How to avoid common custom application development failures

Frank Zinghini

Founder & CEO
Avoid Common Custom Application Development Failures

The success rate of IT projects is finally starting to improve after years of poor performance. A recent report from the Project Management Institute (PMI) divided companies into champions and failures. Champions are those companies with an 80 percent success rate on IT projects, while underperformers (or failures) delivered 60 percent or fewer projects successfully.

The report found that 6 percent of champions and 24 percent of underperformers experienced IT project failures within the year. Surveys from previous years reported numbers as high as 50 percent for project failures across all companies, so the numbers are improving across the board—but there is still a lot of work to do.

“IT projects” is a broad term, and includes activity ranging from something as innocuous as upgrading an office’s network hardware to more complex projects, such as releasing software to the public. One area that has seen significant growth is custom application development. International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts positive growth for global custom app development services through 2022. Companies have learned to avoid the most common mistakes over the past few years, and successful completion rates of custom app development has increased as a result.

What defines failure in custom app development?

There are two main forms of failure in custom web and mobile application development:

1. The project was never completed.

This could be either a total lack of completion, or simply a failure to complete the project within the allotted time or budget. Failure here is often due to a lack of resources, money, and/or skilled workers.

2. The application was completed and deployed, but it failed in the market.

Success or failure in the market can be measured by whether customers continue to use your application and recommend it to others—or not. Obviously, if your application fails in this way, your revenue will suffer. Sometimes custom business application development is created for internal uses, however, and your “customers” are your employees. In that case, failure is measured by whether employees adopt the application and are able to successfully use it for its intended purpose.

Proactive steps can be taken to avoid both forms of failure, but first, let’s look at the most common mistakes that lead to unsuccessful apps.

The six most common mistakes in custom application development

1. Poorly defined goals.

Every custom web and mobile app development project needs to have clearly defined objectives. What is the purpose of the application? How does it add value for the end user? Why will the user want to initially use the app? What will keep them coming back? If you do not have clear and precise answers to these questions, then you’re not even ready to start work.

2. Failure to involve the customer or end user from day one.

User feedback can be obtained through interactive mockups or rapid prototyping. The process should be iterative, constantly going back to users as changes are made, so you can refine the application with confidence. Involving the user throughout the entire development cycle and beyond prevents you from adding unneeded (and unwanted) features, and helps improve the user-friendliness of the design and layout of your custom application.

3. Making promises you cannot keep.

Tight deadlines and even tighter budgets can easily derail a custom application development project. Unrealistic timelines do not create a better product. They only rush development, resulting in more errors and poor-quality coding. Testing is often ignored in these situations, further contributing to bugs and security issues. Your timeline should be reasonable, and must account for adequate testing. Everyone wants to be the first to market, but it’s better to be a month later with a good product than a month earlier with a bad one.

Budgets can be just as big of a problem. A budget that is too restrictive will not provide your team with the resources required for success. It is always better to leave some wiggle room when budgeting for custom app development. This allows for unforeseen features and functionality that may need to be added or other issues that may arise.

4. Developing a robust version of your custom application too soon.

Of course, the goal is to develop the best version of your custom application as quickly as possible. But rushing the process can lead to wasted money and an application that performs poorly in the market; your app might be too bloated with features that drag performance, or might not have the right features that users actually want or need. This mistake ties directly back to involving your users from Day One. We recommend incorporating user feedback on mockups and prototypes to create what we like to call a Minimum Valuable Product (MVP). This is very similar to the Minimum Viable Product supported by Agile, but takes it one step further by focusing on creating an application that not only functions, but also delivers real value from the start. For more information on a Minimum Valuable Product, consult our blog.

5. Focusing only on the code.

Skilled coders are a necessary ingredient for successful custom app development. But you need to step back from the code and focus on the product as a whole in order to create an application with real value. Your team needs to have members that represent all areas of app development—User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) design, project management, security, quality assurance, and yes, coding. Additional details on the importance of looking beyond the code are available here.

6. Lack of expertise.

Expertise in all areas of custom application development (not just coding, as explained above) will lead to success. A gap in one area can lead to failure across the entire application. If, for example, your team lacks someone with experience in UX and UI design, you will waste money and time developing an application that is not welcomed and valued by users. Work will have to be redone, falling behind on timelines and going over budget.

Can you avoid custom application development failure with Agile?

The Agile methodology is one of the best ways to set your custom application development project up for success. The Agile development process helps you avoid many of the most common mistakes.

  • Focus is placed on the end user at all times, not just the code.
  • Work is performed in small chunks as an iterative process.
  • Change is expected and can be handled efficiently.
  • There is an emphasis on speed, but not at the expense of quality.
  • Expectations are set. Work is done towards a set schedule, budget, or features, but not towards all three at once.
  • Testing is performed continuously, maintaining quality and security.

The Agile approach helps prevent both forms of failure as explained above. It increases the chances of your project being completed on time and on budget. It also makes sure your application will be well-received in the marketplace, since you have included users in the development process.

An Agile Product Owner helps keep development moving efficiently and removes any bottlenecks. More information on the benefits an Agile Product Owner provides to custom app development can be found here.

One of the only areas where Agile cannot help is if you simply do not have the expertise in-house. In this case, it is best to seek out a team that does have experience in successful custom application development. Be sure they are also well-versed in the Agile approach.

A combination of the right approach and a well-balanced, knowledgeable team eliminates many of the mistakes often made during custom app development. A little planning can go a long way in increasing success rates and the associated user adoption and revenue.