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magento & ecommerce

How to Design, Develop, and Maintain a Custom Software Solution

No matter your line of business, having a custom-made software solution is bound to take your operations to a whole new level. In particular, custom software will help you integrate all your activities into a single app with which you can get a grip on your business and maximize its efficiency. But how exactly are custom software solutions created?

In this entry, we'll give you a rundown of all the steps that go into designing, developing, and maintaining a custom software solution.

Designing Your Custom Software Solution

Before developing a new application or building additional features into an existing app, we'll first have to come up with a design and a prototype. Here are the steps that the designing stage consists of:

Design Discovery

Design Discovery

The design stage begins with a discovery process. The purpose is to set the project's scope and goals and start off on the right foot. And in itself, design discovery comprises several steps:

Kick-Off Meeting

The discovery process starts with a kick-off meeting of your primary stakeholders and our design team. Since our clients begin at different phases in the process, we use the meeting to look back on all previous work done on the project and develop a roadmap for designing the necessary functionality and features of your app.

Competition Analysis

The next step is to analyze your competitors to examine any related apps in existence and identify the strong suits and the weak or not-so-strong. The results of the analysis would inform you of how and in what areas you can potentially stand out.

User Personae

In the last step of design discovery, several user personas are created to gain insights into the app's target users. The components of this analysis are user motivations and what they wish to achieve with the app.

Technical Discovery

The primary reason for conducting a technical discovery in the early stages of software creation is to understand and record your existing set of software (or research) and suggest the proper stack for the project. This step incorporates several tasks, including:

  • Detailed code review of an existing app
  • Researching technology solutions for your specific situation
  • Reviewing third-party integration documents
  • Formulating a deployment operations plan

User Experience

The user experience procedure takes into account the needs of your target users and aims to create a user-friendly and straightforward app. This phase comprises the following:

Feature Mapping

First, a feature map is a high-level view of an app’s features. The primary purpose is to establish a point of departure for evaluating any potential interaction of all the views. Also, the feature map is updated and maintained throughout the project.

User Flow

The next step is to create user flows that show all the actions that users take when achieving specific goals. User flows are crucial when you have complicated conditional workflows. They enable developers, designers, and clients to reach the same understanding of the feature outcomes and how the features will work.

Wireframes

The last step in the user experience stage is to create wireframes of the app's primary views. This enables us to develop a general organization of your screen without a need to pre-determine the images and text to be featured in the final design. Wireframes are useful for several purposes, such as ensuring a sound underlying structure, presenting user flows, understanding the functionality of the project, and rapid prototyping.

User Interface

After completing the discovery and the user experience phases, the next step is to build a visual design. The first stage here is the selection of a style concept. With that done, the style concept becomes a style guide going forward. This is followed by the development of high-fidelity mockups for each of the app's views.

Let’s have a more detailed look at each of the steps in user interface design.

Style Concepts

Style Concepts

Style concepts show what is possible with your application's look and feel, including a range of details like colors and fonts.

Typically, we come up with up to three concepts for you to choose from, where each of them would have a unique look and feel. Before creating these concepts, we’d have carefully evaluated your competitors' products and figured out how to make your products stand out. It is then that we merge our evaluation with your brand guidelines to come up with the style concepts.

Style Guide

The next stage is where we use your preferred style concept to develop a style guide. It documents all the standards for the app’s typography, header styles, buttons, fonts, colors, and more. What you will end up with is a unified look in every part of your app where the style guide is used as a reference throughout development.

We have several options at our disposal regarding the style guide. For one, we can use your pre-existing style guide as a starting point, consolidate the existing styles, and build a new one from scratch.

High-Fidelity Mockups

In the last stage of user interface design, we create high-fidelity mockups as visual representations of how the app will look like – based on the wireframes and the style guide. In addition, these mockups will include visual assets like icons, illustrations, and photography to depict how the app will appear as accurately as possible.

A necessary component at this stage is showing your design to the other team members so that we can collect valuable feedback and make any required changes.

Prototype and Estimation

The next step is uploading the mockups to Figma or Invision. We'll then develop a clickable prototype that we will use as a starting point in building your development estimate.

Interactable and High-Fidelity Prototypes

We use clickable prototypes to allow for interaction with the app's design and show how your app will work once developed. With these, we can test the app before we actually build it and see if there are any improvements or edge cases that we might have missed. Another benefit of clickable prototypes is seen in the accuracy of our estimate. The prototypes are excellent tools for obtaining approval for the app's development or the buy-in of an investor.

Development Estimate

Owing to our clickable prototypes and in-depth design process, everyone is fully involved in the project and can keep up with what we're doing. Accordingly, we will come up with a comprehensive line-item estimate that includes how long it will take to build the app and the costs. In a way, our design process is structured to facilitate an accurate estimate of our app development cost.

Development Proposal

At this phase, we use the development proposal to communicate the costs of building the app, assembling a development team, and the timeline. If needed, we can also incorporate a strategy to phase out the app’s releases with a breakdown of the estimated timeline and the cost for each release.

Summary

Here's a brief overview of the design phase before we move on to the next:

  • Competition analysis
  • User personae
  • User/feature map
  • Wireframes
  • Style Concepts
  • High-fidelity mockups
  • Clickable prototypes
  • Development estimate and proposal

Developing Your Custom Software Solution

Developing Your Custom Software Solution

We'll outline our approach to creating your web, Android, and iOS apps during the development stage. These are all of the steps taken in the development phase:

Pre-Development Plans

In preparation for what is to come, we formulate pre-development plans to ensure an efficient development process. The plans include:

  • Assembling our development team
  • Finalizing the design-to-development handoff
  • Setting project milestones
  • Building stories
  • Planning sprints

Putting Together Our Development Team

In general, our development team comprises six members:

  • Product owner
  • Part-time designer
  • Part-time quality assurance pro
  • Part-time project manager
  • Two full-time senior developers

For our team, we usually use a combination of professionals in our USA and Colombia offices. There is a reason for it too, as we combine the convenience and quality of an onshore team with the cost-efficiency of a nearshore team. This has worked out extremely well for both our clients and us.

Finalizing the Design-to-Development Handoff

With our development team assembled, they will meet with the design team for the design-to-development handoff. This ensures that our developers understand what they have to do and have everything needed to do it.

During this stage, the design and the developer teams review all the results coming out of the design stage. This includes going over the following details:

  • User personae
  • Market research summary
  • User stories and flow map
  • Style guide
  • High-fidelity mockups
  • Clickable prototypes

Furthermore, the designers will provide the development team with all the necessary icon and image assets in their correct formats. They will also transfer any workflows, interactions, and documents that are not adequately shown in the clickable prototype.

In the end, developers will have everything they need to start building the app with all the efficiency and none of the hindrances.

Setting Project Milestones

Afterward, our project manager sets all the important project milestones, also known internally as version releases. As it happens, we will be releasing several versions of the app, each more capable than the last, but not with so many new features as to make it hard for the client to test.

In other words, we can present to our client a number of features that we are testing at the moment. The client can examine the features and respond with feedback that we will use to make changes as necessary. As you can imagine, this may not be possible if we only had one version release.

Building Stories

The next step for our project manager is to start building stories for the app that serve as tickets for our developers to use in subsequent sprints. The purpose is to explain to the developers what they have to build and incorporate acceptance criteria about how the features are supposed to function for quality assurance purposes.

The source materials for the stories are line items and designs contained in the initial estimate. Each story needs to be completed within a specific number of hours, which directly ties into the estimate.

For each sprint, developers are tasked with several tickets for which the total estimated hours will be the total number of hours for the sprint. This helps the project manager keep track of the developers' efficiency and effectiveness for each sprint.

Planning Sprints

Planning Sprints

Following the building of the stories, we assemble them into two-week sprints and try to organize as many of them as possible in the initial stages of the development. Still, some of the initial sprints will require a bit more planning and accuracy than the sprints scheduled for later in the development process.

Upon adding the stories to the sprints, each developer receives their assignment from the project manager, which will depend on a sprint’s available hours and the total hours estimated for each story.

Active Development

Active development starts as soon as pre-development plans have been formulated. This stage consists of two-week sprints, retrospectives after each completed sprint, and the launch of version releases according to project milestones

Sprint Execution

As described, developers are tasked with several stories for the two-week sprints. Our project manager gives the developers a specific number of hours to carry out the sprints, for which the stories contain building descriptions and links to components like acceptance criteria and icons.

Test Coverage

Whenever a story is completed, developers create automated integration and unit tests and include them in the code. Test coverage is as because it notifies developers of potential errors whenever they introduce new code. Without it, developers would have to test the application manually to determine if the new code caused any errors in the existing code. Manual testing is ineffective, costly, and time-consuming, which is why it's undesirable.

Here are the types of testing our developers employ:

  • Unit testing – We use unit testing to try out code at the app's unit level, which is the smallest part that can be tested. The goal is to verify that each software unit performs as expected.
  • Integration testing – This combines unit tests to test them as a whole. The objective is to detect any faults in the interaction of the integrated units.
  • Continuous integration testing – This development practice requires our developers to incorporate code to a mutual code repository several times a day. This is where developers verify the code with an automated test suite and automatic building process in the repository.

Quality Assurance

After our developers have completed a story and the testing, our Quality Assurance team reviews the story. If satisfactory, the story will pass QA and be sent to our project manager for further examination. If the story is found to be inadequate in any regard, developers will have to revise it.

Our Quality Assurance team assesses the story according to a host of factors such as:

  • Does the story's user interface match its design?
  • Does the app's code meet all the acceptance criteria laid out in the story?
  • Does the app's code function correctly on multiple browsers and devices?
  • Is the story mobile-responsive?

Code Review and Approval

Code Review and Approval

At this point, our project manager will review the app's code for quality. They will also test the code and all the features one more time. If it’s all set, the project manager will merge the code with master to complete the story.

Any code that we produce must meet a set of standards. We evaluate our code for:

  • Conciseness – Our code must be understandable and clean. This is because less code typically means less room for bugs, less complexity, and easier maintenance. We keep our code short and straightforward.
  • Human-friendliness – We make sure that anyone can read our code in plain English. To that end, we structure our directories in accordance with the highest standards in each framework and language used. These include naming parameters, variables, functions, methods, classes, and filenames explicitly and with the intent and context in mind.
  • Linting – Automation is a critical component of coding, which is why we always run code with an automated linter.
  • Self-documenting – Comments are used where other people may have problems understanding the code. However, this shouldn't be that common. In most cases, there are plenty of other options, such as thoughtful naming, that can be used to communicate the intent and context of any code.
  • Test coverage – Any code should be accompanied by automated testing software that it needs to pass before merging your branch to master. The best practices include unit, integration, and e2e testing to reach 95% coverage for each development.

Retrospective

At the end of each sprint, the team gets together for sprint retrospectives, where they discuss and determine the following details:

  • Was the sprint done on time?
  • Were the stories properly estimated?
  • Were there any unforeseen challenges or setbacks?
  • Is the project still on track?
  • Is the team following the process correctly?

The feedback received after each sprint provides the team with the necessary information for the upcoming sprint. Our company keeps track of sprint completion by each developer to make sure that they are consistently meeting all sprint requirements. Should a developer fail to meet sprint deadlines, our project manager will work with them to devise an improvement plan. Afterward, the plan is measured against the improvement in the upcoming stages.

Version Releases

After each completed sprint, developers have a version release that contains a small number of features that the client can use for User Acceptance Testing. At this point, the client can test the latest version release and communicate any feedback or comments to the developers.

Launching

Launching

Over time, as we complete one version release after another, with the client accepting each, we get to a point where the app is ready for beta testing, followed by an internal or public release of the app.

Maintaining Your Custom Software Solution

After your application’s release, you can retain our company for ongoing support through an active development agreement or maintenance agreement, or both.

Maintenance Agreements

If your application has limited planned development in the future, you may only need to enter into a maintenance agreement with us to ensure the app is always up and running. Our maintenance agreement covers:

Bug Reporting and Error Monitoring

We employ a number of third-party programs to enable you to report bugs and monitor any errors. These include the following tools:

  • Bugsnag
  • Sentry
  • Eslint
  • CodeClimate

These programs notify us of errors and help us optimize your app's performance.

Updating Versions

The open-source community regularly updates open-source software where each of these updates is referred to as a version. For the best security and performance, we update your app regularly.

Optimizing Performance

Applications that handle a lot of data and have many users can especially benefit from performance optimization, which includes the following activities:

  • Optimizing and monitoring servers
  • Load optimization and testing
  • Crash response and reporting

Dependencies and Update Integrations

Contemporary applications use various third-party API's and dependencies, which may get updated all the time. For this reason, it's crucial to update your applications frequently to keep up with this.

Ongoing Development Agreements

If you want to add more features to your application and make changes over time, you can sign up for our ongoing development agreement, in addition to the maintenance agreement. This is what the ongoing development agreement comes with:

Product Roadmaps

To help plan your budget and prioritize features, our team will work with you on developing an efficient product roadmap that specifies the features that your app will contain in the future.

Designing New Features

Once your new features are added to the product roadmap, our team will carry out a design process to show the new features and how they can fit into the current version of the application.

Developing New Features

Following the design's completion, our team will come up with a time estimate for the development of the new features. After that, the features will be included in our sprints and we'll begin the development process.

Play It Safe – Go Custom-Made

While there are many existing software solutions that may work with your business idea, all of them pale in comparison with the potential of a custom software solution. To ensure your satisfaction and the highest quality, our team will closely coordinate with your team members, collect feedback, and polish your app to deliver the best product possible. When your app is ready, you can expect an enhancement of your business operations and higher appreciation on the part of your customers.

By interactivated • on April 15, 2021

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