6 mistakes to avoid when developing custom software

11 min read
January 4, 2023

Between $75,000 and $350,000.

That’s the estimated cost of building custom software nowadays. And it could go even higher for more complex projects.

Needless to say, it’s not cheap.

Therefore, you’ll want to ensure that your software project delivers value and a return on your investment.

That’s a tall order, considering that software projects have a very high failure rate—around 50% to 80%, by some accounts.

Nevertheless, you can improve your custom software’s chances of success by avoiding these six key mistakes.

Not going through product discovery

Product discovery is one of the most critical phases of building custom software. That’s because it sets the stage for your entire development.

If you’re not familiar with product discovery, it’s the process of refining a software idea by continuously validating it with users.

The goal is to unearth their problems and establish your software as the ideal solution.

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Source: Productboard

Not going through with product discovery is like developing software blindly. You have no idea what your users want, so it’s impossible for you to develop an experience that caters to them.

And that way, you’ll end up with software no one wants to use.

Indeed, according to studies, the lack of a real market need is why 42% of software startups fail.

There are several benefits of product discovery.

Validating your idea is perhaps the most important. Doing rounds of brainstorming and usability testing allows you to iterate your software idea, making it stronger each time.

This can lead to a more successful, engaging, and profitable product.

Moreover, it can also lower your costs and speed up development. That’s because you can catch UX errors and poor features early when changing them costs little money and effort.

And you end up revising your software less in later stages.

This is in accordance with the 1-10-100 Rule, which states that problems tend to be costlier to fix the further they persist in development.

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Source: AKF Partners

Product discovery can also help you create more focused software.

Custom software that delivers a great experience with a few core features is way better than one that overexerts itself on bells and whistles.

That’s because focusing on those essential features allows you to put in more time and effort into ensuring they’re the best they can be.

But you can only know the features your users truly care about through product discovery.

The bottom line is that product discovery is the foundation of your software.

It might require more time and effort during development, but the benefits it provides more than compensate for it.

Not having a detailed product roadmap

Software development is a lot like setting out on a journey—driving to an unfamiliar destination without a map is asking for trouble.

You’ll need a detailed roadmap, a high-level overview of the project’s long-term and short-term goals and how they should be achieved during development.

Roadmaps typically come in the form of a chart. The project is divided into phases, which are further broken down into tasks.

They are then placed in a timeline, showing each task’s estimated duration and deadline.

You can see an example of it below.

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Source: Roadmunk

Roadmaps are crucial because they are a single source of truth for the entire project team. They can tell developers the actual work needed for the project so they’ll be aware of deadlines.

Project managers can use them to plan more efficiently, and they also help keep clients in the loop.

Without a roadmap, there’s no clear direction to guide development.

You risk developers working on the wrong things or not prioritizing the right tasks, which can stretch your development time and budget.

The project manager usually spearheads a product roadmap with input from the development team.

It typically includes these six steps:

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Source: Zapier

Start with the strategy, which is your software’s long-term goal. This is crucial because everything else in your roadmap is toward fulfilling this.

Next are the features that the software should include based on the user’s needs and your overall strategy.

You can start with high-level themes, such as improving app revenue or increasing engagement. Then, list the specific features under these themes.

The third step is to plan product releases, such as when the software should be deployed.

This is important so that other dependent teams, such as sales and marketing, can prepare accordingly.

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The fourth step is to define short-term, time-bound goals for features which are ideal for driving results.

For instance, goals for a login screen might be to “write the UX copy in two weeks” or “test the login page next month.”

Finally, complete your roadmap by laying out everything in a timeline, thus completing your roadmap.

Sometimes, you might need to modify the roadmap view to cater to external stakeholders, such as clients or users.

Once you have the product roadmap laid out, everything becomes relatively straightforward.

Not communicating enough during development

Inadequate communication, or a total lack of it, is the number one killer of even the best development teams.

Without regular and open communication, you risk misunderstandings that can throw your development off-track.

Unfortunately, a lot of mistakes that stem from miscommunication are expensive and time-consuming to correct. Worse, they might end up as bugs in the final product!

Indeed, the Project Management Institute found that 20% of projects fail because of poor communication.

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Source: PMI

And it’s not just the team itself that should learn to communicate more. Clients should also get in touch with the developers often, in order to give feedback or get updates.

There are numerous ways you can improve your team communication.

The easiest way is to conduct regular meetings with them. The goal here is to give updates and keep everyone in the loop.

It also helps the team tackle issues early before they derail your development. Remember to set an agenda and keep the meeting short—around 30 minutes or less is ideal.

Using the right collaboration tools is vital, especially when working with remote teams.

That’s because such tools can help you communicate seamlessly, regardless of geographic or time zone differences.

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Source: ResearchGate

Knowing how to use these tools is equally important. Because of this, it’s also a good idea to draft a communication guide for you and your team.

For instance, you might want to avoid sending files via instant messaging because they might get lost easily.

Instead, you can implement the rule that team members should upload all files to Dropbox and then share links.

Lastly, getting to know your team better is a great way to improve your overall collaboration. It can be as simple as encouraging everyone to turn on their video during Zoom calls.

We also highly recommend doing virtual team-building events.

Not focusing on the must-have features

One of the biggest custom software mistakes is thinking that more is better. That’s rarely the case.

That’s because too many features can increase product complexity, negatively impacting customer happiness. The chart below explains it well.

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Source: OnBoard

A complex product will easily overwhelm the user. Plus, designing an elegant UI for too many features is challenging and increases the chances of having poor UX.

Moreover, adding too many features is expensive, yet you don’t get as much ROI beyond a certain point.

The best approach is to focus only on the must-have features that benefit users the most.

Again, thorough product discovery is critical for this. Let users tell you their biggest problems and the features that will best solve them.

But what if the users express the need for a lot of different features? How do you know which ones to keep?

That’s where prioritization frameworks come in—methods that allow you to pick your core features systematically.

One of the more popular ones is the MoSCoW matrix.

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Source: DECODE

The MoSCoW matrix asks you to evaluate every feature according to its impact on users and the effort involved in developing them.

Based on this analysis, you’ll group features into four categories—must-haves, should-haves, could-haves, and will-not-haves.

The must-haves are your core features, while the will-not-haves are the ones you should drop. Items in the should-have and could-have groups are negotiable.

The point here is that your software should only include features that truly impact your user. Anything else is just expensive noise.

Not building a minimum viable product

A minimum viable product (MVP) is one of the most powerful validation tools available to a development team. Neglecting to make one is ill-advised, and here’s why.

An MVP is a stripped-down version of your app that contains only the essential features.

The main draw of an MVP is that you can bring it to market rapidly, thus allowing your users to test and give feedback on it.

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Without an MVP, you’ll need to wait until you launch an app before getting feedback.

But by then, any changes would likely be time-consuming and costly— remember the 1-10-100 rule we discussed earlier?

On top of validation, MVPs can also help lower costs because you can test features before committing resources to them. Plus, you can even monetize an MVP early on.

Fortunately, building an MVP is straightforward, with plenty of approaches you can try. It can even be as simple as having a landing page announcing a product that you’re yet to develop.

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Source: RST

But one of the simplest MVPs we recommend you consider first is the single-feature MVP. As its name suggests, you only focus on one core feature.

One good example is the Facebook MVP, which featured only basic social media functionality, with none of the additional features like sharing or tagging.

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Source: Time

Of course, there are many other MVPs to try. To get some ideas, check out our article about the types of product MVPs.

Not testing the custom software yourself

Testing is an integral part of creating stable software. However, you can’t rely solely on your development team for it.

That’s because no software is 100% bug-free. In fact, the industry benchmark for the number of bugs that get eliminated is around 85%.

This means that, unfortunately, there’s still a good chance that a critical error will find its way to end users.

Conducting the testing in stages, so that the software is examined both from the point of view of the developer and the potential end-user, can improve these numbers significantly.

And for the testing to be efficient, it’s important to have a proper testing plan.

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Source: Software Testing Fundamentals

A testing plan formalizes the process, detailing the test scenarios, schedules, and setup needed. It ensures that every aspect of your software is evaluated rigidly.

It’s also critical to include the appropriate testing types in your plan. Different software needs numerous testing methods depending on the circumstances.

For instance, an app meant for public use would need thorough usability testing for the best UX.

On the other hand, stricter security testing is necessary if the app is in a sensitive niche like healthcare.

In any case, proper testing is essential if you want a successful custom software product.

The last mistake you need to avoid

In this article, we went over some common mistakes that developers often make when creating a custom software product.

However, keep in mind that, even if you followed all our advice in this article, your project would still fall short with an incompetent or unreliable team.

So, you should take the extra time and effort to find the right development team.

And what better place to start than DECODE?

With our extensive skill set and dozens of successful custom software under our belt, we believe we have what it takes to tackle your next project.

Try us out! Schedule a consultation session with us today.

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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