Best practices for custom software development

11 min read
December 20, 2022

If you look at software failure rates, you might be in for a surprise.

According to the Standish Group, roughly half of software projects fail.

More worryingly, 75% of businesses believe that their projects are already doomed from the start.

Why is this so?

The fact is that software development is difficult.

Delayed timelines, technical issues, uncoordinated teams, and communication breakdowns are just some of the things that can derail a project.

But the good news is that you can increase your chances when you implement these best practices.

Define what your long-term goals are

Before planning your custom software, you must determine if it aligns with your company’s long-term goals.

Custom software development is a big investment, costing thousands of dollars.

Thus, you want to ensure that it will deliver long-term benefits to your company, and not just be a band-aid solution that you’ll abandon after a few months.

First, you need to clearly define the goal or problem you’re trying to solve with your custom software. Is it to bring in more revenue?

Perhaps you want to improve the customer experience?

Or maybe it’s a lingering issue that your users have been complaining about?

You should then articulate your core problem as a problem statement.

4 WS

Source: Green Dot Group

A problem statement compels you to look at the problem from all angles. More importantly, it lets you determine the why of the problem and get to the bottom of it.

Knowing the problem or goal also enables you to strategize potential solutions.

For instance, if you want to improve your customer service, a potential strategy would be to offer 24/7 customer support.

Once you’ve outlined the goal or problem, the next step is to outline the time frame for achieving it.

This bit is important because custom software development takes time.

If developing your software would extend beyond the time frame you’ve dedicated to accomplishing your goal, then it will not be a feasible solution.

To give you an idea, the average custom software takes around four to five months to develop.

Software development research time taken chart

Source: GoodFirms

Once you’ve determined the time frame, verify if there’s an existing off-the-shelf software solution that could help you achieve your goal or solve your problem.

For example, if you want to offer 24/7 customer support, you can use chatbot plug-ins or a knowledge base website.

Both of these solutions can be implemented using commercially available tools.

But if your goal is too specific or unique for off-the-shelf software, then a custom solution might be your best move.

Weighing all of these factors might seem like an exhaustive process. But it saves you from making a potentially inadvisable investment.

By analyzing your goals objectively, you’ll have concrete evidence to back up the time and money you’ll spend on custom software development.

Determine what your budget is

One critical thing you need to get right is your budget. It’s best not to look for a development team before you determine how much money you can invest in their services.

Unfortunately, determining your budget (especially in the early stages) is not without difficulty—or errors.

According to a study by Praxent, cost estimates can be off by as much as 400%.

How to accurately estimate cost for building digital products 1

Source: Praxent

However, you can improve your chances of a successful estimation by considering the different factors of your project that impact the cost.

The first one is the size and complexity of the software you’re trying to build.

Apps with more screens, innovative features, proprietary algorithms, or complex interactions tend to involve more time, effort, and money to build.

For example, building a simple login feature with basic security will cost around $100.

However, if you wanted to implement the highest security level (such as two-factor authentication and encryption), the cost could bump to $10,000 or more.

Here are some ballpark figures you can expect depending on the project’s complexity.

App complexity infographic

Source: DECODE

The second factor is the software design. An app with custom UI and artwork will cost significantly more than a basic one, because it requires the talent of graphic and UI designers.

Generally, design work can add as much as $30,000 to the project, especially if it involves animation.

Integration with other software can also increase the cost of custom software.

See, it’s not as simple as merely connecting your software via an API. It also requires rounds of testing to verify that the integration is running smoothly.

Plus, some older platforms are generally more difficult to integrate.

Another factor is data migration. In the best cases, porting data from an old system to a new one is seamless.

However, migration becomes a pain when the old data is disorganized or incompatible. These would often require writing complex scripts and data audits.

Phases of data migration

Source: Altexsoft

The location of your development team also determines the cost of the final product.

Developer rates are not uniform around the world. For example, a Croatian developer might charge around $5 to $27 per hour.

In contrast, their North American counterparts will easily charge double or triple that.

Thus, if you’re planning to source your development team from a particular country, you can estimate your budget based on that location’s prevailing rates.

developer rates around the world

Source: Qubit Labs

Lastly, your budget is also determined by the pricing model. There are two options here—fixed pricing and time and materials.

In fixed pricing, the client and developer agree on a set fee at the beginning of the project, based on an estimation of the project’s requirements.

However, should the requirements change, clients might easily find themselves going over or under budget.

In the time and materials model, the client pays the developer based on their actual hours put into the project.

This is seen as a fairer and more accurate payment method. However, it’s harder to set a budget with this method because it’s variable.

Comparison of Fixed Price to Time and Material

Source: iTech India

Therefore, try to incorporate some buffer into your budget to ensure your costs remain controlled even if you go a bit over. A buffer of around 25% is a good benchmark.

Choose the right custom software development company

Even the best custom software concept is useless if the development team can’t bring it to life. That’s why it’s imperative that you pick the best team for your project.

Note that best in this context doesn’t necessarily mean the best team in the world. Rather, it’s the most qualified to work on your project.

For example, if you plan to create a fintech app, you should look for a development team with extensive fintech experience.

When picking the right team, focus on the following criteria.

criteria for picking the right development team

Source: DECODE

The two most important ones are expertise and experience—these often go hand-in-hand. In other words, do they have the skills and knowledge to tackle your project?

The best way to evaluate this is by looking at their portfolio and the case studies of the projects they’ve worked on.

Reading about how they handled a past project and overcame its challenges gives you an idea of their work ethic. You also know if their past experience is relevant to your project.

Reviews are important as well. That’s because they are unbiased accounts of how the team performs.

Plenty of good reviews are always a good sign. However, looking for bad reviews is also prudent, as these can reveal the team’s flaws.

The best place to read reviews is on third-party review sites like Clutch. This ensures that any client feedback posted is unbiased and transparent.

DECODE screenshot reviews

Source: Clutch

Next, look at the dev team’s technology stack—or the tools they use. Different projects would require specific technologies or third-party libraries.

So, you want to ensure that the team is adept enough to use them.

The team’s security knowledge is vital.

Nowadays, hacks and breaches happen left and right. It’s best to ask the team about their security practices to make sure they’ll approach the issue with the care it deserves.

If they have cybersecurity certification (like DECODE’s ISO/IEC 27001), all the better.

DECODE screenshot

Source: DECODE

The methodology is an often overlooked factor, yet it’s vital. That’s because it can influence the success or failure of the project.

For instance, DECODE uses the Agile methodology because it allows us to iterate and catch bugs faster.

Furthermore, clients love it as it provides them with regular insight into the project’s progress and gives them the opportunity to give their feedback more often.

How well does the team communicate? Poor communication protocols can make collaboration much harder, so this must be considered.

Lastly, consider how the team prices its services. Do they support a flexible scheme like time and materials? Are they transparent with their quotation?

This might seem like an extensive list to go through. But it increases your chances of getting a team you’re 100% happy with.

Have a detailed software development plan

He who fails to plan is planning to fail.” This adage sums up clearly why you need a detailed software development plan.

Think of a software development plan as your project’s blueprint that guides your development team. It contains all the information relevant to complete your software.

This is what a typical plan looks like.

software development plan

Source: TW Project

The most important part of a development plan is the timeline of the project, which includes all the milestones and deadlines. You should also specify the deliverables required at each step.

You can also use the plan to prioritize certain deliverables over others. For instance, core features would have a higher priority than the preferences screen.

The project plan also lists all the required tasks and the individuals assigned to them. This ensures that the team members know their responsibilities and those of their peers.

Lastly, the project plan must also detail the budget, risk planning, QA testing, and quality standards.

Ensure that thorough testing is performed

Testing is a must for any software project. It ensures that the end product fulfills the project requirements and delivers a bug-free experience to users.

The best way to ensure its effectiveness is a test plan.

Test Case

Source: Software Testing Fundamentals

A test plan is a document that formalizes the testing process. It describes the test methods, schedules, scripts, and environment setups the QA team needs to follow.

A plan guarantees that all aspects of the software are evaluated.

A core component of the test plan is the test case. A test case describes the specific aspect or condition that you want to verify.

An example of a test case is to “check how the login page behaves if the user enters an invalid password.”

Each test case is composed of a test script. These are the exact steps the tester must take to satisfy the test case, i.e., check whether everything works as it should.

The test plan must also determine how the test data will be collected and evaluated.

Aside from having a test plan, it’s crucial to ensure you’re doing the right tests. Here’s an overview.

Types of Software Testing

Source: Javatpoint

Different tests cover various aspects of development.

For instance, you should conduct load testing if you expect that the software will encounter a surge in users.

On the other hand, thorough usability testing is critical if you’re launching an app meant for public use.

Needless to say, testing is a mammoth subject that couldn’t be covered in this short article. For further reading, check out our excellent primer on software testing types.

We also recommend this article on manual and automated testing.

Best practices need the best team

We hope the tips we’ve discussed in this article will help you have a great software development experience.

However, these will only work if you work with the right team in the first place.

And we believe that DECODE is that team.

With dozens of successful projects under our belt, a pool of over 70 talented software professionals, and the right tech stack, we believe we have what it takes to make your next project succeed.

Interested in working with us? Contact us today, and let’s talk!

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Written by

Marko Strizic

Co-founder and CEO

Marko started DECODE with co-founders Peter and Mario, and a decade later, leads the company as CEO. His role is now almost entirely centred around business strategy, though his extensive background in software engineering makes sure he sees the future of the company from every angle. A graduate of the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, he’s fascinated by the architecture of mobile apps and reactive programming, and a strong believer in life-long learning. Always ready for action. Or an impromptu skiing trip.

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