Software Product Development Challenges: How to Avoid

This article is for: Startup founders seeking to avoid software product development challenges by learning from the experiences of other startups and following best practices.

Written by: Alex Senson, Ashley Burton, Tyler Boulanger

Building a software startup from scratch is a long and challenging process. Startup founders need to create a unique and valuable idea, develop the software product, as well as market it successfully to its users. Throughout this process there many common challenges that most software startups face.

In this article, we will outline what these common software development challenges are as well as how to avoid them. Additionally, we will provide case studies from companies in the Altitude Accelerator network to illustrate these challenges and solutions.

This article is for startup founders who plan on developing a software product and would like to know about some key challenges that most other startups during this development process. This article will help founders learn from the experiences of other startups regarding what not to do, and what to do when faced with different development challenges.

Use this resource to learn how to avoid suffering the same setbacks as other software startups. This will ensure your startup will be able to stay on time and budget a lot easier. Ultimately, the goal is that through learning about the experiences of different companies, your startup will be able to success in the increasingly competitive software industry.

*Note: We will periodically update this article with additional case studies

Overview

We will illustrate these ideas through case studies of companies and founders who work with the Altitude Accelerator network

  • Case study: Taking the time to hire the right developers – SurfEasy
  • Case study: Managing outsourced development – 3Terra

Common software product development challenges – introduction

Key Takeaway: There are many startups that have come before you who have experienced a variety of pitfalls, stumbling through development spending more time and resources than they needed to. Learn from some of the most common software development challenges to help you successfully and smoothly design, validate, and commercialize your technology.


Creating a software startup is a difficult task. Not only do you need to make sure you create a valuable product for the user, but as its founder you also need to ensure that you stay on budget and within a predetermined timeline. There are so many different avenues that your startup can go down. Some of these paths will hopefully lead to success, while others might end up costing your startup significantly.

There are many other startups out there that have developed software products either successfully or failed while doing so. It’s insightful to review the lessons learned from some of the most common roadblocks typically encountered.

Below is a list of some of the top software development challenges that many software startups face. Learn from these challenges to ensure that your startup does not make these same mistakes, but rather use these past experiences to help improve your startup.

Challenge #1: Not having a clear software product management plan to guide development

Key Takeaway: A clear product management plan, consisting of product specifications, product roadmap, and implementation plans, is essential for the success of a startup. Without a plan in place to guide development, distractions occur when new features or technologies are added that do not provide value to the customer. A startup that lacks a software product management plan ultimately ends up wasting time and resources as there is no clear direction for them to follow.


The problem

Many startups lack focus, and as a result bleed out time and money by trying to complete too much too soon. This slows the momentum of the startup, and prevents them from hitting timelines and producing anything tangible. In order to succeed, you need to do one thing or solve one specific problem for your customer segment exceptionally well first before expanding the scope. Be the best in a niche area to gain traction and momentum.

This loss of momentum by going too big or broad too soon can be damaging to team morale as well. This is because there is no foundational element or clear vision to rally the team behind when stress builds up.

This becomes a larger problem when startups receive funding and decide to create features or invest in technologies that do not align with the efficient development of their software product. If the functionality does not help users or customers solve their problem, then the whole approach should be redefined.

The solution

product management plan clarifies the purpose and vision of a startup’s product and is useful to have when raising funds. This plan details the priorities of the company, as well as creates a clear vision about how your business will provide value to your users through a well defined product concept.

Startups can ensure that their priorities are correct by checking against the value proposition, target audience, and expected revenue streams. As a result, startups should focus on creating a formalized product development goal to achieve rather than just figuring it out as they go.

The business model canvas is a tool that you can use in parallel to help define your business model. This will help entrepreneurs understand which actions to prioritize to develop their startup. Startups can attend the Altitude Accelerator’s Startup Bootcamp and Validation workshops to learn about how to validate and refine a business model. Alternatively, entrepreneurs can make a list of key things that they do not want their startup to do during development. This can help founders make better decisions and keep their eye on the goal of the startup without losing focus.

It is natural to want to add features, whether this need comes from creativity, or a result of pressure from users, investors, and team members. Startup founders should remember that there is only a limited runway of time and money to develop a product. Startups should establish a focus upfront to direct the limited money towards high value activities.

In conclusion, startups need to have a fully developed product management plan in place prior to initiating the development of their software product. This ensures that all purchases, technology changes, and requirement decisions are based on this plan. A detailed product management plan will ensure that you startup can get to market as fast as possible, without wasting time and resources on side projects that are not necessary.

Challenge #2: Not investing enough into market research and customer development/validation and creating a product that nobody wants

Key Takeaway: Market and customer research is essential for the creation of a product that is useful and valuable to the intended user. When a startup tries to create a product that is useful for everyone, without focusing on a specific niche of users, they create a general product that is not valuable to anyone. They have created a solution, in search of a problem.


The problem

Many startups falsely believe that they have a solution to a problem they perceive as existing without obtaining objective evidence through proper market research. As a result, many entrepreneurs think that there is a market and user base for their potential product. This problem is further compounded by collecting poor quality, biased market research where it appears as though people are interested in the product. Employing tactics such as those found in the book “The Mom Test” by Rob Fitzpatrick can help avoid this.

Entrepreneurs often try to create a product that targets the needs of many users, because they think a bigger market is better, and their solution is universal. Creating a product that appeals to everyone, however, creates a product that is so general that it doesn’t solve anyone’s problem exceptionally well. You need to solve a specific problem, and do it significantly better than anyone else.

Many startups also fail to move past their existing assumptions and hypotheses. They fail to listen to user feedback and as a result create a product that is nowhere close to the product that the user actually needs. No matter how smart or experienced someone is, their opinion is still just one single data point. It is much better to look for trends in many data points to be assured your assumptions are correct. It can often be surprising or even bewildering how different customer sentiment is to what you may have assumed.

Overall, not conducting and listening to what the market and user research tells your startup is a major pitfall that many startups struggle with. The product’s value is the most important criteria of product success, so if this step is ignored your startup will most likely fail before it has even begun.

The solution

To fully understand the market and your expected users, research needs to be conducted at the start of the project before any development work begins. This research will continue to be used throughout all stages of development, from concept to maturity. Additionally, new research should be conducted to keep up to date on any changes within the market and with your users. The Altitude Accelerator provides market intelligence support for registered entrepreneurs which can help provide startups with the required market research, as well as events like the Startup Validation Workshop that can provide you with knowledge on how to currently validate your software product.

This research can be used to identify the main problem, estimate the needs to of user, the likely demand for the product, and its product specifications. Often times the true value in market research is generating new insight you hadn’t though of before, or learning that you really didn’t know what you didn’t know. This is often the driver behind companies pivoting on their ideas.

The research can also be used to determine the optimum price points of the final software product. It’s important to understand the value of the problem you’re solving (how much does the problem cost the customer). Also, having a good sense of the competition’s pricing and business models can inform pricing decisions.

Any assumptions and hypotheses that your startup has created need to be tested before lots of money is spent on the development of a software product. This testing needs to be done quickly and simply to the startup. The following are some examples of methods that can be used to test any assumptions and hypotheses:

  • Have users sign up for a limited-service offering to show that people are interested in your idea
  • Create paper prototypes to showcase the product without developing the product
  • Sell some version or MVP of your product to somebody! This is the ultimate validation.

In conclusion, all startups have to conduct market and user research to ensure that the product planning on being developed is valuable to the user. When in doubt, stick to a product that is simple and compelling with obvious and meaningful value. This should all be done prior to expanding the user base with unique additional features.

Challenge #3: Ignoring the design phase of software product development

Key Takeaway: The design of a software product needs to be drafted prior to any development work beginning. Designers need to be able to communicate to the developers why each element is required, and work together with them to ensure that the interaction between design and functionality is seamless.


The problem

Many startups rush into building the technical solution rather than spending time planning out the design of their product. The product’s design is the plan of how the product will look and function before it is developed. This leads to challenges as the developers now need to fit the design of a product around an already functional product, rather than creating a functional product from a design plan.

Many startups decide to quickly design their product to say that they have just so they can move onto development. Poorly explained design decisions, and decisions that are not fully thought out can cost a lot of money. Additionally, these setbacks could cause your startup to lose momentum and block further progress from being made in the long run.

In addition, many designers are unable to efficiently communicate the importance of the overall design of specific design elements to developers. This leads to the developers cutting seemingly unimportant elements because they don’t recognize their importance.

Alternatively, a design could be created for a product that uses technologies and techniques that have not been fully tested yet making them unusable during development. New components that have never been used before means there significantly more work for the developers. Innovative designs could also result in interface issues where the Photoshop mockup or InVision prototype works fine, but the actual code version looks and works horribly.

Overall, one of the many challenges that startups face is that they struggle with when to design their product. Rushing into development without a clear design can lead to problems such as the creation of a product with poor UI and is not very user friendly. Additionally, not being able to communicate the importance of different design elements, and creating something that did not consider all of the different user perspectives to ensure it works as intended can lead to design based development challenges in the future.

The solution

Startups need to invest resources at the start of their development project to determine the design of their product. This ensures that the startup does not miss out on the chance of creating a product that will make the users happy because it generates value for them. Happy users mean that the startup will have increased revenue due to word-of-mouth marketing and positive reviews.

Startups need to take the time to create a strong design based on the needs of the user. This helps to provide a clear direction to the developers who are implementing the work. In addition to actually creating the design, designers need to ensure that they communicate that design element’s importance to the developer. Being able to explain design decisions shows how well you know your user’s needs.

To improve the chance of success, designers and developers should both sit down together during the design process. This ensures that both teams can quickly discuss each design decision in terms of functionality so that the best possible design and functional decisions can be made for the user.

Startups should tread carefully when trying to come up with a unique and innovative design. As the startup founder you need to be able to tell your development team if you think that the design is going to take too long to develop, or that it will not work in the long run. Do not be afraid of telling your team to use simple solutions so that the work can be conducted cheaper and faster when compared to an overly complex solution.

In conclusion, startups need to conduct design work before any development work begins to ensure that the product has a solid design. This ensures that the project does not waste time and resources on a product that has no clear design.

Challenge #4: Selecting the wrong technology for the software product

Key Takeaway: Selecting the technology that your software product will be based on is difficult. Conduct research in order to determine what technology is used within the market or industry of focus. Additionally, make sure that the developers do not influence your decision when they are focusing on their own convenience of using a technology they are comfortable with or one that they want to learn.


The problem

There is a huge temptation to pick the technologies (languages, frameworks, libraries, and tools) or newer tech like AI in a rush so you can get started with development. You may have previous product development experience, or you might have heard about some trending technology that you want to implement in the development process. Your startup may even have code written using a specific technology and you do not want to waste it.

Many startups use the latest technology during their development process. They do not, however, think too much about the future and instead focus on the shiny new technology. This is a problem because if your startup wants to use untested technology there will be more challenges during development regarding budgeting and timing. Developers will need more time and will ask for more money to use a technology they have never used before. It also increase risk as it is harder to make a high-quality product when a startup uses an untested newer technology.

An additional challenge with the appropriate selection of a technology is that startups tend to have to start small; however, they do eventually grow. Selecting a unique or novel technology is fine at the small scale when you can find a couple of savvy developers. Scalability is a critical future consideration.

Additionally, it will be hard to find experts experienced with new or uncommon technologies to fill the development team as it grows. Lastly, no one will know how to address issues during development as it is most likely the first time that they are using this technology. Experienced developers will learn how to work with any framework or language that your startup wants them to. This is an issue, however, as not all solutions may fit your software product idea.

The solution

When selecting a technology to be used during the development process, startups need to consider a number of different things:

  • The problem or pain point that is going to be addressed or solved by your product
  • The product’s proposed functionality
  • Experience level of the developers
  • What are the deadlines and expected development speed?
  • Does the technology drive the business (ie. the main investment is in new tech development), or does the technology simply enable or complement your business model?

All of the above questions need to be answered before an appropriate technology is selected. This ensures that your startup is fully thinking about your product’s requirements to select the best technology that will enable you to deliver your value proposition to your customers.

No matter the experience that you have, you may not know about all the alternative technologies that can fit your project best. The bottom line is that developers should be consulted, and your startup’s business goals should be considered when picking the best technology to build your product with.

Since startup founders may not have the technical expertise to choose the appropriate technology themselves, they should consult the industry and market experts. Hiring experts on an hourly basis to consult on these important matters can save your startup a lot of money in the long run. You do not always need all your experts in-house. Sometimes it is appropriate to pay a high hourly fee to answer some key questions early on in the development process.

Once a technology has been selected find a developer that has experience with that technology. This removes any bias that your hired developers may have when they only select a technology that they are most comfortable with.

In conclusion, make sure that an appropriate technology is selected prior to initiating any development work. Base this selection on things like market or industry standards and the type of product you are building, not on the expertise of the developer that you have hired. Selecting the correct technology is important because there is nothing worse than wasting time and resources on a technology that is not suitable for your software product.

Challenge #5: Hiring the wrong developer or team

Key Takeaway: Selecting a developer or development team to work on your software project is a difficult job. It is best to hire someone who has experience working with startups, or with software similar to yours, or within your target industry as they will provide you insights into the technologies that are most appropriate.


The problem

Software developers commonly have a preferred set of technologies that they like to use. These technologies could be frameworksprogramming languageswireframing toolsoperating systemsartificial intelligence, etc. that they have the most experience with. They may also push to work with technologies that they want to add to their resumes.

This is great if your startup is hiring multiple in-house developers who all have different skills; however, their focus is more on self-development rather than the development of your business.  This is not good for startups that have no room in the budget for trying and failing when working with a technology they have no experience with.

You startup may alternatively hire a developer who is super-experienced in a narrow set of technologies. These ninjas are commonly incapable of switching to other technologies or learning a new one from scratch quickly. They may even refuse to adopt a new technology because they want to gain even more in-depth experience with the technologies that they are already familiar with. These individuals should be used when the technology that they are experienced will be used through the majority of the project.

Hiring an inexperienced developer is also a big risk. These developers have a limited knowledge pool and are likely to fail when it comes to dealing with complex code issues since they do not have sufficient error-handling experience.

The solution

The best way to avoid this common software development challenge is to look for developers who have experience working with startups specifically. These individuals know what technologies are best for small-scale projects, unlike people who have never worked with startups before. These developers are also less likely to present you with exceptionally high quotes that are common for larger businesses that offer customer development work. It’s also important they have passion for entrepreneurship, and understand the risks associated with it.

Due to their past experience with startups they will most likely also have experience with a variety of different technologies, or at least know someone who does. This allows your startup to really choose the most appropriate technology for them, instead of being stuck using whatever the developer knows even if it is not suitable for this application.

Additionally, make sure that there is a technical leader on the development team who can set the pace and mood of the team during development. This leader needs to be mature and well-grounded, and have the ability to smooth out any conflicts on the team. They will ensure that there is a healthy and productive atmosphere for your development team.

Overall, thoroughly review the technical background of all potential development team members to ensure that they are an appropriate fit. Anyone with previous startup experience will be able to understand the challenges they will be facing during development and will be a strong addition to the startup as a whole.


Altitude Accelerator Case Study: Taking the time to hire the right developers at SurfEasy

SurfEasyCaseChallenges 1024x201, Altitude Accelerator

One of the biggest challenges faced by software development startups is the struggle to find and hire good people. Finding there people are essential in the building of a successful team. If you are unable to hire a good team, you might as well be wasting time and resources since work will be completed slowly and most likely incorrectly and will need to be redone once a competent team member is hired.

“During development, most of the time you need that sales guy or the engineering expert yesterday,” say Christ Houston, Founder and CEO of SurfEasy. This unfortunately, has led to him occasionally making compromises in his standards he has for employees which is not a good thing.

As a result, startups need to learn the discipline of hiring slow and firing fast. This will prevent the wasted costs of having to committee resources to the hiring process again. As a result of learning this the hard way, Houston has some key tips to ensure that other startups do not make the same mistake that he did:

– Do not take someone that was only OK go out and find a truly valuable employee because during the early stages of a startup every employee impacts the startup significantly

– Do not waste to discipline a new hire. Take the time early to correct any errors or behavioural issues that they have to ensure it is dealt with early on

– It is more costly to hire someone as a knee-jerk reaction out of need. Take the time to do this correctly so you do not have to do it all over again in a few months


Challenge #6: Incorrectly managing outsourced development teams

Key Takeaway: Managing an outsourced development team requires additional structure and resources that a startup may not have. Hiring a local project manager may be required to ensure the work is conducted efficiently and to the level of quality that was expected. A local project manager can also be used to eliminate any potential cultural or geographical issues that come from using offshore developers. 


The problem

Outsourcing a development project can be complex as startups need to manage a team that is not located nearby. Many startups believe that they can efficiently manage an outsourced development team remotely, and that there is no reason to hire a dedicated Project Manager (PM) local to the team. Entrepreneurs can be tempted not to hire a local PM because it may not be economical or easy to hire a good offshore PM.

This is not a wise decision because managing developers is harder than just managing people. A manager needs to be with the developers all the time to obtain firsthand accounts of the team’s activity, challenges, and successes. A manager is also required because not all people are capable of managing their own working time by themselves and can put deadlines at risk due to delayed iterations.

Your startup can have the best concept for a software product; however, if the development team does not execute it well the final product will fail. Startups will face challenges during development if they feel that since they sourced product development to an expert that everything will work out and the product will be great.

Another challenge faced by startups when it comes to managing an outsourced development team is connecting them with the product marketing team. Many startups assume that marketing is only thought about after the product has been developed or is in its last stages of development. A lack of communication between these two teams will lead to a string of complaints about product features as well as the quality of the product.

Overall, incorrectly managing an outsourced development team is a common challenge that software startups face during development. If the outsourced team is not managed correctly they will begin to operate in isolation, creating a product that is not valuable to the users.

The solution

Hiring a local PM also eliminates any potential communication difficulties the startup may have with the outsourced vendor. This eliminates any potentially cultural and geographically barriers that the startup may have when communicating with the development team. A local PM also eliminates any time zone issues that may prevent the team from receiving instructions and approval when they are conducting work.

In addition, startups need to closely examine the project as it is being conducted to ensure that all stages of development are implemented with the same level of focus and expertise that they promised.  Startups should use an agile development methodology so that after each phase of development there is time to conduct testing to ensure the product is developed correctly.

Marketing functions should be closely aligned with product development activities to ensure that the product is being developed according to market needs and user requirements. Improving the collaboration between the marketing and development teams ensures that the developers are kept well-informed about changing market conditions. This allows the most appropriate and user need driven product to be developed.

In conclusion, the success of your startup depends on how well your product does in the market. Both yourself and the development partner need to work together to ensure that your product succeeds. Ensure that the development team is managed effectively and communicates back to your startup on a regular basis so that the product is being developed with the end user in mind and adapted based on any new market research.


Altitude Accelerator Case Study: managing outsourced development at 3Terra

3TerraCaseChallenges 1024x221, Altitude Accelerator

Outsourcing development work is relatively new to the team at 3terra. The experience, however, has been good for them so far due to the following steps that they have taken to ensure its success:

– Determine tight specifications for your software product if it is being outsourced. Clearly communicate what the deliverables are to the contractor, and have test cases that they have to pass so that there is no ambiguity around what they have to do in order to get paid.

– Put many clauses in the contract to ensure that there is a strict relationship between your two companies. An example of a clause that 3terra uses is that a certain amount of work needs to be delivered by a particular date with a certain level of quality to get paid the full amount.

– If you are not clear upfront outsourced contractors will try to do the minimum amount of work possible to get paid. If you are not clear, your startup will get into many arguments about who should have done what.


Challenge #7: preferring to customize an existing product over developing one from scratch

Key Takeaway: Customizing an existing product rather than creating one from scratch only saves time in the present. In the future it will almost always end up costing your startup more time and money to create a more permanent solution for the product. Additionally, any temporary solutions become increasingly harder to fix the longer they are integrated within the code.


The problem

Most companies prefer to customize an existing product to mitigate costs and achieve a faster time-to-market. This is driven by a pure desire to make quick money. By doing this, startups fail to see that in the fast-changing technology world they will fall behind compared to a more technologically competent product offered by their competitors.

Finding opportunities to identify reusable components and adapt them to the current requirement may end up costs startups more than if they just developed the product from scratch.

One of biggest problems with product customization is that after implementation the customization layer becomes highly rigid and fails to offer resiliency when the business requirements change. Scalability commonly becomes a big challenge in such cases.

Another aspect of this challenge is that implementation of temporary solutions. These temporary solutions are preferred in the moment because less time is required due to its simple code and design.

This is a problem because the code can end up existing in the product for years and become heavily intertwined with other parts of the application. This makes it difficult to remove and replace the code that was intended to only be there temporarily.

The solution

No matter how much money and time a startup believes they are saving by reusing and improving a MVP into a commercial product it is only a temporary fix. All makeshift products will need to be redone to make them suitable for commercial sale to potential users. New product development will always turn out to be a lot cheaper and time-saving compared to customization.

There is no such thing as temporary code. Startups should consider that whenever code is reviewed and added to the application it stays there forever. This will prevent developers from just throwing pieces of temporary code into the product just to meet a deadline.

In conclusion, startups should always take the time to fully develop and create code and products from scratch. This will ensure that the software product is created in a logical fashion, and that all aspects of the product connect and work together correctly.

Challenge #8: initiating software product development without prototyping first

Key Takeaway: Startups should always test out their product on a smaller scale prior to fully developing their product. This allows for startups to gather user feedback and ensure that the proposed product is valuable. This saves startups time and money rather than if they had rushed into large-scale development.


The problem

Many startups believe that once the requirements of their software product are defined they can begin to build their product. These startups being with full-scale development of the product and invest heavily right at the beginning.

This, however, is a problem as many startups fail to conduct sufficient market analysis. Entrepreneurs commonly hire developers and programmers to being development without any proof of its market fit.

The solution

Ensure that your startup conducts a thorough market analysis to ensure the market fit of the proposed product. Check to make sure that the proposed features all will add value to the product within the anticipated market.

Remember, startups do not need to include all the requirements during the initial development stages. This will lessen some of the deadline and budget stress your development team will be dealing with.

Startups are meant to be moving in small steps. Perfect a couple of mandatory features by creating an MVP before moving into the requirements that the user wants but does not need. Testing at a smaller scale allows startups to evaluate the feasibility of the product. A simple first step is creating wireframes and prototypes of the product

The development of a MVP also allows startups to evaluate the development partner or development service being used. This is important as it is nearly impossible ahead of time to know if the development partner chosen is suitable.

No matter the raving reviews and references you have for any outsourced developer, every project is unique, so it is best to see if the company can complete what was promised on a small scale. It is always better to know the company is not a fit when creating the prototype, compared to wasting time and money on a poorly developed final product.

Overall, make sure that you startup thoroughly evaluates all the proposed product requirements against market analysis research. By conducting this analysis and ensuring that your startup does not scale prematurely your product will be that much closer to success.

Challenge #9: estimating quality assurance costs incorrectly at the start of software product development

Key Takeaway: Quality Assurance testing can only be estimated following the development of software product or in its later stages. Trying to estimate the cost of this testing at the start of development is a pointless exercise as there is no way to accurately estimate the cost without knowing all the features and the framework used to run them.


The problem

Many startups believe that they can conduct a complete estimation of their development project, including final Quality Assurance (QA) testing, before the project starts. This, however, is impossible and results in startups allocating their budget incorrectly leading many of them to run out of funds before fully developing their project.

QA testing is a collection of activities that ensure the implementation of processes, procedures, and standards to ensure that the development software meets its intended requirements. These tests can include: software coding testing, version control validation, as well as proper release management.

It is impossible to know how many testing scenarios there will be during QA testing, and how much time it will take to perform all of them at the start of the project. This is because the whole functionality is not decided on; additionally the final number of screens and possible transitions are not yet known.

There is also a common assumption that an application or software product can be developed without any bugs. This, however, is impossible.

When developing a new product, bugs with be introduced because it has features and functionalities that have never been coded for before. It is naïve of a developer to believe that they can code something perfectly having never done it before. Squashing bugs will likely take even longer than coding the software did originally.

Avoiding any QA testing will make it pretty much impossible to reach a wide user base and succeed. This is also true for only testing for bugs within a particular functionality only when it is used in an expected way. All of these incorrect testing methods result in startups falsely believing that their product is bug-free and will work for its users with no problems.

The solution

Instead of startups estimating their QA testing costs at the start of the project, they should only roughly calculate the costs of their development work at this time. The testing work can be estimated later on in the development process when there is more information about the final product, and ideally a full first version of the software product has been created.

QA estimation is possible at the start of development only in extremely rare cases. Startups that can provide developers with a complete documentation of all the necessary functionality that needs to be implemented may be able to get a more accurate estimation compared to others. This estimation, however, will still not be as accurate as it would be if the entrepreneur waited a estimated the testing costs later in the development process.

When testing your developed software product, make sure to not only test for the expected actions when using different functionalities. There are hundreds of other possible user scenarios that QA specialists can analyze and check to ensure that the software product is bug free.

The bottom line is that all QA testing should be separated from any development work cost calculations. QA testing should only be estimated and performed after the first version of the software product is done. This allows for a more appropriate and realistic cost estimation of the task as the developers know exactly what functions and pathways are being tested.

Challenge #10: putting the needs of the startup over the needs of the customer

Key Takeaway: The needs of the customer always should come first in the eyes of the startup. When a startup begins to ignore the user’s feedback and needs in favour of their own assumptions the startup will fail. This is because the startup is creating a product for themselves, rather than the intended users. 


The problem

Every programmer has a list of things that they want to learn or do throughout their career. This list of technologies may not correspond with the most appropriate solution for the user.

These programmers, however, may push to use what they are comfortable with or to try out a unique new technology that has yet to be fully tested. These programmers are putting their own career goals above the needs of the users.

Entrepreneurs may have themselves convinced of the value and utility of their solution and are only looking for people to validate their assumptions and solution. This is good if your startup is looking to receive funding or hire people. The danger is that you may have a cognitive bias that is making you blind to what the users have to say.

Not listening to the user and putting your needs above theirs can make or break your startup. This problem needs to be mitigated to prevent one of the common challenges that startups experience during software development.

The solution

The user should always come first. Startups should listen to their needs and make sure that the development team follows their needs rather than listening to the needs of the business.

Startups should not follow the whims of the startup’s team to guide development. The development team’s list of technologies they want to learn should only be used if it solves an issue or helps create a functionality that the user needs.

Startups should try to prevent any cognitive bias that you or your development team may have. This is done by keeping an open mind, stopping interrupting the user, and fully listening to what the users are telling you.

Startups should also go and visit users and observe them completing the task that your startup is trying to provide a solution for. Once you understand how the customer behaves, it’s easier to design a smooth user interface and user experience. Conduct information interviews without telling them about your solution. This eliminates the users potentially lying to you and saying your solution is the correct fit.

The goal is to understand the user and is an alignment in the problems your startup is trying to solve. As an entrepreneur you should be trying to build a business to help users, not build a perfect pitch.

Conclusion: software product development challenges

The software development process is a difficult task for any software founder to undergo. It is further complicated if it is the first time your startup or yourself have developed a software. Learning from the experiences of others can potentially lessen these struggles.

Many software startups struggle with the same challenges. These challenges are commonly centred on the following topics: lack of a business plan or product management plan, insufficient market and user research, incorrect hiring and management decisions, as well as scaling too quickly.

Ultimately, startups should conduct lots of research prior to beginning the software development life cycle (SDLC). This research will ensure that all startup founders are well prepared for the challenges ahead, and are equipped to deal with them. Utilizing this research will save entrepreneurs from making the same mistakes as everyone else, and by doing so will not waste time and money addressing these challenges.

Lessons learned

Congratulations! You have now learned about some of the most common software development challenges and how to avoid them. After reading this article you should have learned the following key insights:

  • Prior to beginning any development work, ensure that there is a clear business plan and/or product management in place. This plan will create a clear vision to guide all development ensuing that the team does not get off track with new techniques and functions that can be added with little value gained.
  • Startups need to invest resources into market and user research. This ensures that the product created provides value to the user and is competitive within the chosen market.
  • Prior to any development work the design of a software product needs to be determined. This design should be based on user research, and should be communicated effectively to the development team to ensure the importance of each required feature is understood.
  • Startups should consult the industry and market requirements to determine what the recommended technologies are for the creation of your software product. This avoids any bias that the development may have regarding sticking within their comfort zone or utilizing new technologies for their own benefit, not your startup’s benefit.
  • Hiring an in-house or outsourced development team is a difficult task. Try to hire individuals or teams that have experience working with startups as they are knowledgeable in best suited technologies for starts, any understand the flow of work better.
  • In order to efficiently and effectively manage an outsourced development team, startup founders need to hire a local PM to ensure that work is being conducted according to the predetermined timeline and assured quality of work.
  • Though it may seem like a quick and easy solution, customizing an existing product is not usually worth it. Create all aspects of the design from scratch as much as possible to ensure that the individual components work well together, and that no temporary measures are introduced to meet deadlines.
  • Always create a small scale prototype and MVP prior to fully development your software product. This ensures that significant amounts of resources are not spent on fully developing functional elements that do not add user value to the product.
  • QA testing requirements can never be accurately estimated until the end or later stages of development. Trying to estimate the cost of QA testing prior to the development of features or a framework has been created is a pointless exercise.
  • Startups that put the needs of their business over the needs of their business will not be successful. This is because users are able to see when their needs are being abused in order to increase the revenue of the startup.

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