Keeping App Development Projects On Schedule and On Budget

When you take on a mobile project you are required to commit to a schedule, and commit to a budget. Whether you’re an internal development team, or an outsourced team, it’s imperative that you stay on schedule and on budget.  Internal development teams that go over budget or deliver late impact the company strategy and customers, and in most corporate structures some one has to pay for that.  Outsourced teams like Parsed that go over schedule and over budget see it in their margins, and often as a loss.

Fixed Priced Projects Increases the Pressure To Stay on Track

Most of our work is fixed price, meaning that we agree to deliver a product for a predetermined price with the customer.  In a fixed pricing agreement, if the project stays in scope and goes over budget, that’s our fault and it comes directly out of our margin as a development company.  Most mobile app developers charge by the hour, but we find this fixed pricing model aligns our incentives with the customers incentives, and that helps us to deliver more value.

Along with more value, it adds significant risk.  Because of this risk, we’ve had to become experts in staying on schedule and on budget. The goal of this post is to share what we’ve learned about staying on schedule and on budget so that you can apply the same principles to your projects, whether you run and in house development team, or you’re an outsourced development shop.

Staying on Budget with Mobile App Development Projects

Incentives

I alluded to one of the big challenges that we see with most mobile app development companies, especially in the USA, and this is true for internal and external development teams, is that developers are paid hourly.  Companies and business units are typically not paid by the hour. They are paid to get the right product into the market faster than their competition. This means that the incentives of development teams and the incentives of a business are drastically different.  Hourly rates of pay misaligns the incentives of developers.

Story Points

So how do we align incentives? We use a concept called story points. Story points are a unit of measurement for a unit of work that includes the amount of work that needs completed, the complexity of the work that needs to be completed, and the risk and uncertainty of the work. The value behind the story point is that it estimates the amount of work to complete something. Story points help us to stay on schedule because our team tracks them and keeps their focus on completing story points. They are incentivized to complete as many story points as possible. They are not incentivized to take any longer than needed to get a job done.

Our company’s goal is to complete as many projects as possible. The customers goal is never to spend more money than needed or take longer than needed (if you find a customer with those goals you should share them with us).   As you can see, story points align the goal of the developers and the companies so that they are able to complete projects on schedule.

Mike Cohn has a library’s worth of resources to support a transition to story points.

Managing Development Scope to Stay on Budget

Managing development scope to stay in budget is a challenge – in the middle of the project there are always small, medium, and large requests.  The introduction of new requests and feature changes is something that we can’t control. However, we can control how we manage those requests. In a perfect world, we would tell every customer that if it’s not in the scope of work, it’s not going to change without a change fee.  But I believe that’s over simplified. Sometimes there are good reasons to make a change – it might make the project easier or it might satisfy a client. What’s important is how you position a change as it relates to what your customer/stakeholders care about – time and money. One sure fire way to test a relationship is to tell your stakeholder that something is going to cost more than your original agreement.  We try to manage this by being transparent, and framing scope creep as a trade off. We can introduce a new feature, so we’ll either need to remove something to keep the project on budget or increase the budget. It’s a simple adjustment in how you approach a stakeholder, but it can have a significant impact on their response.

Staying on Development Schedule

Project Management

There is typically a positive correlation between budget and schedule. There is one superhero that every team needs to keep those things in check – the project manager. Every project manager worth their salt will understand the relationships between time, cost, resources, and scope.  Great project managers will understand the business context of an application so they can make educated decisions on the use of resources that have positive impacts to cost and schedule. Really great project managers will be able to communicate options and decisions to all stakeholders – from the business side to developers, and everything in between.  Without a good project manager it will be impossible to complete a project on schedule with any reasonable quality. We are fortunate at Parsed to have a fantastic project management team that keeps everyone in check. You should be require a strong, defined process standard as you interview potential iPhone applications development companies or Android providers.

Project Management Tools

Our product management team pulled their favorite tools that help us stay on schedule and budget. Jira by Atlassian was first on the list. Jira allows for our agile team to work together to plan, track, and manage all of our projects in one place. Although it was designed for software development, it’s utilized as a project management solution by many teams because it prioritizes a workflow, and keeps us on schedule.  A second tool that our team recommends is any cloud sharing tool like Google Drive or Office 365. Tools like Sheets and and Docs from Google allow teams to collaborate in one place, and always have the latest notes. In addition, they allow teams to track changes, and see who made a change.

Managing Scope to Stay on Schedule

Managing scope to stay on schedule allows your team to deliver as promised.  If given the choice, some customers would prefer going over budget if it means that you can stay on schedule.  One key to accomplishing this task is to ensure that your project manager, and team understand the critical path. When you deviate from the critical path, by definition, you’ll extend the length of the project and deliver late. It’s most important that your project manager understands and quarterbacks this process, but it helps for developers to understand how their individual efforts fit into an overall schedule.

Staying on Schedule and On Budget

It is possible to deliver a mobile app on schedule and on budget.  It requires good strategy and good execution…and a great project manager.  Good strategy includes having the right development methodologies to support your projects and aligning the incentives of all stakeholders as you start a new project.  Good execution is driven by a manager to keep a project on its critical path. Remember, when a project goes over schedule or over budget, it’s a symptom that something is wrong in your process.

Parsed is a passionate development company that specializes in React web apps and React Native mobile apps.  We align our incentives with our customers by providing fixed price projects.

Contact us if you have a mobile project and need a strong team to deliver quality work on time and on budget.  We would love to hear what you’re working on.

About Us

Parsed is a mobile development company that specializes in React and React Native.  We build mobile applications, augment in-house teams with React expertise, and we help companies to staff great React developers. We are a team of passionate developers, project managers, and designers.