An anonymous reader writes:
I'm a systems architect (and a former Unix sysadmin) with many years of experience on the infrastructure side of things. I have a masters in CS but not enough practical exposure to professional software development. I'd like to start my own software product line and I'd like to avoid outsourcing as much as I can. I'm seeking advice on what you think are the best practices for running a software shop and/or good blogs/books on the subject.
To be clear, I am not asking about what are the best programming practices or the merits of agile vs waterfall. Rather I am asking more about how to best run the shop as a whole. For example, how important is it to have coding standards and how much standardization is necessary for a small business? What are the pros and cons of allowing different tools and/or languages? What should the ratio of senior programmers to intermediate and junior programmers be and how should they work with each other so that nobody is bored and everyone learns something? Thanks for your help.
Get a sales force and some customers
Business is about sales and customers. Everything else you do is completely irrelevant if you don't have sales and customers. If you don't have a good plan to sell your wares, you don't need to spend 5 minutes thinking about how you will produce them.
Re:First and foremost
Also look at oursources payroll, time tracking (this is sometimes a must for R&D tax credit) and make sure you have some financing / funding lined up. You need to have a plan to cover the first 2 years of operations where revenue will be slim.
This will also allow you to avoid getting into the "anything for a buck" mentality.
Don't focus on development tools / standards. Let your programmers take care of that. You might want to look for a lead developer with experience managing junior / intermediate developers.
Instill confidence through source escrow
If you are planning to sell software to the government or business as a startup, consider
source code escrow
. Your customers will tend to stick with established vendors for fear of you going out of businesses and leaving them with an unsupported implementation. The source code escrow is insurance against that being more of a catastrophe for your customers than you.
Invest in dedicated technical support. It plays up as great comedy in the movie, Office Space, when the character says you don't want the customers talking directly to the engineers.
You actually don't want that.
Establishing a quality support team keeps the engineers productive on developing while the support group ensures the customers are getting help with their issues. Oh, and don't outsource this responsibility to a foreign country. If you think you can't afford quality support, at least staff it with a recent college grad and split that person's time between support and bug fixing.
Re: First and foremost
Even before that: have a business plan. Do your best to determine what you want to create, how expensive it will be to make it, how many people you'll need to manage, how much you expect to charge for it, and how big your likely market is. If you discover that there's no way to make your endeavor even close to profitable, you can save yourself months of heartache and mountains of lost money. Always have a plan, even if you don't stick to it in the end.
Know what you're going to do
The summary is a bit short on detail, but one thing is lacking: a business plan. I've never run a software business, but am running my own business now so have a bit of experience in setting it up. What do you want to program? Who are your customers? Where's the demand?
You're already talking about hiring multiple people - this means you must have a decent outline of a piece of software to develop, and it's going to be a quite big project. Do you have customers for that already? Without customers, you're going to run dry very very soon, and you won't be able to get any funding. No customers, no future for whatever you want to do. Just saying "let's set up a software shop" is a one-way street to bankruptcy. You need to have potential customers before you start producing anything, really. You need to know the demand is there. You need to have your income sources. You'll have to find customers who need a product, and who believe you can deliver what they need at good price and quality.
Hiring people is very expensive for a shop without income. I've always started up on my own, do everything in house until you have too much to do that you have to start getting other people involved. In the meantime this also means that revenue is there.
Getting started is hard: no-one knows you, and hiring you (the new kid on the block) for some big, expensive software project (the kind a single person can't handle) won't happen. They'll go to the ones they know that can handle it. You'll have to start small, slowly get your way into the market, get your name out, get your product out, let the people know you're there and you're good. Then you may get bigger projects, then you may start hiring people and setting up an office that's not part of your living room.
Good luck with it all!