February 2, 2023
Success in the software market results from three factors: the ability to deliver products fast, at scale, and within the defined budget. Fast time-to-market guarantees that we outpace the competition that probably develops similar ideas, a proper scope ensures that our idea gains the ability to attract users, and a realistic budget... Well, we all know that "fitting in the budget" means development cost optimization.
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These tightly coupled elements make up the so-called "iron triangle of project management," which means when you compromise one of them, you have to be aware that there will be consequences for others.
The thing is, however, not to avoid compromises but to make only smart trade-offs that will guarantee the best delivery possible (you can get practical tips in the article 10+ Ways to Optimize Your App Development Cost in 2023).
You can't extend the project scope for free: you have to add some money to the budget to get more developers to take care of building additional features or decide to prolong the time needed to get the job done. You choose what you can sacrifice with no harm to the project.
On the most general level, there are two paths you can choose from:
We will dissect both to expose the pros and cons of these two approaches, but, to make things clear, a little disclaimer should be placed right here: you should not expect a universal answer as to what will be good or bad for your project. We will list the factors you should consider while making a call, but - once again - be smart in weighing them.
Making savings on delivery by no means should lead to worsening the quality of the product. It's more about streamlining or - let's not shy away from it - reducing the project scope to accelerate time-to-market.
Why is improving time-to-market for a new product sometimes essential? Well, Gartner's statistics answer this question unambiguously, pointing out that only 55% of product releases take place on time, and those who manage to launch their products on schedule are much more likely to meet their goals in the same year. Yes, the laggers are more likely to lose - almost half of the delayed launches fail to meet the target.
But how come being faster may be better than being... better? For those contaminated by the need for perfectionism, it is intolerable, but - in business practice - when often "done is better than perfect" is a common way to check whether the product fits into the markets' needs.
Typically, this strategy involves building an MVP. A Minimum Viable Product is a very early-stage version of a product or concept that enables start-ups to save the money needed to start and gain crucial feedback that they can use to develop further and improve their project. An MVP allows you to attract target users and people actively screening the market for new investments. Thus it is the best way to find investors for financing your project as the existing product, even at its very early stage and minimum scope, is always a better argument than even the best-polished pitch deck.
However, while building an MVP, it is necessary to forward-think about its scalability, and the "need for speed" often creates the urge to take dangerous shortcuts regarding the tech stack. Start-ups or SMB entrepreneurs often choose the tech stack that does not allow the project to scale in the future, which results that turning MVP into a full-blown product requiring a complete redesign and re-platform.
Avoiding pitfalls can be avoided by balancing the need for a product equipped with core features and the need to reduce costs and development time. Often, it is impossible to get full scalability at once, but you can always secure it in the following areas:
Cutting delivery time is suitable for startups and SMBs that want to test their ideas, check whether their initial assumptions are correct, get market feedback, and/or attract new investors to gain additional financing. This approach cuts the time-to-market and reduces costs, but securing the project's future-proof is the weak spot. It can be challenging to make an MVP scalable and extensible (although, as we hoped to prove above, it can be done in some areas), so maintaining the product can force cost- and time-consuming investments.
An example of how cutting time to make may benefit the business is a Cooleaf case study which was looking for a partner able to deliver a responsive Rails app with a UX up to the highest standards in the shortest time.
Monterail experts, within just six weeks, defined a completely new idea for the product, designed features that supported its goal, and - last but not least - delivered the product MVP, including design, frontend, and backend. The extremely accelerated time-to-market allowed the Cooleaf team to start looking for marketing fit and attracting new users early on.
The second approach turns over the table by assuming the product should be designed with its scalability in mind from the beginning. This strategy requires significant initial investments but further extensions are much less time- and cost-consuming. Software scalability allows business owners to adapt systems to predictable and unpredictable workloads, keep up with the ever-changing users' needs, and adapt to different markets.
Long story short - scalable products are future-proof, and being future-proof allows them to make profits in the long term. Sounds good, right? Sure it does, but this approach implies some drawbacks, which are not limited to the high initial costs mentioned above.
Building a scalable product requires in-depth knowledge about the target market and the solutions that might fit in, and this kind of expertise doesn't come cheap. It involves research, tests, and analysis to explore the technical basics, like the prevalence of an operating system, demand for local payments, search habits, etc.
Once the market demands are defined (and they are never set in stone once and for all), there is time for choosing the right tech stack, and it is not a "hot or not" quiz. Choosing the tech stack involves tons of heavy-burden decisions, and it should go much further than scrolling web pages, scanning Clutch testimonials, or even studying technical documentation. Typically, the more enriched the project and the more unique the business logic embraced, the more in-depth research should occur. It takes time, and the further you go, the harder it is. If you are working with a partner, it’s a good moment to reach out to a tech lead for recommendations.
Designing a full-scalable product architecture also is not a piece of cake. Often, it requires composing a stack from different units, connecting various technologies, and using ready-to-use solutions hand in hand with custom-made ones. This kind of microservice architecture cannot be "dragged and dropped" in a minute, which makes this approach suitable for a digital-mature organization equipped with proper human and financial resources.
Flink, a German-based online grocery shopping application, wanted to deliver orders within minutes at supermarket prices. This pace requires lightning-fast app performance, superb UX, and smooth cooperation of multiple services covering individual stages of the delivery process, including mobile apps for the end-users and the e-commerce system, for riders, pickers, and the ERP system.
Monterail experts helped to switch from the monolithic system (where all elements are tightly coupled, which makes any extension risky and difficult) to loosely coupled microservices. The separated units ensured scalability and efficiency by allowing different teams to work on developing new features independently at a different pace.
Building a scalable, future-proof product is reserved for enterprise-level companies that can afford to take an investment, have strong business facilities, IT team (even when some parts of the projects are outsourced, they should be well-defined by in-house architectures), and - above all - the long term plan.
How you decide to run the project depends on multiple factors, and there is no silver bullet. At some point, you may have to cut something. Then the key is to cut with the laser, not an ax, to secure the next step and accept the reality that it can't be a long-distance leap.
However, there is the other side of the coin - recognizing the moment when you need to "go big" is not less important to avoid going backward. Timing is crucial.