Building software is a complicated process riddled with challenges at every corner. Even seasoned teams can fall victim to the common traps and inefficiencies of software development.
A poorly defined and faulty process may compromise the product quality or result in significant delays. That's why efficient software processes and foolproof project management strategies are so important to any software development project.
Read this guide to learn more about the process of developing software and get battle-tested tips for optimizing the work of your project team.
Software development process - definition
Software development refers to a process that aims to build software that meets the unique company objectives of the ordering party and the end-users.
But building software is much more than just writing code. In fact, the process of software development involves a number of distinct steps like research, feasibility analysis, design, writing technical documentation, testing the application, and more.
All these tasks can be added to the software development lifecycle (SDLC). The software development lifecycle is a process that helps teams to produce solutions of the highest quality, lowest possible cost, and in the shortest timeframe.
To accomplish that, you need a plan that outlines how a team will develop, change, and maintain a specific software system.
SDLC serves as a blueprint of that. To help teams achieve their goals, the SDLC provides six distinct stages that focus on different process areas realized in a particular order.
Stages of the software development lifecycle
Every software development lifecycle consists of the following 6 phases:
- Requirements gathering and analysis
Let's take a closer look at these stages to see what they focus on, what their goals are, and what teams can to make the most of each phase.
1. Requirements gathering and analysis
This stage focuses on developing, collecting, and analyzing all the business requirements of the software product. Most of the time, this is based on carrying out meetings where project managers, as well as other stakeholders and possibly end-users, determine the system requirements.
They do that by answering questions such as:
- Who is going to be the end-user of the software?
- How will they use it?
- What will be the input and output of the system?
- What problem will it solve?
All of these are general questions that allow the company to crystallize their ideas and perform the initial risk analysis. Once all the requirements have been gathered, it's time to carry out the requirements analysis.
This is where teams check requirements for validity and the possibility of implementing them in the system to be developed. It’s the foundation of a Requirements Specification Document which serves as a guideline for the next phases in the software development lifecycle.
But that's not everything that happens during this stage. Once the requirements analysis is complete, the testing team should start planning test scenarios.
"Make sure that important you get input from all the stakeholders at this stage. That includes salespeople, industry experts, software developers, QA experts, and customers. The goal of this phase isn't only writing a specification, but also learning the strengths and weaknesses of the system you're trying to build."
Kamil Sabatowski, former COO at Sunscrapers
In this stage, the team is ready to prepare a software design based on the Requirements Specification Document that allows determining the hardware system requirements and the overall system architecture.
What is the objective of this stage? Design specifications are the key product of this phase. They serve as a guideline for the next stage in the software development lifecycle, implementation, or coding.
What about the testing team? The design phase is also the time when testers come up with a testing strategy where they specify what will be tested and how.
Once the design specification document is ready, it's time for all the stakeholders to review with and offer their feedback and suggestions.
"Have a plan for collecting and incorporating the input into your document. If you fail to do it at this stage, you're likely to face cost overruns in the future. At worst, not incorporating feedback could cause total failure of a software development project."
Kamil Sabatowski, former COO at Sunscrapers
This is where the team receives the system design document and gets down to work. Most of the time, the work will be divided into different modules and units and then further down into tasks. It all depends on the software development lifecycle model the team chooses (we're going to talk cover this topic later on).
This is the phase where the actual solution is developed. It's also the longest phase in the software development lifecycle.
If you follow all the previous steps carefully and deliver a comprehensive specification document, the development phase should be relatively straightforward and the development team will be productive (except for some possible bumps on the road).
Once the code is ready, it needs to be tested against the requirements to ensure that the software product solves the problem of its end-users. During this phase, you can expect all kinds of functional testing like integration testing, unit testing, system testing, acceptance testing, design implementation testing, and many others.
The idea behind this phase is testing your software for errors and deficiencies. It's important to fix these issues until the product finally meets the original specifications. You wouldn't want to release a buggy solution to your customers.
Note: Depending on the SDLC model your team picks, testing and development phases can go hand in hand. This is the case in agile and lean approaches to software development where the team develops products in small increments that are tested after each iteration.
Once the testing phase is over and successful, it's time to deliver the product to customers by deploying it. Deployment basically means that your system is made available to end-users.
It's smart to rely on an initial deployment phase before rolling out your solution to the public. As soon as that happens, the first users start testing your application. If they discover any changes required changes or bugs, they can report back to the team. And once everything is fixed, it's time for final deployment.
Don't expect the development process to be over once the product is shipped to customers. This is when the maintenance phase begins. You can be sure that some new problems emerge when end-users start using the system. These will have to be solved by the development team.
Taking care of a developed product is important because no plan can turn out perfectly when it meets reality. Also, expect the conditions in the real world to change. Your software might require updates or advancements to match evolving company demands.
What are the common problems during the software development process?
Forgetting about the needs of end-users - one of the key challenges in the process of building software appears during the early stage of requirements gathering. Since this phase involves many parties, it's easy for the Requirements Specification Document to go astray - especially when the team follows the waterfall model of building software.
- How to avoid it? Use models that encourage end-user participation in the process. Models like Scrum mitigate this risk because they involve the end-users increasingly with each iteration, ensuring that the solution has a solid product-market fit.
Changes and late requests - sometimes, project stakeholders suddenly decide to request the feature because of a change in their vision. Other times, they simply realize that a specific feature could be useful too late. A simple request like that could have huge implications on the development team.
- How to avoid it? By gathering all the requirements and analyzing them in the early stages. It's also smart to make the stakeholders understand the potential implications of such late requests.
Not enough time for testing – the team usually wants to ensure that the software works in accordance with the initial vision. However, testing for security and bugs is just as important. Unfortunately, due to budget constraints or bad management, some teams end up getting very little time for testing, which is often underestimated.
- How to avoid it? Allocate testers enough time to test the product thoroughly. Otherwise, you have no chance of catching bugs or security issues before releasing your software to the end-users.
How to improve the software development process - 6 tips
Pick the right SDLC model
It all starts at the point of choosing the model for your software development process. Here's an overview of the two most popular ones: waterfall and the agile software development framework Scrum.
When to use it? If your team requires a rigid structure and has extensive documentation needs, the waterfall model will work for you. This software development process works best in environments where all the goals, requirements, and technology stacks are unlikely to change during the development process radically.
Smaller software development projects are good candidates for waterfall development. The waterfall process might also be used by larger organizations that require extensive documentation on all the requirements and have projects with a fixed scope.
When not to use it? Avoid the waterfall model if you're testing a new product, want to be more dynamic in the development process, and require access to user feedback during development. This is where incremental development methods like agile work best.
Agile and Scrum
When to use it? The agile approach to project management and its Scrum framework work best for dynamic teams involved in continuous development (for example, continuously updating a software product).
Agile has a dynamic and user-focused nature. That's why so many startups and technology companies use it in software development. It's based on releasing small iterations on a regular basis and gathering user feedback instantly to support incremental development. That way, agile project management methodologies allow companies to move fast and test their assumptions without risking a lot of money put into developing a software product their users might not even need.
Note that in agile, testing will take place after each of the increments, so tracking bugs and rolling back to a previous product version in case of serious problems is easy.
When not to use it? If your team is working with a tight budget and timeline, and the project has well-defined scope and requirements. Because of agile's dynamic nature, some projects might go over their initial timeframe or budgets. However, experienced development teams know how to deliver accurate estimations of agile software development projects.
Moreover, using agile requires a solid understanding of the process. That's why you might have to employ a dedicated Scrum Master to ensure that sprints are working and milestones are hit.
Head over here for a guide to proven agile practices: 7 Agile best practices you should know
Optimize your workflow
The development team probably follows a workflow that has been established previously. But how can you tell that this workflow works well?
Here are the questions you need to ask to identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies in your process:
- Does your workflow include painstakingly slow stages?
- Is work piling up for a specific activity or user (or a group of users)?
- Are tasks repeatedly reopened after they have been marked as done?
- Do you see a lot of tasks that are killed before reaching the done status?
By taking your workflow through the loop with your team a few times, you'll be able to answer these questions and improve your workflow.
"For example, you might discover that the product owner becomes a bottleneck because they're not dedicating enough time to the project or that the review step takes up the majority of a task's journey to completion. Once you know what's not working, you can start fixing it."
Kamil Sabatowski, former COO at Sunscrapers
Manage code quality
How are you going to manage and assure the quality of your code? This is where the testing stage comes in. You might be fine with the idea of cutting back on testing time and gain more resources to get more done in a shorter time. But by doing that you might be delivering badly written software.
That's why it's best to allocate time for testing right from the beginning. By using automated tests, you can monitor small fragments of your solution and ensure that everything works as you scale your product.
To take your QA to the next level, consider hiring a service delivery manager. This role is responsible for supervising the process of software development and ensuring that developers and testers are perfectly synchronized.
"Engage your developers in creating unit tests and performing code reviews on each other's work. One of the best practices in software development is having at least two people examine code before it's shipped. Pair programming helps developers to reduce the number of errors and accelerate the speed of delivery."
Przemek Lewandowski, CTO at Sunscrapers
Have a clear definition of Done
The definition of Done is a set of criteria that ensure all the tasks are truly done when they're completed in terms of functionality and quality. For example, a definition of done can be set of rules like the feature is implemented, the unit tests are passed, the documentation is ready, the feature has been reviewed by the QA, the code is in the master branch, the code is deployed to production.
By developing a common definition of Done, you will make sure that everyone on your team knows what it means when another team member says that they're done with a feature. It's a battle-tested project management practice.
Such explicit criteria for completion will also reduce the number of situations where your team needs to reopen already completed tasks because of unmet criteria repeatedly. It's better to spend some more time and complete a task once rather than having to revisit it several times to make fixes.
Build communication practices
You can avoid many problems in your software development process by investing time and energy into establishing solid communication practices.
Here are a few examples:
- Make sure that all the team members know which communication medium to use for what purpose.
- Set up daily meetings that allow developers to synchronize their efforts and report any potential blockers (in the Scrum framework, this is called the daily standup meeting).
- Establish a single point of contact between the development team and project stakeholders. That way, you be making sure that the cooperation between these two groups to run smoothly, especially important if you've partnered up with a remote team.
A solid software development process doesn't only ensure the successful delivery of a software product. It also guarantees that it's done within budget, time, and scope. By following all of these SDLC stages carefully and implementing these best practices, you will increase the chances of your team to build a fantastic piece of software smoothly.
Are you looking for a team of seasoned developers who have a solid software development process in place? Get in touch with us; we deliver software products using innovative approaches and battle-tested tools.