So, you’ve decided to engage a custom software development firm to help solve a major internal bottleneck. You like the people, are impressed by their client resume, and they certainly seem to have the technical expertise to get the job done. Yet you still worry whether they have what it takes to become an expert in your business and solve your unique problem.
The discovery stage is a common—yet critical—step in the relationship-building process between a consulting firm and its client. This step helps your new partner gain an in-depth understanding of why you came to them in the first place.
When you begin a new project or venture, confidence and optimism often abound. Custom software development is no different. Many times, an organization has great expectations for their software project; they anticipate that it will solve a myriad of issues and streamline the entire organization. But, that optimism can quickly fade to disappointment and frustration if the consulting firm fails to become a subject matter expert in their business.
Here’s what you should expect from your custom software development partner in order to have the confidence that they can deliver the product and solution you need:
A strong foundation of knowledge in business, industry trends and technology: At alligatortek, we work with companies throughout the logistics, distribution, transportation and manufacturing industries. Although all clients are unique, our industry knowledge helps us leverage current trends and common challenges to quickly present new ideas to a client.
As businesses move from paper-based to online systems and as smartphones become ubiquitous, more and more people are accessing information from mobile devices. Our knowledge of web development and responsive design enables us to quickly find new ways for our clients’ customers and employees to benefit from mobile applications.
A command of business process analysis: You want your software partner to look beyond basic challenges and dive into a detailed discovery of your business processes.
Consider the general problem of moving an accounting system from paper-based to the Cloud. The only way to really get an understanding of functional difficulties is to ask specific questions: What forms are you using now? What items are on those forms? What reports do you need? How are those compiled? Which departments are involved at each step in the process? This is the level of insight a consulting firm needs in order to tailor something unique for your particular situation.
At alligatortek, we take discovery even further. In addition to client interviews with the business analysts, we collaborate early on with our architects and development team. Not only does this give the team a heads-up on the size and scope of an upcoming project, it also helps us come up with a project plan and estimate.
Steadfast focus on your specific pain: Deep insight into your pain points helps your consulting firm become more knowledgeable about your business. But—just as important—it serves to keep the overall project goals top-of-mind throughout the entire development process.
Usually our clients’ pain points come down to these basic questions: Do they need us to help them to save money or make money? How will the new solution achieve this? Will it save time? Will it make them more efficient? Will it give them a unique edge in the marketplace?
Make sure your development partner never loses sight of your main business goals. If they do, they can wind up causing more harm than good.
Ability to get up to speed quickly: The ability to get to a deep understanding of a company is strongly influenced by relevant experience. Every time a software consulting firm steps into a new industry and faces a new challenge for a client, they are adding to their knowledge base of how to solve business problems with software.
When my team is in a meeting with the head of a business who is explaining the organization’s challenges and goals for a new project, we rarely have to start with basic business principles. We quickly understand the context of the challenges, get to the bottom of the problem, and can immediately have a relevant conversation with the CEO or any other role.
Engages all stakeholders: Even if a challenge starts in accounting, it may also spread to other departments such as sales and operations. For this reason, it’s critical that your software partner talks with any role or department that is involved in the problematic process.
We usually start a discovery by talking to top-level managers. While these interviews are great for an overview they often don’t provide the insight that comes from employees with performer-level knowledge of a role.
Talking to each stakeholder in the process ensures that the software consultant understands the context and detail for each specific role. When we can see the whole picture and understand the needs of each user, we can build a final solution to solve the problem for the entire organization.
Asks the right questions: Ask any software professional and they’ll probably tell you that understanding exactly what a business needs can be one of the hardest part of building a solution. That’s why asking just the right questions can bring tremendous clarity by showing the flow of the problem.
Recently, we worked with a company that manages snow removal for commercial businesses. They were heavily paper-based, their current computer system didn’t work very well, and the process of getting information to the accounting department was too labor intensive. One far-reaching question sparked a discussion that revealed a major disconnect between the delivery team and the accounting department – unlocking the key to building a system that made life easier for all departments involved.
Project Success Starts in Discovery
Many companies using out-of-the-box solutions find about 80% of their needs are covered. While this may work in the beginning, the last 20% of unfulfilled needs eventually take their toll on the business and its resources.
When we meet companies in this situation, it doesn’t take long for them to see that a custom solution at a very comparable cost can meet all of their unique needs. Then it’s up to our team to guide new clients through a detailed Discovery process, become experts in their business, and begin to solve their unique problems.