Software development is often a complex and challenging process. Creating new applications that better serve employees and customers needs to be an ongoing process, and the work is not done when final sign-off on the initial production version is given.
Planning, development, testing, production, maintenance and making improvements all demand close attention, but firms can quickly become overwhelmed by competing demands if they aren't careful.
Therefore, it pays to have a clear plan in place in order to streamline the development process and ensure you can bring applications to production as quickly and easily as possible. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Embrace agile
The agile approach to development is more than just a buzzword these days; it's a fundamental change in the way any application project should run. It can appear to be a complex process, but essentially, it emphasizes collaboration and interaction across teams, frequent evaluation and adjustment of strategy, and greater involvement for end uses.
The result of this is a much faster process, and one that should better meet the stated business goals. According to McKinsey, an agile approach can reduce the average development time to reach a live state from 89 days to just 15. However, agile requires several elements in order to be successful.
2. Focus on continuous delivery
One key concept is the idea of 'continuous delivery'. This refers to a culture and philosophy that states businesses should be able to build software in such a way that it can be released to production at any time. This enables firms to make frequent changes to their software without disrupting operations and reducing the risk of serious errors, as any changes can be made gradually.
To achieve this, companies must embrace automation in order to manage the software deployment process, as manual solutions are only likely to lead to bottlenecks, reducing the speed of delivery. But if done correctly, continuous delivery can allow firms to implement changes of all types, from bug fixes to new features, into production speedily and sustainably.
3. Have the right mix of skills
As mentioned above, a key feature of agile software development is greater collaboration between teams, and this means it's vital to have a strong mix of skills involved at every stage of the process. While it is clearly important to have individuals with strong coding talents, businesses must not underestimate the importance of 'softer' skills such as communications and project management.
It's important that firms don't limit their search for the right people solely to their IT team. Bringing in people from the business side - or even from outside the company - gives valuable new perspectives and can highlight the elements that will be most important to end-users that those who are too close to the project may have difficulty spotting. They can also prove useful in selling the project to other departments and gaining useful feedback from users.
4. Use proper project techniques
While streamlined, agile development promises a much more flexible way of working, this should not mean that project management fundamentals should be overlooked. Poor planning and unclear goals and requirements are among the leading causes of delays and cost overruns in software development, so it's essential that close attention is paid throughout the process.
A clear workflow that spells out exactly what is expected at each stage of the process can help ensure that there is no unnecessary repetition of tasks, and identify any areas that are causing delays, so they can be tackled. Meanwhile, it's also important to have a clear description of what the finished product will look like. Having a 'definition of done' ensures users have a set list of criteria they need their application to meet, and defines exactly when software is ready to be set live for users.
5. Ensure visibility throughout the process
When you have people from multiple departments working on different aspects of an agile software development, it becomes more important than ever to ensure that everyone knows what everyone else is doing. In a continuous development environment, if stakeholders don't know the current status of each part of the project, this can undermine efforts to reduce go-live times.
There are many methods firms can use to help promote visibility throughout the process. For example, project management tools such as Trello can help keep people informed as to where everyone is at any given time. However, these will only be of use if organizations are sure people are actually using them. It can be easy for a software-based tool to be tucked away and forgotten about, so firms should make sure they have some clear, easily viewable way of tracking progress that everyone can see at any time.