Developing software at a tech startup can be an unpredictable and chaotic process. Teams must move quickly to gain a foothold in the market, adjust to customer needs and deliver a market-ready solution on time and with limited resources. As a result, it might be attractive to cut corners and only adhere to some agile principles in order to turn vision into reality—a shortcut that can often end in disaster.
Through NeuEon’s work with lean-agile models, we’ve identified a few surefire ways to help startups adopt a product development process that delivers the appropriate business value without compromising the goals of agile development. The following are a few process-related priorities to keep in mind as you look to tackle development goals in both an effective and time-sensitive manner.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT: NOT JUST LIP SERVICE
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the majority of projects fail if they’re not managed well.
Management doesn’t mean a boss telling people what to do. Instead, management means understanding what needs to be built and tracking progress and dependencies. It also means keeping obstacles and expectations visible, driving clear communication throughout an organization, and establishing a set of clearly defined roles.
When good project management processes aren’t in place, you’ll know it, which is why this area should be one of the first in your organization to reinforce. Proper project management should aim to keep teams focused and aligned, promote collaboration and foster better decision-making. It can also pay dividends in terms of efficiency, cost-savings and innovation.
RESPECT & DEFINE THE USER STORY
If you were designing your house, how much time would you spend describing to the contractors what you wanted? Many product owners don’t treat the requirements for their software product with the same level of detail, leaving out critical context that developers need.
Requirements can often be rushed, too general, disorganized, or fail to capture the end users’ needs and assumptions. On the flip side, developers can treat requirements as if they were handed down to them on stone tablets instead of treating them as an opportunity for discussion, exploration or even challenge.
If a product’s requirements aren’t thoroughly vetted, explored and prioritized, you may end up with a product that’s exactly what the customer wants—instead of what they actually need.
IDENTIFY & RESPOND TO PROCESS BREAKDOWN
Even organizations with established software development processes are susceptible to process breakdown when there’s pressure to rush, someone doesn’t recognize the value of the process, or there’s a change in team composition. This can lead to all types of product failure scenarios and can culminate in an increase in technical debt.
In organizations where communication is lacking, a process breakdown can become a serious long-term issue that may derail your project for good. The goal of agile development is predictability and that breeds trust. Regular and honest assessments of how your product development process is progressing will enhance the comfort of your team to make critical decisions. This type of approach will also encourage a more rapid and fluid response to change. Retrospection, and how you adapt to requests for change, will shape your team and help pave the way to a better outcome.
QUALITY IS A CRITICAL GOAL
Using the proper tools to track issues like defects and resolution rates is an important part of the development process, but if you’re seeing increasing bug rates over time then this should trigger a review of the quality aspects of your development process. This is an integral part of helping your team find ways to improve.
When defect rates get too high, it’s hard to deliver software on a predictable schedule or with a predictable quality, so keep a watchful eye on the defect trends and be determined to understand the underlying issues. Learning from these mistakes early on and using them to improve the development process will help to increase quality.
In small business, and especially at tech startups, it can be enticing to practice “fly by the seat of your pants” development. But if you don’t follow a predictable process, it will be hard to predict results.
Having a process doesn’t guarantee success, but it does increase the likelihood that everyone is following a consistent methodology and continually adhering to the agile tenets. Not all processes are created equal however, so it’s important to periodically re-evaluate your processes and look for ways to improve.
When developing software, your process is simply a framework for how work gets done. This framework should provide transparency, allow for change, and support best practices in all aspects of the development process.
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