After several weeks or months since launching their software development project with an external vendor, some project owners on the customer’s side may want to look into the project’s actual performance. They can see that some problems arise occasionally – which is normal as custom software development projects are complex by nature and just cannot go smoothly – but it can be challenging to define whether these issues are common or they signal an upcoming project crash.

Technical project performance metrics that are used by the development team can seem too complicated to answer your key concerns, such as ‘Does the project go wrong?’ and ‘Shall I take any urgent actions to improve its performance now when it is not too late?’ Here are 4 health indicators for software development projects that can be used regularly to identify issues (if there are any) at early stages.

Note: The metrics below are applied to software project management and don’t include general project health indicators such as risk management or timely delivery.

Health indicator 1: Does two-way communication go well?

Basic rules of project communication include clearly communicating the project member’s roles, ensuring active, frequent and honest communication, and reporting the project status you as the customer on a regular or milestone basis. Besides, there are some specifics of communication between you and the software vendor’s teams. So this project health indicator consists of two sub-indicators that depend on each of the involved parties.

The first question to answer is whether the development team always takes into account your input, regardless of how vague it could be at times. To get the point of your requests or feedback, the vendor’s representatives are expected to ask clarifying questions.

In their turn, your representatives should take into account the development team’s input, too. The customers normally enjoy rapid software deliveries (say, interim prototypes), but they should not forget about giving prompt feedback to the software vendor.

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Health indicator 2: Do you provide enough expert support?

Your input is instrumental in specifying software features, defects and areas of improvement. For this reason, the requirements and feedback in all the key areas of the future application should be outlined and supervised by your experts.

It will require scheduling meetings with making available the right people throughout the project. As a software development company, we appreciate when both management and software end users can participate in defining requirements and then stay in touch to answer arising questions (even if they can often seem basic). Like the vendor’s project team, your experts should not be re-assigned to other projects and have enough time and willingness to contribute.

Health indicator 3: Is the project team aware of your business specifics?

This health indicator logically results from the nature of tailor-made software development. For a successful delivery of a bespoke IT product, the entire project team should understand your business aspects well.

Note: The vendor’s team should not necessarily have deep understanding of the customer’s business upfront. It may form it during the project and show in further collaboration.

Knowledge of your business should be demonstrated, first of all, by the project manager, business analysts, software architects, team leads and testers. In other words, by those who should ensure the practical value of the software-to-be? You can check it when approving the basic software project document such as the Software Requirement Specification and scrutinizing interim software deliveries.

Health indicator 4: Are your business changes properly addressed by the project team?

Change requests are likely to be a part of your input, and the vendor’s team should reflect them in software requirements and development plans. Normally, the project team should analyze the impact and then communicate how it can affect the project’s scope, timeframe and costs before moving on with development.

Why is it important? Both changes in the business strategy (say, business expansion) and in the situation (say, re-organization) can strongly affect the resulting solution. It’s not about adding a button or a field – the entire modules can require substantial changes. Requirement traceability (the ability to trace dependencies between requirement changes and changes in software modules or features) is essential to keep the project consistent in cases like that.

On a final note

Due to their complexity, software development projects are unlikely to go smoothly from the beginning to the end. Some of them may contain a few difficulties yet be completed successfully. Others that didn’t show any visible problems may fail dramatically. You as the customer can identify severe project issues early when paying special attention to some signs. These health indicators are related, first, to your communication; second, to the way the vendor handles and your business specifics and changes; third, to the level of engagement and consulting support from your side. Early diagnostics of hidden issues can make their fixing easier and therefore improve odds of success.