7 Tips for Better Expectation Management in Custom Software Development

When I’m asked about the biggest pitfalls that come up during the custom software development process, my mind always comes back to expectation management.

It’s one of the most pervasive issues for any project with a large scope. Even if you think you have it all planned out, and you think everyone is on the same page, there always seems to be some way that expectations can go off kilter.

Two of the top considerations are features and timelines. How many features need to be fully developed on the first go, and how long will it take to launch the product?

You’ll also need to consider all the players in the game, from clients to developers to product managers. With so many stakeholders, each focused on their own realm and role, it’s easy to become misaligned.

When it comes down to it, planning and communication are the top defenses any web application development team can have. Let’s dive a bit deeper into the roots of expectation management pitfalls and how we can all avoid them (and thank ourselves later).

Features and timelines: MVPs vs. mature products

A big consideration for expectation management is how robust your first release will be. This generally falls into two camps: minimally viable products (MVPs) or mature products.

MVPs

In a nutshell, MVPs focus on iterative development cycles. The goal is to release a version of the software that solves the user’s core problem—and does it well enough to be lovable. This way, you can get it into the hands of early users and gather some early feedback.

This early feedback provides critical insights into whether it works as planned, if they like it or not, and how you should move forward with your next development cycle (which almost always includes changing your original plan somehow!).

MVPs are more commonly seen in the B2C (business-to-consumer) realm, where the end users are the general public.

Mature products

Mature products don’t aim to break new ground; they seek to own it. They take on problems already being solved but strive to do so more effectively—whether through a next-level UI, a workflow that’s the epitome of efficiency, or feature sets that turn users into evangelists.

That’s why mature products need to be fully functional and working perfectly — they need to be even better than anything that’s already out there. They should hit the ground running and become profitable as soon as possible. This naturally means that any mature product will take longer to get to market.

While mature products generally have a more mixed client type than MVPs, they’re commonly needed in the B2B (business-to-business) realm, where markets are more carved out and competition is more fierce.

Managing expectations for the “big three”

There are generally three teams in the software development process: clients, developers, and product managers. They each have roles to play, and when they play them well, they can work together as a well-oiled machine. While this makes for a great product and release, it can also set the stage for misunderstandings and misguided expectations.

Here’s an example scenario. A startup client is incredibly excited about their innovative app idea. They have several different features and functions in mind, and they want to see it come to life in full swing in six months.

But the software developer sees that all of these features are complex and nuanced, each requiring quite a bit of development time. The development team simply can’t design and execute every feature in six months.

The product development team is stuck in the middle, looking at both sides: a fully-functional product could be a game-changer for the company, but going all out with time and resources could be risky since they’re not 100% sure who the end users are and what they’ll think of the idea.

In an ideal world, there’s transparent communication between all three parties to make sure everyone sees the pros and cons of each side and reaches a final agreement on the plan forward. This plan includes a detailed roadmap for exactly what will be done, why it will be done, and when it will be done. Whenever there’s an obstacle or issue, the roadmap is updated, and everyone is notified.

Seven tips for expectation management

At the end of the day, no two development cycles will be the same. They’re like snowflakes: each client has their own unique needs that need to be addressed clearly and methodically. That’s why you should be checking off some key boxes as you move through the software development process.

1. Clear communication

Poor communication equals misaligned expectations pretty much 100% of the time. Lean into regular updates and progress reports, and have open conversations about any challenges or changes to the roadmap.

2. Gathering requirements

It’s the developer’s responsibility to understand the client’s and project manager’s requirements and, in turn, their expectations. The developer should also communicate their own requirements/expectations.

3. Essential features and priorities

Will it be an MVP or a mature product? If it’s an MVP, which features are critical for the first release, and which ones will come later? What’s needed before the next cycles can begin?

4. Scope management

Scope creep is a breeding ground for expectation management issues. If new ideas or features come up, they should be carefully weighed against the current roadmap and timeline. If changes are necessary, they should be made promptly and clearly communicated to everyone.

5. Realistic timelines

If the software is too complex for the given timeline, you’re going to have problems—usually big ones. This is where detailed planning comes into play.

6. Iterative feedback loops

Clients and product managers should be regularly looped into the progress of the software development cycle and software evaluation. This manages expectations while also making sure the product will truly meet their needs.

7. Ongoing education

Developers will have ample opportunities to educate clients and product managers about the development process.They should take those opportunities! This doubles as a way to improve the overall working relationship while building the client’s know-how as their app grows and evolves.

Better expectation management, happier stakeholders

While strong communication and thorough planning will certainly add some extra time and resources, it will absolutely be worth it in the end.

When you can effectively manage expectations, you can minimize friction while preserving the working relationship throughout the process. There will always be things that come up — the more prepared you are, the better the experience you’ll all have in the end.

Darren-Clark-dazlab-founder

Darren Clark

Dazlab Founder

“I started Dazlab because there’s a huge knowledge deficit between people who want software built and those that build the software. I watched again and again as non-tech product owners with great ideas overpaid for complicated solutions to simple problems, or underpaid only to end up with crummy products with little chance of lasting. Tech doesn’t have to be that way. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it well or what’s the point?. Even now, 20 years later I’m still heavily involved in the onboarding process with every one of my clients.”

Darren Clark

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