Project Management Tips for Custom App Development

There was a time when nurses had to enter everything into a patient’s chart by hand. If you’re old enough to remember those bulky clipboards hung on the end of a hospital bed, it’s hard to believe that the medical community accepted the potential risk of pen and paper long after other industries moved onto automation and digitization.

Small business owners/operators often (at least in our experience) become overly reliant on spreadsheets or legacy solutions. Spreadsheet software has plenty of utility, no question, but it is both inefficient and fragile, i.e. easily prone to error. Department or division heads could be saddled with legacy solutions from a predecessor that neither matches their current needs, or can’t easily sync with other databases and applications.

The above two scenarios have a common problem: They both require a fair amount of manual, redundant or ancillary data entry. In the 21st century, businesses that are overly reliant on such manual workarounds are about as welcome a sight as a nurse jotting down updated medical orders on a piece of scrap paper.

Periodically, every business needs to analyze its day-to-day workflows and measure what tasks and operations could be made much more efficient, possibly with a custom business app.

It doesn’t take long for most business leaders—which could include everyone from department heads at a large company to a small business owner—to embrace that building a custom app can be far more cost effective than trying to shoehorn the organization’s needs into an existing solution.

This article clarifies the project management expertise you need for a seamless custom app development process, and what resources you will need on hand to complete, implement, and operate one successfully.

Tip 1: Leave it to the Experts


Building a business app requires a specialized skill set. Even if you currently employ a database admin or software engineers, pulling their resources away from their core competencies could (and usually does) negatively impact your workflow.

Even if they have the experience and knowledge, your in-house staff are already busy admins or devs working on your business. The more you divide their time and attention, the longer your app development will take and the more likely it is that your business will suffer.

You could hire someone to focus solely on app development…but for how long? At what rate? Who will this person report to? If you’re a small business owner, do you have the experience and knowledge base to manage that resource effectively? If you are already running a busy team: Can you afford to make more work for yourself by hiring a discrete dev for just one project without the remaining infrastructure needed to implement it?

An experienced Project Manager:

  • Creates and oversees realistic and predictable budgets
  • Has additional resources to manage timelines and schedules
  • Comes equipped with the right experience out of the gate
  • Integrates the app into your company or department throughout the development lifecycle

Tip 2: Consider In-House Training Before the Build

When you’re developing a custom application, the hand-off to a live environment is just as important as all the alpha and beta testing. An experienced consultant can help facilitate coaching for your users, whether for day-to-day use of the application or for ongoing maintenance and security.

This especially becomes an issue as your organization grows and/or experiences turnover. Your staff will always be dynamic: people come and go, and outgoing staff often don’t have the time or inclination to train new employees effectively. Consider the convenience and continuity of working with a service provider that:

  • Offers virtual training
  • Specializes in training users and admins equally
  • Has the capacity to bring staff on-site on an as-needed basis
  • Knows the ins and outs of your custom build and can communicate those nuances to your staff

Tip 3: Use Data-Driven Customer/User Behavior Insights


Analytics can and should be a key ingredient in your custom app design. Before you jump into the process of developing an app in-house, ask yourself these questions: What assumptions lie underneath your application design? And are those assumptions backed up by data, or just by anecdote?

Just about every third-party developer on the market can share a story where a leader in an organization confidently described, in minute detail, exactly how their end users would use an application and what kind of interface they needed, only to find after a more detailed data analysis (or the failure of the solution to either perform as expected or be adopted ‘as is’ by the users) that this information was inaccurate or outdated.

In today’s business climate, technology adoption cycles are shorter than ever. As those new technologies evolve quickly, it’s not uncommon that, while you’re focusing on regulatory issues, product development, and revenue growth, your application interfaces have become woefully out of date.

A consultant has tools for data-driven customer behavior analysis. That detail-oriented discovery process both drives the app and provides you with a sometimes unexpected view into new innovations and improvements that you might never have considered otherwise.

Tip 4: Pay Attention to License and App Management

What is the optimal licensing arrangement for your organization? Who will you nominate to make this decision? How will you oversee the process to ensure that your software licenses remain active?

For that matter, who is responsible for app updates and backups? Who do you call when the system goes down? Do you have in-house 24/7 support for customer data?

The build, install, and roll-out are the beginning of a long relationship you have with any business application. Maintaining it and managing it on an ongoing basis are just as important. Data loss, downtime, inconsistent or untested backups, and hastily applied updates are all potential revenue vacuums.

You need (and deserve) to have confidence in handing off app oversight to a partner familiar with both the build and your business culture. Your priority, after all, should always be your customers.

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A third party that oversees the app itself in a live environment:

  • Frees up internal resources and staff
  • Allocates crucial app management to trained and trusted experts
  • Provides access to time-sensitive support
  • Guarantees partnership with a well-trained expert in your business environment

Two Final Words: Workplace Innovation

There’s an old saying: You don’t know what you don’t know.

Software is constantly evolving and changing to keep pace both with customer expectations and with changing workflows. Whether you have a consumer-facing or a B2B business, you may need a team of experts who are deeply knowledgeable about current features that improve customer experience. 

Discover how those innovations can reduce staff workload and improve business efficiency. That discovery process is exciting and illuminating when you work with the right partner. 

For more concrete examples, read how we’ve helped turn inefficiencies into opportunities for growth…in any industry.

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Custom Business Applications Can Help Your Workflow. Here’s How to Source Them.

What most small business owners eventually realize, typically after several years of clunky efforts at application development or managing their data manually, is that most off-the-shelf applications are simply not designed to match the flow or structure of their company’s workflow. Most businesses are one-of-a-kind, and so their internal business software needs to be, too.

Replacing old systems or adding and implementing new ones is time-consuming and requires both experience and expertise. If your organization lacks both…you’re hardly alone. Most entrepreneurs and small business leaders need guidance on how to integrate or develop custom business applications.

Eventually, those shared spreadsheets and project documents have a direct impact on productivity. The more you find yourself managing daily tasks with emails and Slack conversations, the more time you could be saving with automation and trusted data-based solutions. However, in nearly every business vertical, most small to medium-sized businesses have limited resources to develop, implement, scale and manage business software and custom business applications.

When that’s the case, one of three (3) things happen:

  1. The organization sticks with legacy systems. The issue? Legacy systems might feel familiar and easy to use but do not offer the flexibility and functionality they should.
  2. Management tries an off-the-shelf solution. This is the main reason so many businesses are turning to cloud solutions for things like sales management and CRM. Many of these are easy and cost-effective fixes. The issue? These solutions are hardly one-size-fits-all, and they rarely meet the specific requirements in industries such as education, healthcare, construction or creative services. Typically, a custom application built to spec is the preferred solution.
  3. The organization tries to develop something in-house. Building something in-house can give the organization the customization it needs. The issue? Most entrepreneurs and specialized organizations rarely have an internal point person or experience to develop that software, let alone import existing data, train staff and manage the platform effectively in the long-term.

Stated another way: Companies are understandably focused on their core competencies and rarely have the management resources to hire and maintain an in-house developer to oversee a single application, let alone develop a custom solution.

That doesn’t mean that a custom business application is not the way to go. In fact, it is often the best way forward. It just might be that the organization needs to take a different approach to developing one.

Why Build Custom Business Applications?

It wasn’t that long ago that the only data-related solutions for a company were a locally stored database that cost a fortune in time and resources to code, install, develop and update. Cloud solutions eventually came along and solved a lot of headaches for companies that couldn’t afford to support those internal efforts, but those solutions usually only came to market when there was a wider need for them. Thus, most of the available cloud solutions solve problems that are common (and easily solved) for a given industry, but they leave something to be desired when it comes to meeting the more local and specific problems for a given business.

Law firms and medical professionals, for example, need to follow strict privacy and security protocols while also tying into payment and billing systems. Researchers need to keep rigorous records of the specific data they collect in their studies. A construction management firm might need a platform that syncs projects with updated estimates and bids, supplier information, outstanding vendor information and more—keeping in mind that devices in the field might go “offline” at any time.

Most out-of-the-box software is designed to manage single business problems like accounting or linear customer records. One outcome of this design approach is that it often demands that you reroute your workflow to accommodate the software’s capabilities, which can waste time and “water down” what makes your business or service delivery unique in the marketplace. Another outcome is that it introduces problems when it comes to integration: If data ends up needing to be manually entered, even more time is wasted as your staff tracks down updates from different departments and manually inserts that data into different platforms. And that means less time your staff has to focus on the core business.

A custom business app can encompass the most important elements of your workflows, including syncing between back-end systems and customer-facing interfaces, to eliminate confusion and time-consuming, manual processes.


Custom business applications can:

  • Increase productivity and reduce operational expenses
  • Scale with your business as it grows
  • Reduce overall stress for you, your team and your customers
  • Satisfy your company’s unique business protocols

Even if you have an internal IT manager, developing a custom business application may not fall into their skillset. Vendors, even with the best of intentions, often offer solutions that may not work for you. And even if those vendors offer a customized variation of their base product, between the licensing fees and customization fees, you could end up paying a lot more  out of pocket and still not come remotely close to the actual functionality that will address your individualized needs.

The entire point of automation is to reduce stress and take work off of everyone’s plate. An outside developer that specializes in developing custom business platforms that encompass your organization’s processes is typically the most cost-effective and stress-free solution.

Before You Start Sourcing Custom Business Applications:

If you’re not a product developer or a web developer, creating programs from the ground up may seem daunting. These guideposts can serve as an introduction to the entire process.

First: Identify Your Pain Points

Every solution starts with a problem. As businesses grow and client behavior and expectations evolve, your processes also need reevaluation. For example, in the past, the few dozen clients served by a small business could easily be satisfied receiving invoices and statements via postal mail. That same business today needs to serve hundreds of customers that expect the documents to be delivered instantly via email, or on-demand and accessible via a web portal.

Or maybe you have a not-for-profit and are used to relying on a literal “paper trail” to track your activity and report to donors. But, as a non-profit grows, it can find that the paperwork involved in tracking donations (or volunteer hours, or anything else) is incredibly cumbersome and does not scale.

Before you consider any application development, do this: List the primary data-related business problems you confront daily, weekly or quarterly. Think about how information helps you run your business, and all the times and places that it gets referenced, created, modified, archived, referenced or purged.

Other examples of day-to-day business problems that data automation and improved custom applications can solve:

  • Does your customer billing software need to integrate with your CRM?
  • What are the awkward and manual workarounds you’ve already made to implement an existing software tool?
  • Do existing (both free and paid) cloud document solutions fail to integrate with your other business software or workflow?
  • Have you already licensed a cloud-based ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) platform, only to discover that it simply won’t conform to the way your business actually works?

Second: Ask the Team

Introducing a custom business application will impact different aspects of your business. Bring the members of your teams together and spend time discussing where and how a data management system could, and should, unify the disparate elements of your workflow.

Without experienced project manager on staff, you will need a third party or a consultant to facilitate these meetings. An experienced consultant will also mine and document those conversations to develop your custom application’s key components.

Third: Put a Number on it

Every other aspect of your business likely has an ROI attached to it. Your custom business applications should, too. Here are some guidelines to help you shape the overall scope and cost related to ROI:

  • How much time and money do you hope to save with smart data automation and localization?
  • Could the right custom business application help you scale up, retain existing customers, eliminate paper and postage costs, or help you reduce or slow the costs related to future hiring?
  • What is your available budget for app development? How much do you hope to save annually by using a third party over sourcing and hiring permanent staff?

Fourth: Develop and Test

Very few business owners enter their fields with the intention of becoming CRM or CMS experts. Sure, an architect utilizes a CAD program and designers know Photoshop, but that’s usually where software interaction starts and ends.

Before you roll out a custom application in a real-time environment, it needs to be tested in incremental phases. Experienced project management delivers milestones on schedule, and potentially identifies and nominates processes and challenges you may have missed.

Why FileMaker is a Trusted Platform for Custom Business Applications

FileMaker (the flagship product of Claris, a subsidiary of Apple) remains one of the most popular custom software platforms, for good reason. It can be modified quickly and effectively for custom CRMs, ERPs and more. Coders gravitate to it because it’s easy-to-learn, stable, highly functional, and bugs introduced into the code are easy to identify and troubleshoot. It’s been around for decades and is still trusted by dozens of industry-leading companies (Gap, Kohl’s, American Express, United Airlines and many more).

FileMaker runs on all mobile and desktop operating systems, so it can conform to almost any business environment. Base packages start with five (5) seats, allowing you to add more if time or growth demands expansion.

The front end is extremely user-friendly, so you’ll enjoy faster orientation and onboarding for both existing and new staff. As a back end, it manages contacts and content, as well as inventory and other crucial records.

Interested in learning more about FileMaker? Ready to discover how we’ve developed innovative solutions for our clients?

Let’s have a discussion today so we can learn more about how to help your business.


7 Strategies for Increasing Workplace Productivity

How much more work could your team be getting done? At Skeleton Key, we spend a lot of time thinking about this question and helping businesses formulate an answer. We’re workplace innovation specialists with the tools to develop a customized software solution that improves employee productivity. Ultimately, we focus on empowering your team so they can get back to doing the work they most enjoy.

The software tools your team uses are a critical part of maximizing workplace productivity, but that’s not the only thing you need to consider when optimizing your work environment. In this post, we’ll explore some of the other factors you need to consider to take productivity up a notch.

1. Minimize Workplace Distractions

Ask one of your employees where they prefer to go when they need to focus and get a lot of work done. Chances are that place isn’t their desk. From coworkers passing by for a quick conversation to impromptu meetings, we’re constantly bombarded by distraction in the workplace. One of the keys to maximizing efficiency is minimizing those distractions. Implementing mobile device-use policies, social media filters, consolidating network applications, and encouraging employees to take regular breaks are an excellent place to start.

2. Delegate Tasks

No single person can do it all. Delegating tasks to the team members best equipped to handle them helps your organization get more done while improving customer satisfaction. Project management and reporting software make it easy to decide which tasks ought to be delegated to which team members.

3. Optimize Workplace Conditions

When employees get too hot or cold, it becomes difficult for them to focus and stay on task. On top of that, uncomfortable employees end up wasting time by migrating to more comfortable areas of your building, layering clothes, or avoiding work altogether. Ensuring that your HVAC system is equipped to maintain a workplace temperature between 68 and 70 degrees can help your team stay focused year-round.

4. Establish Realistic Goals

Employees’ jobs become substantially simpler when they have clear workplace expectations and attainable goals to strive for. These goals help unify your team around a common purpose while giving them a concrete reason for showing up to work each morning. At the same time, when they have some downtime, clear goal setting allows them to make the most of that time while simultaneously moving your organization forward.

5. Give Your Team the Right Tools

If your team’s workflows have become more about the tools than the work itself, it’s time to reconsider your workplace productivity strategies. Without the right tools and equipment in place, employees are forced to work against a system that should be working for them. Without a software solution that conforms to the way they work, they’re forced to conform their workflows to the restrictions of that software. These restrictions ultimately breed inefficiency and have a negative impact on productivity. Fortunately, a workplace innovation platform can help.

6. Practice Positive Reinforcement

Instead of reprimanding employees for what they didn’t get done that week, start rewarding them for what they did get done. Did they hit all of their milestones for the week? Let them leave a couple of hours early on Friday. You’ll find that when you shape productivity goals around positive encouragement, your team will actually get more done in less time instead of just doing the bare minimum.

7. Prioritize Employee Satisfaction

Happy employees are productive employees. This mantra sounds simple enough, but what are you doing to actively engage employees and ensure their job satisfaction? Show them that they’re appreciated by practicing positive reinforcement and highlighting their successes instead of getting hung up on challenges. With the right reporting software tools, tracking and rewarding employees for hitting specific milestones is easy, so you can be confident they’re getting as much out of work as they’re putting into it.

The Workplace Productivity Experts at Skeleton Key

Are you looking for ways to elevate productivity at your workplace? Skeleton Key can help. We’ve already worked with organizations in every industry to streamline workflows and prioritize productivity with a customized software solution built around the way they work. We’re ready to help you next. Explore the possibilities with a deeper understanding of our development process or contact our team today to take the first step.


What You Need to Know About Data Effectiveness

In terms of your organization’s workflows, there are two ways to think about data. First, how can you use business data more efficiently, and second, how can you use data more effectively? That means that just because you’re using data more efficiently, you aren’t necessarily using that data more effectively—and vice versa. We spend a lot of time talking about data efficiency, but in this post, we’re going to take a step back to focus on data effectiveness.

What Is Data Effectiveness?

When you’re looking for ways to use data more efficiently, the question ultimately becomes: How can you use your data system to help your team get more done in less time? Using data more effectively, on the other hand, comes down to pinpointing which processes and workflows could benefit from more data, automation, or even fewer data resources.

Ultimately, the implications of data effectiveness offer a striking reminder that data for the sake of data is not always a good thing. Some problems can’t be solved with more data, even when it’s used more efficiently, and that’s where data effectiveness comes into play.

The Importance of Data Effectiveness

When you begin factoring data effectiveness into the decision-making formula, you can start identifying which data is worth collecting and streamlining in the first place. With this in mind, you need to first take a look at the systems your organization uses to collect, manage, and store data.

Let’s say an organization is still relying on an expanding framework of spreadsheets to handle business data. While spreadsheets are an excellent way for businesses to hit the ground running—in this sense, they can be great for prioritizing data efficiency—they can also present specific challenges as an organization grows.

For example, as a business attempts to scale data management on spreadsheets, they can experience performance issues when too much data is collected on one document. Similarly, when users don’t all have access to the same spreadsheets, data can be misrepresented, mistakes can be made, and sharing data becomes difficult. When this happens, the merits of the data efficiency offered by spreadsheets are quickly outweighed by the setbacks of data ineffectiveness: Your team doesn’t always have access to data when they need it, and network administrators can’t control user access controls.

How Relational Data Management Can Help

If your organization is looking for ways to prioritize data effectiveness, implementing a relational data management platform offers an ideal place to start. That’s because a relational database allows you to take complex tables of data and access or reassemble them in a variety of ways without having to reorganize the tables themselves.

That means you can not only store and manage complex data with a relational database; your team can also gain deeper insights into that data by analyzing the context out of which it arises while simultaneously pairing it with other data. In short, you’re able to use complex data to make connections in a way that you can’t with spreadsheets alone.

Start Prioritizing Data Effectiveness With Skeleton Key

Has your organization only pursued efficiency for the sake of efficiency up until now? The experts at Skeleton Key can help. We specialize in developing custom business software that opens up new possibilities for achieving new levels of data efficiency and effectiveness across your organization. Learn more about our workplace productivity solutions or contact our team today to start exploring your options.


What to Look for in a Business Workflow Specialist

Alongside your network, your business’s workflows are the backbone of your day-to-day operations. As with your technology, it’s vital to continually clarify and refine your team’s workflows to maximize workplace productivity and propel growth. Companies frequently do not have the internal resources—whether it be time, expertise, or a combination of both—to gain in-depth insights into operational workflows and how to improve them. That’s why finding the right business workflow specialist is a critical step to achieving your growth goals.

But where do you start, and what should you look for? In this post, we’ll break down the fundamentals of business workflows and explore where the FileMaker experts at Skeleton Key fit into the picture.

The Fundamentals of Business Workflows

Fundamentally, a workflow is any process you and your team follow to get work done. As such, a workflow is composed of the individual tasks that help you arrive at a defined business goal. However, in order to be a viable business process workflow, it must be repeatable. It’s not merely a one-time project or task. Instead, it’s a series of tasks your team regularly completes to achieve a specific goal. Therefore, a workflow can be as simple as the procedure for how an accounting department reports on receivables at the end of the month or as complex as the steps a company follows to perform an end-of-year inventory audit.

How a Business Workflow Specialist Can Help

The first step to streamlining business workflows begins with thorough documentation. After all,  how can you begin improving processes without clarifying each team member’s workflows? As a brainstorming exercise, you can start by listing the critical tasks your business performs each day. From there, you can determine whether these tasks represent a workflow in themselves or are a small part of a larger workflow. Merely listing out day-to-day tasks only gets you so far, however. That’s where a business workflow specialist can help.

A business workflow specialist can help you transform that list of seemingly disparate tasks into dynamic diagrams of how your organization operates at every level. With the power of business workflow software, a workflow specialist clarifies, tracks, and documents your business processes with interconnected flow charts that pinpoint inefficiencies, opportunities for growth, and project bottlenecks.

To achieve this goal, the right workflow specialist works with you to clarify:

  • How is each task performed and completed?
  • Who is completing each task, and who is in charge of overseeing each step?
  • Which tools, hardware, and software do employees rely on to complete each task?

By answering these questions, your organization can start clarifying ways to streamline workflows by automating repetitive tasks, building better tools, and prioritizing accountability. That’s precisely where Skeleton Key can help.

Transforming Inefficiency Into Productivity

When you work with a business workflow specialist, you need a team that can do more than merely pinpoint inefficiency. The right business workflow partner should also have the skills and tools to transform your operational inefficiencies into a more productive work environment. At Skeleton Key, our experts specialize in bridging that gap by first helping you understand organizational workflows on a deeper level and then designing a customized software platform to simplify and streamline those workflows.

In short, we not only have the theory to streamline workflow management, but we also have the tools for doing so. Our approach to workflow project management allows us to oversee every step of your business workflows, from diagramming with workflow tools to automating workflows that are repetitive and ripe for automation. 

With this goal in mind, we can help you save time, increase employee productivity, and cultivate a more balanced work life by leveraging the power of the FileMaker Workplace Innovation Platform. With our approach, we can design and deploy a customized software solution in a matter of weeks, instead of the months or even years required for conventional software development.

Start Streamlining Business Workflows With Skeleton Key

Are you interested in both clarifying and streamlining your team’s workflows under one umbrella project? Skeleton Key is the partner you need. We take a hands-on approach to understanding your operational workflow, so that we can then design a customized software solution around your broader organizational goals. Get in touch with our FileMaker experts today to start exploring how your employees can get more done in less time.


Software That Facilitates Business Agility and Adaptability

Has your business’s software tools ever slowed your team down? Have you been disappointed by the static capabilities of off-the-shelf software in the past? For organizations that prioritize business agility and adaptability, these are common challenges that quickly interfere with broader goals and objectives. Fortunately, there’s a Workplace Innovation Platform built with your struggles in mind—FileMaker.

If these struggles sound familiar, you’ve likely never heard of FileMaker before. In this post, we’ll explore why a FileMaker solution is the logical next step for businesses that need to remain agile in today’s ever-changing business environment.

Understanding Business Agility and Adaptability

In the business environment, agility is the ability of an organization to rapidly identify, respond to, and evolve with internal and external changes to achieve broader objectives. Markets, consumer preferences, and supply chains are changing faster in today’s world than ever before. If your software tools don’t expedite adaptability, it’s only a matter of time before your business gets left behind.

Starting With Spreadsheets

Many of the growth-oriented businesses we work with started out by entering, tracking, and managing data with an ever-increasing framework of spreadsheets. But when you’re focused on growing your business, it’s easy to lose track of which spreadsheet is most up to date, what data has been shared with which users, and how you’re securing that data. Most importantly, inefficient data management is a distraction that draws you away from doing the work you most enjoy.

For businesses that prioritize adaptability, spreadsheets simply don’t have the flexibility to align with your long-term strategic plan. While you don’t necessarily need something more complex, you do need a platform that offers a centralized data resource with the customization features to evolve with your team’s workflows. That’s precisely where the FileMaker platform excels.

Simplifying Complex Data

The problem with relying on spreadsheets to manage ever-growing amounts of data is that they have to become increasingly complex to achieve that goal. In contrast, the FileMaker platform allows you to track, analyze, and store larger amounts of data while grounding that data in a centralized, easy-to-use software solution.

If your team members already know how to use Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel to manage spreadsheets, they can just as quickly learn how to use a customized FileMaker solution to accomplish the same tasks more efficiently. Plus, all of your data sources are updated in real time to ensure that everyone in your organization always has access to the most relevant, up-to-date information.

We Begin With Business Process Planning

Skeleton Key leverages the power of the FileMaker platform to deliver a customized software solution that prioritizes business adaptability and agility. With Skeleton Key on your team, you’ll never have to worry about your business software holding you back again. That’s because our experts take the time to understand your business processes from the inside out. Whether you have a clear vision for what your software needs to do or merely a rough blueprint of your team’s workflows, we have the skills to bridge the gap between your business’s ongoing evolution and the software you need to succeed.

If you’re ready to start exploring how the power of the FileMaker platform can transform the inevitability of change into a catalyst for growth, contact the team at Skeleton Key today.