7 common challenges of custom software development

11 min read
May 15, 2023

Apps are like businesses.

They can be extremely profitable, but building one can be quite a challenge.

And just like businesses, apps have a comparatively low success rate—only 0.5% ever make it big.

The fact is that app development has hundreds of moving parts, and any of them can go wrong at any moment. It’s a constant battle of trying to plug holes and put out fires as you go along.

In this article, we’ll cover 7 of the biggest challenges in custom software development—and some ways to tackle them.

Finding the right developers for the project

Developing custom software is fraught with challenges, so you need a development team capable of handling them.

Unfortunately, hiring is tricky nowadays.

According to a 2023 Infragistics survey, more than 37.5% of respondents have trouble finding the right talent for their software projects.

And the shortage isn’t just limited to the US or Europe. The whole world is feeling its effects right now, according to the ManpowerGroup:

tech talent shortage

Source: Grid Dynamics

Adding to the challenge is the fact that hiring is a long and expensive process.

Sourcing, interviewing, and onboarding an employee to be productive generally takes months. And there are also hidden costs to consider, which are often much more than their salary.

Take a look:

employee cost breakdown

Source: Linkedin

Unsurprisingly, a bad hire costs an average of $14,900, or roughly 30% of that person’s salary.

What is more, getting such an employee up to speed wastes everyone’s time and effort, potentially delaying the project.

One potential solution is to find a reliable external development partner to source talent on your behalf.

For example, DECODE is an agency that offers this service.

When you partner with us, we’ll pick from a pool of over 70+ professionals with a wide range of skills and experiences.

We’ll try to find talents that are tailor-fit to the requirements of your project. That way, they’ll have a higher chance of tackling it successfully.

But whether you pick DECODE or another agency, the critical thing is to do your research.

Check the company’s case studies, ratings, and testimonials from past clients in review sites like Clutch or Glassdoor.

That should give you an unbiased view of their expertise and professionalism.

Choosing the right tech stack

Your tech stack refers to the technologies and tools you’ll use to implement your custom software.

It includes the programming language, third-party libraries, frameworks, database systems, operating systems, and hardware architecture.

tech stack example

Source: Aimpro Soft

Picking the right tech stack is essential for the success of your software project. But it’s also challenging.

That’s because it requires plenty of experience to know the right tools for the right requirements.

Unfortunately, the wrong tech stack can ruin even the most innovative app idea. One cautionary tale of this is the failed launch of the Healthcare.gov website.

In 2013, the United States government created a website that enabled citizens to enroll in health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

But from the beginning, users were plagued with a slow website, delayed response, and outright crashes. As a result, of the 8 million visitors during the first week, only 1% managed to enroll.

Healthcare.gov launch failure

Source: Medium

It was a monumental failure that can be attributed to a lot of things, such as an incompetent team and mismanagement. But one key reason was the wrong tech stack.

For example, the Java middleware objects used in the website could only handle 1,000 concurrent users. So when the site encountered hundreds of thousands at a time, it bucked.

Thus, picking a tech stack that fits your project’s requirements is critical. For instance, don’t use a library just because it’s the trendy thing everyone’s raving about.

But to be safe, it’s better to get the opinion of your software development team or a mobile app consultant.

Their experience across multiple projects means they’ll have a good idea of what tech stack yours should have.

Managing unclear or changing requirements

Requirements are the heart of your project and the key to its success. They help you gauge what work needs to be done, how long, and for how much.

Thus, if your requirements are unclear or even nonexistent, it makes managing a software development project much harder. In fact, 39% of projects fail because of this.

top reasons why projects fail

Source: Proofhub

What’s worse, though, are requirements that are constantly changing.

Sometimes, this is unavoidable. Changes can happen for a variety of valid reasons, such as a shift in market demand or dynamics (a competitor released a similar app, for example).

However, if changes happen constantly or due to miscommunication or lack of planning, that’s when it becomes a problem.

So, how do you avoid this mess?

You should always agree on the project’s requirements with all stakeholders before any actual work begins. Then, record everything in a software requirements specification (SRS) document.

Here’s what it should contain:

SRS document elements

Source: Relevant

An SRS ensures that everyone understands what the app is all about and the steps needed to implement it.

It acts as a single source of truth that will help clear any misunderstandings with the requirements.

Most importantly, it allows everyone to work independently.

Developers will know exactly what to code, designers what to design, and the QA team what to test without waiting for everyone else. That makes managing a team much easier.

Dealing with ineffective project management

Even if you have the best development team and an amazing app idea, it will still fall short if you have ineffective project management.

After all, without someone to lead and coordinate the team, it would be difficult to get things done.

And that will lead to grave consequences, such as delays, cost overruns, or even outright failure.

Project management training firm Master of Project Academy also saw the same consequences when they asked their students:

top project management issues

Source: Master of Project Academy

This is where a project manager comes in.

A project manager acts as the captain of the ship. Their role is to monitor the project’s overall progress and see if it’s on schedule.

They’re also responsible for maximizing the team’s talent by assigning people to the right tasks. And when issues crop up, they’re on top of it.

In many cases, project managers also act as the liaison between the team and client, coursing project updates and information between the two parties.

With such a crucial role, picking only the most capable person with the right hard and soft skills is the way to go.

If possible, they should be knowledgeable of the software development process.

key project management skills

Source: Bordio

As you can see, communication is at the top of that list, and for a good reason.

Effective and continuous communication is the foundation of any successful project. Let’s discuss that next.

Maintaining continuous communication

Communication is the most important skill for every aspect of work and life, but especially in a development team.

Creating custom software is already challenging in itself. And teams can only pass through it with strong teamwork and communication.

No wonder 86% of employees surveyed credit lack of communication as the top cause of failure. On the flip side, effective communication can increase productivity by 25%.

However, communication isn’t always easy, especially if you have to deal with cultural and linguistic differences.

Also, if you’re managing remote and in-house teams, working in different time zones can be tricky to navigate.

Left alone, such miscommunication can be detrimental to your team, as these statistics show:

workplace miscommunication

Source: Grammarly

To avoid this, it’s crucial to implement better communication strategies with your team.

Start by using the right communication tools for each situation, then implement guidelines for using them.

For example, you should mandate that informal team communications be made solely in Slack, not other mediums like text messages.

Or, you could require the team to use Zoom instead of Teams for virtual meetings.

Be sure to cover both synchronous and asynchronous communication, as the pyramid below shows:

synchronous vs asynchronous communication

Source: Doist

It’s also important to have regular meetings among your team and with other stakeholders like clients.

Use these opportunities to catch up with the team’s progress or tackle their biggest problems.

But don’t overdo it, though, as meetings can easily turn into time and productivity sinkers if mishandled.

Effective communication is one of the most important factors in the success of any project, so it’s essential to ensure you’re implementing strategies that are the right fit for your company.

Controlling the cost of development

Estimating the cost of custom software is one of the most challenging aspects of development. At times, it even borders the impossible.

That’s because many factors impact development costs that are hard to predict. For example, even a small bug can add days to your development time, stretching your budget as a result.

The earlier you are in development, the less accurate your projections are because there are so many unknowns. This is called the cone of uncertainty.

cone of uncertainty

Source: Avanceon

As you can see, your cost estimates can vary by as much as 4X when done too early!

So, how can you compensate for this?

The best approach is to nail down your software requirements as clearly as possible.

This would allow you to lay out all the factors in the table, giving you more factors to base a smarter estimate on.

You can also use various cost estimation models.

For example, the analogous estimation method involves basing your project costs on a similar project you’ve done. It’s a quick way to get a reasonable estimate.

However, if you don’t have a previous project to base on, it won’t be of any use to you.

analogous estimating

Source: Project Management Info

In the end, achieving complete accuracy in cost estimation would be impossible. Thus, it’s best to have buffer room in your budget to accommodate unseen issues or changing requirements.

An additional 30% is a good place to start.

Preserving the confidentiality of information

The biggest risk for any client is that someone from the development team will leak their idea or trade secret to a competitor.

The bigger the team, the bigger the risk of this happening.

For example, one Samsung employee accidentally shared confidential company data while using ChatGPT.

Another incident saw IBM release the trade secrets of GlobalFoundries, Inc, which the two collaborated on.

Fortunately, you have several legal remedies at your disposal to prevent this from happening.

The easiest and most effective option is to have all team members sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

non-disclosure agreement contents

Source: Enterslice

An NDA is a legal document that prevents anyone from leaking project information to outsiders and the general public. If a person violates the NDA, the other parties can sue them.

NDAs are essential as early as the consultation stage when talking with several potential development agencies.

That way, they can’t just rip off your idea even if you don’t get their services.

You can also consider having your team sign a non-compete agreement, which bars a person from working on a similar app project for a set period.

It ensures they don’t reveal confidential information to a competitor after leaving your project.

Non-competes, however, are tricky to implement as they involve several legal loopholes.

non-compete agreement advantages and disadvantages

Source: Legal Zoom

But probably, the best way to prevent the leaking of information is to create a positive workplace environment.

Happy developers with a sense of purpose are less likely to betray their teammates and reveal confidential data.

Need help overcoming these challenges?

It’s no secret that developing apps is hard. The seven challenges we’ve outlined here are testaments to that fact.

The good news is that you can overcome them. And the best way is with the right software development team like DECODE by your side.

With experience developing over a dozen successful apps, we’ve faced these challenges multiple times—and came out on top. And we’d like to help you overcome your obstacles, too!

Interested? Contact us today, and let’s start with a free consultation.

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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