By: Craig Lamb Publish Date: Monday 8/24/2020 QUESTION: WHAT’S THE BIGGEST RISK TO A SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT PROJECT? Answer: Misunderstanding. Fortunately, it is also, the most avoidable. Being in the custom software development space for decades, I’ve worked with entrepreneurs with great ideas too numerous to count. What I’ve learned through the blood, sweat, and tears (and joys too) of co-owning software development firm, Envative, is that, at the start of a software development project, risk is high and rooted in uncertainty. It just is. The reason for this is that almost everyone comes to an initial meeting with their ideas, rose-colored glasses and often-times a budget in mind based on few, if any, defined specifications. No matter the project, the company, or the level of expertise of the folks we’re talking with - there are always lots of unanswered questions. Whether it’s a mobile application, a custom software web portal, or new idea for a “smart” technology component, the same questions need to be considered up front in order to ensure a successful outcome. What business value will this create? Are we building the right thing? Are we solving the right problems? Will it be easy to use? Will end-users actually use it? How will it behave on different devices? What will it cost? Can I get "buy-in" from investors? More often than not, various parties involved aren’t yet aligned around a singular vision — or worse, they assume alignment that isn’t actually there. Here’s the good news – there’s a practical way to avoid all of this risk AND make your dream come to fruition. You’ve likely heard of prototyping. In general, the objective of prototyping is to validate or derive system requirements, flesh out unknowns and, where desired, establish Minimum Viable Product (MVP) features. The prototyping process starts with those requirements which are poorly understood. Input is gathered from key stakeholders (i.e., partners, coworkers, friends – whomever has a vested interest in turning the idea into a product). Interactive screens are designed to reflect user interface, navigation and workflow for the desired system (or app) functionality. This allows innovators to really visualize the end product - not only what it will look like but how users will interact with it. A cycle of feedback and additional requirements naturally evolve through this process until “use cases” have been fleshed out and there is consensus amongst the group. The power of prototyping is so important that, we've built it in as the initial phase of every new development project Envative takes on. Simply stated, it removes "guesswork" from the formula resulting in these key components for a project’s future success: Clear understanding of business user and stakeholder requirements A visual representation of the product with associated user workflows Prioritization of features for establishing Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Appropriate definition of functionality to establish a realistic budget estimate for development. Trust that the idea is viable leading to buy-in from key stakeholders or investors Elimination of budget "overages" for rework due to ambiguous expectations My point is, prototyping is a "win-win" for all involved in the software development project. We’ve learned first-hand the value of requiring it before any code is written and have proven it time and time again through successful launches and satisfied clients. In fact, oftentimes, our very first engagement with a client is a "stand-alone" prototyping project. We welcome this because, we know that getting approval for funding the development of a company’s vision without it, can be tough. So, if you have a great idea for a new product or application, but you’re not sure where to start, this is my number one “go-to” recommendation for the best way to set yourself up for success. Regardless of which reputable software development firm you decide to engage with for prototyping your idea, you should, for a modest cost, walk away with technical consulting, requirements definition, an interactive prototype and, ideally, a development partner you know you can trust. Good luck and best wishes.