming, building a good business case for custom software is a very important first step before further personnel, time, or dollars are committed. Without one, your company will quickly be facing budget and schedule overruns, or a final product that doesn’t really meet the need you set out to fill in the first place.