If you’re not a developer, the custom software process can be daunting. And with good reason. It’s not exactly simple.
But when you break it down into the core components, it can be easier to understand and participate in. Of course, every piece of software will have its own unique needs and processes — but there’s a general structure that covers the initial concept all the way up to the full-scale public launch.
I break the custom software development process into the following five stages:
- Planning and product design
- Technical scoping and feasibility
- Actual development
- Early adopter release
- Broader market release
Let’s dig into each one.
1. Planning and product design
First things first: every good idea needs to be fleshed out. The planning and product design phase is about defining the problem you’re trying to solve, the goals you want to achieve, and the end goal in terms of your audience and what they’ll get out of it.
This phase is marked by questions like:
- What’s the purpose of this software and the value it will provide to users?
- What exactly will this software do in terms of features and functions? And which ones are the most important?
- What are the avatars and personas of our intended audience? Who are they, what are their interests and pain points, and how will they engage with this software?
In this phase, you’re essentially laying out a roadmap that will guide the more technical and collaborative aspects of the software development process. The goal is to try and be as detailed and goal-oriented as possible, while still leaving flex room for changes and adaptations along the way — which will absolutely come up as you work through the entire process.
2. Technical scoping and feasibility
As the name suggests, this is the technical nitty gritty part, the part where the expertise and know-how of your developers really shines. (It’s also the most confusing part of the development process for those who don’t consider themselves techies).
Some of the considerations in this phase involve your:
- Tech stack: What programming languages, frameworks, and tools will you use in the development process?
- System architecture: How will the different components of the software interact with each other? What systems will it integrate with?
- API design: How will the different parts of the software communicate with each other, and what will that interface look like?
- Coding approach: How will the coding process be structured? Will you follow agile methodologies where development happens in iterative cycles? (Spoiler alert: we’re all about that.)
- Technical feasibility: Given the tech and resources available, are your ideas actually achievable?
If you’re not sure what all these mean, don’t sweat it. A good development team will walk you through every step and ensure that everyone’s on the same page as development continues.
3. Actual development: build and test
This is the part that everyone thinks of when they think of development. It’s the actual build stage, where all the planning and design turn into a tangible, functional product.
But there’s one issue with “what everyone thinks” about this stage: many have the idea that this is a linear process where you build it and you’re done.
That’s not how we do things (and we don’t think anyone else should do things that way either).
We use the agile development process. This means that instead of a single development period, there are multiple, smaller cycles of building and testing.
The idea is that you build out a core feature, test it in the market, and gather and analyze feedback. Then you use that feedback to make any needed changes, whether that’s changes to the core feature you just made, or to the roadmap you have in place for the next features.
Here’s the driving philosophy behind this cycling concept: Just because you think your idea is good doesn’t mean your audience will agree! In nearly 100% of cases, we discover new critical insights and feedback from our audience that causes us to make changes moving forward.
The result is a better product that more people actually want to use.
4. Early adopter release
A common mistake that businesses make is going straight to the broader mainstream market once they’re satisfied with their product.
In order to ensure that your product will really take off, the wisest plan of action is to have a limited release with early adopters.
Early adopters are basically your first real-life customers: they’re typically the types of people and groups who are more willing to take risks by using and adopting new tools that change the way they’re currently doing things.
Early adopters are an extremely valuable source of insights into how “good” your customizable business software really is. They’ll tell you what they like and don’t like, and they’ll generally give a good indication of how successful your software will be once you release it to the broader market.
This is also a perfect opportunity to listen to their feedback and make any changes before your broader release.
5. Broader market release and GTM launch
At this point, you’re feeling super confident in your new tool. You’ve built it iteratively, incorporated feedback from several real users, and you’ve gotten the green light from your early adopters.
Now is the time for your proper public launch. This usually includes a go-to-market (GTM) launch plan, which is a robust roadmap for how you’ll market your software, get sales, and manage and grow your business moving forward.
In this stage, you’ll consider things like brand messaging and positioning, a full marketing plan, a pricing strategy, sales strategy, on-boarding and customer support systems, and more.
Cruising through your software development process
Software development can be intimidating, but all you need to get the job done right is a basic understanding of the process and a strong development team that will guide you through every step of the way.
From the initial dream to the first build cycle to your big launch day, there are clear and proven steps to follow to ensure that you’re never wasting any of your precious time or resources.
Whether you’re dealing with custom software development for healthcare, real estate, or anything in between, the general approach should be the same; take the time to be thoughtful and strategic, while ensuring that you’re consistently gathering and implementing feedback anywhere you can along the way.