Know This Before Signing A Big Software Development Contract

Originally published on LinkedIn by feature[23]’s client, Value Mapping™, on February 22, 2017, by Al Emerick the Owner/CEO.

This week, we (Value Mapping™) officially entered the world of software product development. By that I (Al Emerick) mean we signed a “Statement of Work” to formally commence design and development of the Value Mapping™ customer portal and interface. Two years ago, I’d have told you I never saw this coming. Sure, I’ve worked with web companies designing websites over the years. I also helped build a cloud-based platform for integrating physician recruitment and marketing. Heck I’ve even thrown back a few cold ones with some amazing coders and developers, but actually building my own product from scratch? Whaaaaat? And yet here I am as the founder of Value Mapping™ staring down the most challenging, yet exciting project i’ve ever taken on talking Agile, DevOps, User Experience, Acceptance Testing and SQL Database. Whaaaat-Whaaaaat???

First of all let me be clear, Value Mapping™ is not a technology company. But my partners and I are leveraging technology, specifically cloud-based software product development, to enhance and accelerate the adoption of Value Mapping™ and maximize the customer experience while planting the seeds for future growth. That said, I am a novice but have learned some valuable lessons thus far to arrive at the point where I can look my partners in the eyes and ask them to commit to the investment dollars we are about to make. So, in the spirit of paying it forward, here’s four things I think every entrepreneur should know before signing the dotted line.

1. Even Though We’re Not a Technology Company, Investing Time in What it Means to be a Product Owner is Crucial.

Apart from building a software product, the success rate of your product drastically increases when you invest time in understanding what it means to be in “the business of software”. It strengthens my, and my product development team’s relationship, which provides greater transparency into the expected goals of the project, and most importantly, allows me, the product owner, to communicate better about the work that is being done. This allows us to be good stewards of our budget and get the most bang for our buck. The feature[23] team thus far has helped me understand that looking through this lense means greater opportunity down the road for enhanced service for our customers and ultimately, revenue for our company.

2. Trust and Get to Know Your Product Development Team

Our partner here is feature[23], an industry leading product development firm. In sexy marketing speak (but also very seriously), they offer a wide range of product life cycle services – business strategy, data and analytics, software engineering, product design and UX, Q&A testing, project management, operations support, and monitoring. All are terms I can now use in social and business gatherings to help me look and sound smarter than I am!

We have been meeting and speaking with owners Jeremy Vaughan and Mike Potts for over six months. Along the way, they have tried every which way to challenge our assumptions, push us to question everything and at one point, even said, “we’re not sure you’re ready to proceed and we can’t in good conscious move on yet.” They forced us to pause, breathe and consider before ever taking a dime from us. What’s more, they sought to understand our goals and vision at such a deep level that we now feel we have a true guide walking with us who will not let us down or lead us astray. Being as we are the novices we are and given the very fluid nature of this business, trust is paramount if you ever want to sleep at night.

3. Know Your Product and Customer and Have a Solid Plan

There is so much unknown in the world of software product development it can at times feel like you’re jumping into a pool without knowing how deep it is. The best defense for this is knowing your own product and customer and engaging them throughout the process. Just as important is having a plan. I’m not talking bar napkin plan, but a real, bona-fide business model with outlined strategy and goals. When I came to Jeremy and Mike, I knew our product like my own name. I had talked endlessly with customers gathering feedback and insight as to what pains and pleasures they experienced and how, if at all, software could help. We had a Lean Canvas with real data, metrics and research to support the plan. So, while we are not able to mitigate all the questions or problems of course, we are heading into this project with a great level of confidence that we have a firm understanding of how this project will help us and our customers and how it fits into our business plan and model.

4. Don’t Go It Alone

There is strength in numbers, especially when it comes to software development. If I had not had the resources and insights of peers, mentors, friends, family and of course, my partners; I would likely not be writing this blog because I would have jumped off the deep end of crazy. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely enough. Jumping into this game is a force multiplier if you’re having to go it solo. Not only do you need the positive emotional support; but you need the brain power, perspective and experience of others. That said, “too many cooks can spoil the broth,” as they say so be cautious to not invite the world or the wrong people just have a body there. I strategically selected specific people based on our core team’s strengths and weaknesses. The goal was to have a well-rounded bench of support.

Despite all of this, I am still shaking in my knees. (Shhh, don’t tell my partners) We’re about to spend some serious bank and there is plenty of risk. But considering where we are, who we’re working with and what we’ve validated thus far, the risk is acceptable. We’re about to embark on an incredible journey and I fully plan to keep you up to date on the progress, pain and pleasure which lies ahead.

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