Three things to ask… Your software developer

In this day and age, businesses are relying more and more upon technology. There are programs to manage your business’s workflow, websites to promote your brand, social media hubs to interact with your customers, apps to ensure your customers have ready access to your products. Most lot of the time, it’s far more efficient to hire someone to build and set-up these things for you.

But what should you look out for, and what kind of questions should you be asking to ensure you get the product you want?

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This month, Leaders in Heels is running a “Things to ask” series about the technical side of running your business. We’re kicking off with the technology at the core of your business – software that you use to manage your workflow. Perhaps you’re thinking about customising an existing product, or having something built from scratch. Whether you work in retail or advisory, in the creative space or the corporate world, here are three things you should be asking your software developer.

Can you provide me with functional specifications?

If you’re not sure what those words even mean, a functional specification is essentially a document that covers the design of your software. It goes over the different parts of the software and tells you exactly what it will do. Yes, this is the boring part before you get to play around with the software. But it’s also incredibly important to point out any errors at this stage and ensure your software developer has covered the full scope of what you want. If you wait until the software is built before you check that it does everything you need, you may find that what you think is a small but important change is actually a lot of extra work – and the developer may charge you for it.

It will also save you from going through tedious back-and-forth if the developer has misunderstood any of your requirements, or worse yet, not included some critical functionality. The latter may also include a case of bill shock if you don’t spot it early enough!

How easy will it be to make changes to the system?

Just because you have a shiny new system doesn’t mean you’ll never need to tweak it in the future. Operating systems change, your business needs change, and software developers can move on. Always check which elements you’ll be able to change on your own – for example, how easy is it to change pricing structures for a retail business? – and which elements will require you to call in a developer.

For the elements that require a developer, ask about update costs upfront. If your system produces reports, for example, how much will you be charged if you need to make changes to those reports in the future?

Also, check what code the software is based on. A quick search online should tell you if that programming language (or the skills to adapt a particular piece of software) is still widespread, or relatively obscure. You don’t want to tie yourself to software that few people can work with – that’s all but a guarantee you’ll be facing large bills in the future.

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What projects have you previously delivered, and can I see them?

This is probably quite obvious, but it’s surprising how many people are carried away by the sales pitch and forget to ask this. With software development especially, it’s important to see what the developer has delivered in the past, and how similar it is to what you want. Code is a strange beast, wilful and capricious. Although a developer may have a lot of experience with coding in general, working with different technology, or even a newer version of a program, can bring a lot of new and unexpected pitfalls. Although you may get the software in the end, it may be a few months (or more!) later than what you originally agreed on.

Check what projects your software developer has previously completed, and ask them about issues and lessons learned. Looking at their previous works will also give you an idea of their design aesthetic, and you can see if it aligns with yours.

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Do you have any other questions we should be asking our software developers? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

2 replies on “Three things to ask… Your software developer

  • Jessica

    I would also be asking “is the platform you are creating for my business easily transferable to another developer?” If the developer goes out of business or changes direction or you aren’t happy with their after sales service, you don’t want to be stuck with a system no-one knows how to fix easily otherwise it will cost you a small fortune.

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