How To Become A Successful Software Business

I often see software projects which don’t hit their objectives. They leave business leaders and stakeholders with a bitter taste in their mouth because they are expensive, and seem to deliver slower than they had hoped. This erodes their ability to get to market fast and leaves the doors wide open for their competition. Becoming a software business is not about ‘creating an app’. This type of thinking is exactly what causes problems. Instead a better approach is for a business to remove themselves from details and think about the process of ‘how’ they go about solving problems. They should become skilled at a generic approach to solving problems using software as one way to do this. This is at the heart of innovation. Becoming a software business is about how you refine the process of developing software solutions not about how you develop the software in the first place. Let’s discover a 5 step strategy which you can use to drive new software projects.

Step 1 : Create a ‘Digital Vision Statement’

Take a step back and consider what your vision is. A vision statement is something that the highest level executive or team of executives must take the time to create. This is no more complex than being able to state it in one or two sentences. But the point is to make sure that the language and the feeling behind what you are doing is crystal clear.

You are going to need a strong and precise way of communicating this through your business channels in order to ‘sell’ it. Having a clear vision statement is where it starts. It should be unique, it should be authentic but most importantly it should be simple. It should be committed to your memory and you should be able to recall it at will. Your vision will provide consistency for the duration of your venture. Here are some example vision statements from previous engagements I have consulted on : ‘

easiest to use mobile provider of x service’ ‘most engaging digital marketplace for xyz product’ ‘fastest intelligence on your xyz competitors’ The original vision statements actually started life as much more complex and wordy. But the thing I do with exec teams/stakeholders is to work to simplify them as much as possible.

Step 2 : Clarify Your Specific Business Goals

Software projects can do 3 types of goal. They can make money. They can save money. Or they can achieve some business objective. It’s important to identify which types of objectives your proposed software will solve. Often your proposed digital project will actually be a hybrid and be doing more than one of the aforementioned 3 types. If this is the case then we will be looking at turning goals into milestones in step 3 – so read on!

However when starting a new venture you can just try and solve one single goal first. This goal should be specific and should contain some quantative metrics. Many people get confused between vision and goals. Goals should be quantitive. For example; a while ago I consulted with a bricks and mortar establishment who wanted to create some software. It would help them achieve the vision of becoming the UKs number 1 digitally enhanced provider in their field. This would result in them ‘making‘ more money however we needed to identify a single clear goal that they would develop their MVP around. We came up with this… ‘Company x’s goal is to increase the amount of new engagements by x and to be able to finish and bill for y amount serviced jobs, this should be done in z timeframe from project launch’.

On another project I worked with the exec team to establish the following as a goal : ‘We are aiming for x amount of paying users on our system 6 months from launch. We should be contacting converting 2 of all new leads into self service customers on our platform’

Step 3 : Set Strategic ‘Milestone Goals’

For large projects with multiple programmes of work having a single goal might not be enough. When there are different groups of stakeholders with different goals then the goals need to be separated out. This should be done so that each goal closely aligns to the objective of each group. It’s important to understand that large complex software builds will often be brimming with feature requests which come from all over the business. But these feature requests are often queued up into the software team in an ad-hoc manner. Often with the HIPPO’s (Highest Paid Person Opinion) ideas coming first.

This is a bad way to organise strategic delivery of software because it is unstructured and is very hard to prioritise work based on actual business objectives. I have seen many projects that seem to be in dis-array because multiple parts of the business are all trying to get their features into the team. The team focus becomes diluted which translates as increased cost. Instead, the project co-ordinators should work to hit milestone goals. What should happen is that the programme lead should decide which are the highest priority goals to be hit first and then the team should rally around hitting each goal in a sequential manner, these are the ‘milestone goals’. If milestones overlap then you have more work to do to break them down further. The delivery team should only be focussing on 

one strategic goal at any one time. If they don’t they will loose focus.

Step 4 : Identify Actors And Behaviours

The next part of the process is the most fun. On a couple of engagements I have been trying to find a way to help new projects identify impacts and behaviours. I have been trying out a technique called impact mapping which comes from the field of ‘design thinking’. In a nutshell the basic idea is that you will identify actors and their behaviours. Firstly,* **actors* are all the people that are involved in your process that can influence the entire project somehow. They can be users, stakeholders, early adopters, influencers, marketers and even developers. Secondly, behaviours are all the things that the actors need to do in order to help your project reach it’s goal. These are linked to each actor because we are trying to uncover how their behaviour must change to move us towards our strategic goal.

Getting clear on actors and behaviours is extremely important because it helps us reduce cost and increase the chance that the delivery holds business value. The impact mapping session helps us identify who the software needs to cater for and why. By going through the process we can often realise that we don’t need to cater for some actors and some behaviours because they are not helping us reach our specific business goal. By taking the exec team through the process and making them think about this; they will often gladly drop requests because they realise that the request doesn’t closely fit their objectives. Sometimes getting people to let go of ideas is a brilliant way to increase chances of success; because it means we have whittled away ‘possible’ ideas into more ‘probable’ ones.

Step 5 : Create A Financial Plan

Finally the most important step! Somewhere in the planning and strategising of a new software project a rough financial plan should be made. This is as important for start-ups as it is for corporates. It simply means plotting out the length of time for the project along with some variables such as, new subscribers, lost subscribers, cash burn rate, revenue and profit. He is an example financial model built in excel which is for SASS business to make a financial plan.

Having a financial plan made after you have created quantitive milestones is great so that you can track and project future success!