Building an app is like building a kitchen

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How lessons learned from my kitchen renovation can help your app development

Building an app or developing a new website can often be a stressful process, especially if you have never worked with web designers or app developers before. Having recently gone through a home renovation and new kitchen, I saw the similarities with the project management process. Such as trusting tradesmen, lack of communication, delays in delivery, missing parts and unforeseen problems that needed to be fixed. The frustrations I experienced and lessons I learned along the way, could help you when building or designing an app or website with a development team or agency.

The DIY/ Self-Build Approach

As a first step in my kitchen renovation, I decided to try to save some money and do some work myself.

This involved tapping into my knowledgable parents’ experience and knocking down what we thought would be a simple stud wall. This ended up being a very sturdy wall, with plumbing and wiring to move.

Although this saved us money up front, this led to some plumbing issues and leaks, which costed us over £600 in out-of-hours plumbers before we could get the professionals in. Having said that we did save money overall and it gave us some more space. I like to think of this as our MVP – what was the bear minimum we could do to improve our space without blowing the budget. It wasn’t perfect but it did make things better. 

Lesson:

If you are planning to build your first MVP version of your website or app yourself, remember that you could save money upfront, but without some expertise you might uncover some costly issues that need to be fixed later.

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Finding the Right Team

Once we were ready to move onto the next stage we knew we needed to call the experts in. 


I scoured the internet, read reviews and asked my contacts to find a team that could deliver everything I needed.


It was interesting for me to experience how difficult it is to find someone to do your work, and this is often what I hear from those looking for a app development team.

When it came to receiving quotes, I had the following issues:

  • I sent out 10s of enquiries and made many phonecalls, but very few replied, even when personally recommended by a friend
  • Some took weeks to reply and even then did not provide me with enough information to make a decision
  • Some were rude and when I disclosed my budget, they were very dismissive
  • Strange formats – some were unhelpful text messages which did not instill confidence
  • Even the best quotes didn’t give any indication of timings or availability

In the end, I chose to work with the team that gave me the impression that they were trustworthy, reliable and understood my project. 

Lesson:

When it comes to finding app developers, it can be exhausting looking for the right team, but this is a chance to try and be as clear as possible. When asking for quotes and proposals, really test whether your chosen team can meet the needs of your project, especially in terms of communication.

Do they respond when they say they are going to?

Do they give you the information you need?

Do they communicate in a way that is open and honest, and makes you feel you can work well with them?

Getting Started

We finally found a builder. We were excited to get going, but then we had to pin them down. We were met with, “I’ll let you know when we can start within the next week”.

No communication, no updates.

The following week, there were staffing issues, “will be in touch” was the only response. Eventually we were given a date to commence work, but when I contacted for confirmation, they were unclear on when they could actually start. We got a date in the end about 4 weeks after we had planned. If they had communicated more and let us know in advance that there could be a delay, we wouldn’t have minded, but the lack of communication felt like a bad sign before it even began!

Lesson:

To prevent issues like this with your digital project, just like with any building project, your web and app development teams are managing resources and need to schedule your work in.

When you are asking for quotes, make sure you are clear with them about any deadlines you have, and be open to negotiating on start dates for the right development team.

Being clear on your communication goes a long way to prevent issues down the road.

Agility

You can only plan so much upfront, then you have to be present and ready to make decisions.

Once the project started we had a dilemma – do we move out and let them get on with it or do I stick around to make sure things stay on track. In the end I decided to be there every day to check in with our builders and make sure I could answer any questions – which happened more often than I thought they would.

Mainly, the tradesmen would either want to check their assumptions were right, or they would uncover something unexpected. 


For example, the direction of the flooring, how I wanted my tiles to be laid out, extra things like fnishes and door thresholds that hadnt been discussed up front. One of the joiners didn’t realise we wanted our new flooring in bathroom too and very nearly cut the floor up based on this – thankfully I was there to stop him.

I’m really glad I was there throughout because there are little things along the way that you just don’t think about until they come up.

Lesson:

From the perspective of the digital project, this can be likened to the development process. At GearedApp we always require a Product Owner to be available for all of our planning sessions to ensure that we are all on the same page, decisions are made quickly, and the project stays on track. Throughout the project we check all our assumptions and make sure we are clear about expectations.

Setting a Budget

It’s important to be direct about your budget expectations with any project. Some trades teams are specialised in particular types of jobs that require more overhead. So it’s understandable if my budget might not be in line with what they would charge, and I would rather know that up front than wait weeks for a quote to find out. 

For this reason, I was not afraid to give a very rough budget to potential builders. I would always recommend this when speaking to development teams too.

Even with a rough budget agreed, I was aware that this was dependent on some variables.


This was based on the number of tradesmen he needed to bring into the job, and it was also based on a number of factors such as the cost of materials, and whether or not the kitchen would be easy to fit or if I was willing to do some of the dismantling or assembly myself. Issues that were uncovered when floors were ripped up or walls knocked down, like walls not being quite straight, or floors uneven could require extra work (and more budget) to straighten things out.


I appreciated this transparency – I would rather pay for the time used on my actual project, than a builder giving me a vastly inflated quote and potentially overcharging me.

This is how we run Agile Development Projects at GearedApp. We discuss an overall budget, but there can be various ways to do things and issues that come up along the way. I know I will get a new kitchen at the end of the day, but I might need to make a tough decision. For example if I need to get a plumber in to fix an issue with the radiators that leaked, I might choose to forgo the herringbone style tiling I wanted, because its going to save me money and keep within budget.


We ended up coming in on budget, but there were a few things that I had to compromise on along the way.

Lesson:

So for your web or app project, keep in mind and make it clear to your developers, your ‘nice to haves’ and your ‘essentials’ so you can make decisions if and when issues arise. Then adjust the plan to stay within your budget accordingly. We have created a free budget planning tool to help with planning your project’s budget and keep your costs on track.

End of Project – Snags and Bugs

At the end of the project you can expect a few snags and issues. My builders were due onto another project and there was not much time for fixing any snags. However they did reassure me that if anything came up they would come back and fix it. We needed to order a new drawer front because holes had mistakenly been drilled for a handle, and we needed to hook up a new thermostat. These little things are to be expected and it is important to be upfront about this so everyone knows what’s included in the final bill and what are extras.

And I know that my flat is going to need to be looked after and maintained going forward, just like any project, digital or otherwise, so Im happy to keep in touch with my builder incase theres anything that is outside my comfort zone in the future.

Like your digital project make sure communication is clear about what is happening with any bugs that need to be fixed, and create a plan for maintenance and support going forward. 

Overall the biggest similarity I found with managing my renovation was importance of communication. While I had some difficult moments throughout the process, I felt I was able to communicate with my tradesmen if I had any concerns along the way, and this helped me to ensure things stayed on track.

Kitchen finished
My finished kitchen!

If you are embarking on a digital project, I would advise you to make sure you have a clearly appointed Product Owner who can be this person. Someone to take responsibility to steer the ship and making sure they are happy with all the decisions made throughout the project.

We are proud of our Agile process at GearedApp and always want to make sure we have a collaborative and transparent process with clear communication that makes our clients feel like we are on the same team. And for that reason, I would like to think if we did build kitchens we would be the best in town!

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