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Short Version:
Sorry for the long post. The short version of this question is just like the title: How To Convince Boss To Sell In-Development App To Software Company

Long Version:
I work as the sole software developer in a Civil Engineering (CE) software distributor, ie, the company doesn't produce CE software but sells it, supports it and creates macros for it (my role). Our company works very closely with the CE software dev company and much of our staff used to work there. We regularly liaise with the CE software companies' 2 owners. Both our companies are small and very informal.

As a way to encourage engineers and surveyors to use our CE software over other competitors the boss asked me to develop a Tablet application that can be used on site to render the CE designs in a 3d navigable world.

Currently the app is in the infant alpha stage with limited features.

The application has great potential but my boss doesn't provide the project with enough capital, test nodes, time or programmers (its just myself) to develop the app. He's more focused towards the day to day selling of the main CE software.

His approach is create something quick and dirty, release it and add/fix features from there IF the product is profitable OR has alot of interest. In the past, this approach has led to software ideas with great potential being released when they dont have all the features and therefore the users are initially very interested but quickly loose interest when they trial it an realise it doesn't do want they want. So ofcourse they dont purchase the software. I believe it would be a great mistake to do the same with this tablet app. My boss is not a technical person in the Software Development sense but is a former Civil Engineer. He lacks the mettle and temperament for software development - to be able to stick it out when there are bugs, when you need to come up with a solution to a difficult problem.

How can I articulate to my boss that I think its in the best interest of his business to sell the app as it is to the CE software development company (CESDC)?

This app, if completed, would be a product he could sell just like the current software we sell and would be a great advertising tool for the current software we sell aswell - the app is visually unique. Knowing the owners, they would jump at this opportunity.

I wish to continue to work on the project therefore I would like to work for the CESDC and continue the project there. This is where is becomes tricky to articulate my ideas because it can be interpretted as 'I dont want to work for you anymore but I want you to sell your app to the CESDC and I want to work for them'. It makes it harder because the CESDC owners and the boss are close friends.

  • How would you go about this situation?
  • Literally in what setting would you bring this up? Ask for a formal meeting, one day just bring it up when chatting?
  • How would you phrase this concept/idea to my boss?
  • Would you go straight to the CESDC owners and ask them what they think of the app?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Jim G., gnat, yochannah, Jan Doggen, Garrison Neely Nov 11 '14 at 17:51

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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How would you go about this situation?

There appears to be a clash of approaches. It sounds like you (a developer) want to create a quality, fully-featured application you would be proud of. It sounds like your boss (a manager or business owner) does not want to spend a lot of money upfront on an app that may or may not make money.

Either way, the app has to be profitable. The question is what level of quality and features are required. The best way to determine this is to gather lots of input from potential customers, perhaps culminating in a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

It is unclear how much customer development (as it is called) your boss has done. However, if your boss can show it to a couple of customers and get them interested in the vision, rather than the initial implementation, he might have a profitable idea. The sooner he gets it in front of customers, the sooner he can validate the idea.

In the meantime, I suggest the following:

First, I would recommend changing your mindset. Yes, developers love to develop perfect software. That is not what the business (your boss) is asking here. The business is asking you to develop "good enough" software quickly. Quality improvements and feature additions will likely come later once customers are interested.

Second, I would measure work and bugs. If you are not using Kanban (or something similar), consider it so your boss knows what you are working on, what is scheduled and what is completed. Ensure you differentiate bugs from new features and capture bugs you find, particularly those you do not fix.

This can provide concrete evidence to justify future demands for more developers or better quality. It can also help make quality issues more visible to your boss. If you know there are bugs there bug have not found them, spend a bit more time looking for them so you can capture them.

Third, learn to say "no" occasionally. I am reading between the lines here but if your boss is giving you tight deadlines but expects a high level of quality, something is going to have to give. This confrontation is hard for developers - you want to keep your boss happy and you are afraid of being fired. However, your boss is not going to fire you for a single argument and boundaries may help him understand what he can expect from you.

[I]n what setting would you bring [selling the app to CESDC] up? Ask for a formal meeting, one day just bring it up when chatting?

I would not bring up the idea of selling this to CESDC, at least not yet. I would wait until the boss shows it to a few customers. One of three things will happen. Either the customers will (1) love it, causing the boss to fund the project better and increase the level of quality, (2) hate it, causing the boss to dump the project, or (3) feel ambivalent.

If customers love it, create a plan for what you think you need to bring the app to an acceptable level of quality and features. Make sure to pad any estimates. Your boss will push to reduce estimates but refuse - drop features rather than reduce your deadlines. If he refuses them all and pushes you for a solid product instantly, see the third recommendation above (about saying "no").

If the customers hate it, chances are the boss will ditch the idea, in which case you can ask suggest selling the idea to CESDC to recoup some of his investment. He might also let you go, you may be able to approach CESDC with the idea (see below). However, unless you know and can address the reasons why customers hate it, chances are CESDC will not be interested.

Ambivalent customers are the hardest to predict. Your boss may change direction or may ditch it. This probably the best opportunity to raise selling the app, since it may be profitable but require more expertise and investment. CESDC may be willing to provide that when your boss is not.

I would then bring it up casually when chatting but not in a public place. Be aware, though, that your boss has probably already considered selling the app but has reasons for keeping it in house.

Would you go straight to the CESDC owners and ask them what they think of the app?

I am not a lawyer but this sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen. There are probably non-compete and non-poaching clauses in the contract between your organization and CESDC. You probably do not have access to these contracts but are still bound to them while employed. Even if these clauses do not exist, moving the product to CESDC is likely to endanger the business relationship, something that both companies no doubt want to avoid.

In short, you are probably not going to be able to move this to CESDC without your bosses knowledge and consent.

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I dont want to work for you anymore but I want you to sell your app to the CESDC and I want to work for them

There's a lot of talk about the product development process (and I would agree with akton and your boss, MVP is the sensible approach these days, get it out first, get some momentum and build on that as the money comes in), but the crux of the issue as I see it is this.

You don't want to work as the solo developer, you want to work for the software company (ideally on this app, as you know it, and have driven the development so it's your baby), and you are trying to justify it by trying to work out how to sell it to them (hopefully with you in tow).

I'd say the following:

  • If your boss and the company are so close, they will have already discussed this, even in jest. There may be plans, they probably won't include you.
  • Unless you are bringing something unique to the development of this app (which would put me off if I was thinking of buying it, as you'd have me over a barrel later), the company would likely use their own people on it.
  • The thing you love about this project is that it's not tied down, so you get a chance to try stuff out, any buyer (or more formalised management) would have a roadmap/backlog agreed, and then it becomes a regular project, so likely the thing that interested you will go.

How can I articulate to my boss that I think its in the best interest of his business to sell the app as it is to the CE software development company (CESDC)?

This is the thing, if you truly thought this was best thing for everyone, it'd be easy to articulate. The issue is you know yourself that the benefactor in this would be you, not your boss, or the CESDC.

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