3 Things to Consider Before Building Custom Software

Getting started in custom software? Here is a short guide to help you evaluate your needs, assess your product or idea, and find the right partner for your project.

by Sarah Miller

Our team has been building custom software for nearly a decade. In that time, we’ve built successful custom software products (like cloud-based web and mobile apps) for businesses in multiple industries, like healthcare, education, and retail. We’ve also worked with a variety of clients, some a good fit and some not.

From these experiences, we’ve learned to qualify each project hard and early to make sure we are truly the best fit for the client on the other end. We evaluate the team we will be partnering with as well as the potential risks of their business idea or product. Throughout the years, we’ve come up with a running list to make this process easier. Here are a few things we consider when vetting new projects:

1. Does your software need to be custom?

You may need software- but do you really need custom software? Building custom products is hard and risky because they’re custom. One of the hardest things we do at Promptworks is challenge prospective clients’ assumptions that they need custom software - and exactly what type of scope makes sense. When thinking about your own project, we encourage you to challenge yourself with the same questions.

2. What is the potential of your idea or product?

When considering building software, there are a few steps you need to take before you can know if your product will be successful. We suggest taking a step back and examining the goals of your product. What are you trying to accomplish with a custom app? What requirements are non-negotiable? And what can realistically be done with your budget?

Winnow down your concept.

You may have a million great ideas for your product, but you’ll want to winnow down your core concept to the smallest possible product to start. It’s helpful to have a good idea of your product’s specifics. Ask yourself:

  • What is the market size?
  • Does my product add value that doesn’t currently exist? Will my product disrupt the market in some way?
  • What are my user’s functional and emotional needs?
  • Do people not only need, but want, my product?

Find the lowest-cost solution.

Some problems can be solved with existing platforms, off-the-shelf software, or a clever combination of back-office tools. You will also want to ask yourself if you have the budget needed to invest in good, quality engineering and design for your product. Quality custom software development is pricey and time consuming, so be sure to investigate these other options before you go down the custom path.

(P.S. Not sure about your budget? Check out our blog post “How much does it cost to build an app?”)

Determine what kind of app you need.

When building custom software, you’ll need to determine what kind of app is needed—web, mobile web, responsive (a hybrid of web and mobile web), or native mobile. While budget may be a limiting factor, the problem should dictate the kind of app that needs to be built. You can find the solution to your problem by asking questions like:

  • What features does my app need? (i.e. location awareness, offline functionality, real-time communications, notifications, etc.)
  • When, where, and how do I expect users will want to access this app?

3. Who is the right partner for your team and project?

The development partner you choose is an important factor in your product’s success. We’ve heard horror stories from clients coming to us for help after investing six-figures in an app that isn’t functional due to poor engineering or doesn’t meet their user needs. (Check out our post about 3 Cautionary Tales of App Development if you want to read some more stories). When choosing a development partner, here are three quick priorities to consider.


The outdated Facebook motto of “move fast and break things” is outdated for a reason. We prefer “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” Do it right the first time, and choose a partner who has the same mentality. And yes, quality means more expensive, but building a successful product requires investment.

Skills in user research and testing

Know your audience, learn your users, and build a product they will enjoy using. This comes with the added cost of investing in UX, design, and usability testing. But a smooth user interface and user experience goes a long way in making your product successful and adoptable.

While you’re at it, make sure to fully QA (quality assurance) test your product. Taking the time to do regular and consistent testing throughout your development process will ensure a highly-functioning, quality, successful product as the end result. (That’s why we love the Agile methodology at Promptworks!)

Team fit

Culture fit is very important. You not only want to work with someone who will take the time to build your product right the first time, but someone who will build it with your goals and vision in mind. And if you encounter a development partner who wants to sign onto your project without taking the time to understand your user or business needs or, even worse, gives you a price estimate before doing any of the strategy work listed above, run!

Want to learn more? Watch the recording of our webinar “Custom Software: What to know before you build”.

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