Software technology projects can be tough at the best of times, but what happens when you have an idea for an online platform or app, and you've never done anything like it before? In this article, I'll explore some of the ways that non-technical people can get the foundations to set themselves up for success.
As someone that's been in the industry for a while, I can tell you that there's no such thing as a "perfect" development project. However, if you come from a non-tech background, there will be things you just don't know about, and frankly, it'll make life more difficult for you.
Here are a few ways that you can get on the right foot:
- Understand the process
- Learn how to brief your developers
- Know what to build
- Keep on top of your development project
- Don't forget the biz
1. Understand the process
Software and software-related product development processes are beasts in so many ways. The scope of knowledge and experience that people working in the industry have can be outstanding. Every day, I am awed by what people know and can do. So much goes on behind the scenes of tools, apps and applications that you use every day. This is not a journey where you can close your eyes and hope for the best.
While it's not feasible or even necessary for you to become experts in this area - that can only happen over time - you should at least understand how the process works. You want to know what's ahead of you and what's expected of you. If you know how things are supposed to work, you can recognise when things are going wrong.
2. Learn how to brief your developers
A critical step in any product development process - not just a software one - is defining what you want (a.k.a writing requirements). When building online platforms and mobile apps, this is particularly difficult. You have to describe your product, in detail, to someone who thinks in a completely different way than you do.
Even the most basic digital products includes multiple features and functions. You'll need to tell your developer what you expect each of those things to do. This means you have to become the expert on your product. There are many pitfalls and considerations when you write your requirements, and a non-tech person, you just won't know what these are.
Bottom line - if you can't brief your developers properly, you won't end up with the product that you want.
3. Know what to build
Along the lines of briefing your developer is actually understanding what you should be building. In software, you have an opportunity to test and learn.
As someone that's not familiar with a very complex process, this presents a unique risk-mitigating option for you. Instead of pouring tons of time and money into an all-singing and all-dancing product, that may or may not make you enough money to pay off your investment - you can build it piece by piece. By knowing what to build, you have a greater chance of scaling and growing a product that people actually use. Ideally, you want to aim for the smallest possible product first.
4. Keep on top of your development project
Once your development project is up and running, you can't just sit back and wait for the finished product. Ultimately, as the owner of your product, you want to make sure your developers are doing their job. You don't want to wait until the end to find out what they've built is not what you expected.
There are also lots of things along the way that can derail your project - both in terms of budget, schedule and what is delivered. Look for ways to be involved in your project. This might include regular status reports or meetings, design documents, sample screens, etc. If you can head potential minor issues before they become major problems, you'll save yourself a lot of headaches.
5. Don't forget the biz
Development costs are going to be one of the highest, if not, the highest cost that you're going to have to get your product to market. The problem is, this often makes people forget about all of the other things that are needed to launch.
There are legal considerations around terms and conditions, and privacy. Make sure you protect yourself in terms of insurance and business structure. From an operations point of view, you also have to think about how to support your product - how will people contact you if they have a questions or a problem. An online platform or app is a 24 x 7 business so you need to think of the best way to handles inquiries.
The point is that your product is more than the platform or app you want to build. Products are often successful because of all of the other things that are needed to make it work.
The bottom line
Non-technical people build platforms and apps all of the time.
Sure, it would be less expensive if you were a developer, but then you probably wouldn't have all of the other skills needed to launch and grow a product.
Gone are the days when you hire a developer, and trust that you'll end up with what you want at the end. In these competitive times, knowledge is power. The more you know about software and product development, the more power you have to control your destiny.
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