This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

No sane project manager or app developer wants his business project to fail, but inevitably, the majority of projects do just that. While success or failure is difficult to predict, businesses should put the right steps in place to mitigate potential for project failure.

Craig Johnston, VP of engineering at web development firm Sudjam, recently spoke about four key reasons why app development projects fail during his presentation at Geekend Roadshow, a technology-focused portion of the DMA2011 conference, presented by BFG Communications.

Johnston says that clarity, simplicity, complexity and constraints are the key areas that project managers should focus on when approaching an app development project.

In short, Johnston believes that “process is the solution.” Having a set process in place enables all team players — from creatives to business types — to be on the same page. But process can only help to solve a problem if you know what the problem is, he warns.

Read on for Johnston’s ideas on conquering the app development process and minimizing project failure rates.


1. Communicate with Clarity


Communicating needs and expectations with designers and developers can be a difficult task for project managers and “idea people” who are not well-versed in technical areas. As a result, sometimes the biggest faux pas in app development is the lack of clarity when communicating ideas to developers.

During kickoff meetings, Johnston explained, project managers and clients often want to press developers to fork over details on the timeline and costs. The important piece of detail that they should be conveying, though, is what the idea is and what they want the developer to create in order to solve the business problem.

The project manager should have a clear idea of the solution in mind, so that he or she can clearly communicate it to the developer. “If you don’t have a clear picture of the solution, you are not qualified to communicate it,” says Johnston.


2. Aim for Simplicity


When communicating an app idea and its desired features, project managers should start with the big picture first, advises Johnston.

When building assembly furniture — such as that from IKEA, for example — it helps to have the complete picture of the furniture on the front of the product’s box, Johnston explained, as the black-and-white instructions are quite confusing without context.

In an app development project, the big picture provides developers with a gauge for context. While small details — such as image sizes, menu title names, colors and so on — are important, they should be communicated in context of the bigger picture.

It’s rather common, though, for developers to experience a parsed-out flood of emails of minute details before the solution (i.e. what the app is meant to do) has even been communicated by a project leader.

“You need to sort out the details, and simplicity helps you find the context to sort out those details,” says Johnston. “Details without clear context will create unnecessary complexity … and unnecessary details also multiply complexity.”


3. Consider Complexity


“Process needs to solve the problem of complexity. More importantly, though, process needs to help us cope with complexity, because it exists in everything we do, whether it’s whittling a piece of wood or developing a large enterprise application,” says Johnston.

As an app gets closer to being finished and the final product becomes clearer, simplicity starts to shine through. Suddenly, everyone can see the idea in action. “Now that they can see that picture,” Johnston says, “[the project manager] can take [the developer’s] simplicity and use it against [him], saying, ‘I just want to one more simple thing.”

What a project manager sees as simple, though, may not always be an easy fix or addition. “The reduction in complexity makes a simple problem look like it’s going to be a simple change, but really it can sometimes result in a huge change needed.”

“The underlying complexity of an idea exists regardless of our acknowledgement of it,” says Johnston.

Acting as if complexity doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. Therefore, potential areas for complexity should be discussed fully. Johnston says, “Exploring potential complexity allows us to predict the magnitude of changes to an idea. Nothing is 100% predictable, but that exploration gets lost on a lot of projects, because complexity is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.”


4. Known Your Constraints


“A lot of clients I see feel as though they’re showing constraint with their project, because they’ve only incrementally screwed it up,” says Johnston.

Incrementally pushing boundaries, though, isn’t constraint, he reminds, pointing to the “just one more potato chip” conundrum as a metaphor:

“If you eat a human-size amount of potato chips, and then you say, ‘I’m just going to have one more,’ you can show constraint by just having one more. But then, you can eat that potato chip and say, ‘I just want to have one more. I’ll show constraint by only having one.’ And you can repeat that process, showing constraint one hundred more times until you hit the bottom of the bag.”

So, how do you recognize and handle constraint? Johnston says, “If an idea is changed after development has begun, the idea is unconstrained.” Having an unconstrained idea makes development more difficult, taking up more time and money to finish the initial iteration. As a result, “An unconstrained idea necessitates an equally unconstrained timeline and budget,” Johnston says.

“There can sometimes be an attitude that there has been a tolerance or an endurance by the business in the extension of the budget and timeline, when both have been extended based directly on what the business wanted,” says Johnston. “If you want an extra feature, it costs an extra day. That’s not tolerance; that’s a fair trade. If you go into a restaurant, and you order a meal, and then you order dessert — the dessert costs more. The restaurant didn’t put you over budget — you ordered dessert. You don’t get mad and [fight over the bill].”

The same should be true in the business world. Constraint should be showed by businesses in the way of clearly communicating an initial idea and needs and sticking to those throughout the project. If additional thoughts are thrown into the mix, businesses should be prepared to pay more in the currency of time and/or money.

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Major city governments across North America are looking for ways to share civic data — which normally resides behind secure firewalls — with private developers who can leverage it to serve city residents via web and mobile apps. Cities can spend on average between $20,000 and $50,000 — even as much as $100,000 — to cover the costs of opening data, but that’s a small price to pay when you consider how much is needed to develop a custom application that might not be nearly as useful.

Here are a few examples of initiatives that are striving to make city governments more efficient and transparent through open data.


1. Apps4Ottawa – Ottawa, Quebec


Careful to adhere to security and privacy regulations for their open data program, the City of Ottawa started sharing data in several areas: geo-spatial (roadways, parks, runways, rivers, and ward boundaries); recreation facilities; event planning; civic elections data; and transit, including schedules. Other data the city is pursuing includes tree inventory, collections schedules for garbage, recycling and compost, and bike and foot paths.

Ottawa aligned their first open data contest, Apps4Ottawa, with the school year (September 2010 to January 2011 ) to involve colleges and universities as well as residents and local industry. Categories for the contest included “Having Fun in Ottawa,” “Getting Around,” “Green Environment/Sustainability,” “Community Building,” and “Economic Development.” The winner is scheduled to be announced later this evening.

Guy Michaud, chief information officer for the City of Ottawa, said their open data efforts have already spurred economic development and is meant to be good for local entrepreneurs. The city receives no revenue through the apps, and the developers can sell what they create. In turn, Ottawa residents get improved services from applications that are created, with better access to city data and more user-friendly formats and platforms.


2. CivicApps.org – Portland, Oregon


After tracking Vivek Kundra’s efforts at the federal level with data.gov, Portland, Oregon launched CivicApps.org, a project initiated out of the mayor’s office to bring a more localized approach to the open data movement. Skip Newberry, economic policy advisor to the mayor, say that the project’s main objective is to improve connections and the flow of information between local government and its constituents, as well as between city bureaus. To call attention to the release of public data, they also launched an app design contest, highlighting the tech talent in Portland’s software community.

According to Rick Nixon, program manager for the Bureau of Technology’s Open Data Initiative for the city of Portland, CivicApps.org took a more regional approach to cover the multiple layers of local government: County, Metro, TriMet, and the City of Portland, all of which collect and maintain various kinds of public data. Data sets released include regional crime, transit, infrastructure (i.e. public works), and economic development programs. Additional projects, such as the PDX API, have been launched in order to make the raw data from CivicApps more useful to developers.

In addition to developer-specific apps, a number of transit related apps — bike, train, bus, mixed modes — were also developed. A very popular and established transit app, PDXBus, was re-released as open source under the rules of the CivicApps contest. Other popular apps helped provide residents greater awareness of their surroundings such as where to find heritage trees, where to find urban edibles, and where to locate each other during disaster relief efforts.


3. CityWide Data Warehouse – Washington, DC


For years, the District of Columbia provided public access to city operational data via the Internet. In keeping with the mayor’s promise to be transparent, the program CityWide Data Warehouse was launched, and provides citizens with access to over 450 datasets from multiple agencies. The first two datasets released were service requests from the mayor’s call center, including trash pickup, pot hole repair, street light repair, snow removal, parking meter issues and crime data.

According to David Stirgel, program manager for Citywide Data Warehouse, the project looks for data that be of interest to the widest possible audience and which will remain reusable over time. Some of the applications that have come out of the program include Track DC, which tracks the performance of individual District agencies, and summary reports that provide public access to city operational data. Some of the applications built by companies and individuals using the data include Crime Reports and Every Block.

In 2008, the District Mayor’s office, the District of Columbia’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer, and digital agency iStrategyLabs launched Apps for Democracy, an open code app development contest tapping into District data that cost $50,000 and generated 47 apps. The contest was repeated in 2009. Over 200 ideas and applications were submitted, and the winner was an iPhone and Facebook app called Social DC 311. It could be used to submit service requests, such as reporting potholes and trash problems. An honorable mention was given to FixMyCityDC. Unfortunately, neither app is maintained today.


4. NYC Data Mine – New York, NY


NYC BigApps 2.0 is part of an initiative to improve the accessibility, transparency, and accountability of city government. According to Brandon Kessler, CEO of ChallengePost, the company and technology powering the NYC BigApps 2.0 Software Challenge, Mayor Bloomberg challenged software developers to use city data from the NYC.gov Data Mine to create apps to improve NYC, offering a $20,000 in cash awards to the winners.

The second annual challenge closed its call for submissions at the end of January 2011 and opened the vote to the public. Voting ends on March 9. Requirements included that the software applications be original and solely owned by the entrants, that they use at least one of the datasets from the NYC.gov Data Mine, and be free to the public throughout the competition and for at least one year after the challenge. The panel of judges reads like a “who’s who” of New York tech luminaries, and includes Esther Dyson of EDVenture, Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, Jack Dorsey of Square and Twitter, and Kara Swisher of All Things Digital. One of the first year’s winning apps was WayFinder, an augmented reality Android app which allows users to point their phone in a direction and see which subways and Path trains are in front of them.


5. DataSF – San Francisco, California


Like other city governments, San Francisco’s goal for their DataSF program was to improve transparency and community engagement as well as accountability. Ron Vinson, director of media for the city’s Department of Technology also stated potential for innovation in how residents interact with government and their community. With an emphasis on adhering to privacy and security policies, the city can stimulate the creation of useful civic tools at no cost to the government.

Before launching, they reached out to Washington, DC to identify the most popular datasets, and learned that 20% of the datasets represented over 80% of the downloads. With this information, they went out first with crime, 311, and GIS data. They also allowed the public to request data through a submissions mechanism on the website where others could vote on their suggestions. This input is now required reading for the city administrator thanks to an executive directive and open data legislation.

Since launching in August 2009, DataSF has accumulated over 60 applications in its showcase. According to Vinson, the city stays engaged with their tech community by participating in local unconferences and meetups.


More Dev Resources from Mashable:


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As a class, developers have had a fantastic year in 2010.

We’ve made headlines, grabbed the limelight, been vilified and glorified beyond all reason and gotten paid pretty nicely along the way. And the bubble of consumer web apps just continues to swell, so there are no signs (yet) that 2011 will bring anything short of grandeur for the web and mobile development communities.

Looking ahead to what the coming year might hold, there are a few sure bets and a few speculations we’d like to offer. Some are, as noted, almost certainly bound to come true. Others are more along the lines of hopes and prayers than hard-and-fast predictions we’d stake money on.

With that in mind, here are 10 things we think the world of hacking will hold in 2011.


1. There Will Be a Need to Understand and Optimize for All Form Factors


Even the most brainless of “social media gurus” could tell you this one. With the surging popularity and newfound accessibility and affordability of smartphones — thanks in large part to the growth of the Android platform — we’ve had to optimize for the mobile web and learn about mobile applications a lot in the past year in particular.

Now, as tablets begin to creep into the market, we’re having to craft new experiences for those, as well. We’re constantly forced to consider form factor when creating new sites and apps. Will it run Flash? What about screen resolution? Font size?

Almost every developer worth his or her salt will have to become increasingly adept at developing for the myriad form factors set to dominate the gadget market in 2011.


2. There Will Be Breakout, Cross-Platform Mobile Development Tools


With all the mobile growth that’s been occurring, especially given the current state of the iOS/Android market shares, the time has never been riper for a great mobile framework, SDK or IDE to enter the arena.

Hopefully, sometime in 2011, we’ll see a new group of flexible and robust tools that can facilitate app development for any number of operating systems — including tablet-specific or forked OSes. We’re talking more than WYSIWYG, DIY app-builders and more than iPhone-to-Android porting tools; we want to see serious, mobile-centric power tools in 2011.


3. Investment in Cloud-Based, Collaborative Development Tools


We’ve seen some interesting starts in community-based, online coding. There are a few collaborative code editing apps, some of them with real-time capabilities.

We’re looking forward to seeing more and better apps for cloud-based, collaborative coding in 2011 — something like a better Wave, created specifically with hackers in mind. This will allow for better and faster work to be generated by an increasingly decentralized hacker community. It’ll also pave the way for improved on-the-job learning and open-source hacking.


4. WYSIWYG Tools Get Better and Grow


While WYSIWYG tools of the past — and, who are we kidding, the present — often lead to spaghetti code of the ugliest variety, we just keep seeing more and more of them.

We’re going out on a limb and predicting (or hoping) that WYSIWYG and split-screen (WYSIWYG and code) developer tools become more sophisticated. Whether they get better or not, they’re definitely going to continue to proliferate, especially for the novice coder and the DIY non-coder markets. Still, we’re being told the code on the other side of the GUIs is getting better all the time.

Who knows? 2011 could be the year WYSIWYGs stop sucking.


5. We’ll Keep Building “Touchable,” App-like UIs


Facebook Mobile Privacy

All that stuff we said earlier about form factors kind of applies here, too, but in reverse. Your sites will have to look better on mobile devices and tablets, yes; but also, they’ll continue to natively look and feel more like mobile and tablet apps.

Some folks, a couple of Mashable staffers included, aren’t happy about the app-itization of the entire Internet. Call us old-fashioned, but we like our websites to be websites and our mobile apps to be mobile apps.

The average consumer, however, seems to delight in the shiny, touchable, magazine-like interfaces taking over the iPad and similar devices. Expect to be asked to make more and more app-like sites in 2011.


6. There Will Be a Higher Standard for Web and Mobile Security


The past year has been a bit of a horror show when it comes to web security. There have been a handful of high-profile hacks that exposed user data to the world; there was also much confusion on the user’s side of the screen as to how security works on a personal level.

We predict — nay, we dream — that in 2011, developers of consumer-facing apps will be extra careful with things like data encryption, user privacy controls and other security issues.


7. Third-Party App Development Will Plateau


Building a Facebook app or a Twitter app was all the rage in 2009, but something shifted in 2010, right around the time of Twitter’s Chirp developer conference: Developers found out that building on someone else’s platform was a good way to set yourself up for failure, especially when the platform decides to shift direction, change its APIs, acquire a competitor, or simply change its terms of use.

We predict that developing these kinds of apps will plateau and even taper off in 2011. The web is glutted with third-party social media tools; many devs are beginning to realize there’s more money and more interesting challenges elsewhere. In the end, social networks will be more interesting to advertisers large and small than to independent and third-party developers.


8. Ruby Will Get Some Cool Optimizations and Tools


We’ve seen lots of cool tricks and optimization tweaks around Python and PHP; 2011, however, will be the year for better Ruby tools.

The Ruby language is becoming extremely popular in developing consumer-facing web apps, and we’re sure to see some big-name companies release open-source tools and even improvements to the Ruby core — think along the lines of what Facebook did last year with HipHop or Google’s Unladen Swallow project.


9. NoSQL Technologies Will Stake Their Ground


We’ve seen and heard interesting things from the NoSQL corners of the web this year… and by “interesting,” we don’t necessarily mean “good.”

NoSQL technologies have had some high-profile hiccups this year (remember that MongoDB/Foursquare disaster?), but we’ve been assured that what doesn’t kill NoSQL only makes it stronger and more stable.

That being said, we’re not predicting the demise of MySQL any time soon. As one astute Twitter friend wrote, “Relational databases have their place, as do NoSQL solutions. To blindly choose one over the other is shortsighted.”


10. Open-Source Software Will See Unprecedented Growth


Open-sourcing interesting or unused tech is a trend we like to see from companies like Google and Facebook. In fact, we hope to see even more open-source contributions from proprietary software giants in 2011.

It’s not just the big players who are writing great open-source code. We know a lot of web startups are working on internal tools that’ll also be open-sourced in 2011. There are more youngsters (and not-so-youngsters) joining the ranks of hackers every year; many of them are being encouraged by sites like this one to make valuable contributions to the open-source community.

We predict more awesome open-source software than ever in 2011. Will it be a victory by Stallman‘s standards? Probably not, as it won’t be exclusive of proprietary software creation, sale and licensing. But the trend toward more FOSS is a good one, and one that we’ll continue to report on in the year to come.


What Are Your Predictions?


In the comments, let us know your predictions for what 2011 may bring to the world of web and mobile development. And if you disagree with our predictions, let us know. They’re only educated guesses, after all; join the conversation.


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HOW TO: Make the Most of TextMate
Hacker Web Design: Words of Wisdom for Building Great Apps
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