If offered the recipe to a flawless software development process suitable for any product and business, most people would likely be excited at the prospect. But those of us who have been in the industry for a while know how unlikely the existence of such a recipe is. Software development is a mutable, complex undertaking, and one that needs to be fitted closely to the needs of the product owner. This is why we’d like to discuss the ingredients of a smooth, effective development process, and suggests improvements you can easily make to yours.
The two main factors that determine the success of building a digital service are efficiency, and using the correct technologies in response to various challenges. Efficiency means applying processes that lead to high code quality, a well-designed architecture and a lack of bugs. Without it, your team will need to backtrack, scrap and redo chunks of their work, or scramble to fix issues before the next deadline hits. Thinking ahead can save you a lot of trouble and limit the overall costs of development.
Picking the right technological solutions for a project can be difficult, especially when several options seem at first glance equally fitting. The only way to make good decisions in this respect is through years of professional experience with similar projects. Research can answer a lot of questions, but software development requires true expertise from at least one decision-maker on the team. Many younger teams have fallen into the trap of choosing a new and exciting tool only to find out it’s not as good as advertising, or of sticking to an aged technology, which turns out to lack the capabilities of more modern solutions.
Make sure that your development team has the experience necessary to carry your project forward despite any challenge. As for process efficiency: take a look at our list of ingredients for a good development process.
Start with a roadmap
A roadmap is a good, strategic start to the development process. It should help you define the goals for your product, as well as the milestones necessary to reach them. Aside from steering your development efforts, a good roadmap can be used to communicate your strategy to the rest of your team, as it outlines the outcome you’re all workings towards and the means you’ll use to get there.
Create good documentation
Well-written, structured and concise documentation will help your team keep track of the development process, reuse good solutions and avoid making the same mistakes twice. It’ll also be a great tool for new team members, QA specialists testing your product and the team tasked with product maintenance after launch. But good code is always more valuable than comprehensive documentation. Maintaining a huge knowledge base for your project can get time-consuming. Critical things like app setup or user roles should be well documented, but you don’t need to make notes on everything.
Consider other ways to document your ideas and progress: for example, project backlog with user stories or roadmaps. Use the agile approach and toolset to keep every member of your team up-to-date, and foster good communication practices within the team. Doing so can produce better results than novel-length documentation.
Know when to focus on development speed
Sometimes, it’s a good idea to skip some steps, or push to complete certain tasks more quickly and test your solutions. We often recommend building an MVP (minimal viable product) version of your app, to see your ideas take shape and allow users to interact with them. This way, you can find out which features are important and which are useless, thus avoiding some costly future rework.
The right technology for your business can also help you a great deal in terms of saving time. In particular, Ruby on Rails is great for rapid prototyping, building MVPs and generally speeding up the development process. This is achieved through applying the many existing Rails libraries (called gems), which allow your development team to focus on problem solving rather than typing code.
Don’t forget about DevOps
Building a beautiful app with a great architecture often isn’t enough to deliver the best experience to users. You need to remember that the hosting you use for your product will have a huge impact on how much traffic your app will be able to handle, among other common challenges. By using the DevOps approach to development, which means having an operations expert on your team to efficiently solve problems as they arise, you can make sure the entire process will be smooth, and take full advantage of your infrastructure’s resources.
Test as you go
Quality assurance is a crucial, if sometimes underappreciated, part of the development process. By starting tests early and running them regularly, you can identify issues early and avoid the extra work necessary to fix big chunks of faulty code. A good QA process will help you focus your efforts and keep to your schedule. It’ll also serve as a guarantee that your early users’ first impression of the product won’t be a buggy, unsatisfying experience.
Iterative delivery (e.g. in sprints, if you want to use the Agile/Scrum terminology) can be a great way to not only meet your deadlines, but also maintain team morale and keep stakeholders happy. With each week-long sprint, your team will deliver a working functionality, a tangible step towards completing your product. Thanks to this approach, you’ll be able to make sure project goals are being met, the team will have an easier time reporting on their progress (thanks to clear sprint goals), and stakeholders will be able to see proof of your team’s progress.
Additionally, the iterative approach allows for a lot flexibility. When requirements need to change, it’s easy enough to replace several sprints or plan for new ones. This is particularly advantageous if you expect your market to shift with new trends or changing user expectations. It’s also helpful to have the option to quickly expand your scope when your project receives additional funding.
Maintain high code quality
Code review is a practice that can help your team keep their code clean without losing efficiency. When a developer finishes a section of code, they hand it off to another developer on the team for review. This can be done in pairs or bigger groups, but the main thing is that someone other than the code’s author takes a critical look at it and spots issues that are invisible from the author’s perspective.
Communicate and collaborate effectively
The role of soft skills in the development process is often underestimated, yet they can have a huge impact on your project. Make sure your team communicates their needs, progress and goals clearly, internally as well as with other teams. Use communication and collaboration tools (a repository management tool, project management software, shared files and video calls), set up regular meetings and reporting practices, and make sure each team member has a way to signal at what stage they are in completing each task. Also, make sure your team knows that they can ask other for help when they need it, and that it won’t be seen as unprofessional or negative in any other way. Making sure everyone sees their coworkers and collaborators as human is a big step towards better communication.
Keep the ball rolling after launch
Once your app is live and users can interact with it, you may feel like your job is done, but that’s far from the truth. Maintenance is extremely important to overall product success. Someone needs to be there when an unforeseen bug or issue crops up, when your app faces unexpectedly high traffic, or when users make it clear that a new feature would make their experience much more satisfying. You’ll need people able to maintain both the app’s codebase and its hosting infrastructure, to make sure that your product will continue to serve its purpose and support your business.
All of these elements of a good development process may seem like a lot of work. The truth is that an experienced team can make them look natural and effortless. When you look for the team that will create your application, have them walk you through their process. Make sure they keep efficiency, maintainability and high code quality in mind when planning their work. By doing so, you can significantly lower project risk and reduce the costs of developing your product.
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