If you're a startup founder developing an app, you'll have the difficult task of finding and managing an app development partner to build your idea. This article shares some of my experience and will hopefully let you spot problems ahead of time, or deal with them when they arise.
The reason I put this together is that I work with quite a few startup founders who are looking for a new development partner because things have gone wrong.
Let's look at the key problems I hear from startup founders, along with options to fix them.
"We're tearing our hair out because the app has taken much longer than expected and there's no end it sight"
You had a 12-week plan to develop and launch your MVP or Beta version. Now it's week 30 and still going on. What happened!? The weekly meetings aren't helping; you just hear about more delays and find more bugs. That TestFlight build you were promised was 4 days late, and when it did arrive it had more bugs than the last one.
Well, this is a really common problem.
There are millions of reasons and factors that make software projects run late. But here's the top 3 that affect founders in my experience.
Question. If a project is running late, but everyone knows this in advance and understands and accepts the situation, is it still a problem?
You'll probably say "yes". But this is situation is better than being constantly in the dark and disappointed.
Humans seem to get most upset when expectations are broken. So you need to establish a relationship with an app developer where your expectations are well managed, the communications and transparent and timely, and you feel in control.
When building a team, the general rule is that hiring is 90% cultural fit and 10% skill. Apply this rule when hiring an app development firm. Meet the leadership team and the people doing the work. Spend time getting to know them. Make sure the communication and work ethic is at a standard you can accept. It is far more likely that communications will be good and expectations clearly set.
Another option is to do a small trial engagement. Ask the developer if they have any offerings you'd find valuable in the £1,000-£5,000 range so you can test working together.
If your app developer is repeatedly setting expectations and then breaking them, you need to consider changing suppliers. Explain that it's not acceptable. You'd rather have bad news than fake news. Changing suppliers can be incredibly painful to do, but you have to think about the long-term and the bigger picture. It's harder to get customers and future backing if you've not pulled a team together that can deliver.
You need an estimate of time and cost so you can plan your startup launch and work within your budget.
When you explain your idea, developers have to work out a plan to create the app and give you an estimate of what this will cost. Often they'll charge to do a lot of groundwork to help figure this out.
And yes, still they get it wrong.
So, it's not surprising you were given a bad estimate. But there are things that can be done.
Looking at historical performance is your best option. Ask the app developer for real data from a similar project they did. Speak to references to validate the estimated timeline.
Ask the developer if anything significant has changed since that project was done. E.g. is it the same team? How many projects will run in tandem with yours? Is there anything that could affect the estimate?
Delays are often due to crossed streams when working. Agree to a way of working and make sure that it fits with your weekly commitments. And most importantly, ensure everyone knows their responsibilities.
These three tips are sound trivial, but they can make a massive difference.
It's too late. The best thing to do now is to up your estimating game. That means using data and observing how quickly things are getting done (e.g. one feature a week) and then forecasting how much is left.
Put another way, let's say your a restaurant and your hire Bespoke Cakes Ltd to make 200 individually bespoke cakes. They say it will take ten weeks. On average, this means they'll need to make 20 cakes a week. After two weeks, you observe they are making roughly ten cakes a week. What do you do? Hope for the best? Nope. The right thing to do is to use that data to forecast. In this case, your new forecast should be 20 weeks, which is twice as long as they told you.
The main thing is you're using data rather than promises, so you'll get better estimates. Your app developer could use similar forecasting techniques to give you better estimates of when things will be done.
Your poor plan can double the time it takes to make an app. If you're a non-technical founder who's new to building apps, it's difficult to know what constitutes good advice and a good plan.
If you're working with an experienced team of app developers, you should be given pretty sensible planning advice.
Look out for advice like this:
So, in a nutshell, some widely accepted good advice is:
If you're not getting good advice, it may simply be that your supplier isn't quite as experienced as you'd like. The fastest solution is to bring in some outside expert help and have them work with you and your supplier to make sure the planning and execution are sound.
If you're not sure how to find help, drop me a line, and I can see if there is anyone in my network (or even if it's something I can help with).
Pocketworks is a mobile-first software company that helps organisations improve their customer experience with mobile technology. We enable our clients use research and data to find the right solution and deliver apps and digital products that increase customer satisfaction and retention.