Top 8 Tech Development Pitfalls for Design Agencies

As the preferred technical partner for many top design agencies, Shift Lab has helped many studios overcome pitfalls they’ve encountered when taking on technical projects. Here are the eight we hear about most often.

Jeremy Jackson, Founder & CEO

Jeremy Jackson, Founder & CEO

Top 8 tech development pitfalls for design agencies

When clients require sophisticated technical capabilities and long term product vision, things can get a bit tricky. While design agencies are highly skilled within their areas of expertise, many are not well-positioned to undertake complex technical execution, much less ongoing maintenance and support, which is a critical piece of a technical product’s lifecycle. 

As the preferred technical partner for many top design agencies, Shift Lab has helped many studios overcome pitfalls they’ve encountered when taking on technical projects. Here are the eight we hear about most often.

Blown estimates

Setting an accurate budget for a complex, custom technology project requires experience. When you’re building something unique, it’s not as if you can find easy guideposts to know exactly how much work it will require. To arrive at a reasonably accurate estimate, you’ll need to build off your experience to understand which of your past projects are similar. This will enable you toset a general timeline, determine the type of team you’ll need to get from beginning to end and manage expectations on what will be required for launch. 

Team with the right blend of seniority and strategic thinking

On a complex technical project, success requires more than just a few talented software engineers. For illustration, here’s how we would staff a typical project:

  • Two developers at 32 hours / week

  • A lead developer at 32 hours / week

  • Solutions architect at 12-18 hours / week: A level above day-to-day coding, this role manages the project from a strategic perspective. Essentially, they set the table for the developers. 

  • Project manager at 24 hours / week: This role manages the agile process, running daily meetings and handling client check in and requirements gathering. 

  • Product designer / manager 12- 18 hours / week: This is a tactical role that ensures the solution we’re building truly meets the needs of the business we’re working for.

Thinking through the 3-5 year strategy

Custom apps and web technologies typically have a life cycle of five years or more. Most of the time, these are not projects that you can simply hand over to the client and then ride off into the sunset. They will require ongoing maintenance, support and, often, additional features, so it’s important to have these conversations before work even begins. But to set expectations, you need to have a clear understanding of what maintenance and ongoing development will entail, and that requires experience. 

Team continuity in support and maintenance phases

Of course, you may think, “We can solve the maintenance problem by outsourcing! We’ll do the development in-house and then hand off maintenance to an outside team.” Unfortunately, that’s not really a workable plan. Switching tech teams can be very damaging and not the best way to manage a product. Every team does things a bit differently, which means the client will have to adjust to a new way of working, and that will show in the source code. Then there’s the issue of subject matter expertise. The people who originally design and built an app understand it best, and if additional capabilities need to be developed, they’re best positioned to validate their assumptions and make the product better.

Managing complexity and client expectations

When you’re developing custom applications, complex, unforeseen issues crop up frequently. Maybe the data isn’t as clean as expected, content isn’t ready on time or third-party services don’t work as planned. Whatever the issue, you need to surface these issues to clients immediately and understand exactly how it will affect the timeline and the budget, all of which requires a level of experience and technical skill many design agencies don’t possess internally. 

Defining success and keeping focus

Before beginning a project, it’s important to understand how it will be used and success will be measured. And as you work towards launch, it’s critical to remain in scope — creep will cause delays, increase costs and, potentially, destroy the profitability of the project. If you establish clear measurements of success from the beginning, you can serve as a reference point in conversations when the client requests features beyond the original scope. Again, experience and technical expertise is critical to determine the difference between a request that’s part of the natural ebb-and-flow of agile development and client feedback, and one that will throw the project off course and budget.

Learning and iteration in the post-launch phases

Far too often, a team is so focused on getting a product out the door that they don’t think about what comes afterward until they’re already in the post-launch period. You should have a list about eight weeks in advance of things you want to do post-launch. This could include features that didn’t make it into pre-launch, SEO or additional integrations. Don’t launch something and wonder what you’re doing next - plan ahead.

Launching gracefully

The days before and after a launch will be sticky. You’ll need to have a team ready to attack anything that isn’t working and to prepare a careful launch checklist for the day it goes live. Launching a complex application is … complex, and experience matters. It’s critical everyone understands what their role is, their tasks are and when they’ll be doing them.

At Shift Lab, we’ve partnered with agencies to design, deliver and provide ongoing maintenance and support for complex, mission critical applications. We’ve run into every one of the challenges above, and we’ve got the skills and experience to overcome them. 

If you’ve got a client who needs technical capabilities that you lack the internal resources to deliver, get in touch. We work alongside design agency partners just like you every single day to build and maintain sophisticated bespoke solutions. And along the way, we maintain strong client relationships that result in repeat business and higher profitability.

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