Getting Started with a Custom Programming Project

CU*Answers has been in the custom software services business for a long time and have completed a wide variety of client project requests. Developing custom software is not a commodity… instead, the overall success to any project is based upon the upfront planning processes and detail that go into developing a project.

As a reminder, the work we do for you is subject to the terms and conditions of the Master Services Agreement and/or the Master API Agreement between your organization and CU*Answers.  CU*Answers may provide additional terms and conditions based on the services your need.

Typically, custom projects include 3 key variables: scope, time, and cost. Each of these are inherently related to the other. For instance, as the scope of a project increases, the time required to complete the project increases, which means related costs go up proportionately.

CU*Answers clients periodically submit requests for special development work. Although this work can take many different forms, we generally refer to the process as “custom project development”. Examples include a one-time exchange of data with a third-party vendor, the development of SSO functionality or unique tool for CU staff, and new 3rd party vendor integrations.

This document describes the standard procedures we use to evaluate, price, and process these types of requests, from the original inquiry by a client through the research, project bid, and approval process – all the way to final implementation. However, this is not an all-encompassing guide for the development process, as much of that is described in greater detail within the CU*Answers Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) document.

Custom Software Development

Project Champions

Be a Project Champion! If the project you’re envisioning requires a closer, more involved relationship with a third-party vendor, or represents a completely new direction for the CUSO, your credit union may need to step up as a project champion. Check out the Project Champion Agreement to see what this entails.

Project Categories

To help explain the decision-making process which is required for these projects, following are the categories into which custom programming/special jobs fall for the purposes of this procedure:

Off the Shelf Services

Traditional programming processes CU*Answers regularly performs for supported vendors that normally do not require more extensive custom research/ design or development. These fees are published within our Annual Pricing Guides and DHD site, and may include both a one-time setup and monthly maintenance fee. Examples of these include:

  • EFT (ATM, debit) network set-up
  • Online Credit Card Conversion
  • Check Processor/ Image Check set-up
  • Loan Insurance File/Posting
  • OTB File Exchanges for 3rd parties


 Custom Programming Services

A custom project development strategy for which you are often the primary architect for designing the project blueprint. CU*Answers is here to assist in making your vision become reality as based upon business objectives and project specifications. We will also work closely with you for helping determine any desired level of CU*Answers technical and support resource assist we may offer for helping drive your initiative.

Popular Custom Programming services include:

DEX/Data Warehouses
These services provide the components to move data from the CU production database to a Data Warehouse.  This can happen through DEX, which transfers preconfigured files to external warehouses at scheduled intervals (either residing at the CU or hosted elsewhere) or through services that move the data to other CU*Answers hosted databases.  Here are a few examples of how this is being used today:

  • Extending the functionality of how credit unions can use the data
  • Provides CU’s with more flexibility on integration with external vendors
  • Extending the amount of history and trend information available to the CU for marketing type services

Other Projects
All other custom development that doesn’t fall into the categories described above.  Examples include:

  • One-time interactions such as working with a plastics card vendor to synchronize CU*BASE and the vendor database following a conversion or merger (i.e., projects that are more complex and specialized than routine Vendor Data Exchanges)
  • Create a new report(s) – not currently provided in CU*BASE
  • Complex data floods where programming routines are needed to evaluate and translate data as part of the flood, or where new routines are needed.

Vendor Integrations
Often, the most complicated of custom processes, Third Party Vendor Integrations provide a method and process to connecting CU*Answers products or services with that of another vendor.  These integrations can be developed as batch mode, real-time data integrations or on demand data extracts, eliminating manual data entry and duplication. This process normally requires an initial Research/ design process, followed by a separate Custom Project Quote. An important component of the Research phase is the spec brainstorming/ review sessions completed with the client and or vendor to learn as much possible. Examples of these projects include:

  • Integrate with a new LOS provider
  • Provide/ receive data files from a new CRM (or other) vendor
  • Develop and interface for Check Orders by CU staff within CU*BASE
  • Integrate with a new ACH vendor
  • SSO Integrations -Integrations that allow a member or employee to jump directly from online banking or CU*BASE to access separate websites and tools, without the need to independently authenticate (log in). Examples:
    • Online Bill Pay integration
    • Displaying check images
    • Jump to a personal financial management (PFM) tool
    • Access electronic document archives

See the separate Best Practices document Single Sign On (SSO) Integrations with CU*Answers Tools for additional details on the evaluation process for projects of this type.

Consolidated steps to completing a Custom Programming project:*

Project Management Responsibility

The level of Project Management responsibility as pertaining to a Custom Programming project is often very different than what many clients are accustomed to. Depending upon the project specification and partners required for completing a project, it is imperative to understand the roles and responsibilities of each party.

Project Management Considerations

  1. Contact DHD or Client Services to review project idea
    • We’ll assist you to complete and submit a Special Project Request/ Authorization form
  2. Special Project Request is presented to our Project Team
  3. The Project Team will review and provide (as applicable) a research/ design bid
    • Goal: deliver within 10-15 business days
    • Valid for 30-business days
  4. Initial project research/ design work is completed
  5. A project development bid is provided
    • Goal: deliver within 10-15 business days following R&D completion
    • Valid for 30-business days
  6. If development bid is accepted, applicable Agreements are completed
  7. Project development work begins!
    • Applicable resources/ development time scheduled
    • Follows CU*Answers SDLC policy

*detailed explanation below

1. Contact Either Client Services or Developer’s Help Desk (DHD):

Already did your research?

Clients are encouraged to develop and submit as many details regarding your desired Custom Programming project as possible. The more information you can provide about the specifics of your project the smoother this process will be.

Please submit your written specifications, process diagrams, screen designs or mockups or anything else you might have for what your project is intended to do and perform.

A first step is to complete a Special Request/ Authorization form. This may be done by contacting either a Client Services Representative or the DHD team. We’ve included an example of this form below. The special project request form is the trigger to gather details necessary for us to begin the evaluation process. It is very important to provide to the CU*Answers team as many details as possible; the more thoroughly we understand your request, what technical considerations it will entail and your business expectations, the more quickly your project can move through the channels. Learn More about initiating special requests.

  • All requests to be reviewed by the Project Team
  • To allow us to track the status of a request, a project # will also be assigned in the Track*It System

It is also important to understand the custom development process should be a collaborative process for helping review project specifications and expectations. In most cases, there is considerable value to receiving different perspectives on various items throughout the research/ design and development life cycle. For example, as based upon a constantly changing business/ membership landscape, things that seem important one day may not be as important in the future. Sometimes, experts working on technical development may not fully understand the impact for how a custom project may be intended to be used by the end users. By regularly collaborating, and gaining outside opinions or perspectives may help identify potential issues and assist with the overall development process.

For assistance in writing specifications, please refer to our Tips for Writing Specs document. This guide references the following two templates:

  • The Specs Template is our teams official template for writing new technical specifications for programmers.
  • The Research Spec Template is our newest template designed to assist with custom projects during the research and development phase of a DIY/DIT request. It is used for large-scale projects where we want to have a high-level outline before writing the technical specification.

Utilizing the CU*Answers Software Development Life Cycle as the policy document that governs our software development processes, project owners can visualize potential timelines as well as milestones and steps of their project from concept through completion.

2. Your Special Project/ Authorization Request is presented to the Project Team:

The Custom Project Team initially reviews new custom project requests at its regular weekly meeting.  This team consists of various representatives from Programming, Management Services, and other areas involved in our Custom Programming factory.  The purpose of this review is to help verify whether or not there are other existing solutions that would meet the credit union’s needs without requiring custom work. Per this initial CU*Answers overview, follow-up specification session(s) to ask further questions and seek additional details is often required.

3. Project Research/ Design quote:

The Special Project Request/ Authorization form is passed along to the appropriate design team who will perform a cursory overview to estimate the effort required for an initial Research/ Design process. Factors at this stage include reviewing the overall project research effort, client business objectives, current vendor relationships, as well as whether or not the project is similar to another previously performed project. Some technical specifications may also be developed, to the extent necessary for us to complete our evaluation. After this cursory review, a Research and Design Fee quote will be developed for the client.

Research Fee Considerations:

This fee is intended to cover the cost of doing in-depth feasibility research and sketching out a design outline for how the project could proceed. We have provided some general pricing guidelines, however, the actual fee amount may vary as based upon project specifications and total Research/ Design time performed.

  • Small research/ design effort (est. of 10 hours)
    • Examples: Reading vendor doc. and creating specifications
    • A fee of $1,000
  • Medium research/ design effort (est. of 25 hours)
    • Examples: Reading vendor doc., creating specifications, file mapping, etc.
    • A fee of $2,500
  • Larger research/ design effort (est. of 40 hours)
    • Examples: Heavy scoping and design, new file specification, complex integrations and bidirectional data movement
    • A fee of $4,000
  • In addition to learning more about your project as pertaining to potential staff and membership benefits and efficiencies, another key item will be to gain an even greater perspective as per the business component your project is intended to address. This deeper level of collaboration is often very beneficial to our design and technical teams as we work closely together throughout the project research/ development process.
  • A Research quote is normally delivered within 10-15 business days following a fully completed Special Project Request/ Authorization form being received, and assuming all additional details needed for developing the Research quote are received from the client and or 3rd party vendor.
  • A Research quote is valid for 30 business days, and is non-refundable.
  • The Research/ Design fee will be applied to the total project cost (assuming project is completed).

4. Client Approves Research/ Design Fee:

     By signing and returning the Special Project Authorization/ Request form:

  • Research projects are assigned/ performed on a first come, first serve basis as based upon receiving the signed Special Project Request/ Authorization form (Research quote).
  • After being submitted, any modifications made to the Project request will require an updated Project Authorization/Request form to be submitted, which will re-start the process from Step 1.
  • Approved Research/Design fees will be invoiced immediately for applicable payment. Vendor initiated R&D projects will require payment to be received by CU*Answers prior to any research work commencing.

5. Per CU*Answers Receiving the Authorized Research form:

Research/ design work begins, with the goal of producing:

Project Outline:

Specifics on project scope, development techniques, end-user look and feel, and other details so that all parties understand the work being undertaken.  If project involves working with a 3rd-party vendor, this will also involve research with the vendor into specifically what data will be exchanged as well as the mechanism/infrastructure for how data will be moved back and forth securely.  During this stage, a key component is to ensure that and necessary interaction with the client and or 3rd party is able to occur. Any delay caused by CU*Answers not receiving requested information within a timely manner to consider may delay the timing for a Custom Programming quote to be presented. Depending on the project, the outcome of this step may be anything from simple correspondence  outlining our plans, to a formal Project Requirements (“spec”) document, as appropriate.

Create/ Deliver a Custom Programming Project Quote:

  • Following Research work completion, CU*Answers will normally deliver a Custom Programming Project quote within 10-15 business days.
  • Any modifications made to the original Project request will require an updated Special Project Authorization/Request form to be submitted, which will re-start the process from Step 1.
  • If no Research Quote is required, CU*Answers will normally provide a Custom Programming Project quote within 10 – 15 business days from receiving a completed Special Authorization Request form. This timing can vary depending upon certain factors, including client and or 3rd party vendor information/ design requests not being received in a timely manner.

6. Client Approves Custom Programming Quote:

  •  Custom Programming projects are scheduled by the Programming team. Considerations include receiving the signed Special Project Request/Authorization form (Project Quote), and all other required 3rd party paperwork (e.g. NDA’s)
  • Upon approving a Special Project Request, Client is responsible for payment of any work performed, whether the project is completed or canceled.
  • For any Project Quotes over $25,000, we require no less than a 50% down payment at the time of signing, with the remainder invoiced once the Project is implemented.  On certain Projects, depending on the circumstances of the client or the Project requirements, we may require a larger down payment or we may modify the Project payment terms.
  • Vendor initiated Project Bids normally require 100% payment to be invoiced and received by CU*Answers prior to any project development work commencing.

7. Project Design/ Development (please see the SDLC for additional details…)

  • Utilizing the CU*Answers Software Development Life Cycle as the policy document that governs our software development processes, project owners can visualize potential timelines as well as milestones and steps of their project ffrom conception through completion.
  • Includes infrastructure (files and business logic) as well as end-user interface development.
  • Depending upon DS project complexity, an initial Project timeline document may be provided following all required paperwork being received.

8. Working with a 3rd Party Vendor:

If your project involves interactions with a 3rd-party vendor, the timing for both the development as well as subsequent testing phases will largely be dependent on vendor timelines and resource availability.  Some projects will also entail additional certification and miscellaneous fees from the vendor, independent of CU*Answers Project related fees.

9. Project Tracking/ Notifications:

CU*Answers provides multiple strategies for helping keep clients updated on a project status:

  • Monitor an online client tracking tool for reviewing on-going Project status.
  • Project Updates/ notifications via your Project Coordinator/ QC as based upon project status/ timing.  
  • Special Updates on an as needed basis for keeping clients informed accordingly.

10. Quality Control/ Testing:

Once a Project Development quote is signed, and a project completion date is determined, CU*Answers will determine the appropriate QC/validation process.

  • For projects involving changes to our core CU*BASE system, including tools such as It’s Me 247 online/ mobile web banking, CU*Talk audio response, or related software products that interface with these, the CU*Answers Quality Control department assigns a QC Tester to test the changes against project specifications, in accordance with the CU*BASE Software Testing and Quality Control Procedures. Any defects found are returned to the assigned programmer for changes until the tester signs off with their testing report and submits the project to the VP of Quality Control. During this stage, additional Project Review sessions may also be scheduled, as needed.
  • Any delay caused by a client/ vendor having outstanding tasks to complete will impact the project completion timeline.


For projects not requiring changes to our core CU*BASE system:

  • Data/File Verification – In most cases, CU*Answers will assign a resource validate the file data/ format is correct, and then pass the data/file(s) off to the vendor or client for final verification and signoff.
  • Expert Verification/Validation – In some cases, custom projects are best QCed by using subject level experts, and not the CU*A QC department. This would be the case in situations where the project is not part of CU*Answers core software tools, and specific knowledge of the process may exist within other departments at CU*Answers.  In this case, the process used to QC projects will be monitored and verified by the VP of Quality Control at CU*Answers.

11. End-User documentation:

As a standard rule, documentation for custom project development is not provided.  If documentation is required, please be sure to include this with your initial Special Project Authorization/ Request form request to be included with a developed Project Development quote.

12. Implementation:

This phase includes installing, configuring, and activating the new tools as well as other potential factors to be coordinated with your credit union, including time for CU staff training and/or notification of members if appropriate.  Depending on the project, it may be coordinated as part of a normal CU*BASE release for all clients, or implementation will be coordinated with your teams specifically for use by your credit union.

  1. Once implemented to our Production system(s), you will receive a project implementation email, where any remaining development will need to be completed within 30 days of the implementation date.
    1. All final Project invoicing will be completed during this time.
  2. We will retain records of your project for historical tracking purposes.

Research/ Project Development Fees and CUSO Pricing Criteria (a final word…)

As described above, most Custom Projects requests will incorporate two quotes:  one to cover the cost of performing the necessary research/design direction in order to develop a project development quote, and another to cover the actual Project Development cost of programming, testing, and validation.

During the evaluation process, our team reviews a wide range of criteria for helping determine how a custom project request may be best developed to fit within the technical and business scope being requested.  We also look projects from a big-picture standpoint for how it potentially fits within the framework of the entire network, and whether other participants may seek a similar strategy, or if it’s truly a custom project to facilitate your credit union’s desire to do business with a targeted vendor, or implement a new staff tool. This analysis will not only determine whether we move forward and how, but also how CU*Answers may develop a final Custom Programming quote and projected timeline.

In the end, we look forward to collaborating with you on a solution that will meet your credit union’s and your members’ objectives and expectations.