By: Sean K Blair, CTO at MXOtech
Have you worked with a web application development company — only to be let down?
Maybe the project went way over budget or surpassed the time estimate. Or worse, the application confused users and didn’t deliver the functionality they needed.
Your goal is to produce an application that equips employees with valuable data and removes manual processes. But you also want to stay within your budget and time estimate.
So how do you make that happen?
Keeping your web application development project on track
Keeping your project on schedule boils down to choosing the right company for the job and understanding your role in the development process.
Here are a few ways to ensure your application development project doesn’t go off the rails:
1. Choose development firms that strictly follow the agile methodology
More than any other factor, the success of your web application rides on the firm’s project management process.
Application development companies typically adhere to one of two project management styles: waterfall or agile project management.
Here’s what you should know about each process:
- Waterfall: This traditional project management style most often leads to project misalignment and has earned a bad rap in recent years. With this style, the web application development company gathers all the information on your desired application, internal process, etc., then returns a finished product.The time commitment on your side is minimal. Sounds nice, right?
Unfortunately, this approach only works for project scopes that can be quantified upfront, such as a bridge. Engineers know bridges must support a certain weight and withstand certain sheering forces like wind or geological movement. They need exact specifications before any work can begin.
Custom web applications, on the other hand, rely heavily on human interaction and changing business processes. With no opportunity to provide feedback, you waste time and money when the application doesn’t meet your business needs.
Projects using this project management (PM) style can extend months — even years — beyond the original estimate as the client and development firm work to remedy the issues.
- Agile: Agile development teams operate the opposite way. Unlike the waterfall model, agile development teams understand you can’t fully quantify human interaction and the business landscape changes rapidly. You need a project management process to support these variables.
To accomplish this, agile teams first define the scope and break down the project into small pieces of business value they need to deliver. A dedicated project manager monitors the project in bite-sized chunks, and you work directly with developers who speak in terms of business value to make adjustments along the way.
True agile development teams have their process down to a science. They leverage data to track team velocity and accurately predict project budgets and timelines. They know how many widgets they need to stamp out, how many development cycles each functionality will take, how many iterations are needed and exactly how long each task will take.
Most importantly, agile development teams involve you in the process. Using frequent check-ins, small-scale delivery batches and a consistent feedback loop, agile teams ensure every app functionality aligns with the way your team operates. The best teams even give you access to their real-time project management system, providing complete visibility into the project.
Of course, any development company can claim they use the agile methodology. It’s your job to question how they manage the project and make sure you’re heavily involved in the process.
Ask: Does the prospective vendor break down the projects by system/technical component or deliverables that represent business value? How do they respond to change?
You can further evaluate a firm’s commitment to the agile methodology by comparing their methods against these 12 principles of agile software development.
2. Allocate ample time for feedback
Working with an outside web application development company requires a time investment on your part. Only you know the processes involved in your business and what type of information end users need to be successful.
For instance, to deliver a valuable app, your development partner will need help quantifying how data will be transformed. You should review and approve the application wireframe to verify the application translates data into meaningful metrics for your team.
The application interface can also make or break your web application. You might have a rough idea of what the interface should look like, what type of information it should deliver and how the app will organize that information for users.
Your application development team should involve you in the development process on a weekly or biweekly basis to make small course corrections. If you can’t dedicate the time, you probably won’t get what you want out of the project, leading to project delays and bloated costs.
3. Pay attention to the language the development firm uses
Application development projects succeed when both the development company and client speak the same language.
Obviously, building an application requires technical processes and components. But if the dev company doesn’t present project phases in terms of business value, they likely don’t understand what your application needs to accomplish.
The best application development companies can translate technical jargon to business value. The company might say it understands the goal of a feature. But if the development team checks off a technically defined task, your objective will get lost in translation.
4. Evaluate the pricing structure
A company’s pricing structure speaks volumes to their project management prowess. Two pricing structures you’ll come across are fixed-bid and time and materials (T&M).
Here’s how to evaluate each:
- Time and materials pricing: Beware of projects that use the T&M structure. They might present an attractive estimate that undercuts other vendors. But this is no guarantee of price. Companies use the T&M structure when they don’t have a project management process dialed down. They can’t realistically forecast a timeline and budget — so they charge by the hour to cover potential overages. With this model, there’s no incentive to stick to a schedule or budget.
- Fixed-bid projects: This type of bid typically includes a time period and hard cost (say 6 months at $100,000). But this pricing model isn’t always straightforward. Some companies tack on change orders that inflate the price. Others stipulate that if the time period expires before the project is complete, the project switches to a T&M structure. These projects tend to go on in perpetuity — costing you tons of money when they don’t follow agile project management.
5. Interview references
An application development company might have all the right answers — but still not deliver on time and on budget.
So how do you see through the facade?
Ask to see their portfolio. Request three references for projects the development company has recently completed.
When reaching out to the client, be sure to ask:
- Was the process collaborative?
- Did they let you see progress at any point?
- Were there change orders?
- Did they describe phases in terms of business value?
- Did you have direct access to the development team?
- Did you see small functionality every 1-2 weeks?
Data drives your business. Investing in a web application has the potential to transform the way your team works for the better. To take advantage of your data, you need a web application development company that understands your business goals.
MXOtech has completed hundreds of web application development projects on time and under budget. Our data-driven project management process enables our team to accurately price projects and deliver real business value.
Ready to get started with your web application development project? Contact MXOtech today to learn more about our services by calling 312-554-5699.
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