Software development is a complex process. And it’s constantly reimagined or repurposed with new features. Unlike the production industry or manufacturing industry, increasing the number of people/resources won’t increase the speed of software development proportionately. The reason being, no other engineering discipline uses Intellectual capital as much as software development. Software development is perhaps the most knowledge-intensive engineering branch. So how does one increase or optimize the speed of an engineering discipline which is more abstract than concrete?
Software development as an activity comprises people, processes, and technology. To increase the speed of development, the math is simple. Assuming everything else is normal, reduce the variables which drag the project down or reduce the speed and increase the variables which speed up the process.
What are these variables which can increase/decrease the pace of development?
The clearer your requirements, the lesser the unknowns. And hence certainty in what needs to be done. Precise requirements are the first step in faster development. It is difficult to freeze requirements because change is inevitable. Therefore, what needs to be done might still be challenging to achieve and, hence, time-consuming. But it’s a known challenge. Hence with precise, documented requirements, there is no avoidable delay in development.
With precise requirements or defined goals, the next step is to ensure the availability of resources. Resources can be material, people, tools & frameworks, etc. As with requirements, it may not be possible to have the right amount of resources. Or even know what are the right resources at the start of the project. But what is important to realize is that the right resources can make or break the project. Experienced people, the right tools, the proper process can accelerate the execution of a project. Being short-staffed might make economic sense, but it’s a guaranteed way to delay your project.
A well-defined project plan goes a long way in executing a development project faster. A project faces risks of many types at different stages. Schedules can go awry for a variety of reasons. Data loss because of catastrophic events is a possibility. A well-planned project mitigates all of these risks and has a plan B for all scenarios. By taking out the unknowns in a project, development can be done uninterrupted. With well-defined, realistic schedules, slippage and the delay associated with that are overcome.
Modern development projects are cross-functional. There are many departments involved. Not all the departments would be technically savvy, mainly when we are dealing with enterprise projects. Software development has always suffered this problem of business-engineering communication during development. Hence the need to have a clear, single point or channel of contact. Speed of execution gets affected when people across a team are left searching for answers from another department or unit. This might be due to awareness or simply lack of knowledge about who to reach out to. If there is a single source of information or a single point of contact, development speed is greatly improved. This is especially true when the project involves cross-functional teams.
We discussed precise requirements earlier. Parallel to that is feasible, doable requirements. Far too often, project initiation happens and with clear requirements as well. But some of the requirements won’t be feasible or doable in the current context. Maybe the technology is not yet there, and perhaps compliance is an issue. Maybe the relevant standards do not permit it. Once a project starts, and the discovery of such a non-feasible-doable requirement is made, teams usually try to “band-aid” a solution that is relative to the original feature leading to further delays. Hence it is essential to choose only those features which are possible in the current context. This reduces technical debts.
The software engineering process in the early days was pretty simple. Hence a linear flow of development worked fine. The requirements were given ad-hoc. It was developed as a whole. After testing, it was deployed or delivered. But as technology and the digital world evolved, complexities increased as well. The linear flow or waterfall model could not scale or adapt to these complex requirements. Hence the Agile development methodology became popular. With agile development methods, tools, and automation, development becomes faster. Products are built iteratively. Agile development helps in faster development because of this. Changes, which are a leading cause of delay, are reduced to a minimum with iterative development. The stakeholders are given a periodic review, and hence the final goal is always evident.
DevOps and CI/CD are a must for fast development. DevOps and CI/CD, which comprises automated development, deployment, and testing, reduce the bottleneck in communication between various stages of development. For example, the development team need not generate or deploy separate builds for quality analysis or other project stakeholders. Thanks to well-scripted and defined pipelines, deployment is faster, and hence feedback is more instantaneous. With automated testing, every commit to the code is tested and verified. With tracking and monitoring also automated, development speed is increased dramatically.
Over the last couple of decades, technology has evolved rapidly. Many tech stacks have become obsolete. Many have become suited for specific applications, and some have become popular with the development community. The right tech stack can make a difference in the development process through greater speed, third-party support, developer community support, vendor support, etc.
Ultimately all software projects or software engineering is done by people. At least that’s the state currently! Skills, intellect, and knowledge vary from person to person. Similarly, emotional attributes like curiosity, temperament, patience also differ from one person to another. People clearly cannot work 24 hours a day to deliver some output. Getting the best out of every person in a beneficial manner to the person and the project is an essential skill for a manager. Motivational programs, skill upgrades, learning opportunities, dedicated downtime, work-life balance, meaningful work go a long way in encouraging an employee to do his best. Ultimately leading to faster output
Software development projects are unique, diverse, have different scales and complexity. Hence it’s safe to say that what works for one project won’t work for another. The trick to increase the speed of development or optimize the process is by having well-defined goals, eliminating risks, having the right amount plus relevant resources, and planning in the best possible way. Any activity in a particular project which helps these should be encouraged. It is essential to realize that the velocity of the execution can be improved at any stage