The success of a custom software solution hinges on the strategic alignment between you and your development partner – it’s crucial that both parties are on the same page regarding goals, objectives, and the path to achieve them.
Most SMBs and startups spend time outlining the ideal product for their business before they partner with a third-party developer to build the custom solution. This is an important step, but there’s still a significant amount of work ahead to turn your outline into a detailed plan with your developer. In order for a custom software build to be successful, businesses need to work closely with developer partners to provide granular details on technical requirements, a proposed platform architecture, and a roadmap that will fully account for the time and resources it will take to build the solution. We call this strategic alignment, and it can take many forms – a sprint or series of meetings along with asynchronous work – but the goal is to reach a complete product plan that both parties are committed to. This applies to every type of custom solution, whether you’re a startup ready to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) or an SMB replacing outdated software, or anything in between.
Here's why strategic alignment is paramount in creating a successful custom software solution:
Clear vision: Taking the time to align strategically with your development partner ensures that the vision for success is shared, with important details like:
The problem you’re trying to solve
The user types and features needed for each user type
The core features you’re prioritizing in the first iteration versus the ones you’re earmarking for later development
The technical requirements, resources, and efforts necessary to bring the product to market
Your proposed Revenue Model and Plans for Operations (i.e., how the product will be marketed and sold, how customers will be onboarded, how customer service will be provided)
The KPIs and the cost of failure
Aligning on these details at the outset will keep you and your dev partner focussed and on
track for an agile process.
Efficiency: Alignment with your dev partner streamlines the development process. It minimizes misunderstandings, reduces rework, and accelerates time-to-market, giving your SMB or startup a competitive edge. It also allows the developers to work independently without having to ask questions at every stage of the process, since they’re fully versed your business, users, and goals.
Risk Mitigation: Misalignment can lead to costly project delays or failures. By ensuring everyone is aligned, you reduce the risks associated with miscommunication and misinterpretation.
The Risk of Skipping Strategic Alignment in the Development Process
Imagine a scenario with us: you’ve decided you want to build a custom house, so you hire an architect and contractor to help you. Handing them a napkin sketch wouldn’t provide enough detail for them to build from. They’re going to want to ask a lot of questions and provide more detailed plans to ensure that you’re getting the home you want. How many people are in your family? Do you plan to entertain or host guests? Does anyone in your family have mobility needs? How do you intend to use each space? Your answers can impact obvious cosmetic things, but will also impact the way the architect designs the infrastructure of your future home – knowing you want a big home theater setup, they may recommend conduit in the walls to run speaker wire; knowing you plan to host large holiday gatherings will lead them to increase sewer pipe dimensions, etc.
The same is true for custom software solutions – a startup team may feel that they have a clear vision and project scope, so a strategic alignment workshop feels moot. But one or two exploratory questions from the developer often reveal gaps: the client hasn’t outlined all of the technical requirements as comprehensively as they thought, or their current approach may not be scalable as their business grows, leading to messy and unmanageable code. The further into the dev process these gaps are revealed, the bigger the risk to the business.
At Mile Marker, we frequently remind ourselves and our clients that it’s important to know what you don’t know. We don’t expect our clients to come into a development partnership with every detail of their platform, app, or website figured out ahead of time, especially if software development isn’t their domain expertise. Any dev partner worth their salt will help you with that, you just have to accommodate that planning process in your timeline. After all, it’s cheaper to spend two or three weeks up front getting the details ironed out than it is to spend two weeks implementing a feature, only to discover that it doesn’t solve the problem and needs to be rebuilt. Close the knowledge gaps at the outset, and you’re in for a much smoother and faster process.
The Keys to Successful Strategic Alignment with Your Dev Partner
Now that you know the importance of strategic alignment for building a custom software solution, here are the key elements of achieving it with your development partner before you start building your custom solution.
Time - We have a saying at Mile Marker, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” In other words, it’s okay to take all the time we need at the beginning to get the details right, because it helps us achieve startup speed with minimal friction. Much of this work can be done asynchronously between the client and developer.
Transparency - Prepare to be transparent with your dev partner, with as much detail as possible about your business and your target customer in hand, so that the solution you build together is tailored to the needs of your business and customers.
Collaboration - Strategic alignment is a chance to be highly collaborative with your dev partner. You’re the expert with the vision, while your dev partner’s job is to ask all the questions. It’s important in the strategic alignment phase to stay open-minded to all the potential possibilities that your dev partner brings to you, so that you can build a custom solution that is unique, effective, and competitive.
Mile Marker’s Strategic Alignment Workshops
At Mile Marker, we’ve created a proven process for developing product requirements and technical strategy - fast. We’ve found that our Strategic Alignment Workshops are the best way to get on the same page with our startup and SMB clients and lay out a plan for building their MVPs. (And truthfully, if you’re establishing a relationship with a developer and they don’t offer something like this, that should be a red flag. Dev shops that skip this step often do initial client work but face sunk costs when they fail to close a sale, then try to make up the loss in general billing to their other clients. Bottom line: it may feel like you’re saving money, but you’ll pay for it down the road.)
Our Strategic Alignment Workshops consist of 6 one-hour working sessions and roughly 10 hours of asynchronous work. The outcome? A comprehensive Product Development Plan:
Product Overview - We create a detailed problem statement outlining the problems faced by each of your user types. Together we define a long term vision which we convert into bite-sized, achievable milestones.
Product Planning - We create comprehensive workflow and user-flow outlines, develop a data model, identify the skills and tools needed to develop your product, and offer a plan to mitigate possible risks.
Data Model & Architecture - We create a blueprint outlining the infrastructure, services and components we will build as well as the 3rd party services we will integrate to deliver your product to the market.
Roadmap & Costs - We estimate costs required to build your product (and beyond!) and graphically map a timeline of features and foundational elements to illustrate when - and how - your product will launch.
Our Product Development Plans have been used by our clients to successfully close financing rounds and align teams and advocates on a clear product strategy and vision.
“Mile Marker's workshop helped our organization understand what a path forward from our
aging infrastructure technology could look like. It gave our team the opportunity to identify
and discuss our real pain points with an experienced tech facilitator, and Mile Marker gave
our team many ideas we have never considered before." -Will Harris, WCCN
Two weeks of collaboration between our teams can create the clarity we need to bring a successful product to market. If you think you’re ready to make the leap with Mile Marker, or just want to learn more about our Agile dev strategy, reach out so that we can schedule a conversation.
About Mile Marker
Mile Marker is your strategic partner for agile software development. Created for founders, by founders, we offer strategic software at startup speed. We specialize in aligning your technical work with your business goals through collaborative planning, offering a multidisciplinary development team, and ensuring ongoing support for your software. If you’re searching for a software development company or need a technical partner, start the conversation with an introductory call.