Should your agency build its own management software

If you’re a digital agency you likely run projects that require multiple people working on various tasks, all at the same time. Coordinating those efforts and tracking staff utilization for billing purposes is critical.

One of the most common responses when faced with those needs, is for agency developers to suggest building their own system.

Agencies consider this suggestion for a variety of reasons:

  • Existing solutions don’t work the way they want them to
  • Existing solutions don’t integrate with internal solutions
  • There is considerable effort to implement new systems
  • Maybe they could sell the product to other agencies

Before you build your own

While the idea of a customized solution that integrates with existing processes and tools sounds inviting, consider these four questions before embarking on an internal product development effort.

Is it easier to change your process than to customize software?

Older agencies may have honed their processes based on experience, their own staff, and the kinds of customers they’ve focused on. Younger agencies, however, may still have early versions of their processes that can be changed to better accommodate existing project management tools. In that case, changes your approach may be faster and cheaper than created a custom solution to match your needs.

Have you considered more than just your own needs?

When people think about project management systems they think about projects, tasks, milestones, billable hours and reports (or invoices). This results in a focused articulation of the software you might build.

But what happens when you realize that contractors, partner organizations, client staff and more all have a role in your projects and have their own needs. Suddenly the scope of building your own software grows – far larger than the original effort.

Is there a market for your final product if no one else works like you?

We all know the story of Basecamp. In fact, every time I tell a digital agency that they should focus on services rather than products, we get to talking about Basecamp.

What we forget is that in this market Basecamp already exists, as do many other alternatives. While creating your own is interesting, the idea that it can be productized and become a revenue generator requires much more investigation and evaluation.

Will you need a mobile solution?

Maybe the project starts as a simple desktop web application. But soon enough, requests for mobile approaches will appear. And if that wasn’t part of your initial investment thesis, it will become a rather large chunk of scope creep.

There are great solutions already available to you

Instead of building your own, consider all the options that are out there for you. Here are four different approaches you might consider.

Basecamp – great for lots of tasks and interactions

It doesn’t matter if you have 3 people or 10 people on your team. It doesn’t matter if you do 1 project or 5 projects concurrently. It doesn’t matter if you give your clients accounts or not. It will always be a single flat fee of $99. That’s a great approach you can count on.

Check out Basecamp

FunctionFox – great for time and expense tracking

My teams moved on from Basecamp when they got rid of time tracking (in the move from 2.0 to 3.0). If your projects and approach to them are heavily focused on time tracking, then looking at other solutions that focus on it, like FunctionFox, is the right move for you. It can cost you as little as $5/user/month.

Check out FunctionFox

10000ft – great for resource planning & long-term planning

With a focus on assignments and availability, 10000ft.com offers a different kind of solution for project management. It focuses on project plans from a resource perspective, not just task tracking, which can be helpful – for as low as $10/person/month.

Check out 10000ft

Harmony – great for an all-in-one solution

When you want an entire solution for your agency – from project management to support tickets, from invoicing to CRM – then Harmony may be the right choice for you.

Check out Harmony

It’s all about finding the right fit

There are a lot more project management solutions out there than just these four. What’s important for your agency is to figure out which approach fits your team dynamics and culture.

Testing each of these four may provide you the insight to decide if it makes sense to build or buy your own project management solution for your agency.

And after all the evaluation, if you decide to build your own, don’t forget to consider the long-term internal cost of product maintenance.

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