Continuous Development: Software Process Improvement
Software process improvement (SPI) is the systematic approach of continuous improvement of software by identifying areas for improvement and implementing changes to increase effectiveness and efficiency. The concept of continuous improvement, or “kaizen” (“change for the better” in Japanese), is central to the gold standard of quality — the Toyota Production System. For software, “continuous development” is synonymous with continuous improvement. (And you don’t have to be a multinational corporation to benefit from it.)
If you don’t stay on your toes, competitors might stomp on them
A great software product requires an iterative process over time. The first release is never the final product. Each process improvement or revision adds functionality, fixes bugs, and improves user experience (UX).
It doesn’t matter how big your company is — or how many coders, QA engineers, and security auditors you throw at your software — you always have things to improve and issues to fix. (Last we checked, Apple’s iOS was at version 16.1.1.)
So for startups and other early-stage software developers, the principles of continuous development are the only way to go.
But after an application is “stable” and starts generating revenue, many companies tend to get complacent. They stop applying the continuous development approach to their product. And that error can be fatal, especially for the SaaS industry.
Without continuous development, even a relatively mature product can lag behind the market. If you don’t update your software — continuously and quickly — you risk getting stomped on by your competition.
Benefits of Continuous Development, in a nutshell
Done right, continuous process improvement sets goals, tests assumptions, analyzes reality, and implements changes to meet proven needs — quickly.
The speed and agility of continuous development can improve software in many ways, including:
- Adding new features and functions to address changing (or newly identified) customer needs
- Identifying and resolving bugs, customer concerns, and other issues to maximize product quality
- Reducing overall project risks by deploying and measuring small, incremental product changes
- Adapting to market conditions that unveil new revenue opportunities
- Scaling the application to capture changing audiences and markets
- Updating security to keep the application ahead of rapidly evolving cyber threats
- Code and architecture refactoring to make the product easier to maintain and develop
What Goes into Continuous Development
Continuous software development can be described in many ways, but it boils down to the four simple stages of continuous improvement: Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA).
Planning should cover your business objectives and strategy, product goals and required functionality, deadlines, and budget. Planning typically involves a Discovery Phase that lets the development team define the scope of the application, align functionality with business requirements, and tie the solution to the strategic vision.
Doing sets the plan in motion. For the most effective software development, best practice is to release elements in short, quick sprints and test continuously as you deploy. As your product nears full release, you can also apply analytics to internal reviews and external user behaviors to compare product performance against your goals.
Checking measures reality against the plan. Again, analytics are key to making objective assessments of product success. What worked? What didn’t? Did customer behavior meet expectations? Were the objectives met? What adjustments are needed? Product optimization requires data-driven decisions on application UI/UX, content, process flow, and other key parameters.
Acting means fine-tuning functionality, improving quality, fixing issues, enhancing performance, updating security measures, and adding requirements if needed. It is vital, especially in the early stages of development, to be flexible and creative — much innovation comes from experimentation.
When the PDCA cycle is complete, go through it again: adjust the plan, deploy the revised solution accordingly, measure the effect of the product changes, and take the necessary actions to improve the product.
Continuous Development Lets You Pivot Quickly, If Neede
Sometimes, a product may not work as initially envisioned — at all. Maybe the market changed dramatically. Or customers didn’t respond anywhere near as expected. Or the whole “killer app” idea wasn’t so killer after all.
In such cases, the continuous development process approach is critical to get the product back on track. The PDCA process lets you release faster, detect issues and obstacles earlier, and pivot sharply if needed — to a different UI/UX, a different backend, a different process . . . maybe even a whole different product.
As always, analytics are key to justifying — and understanding the impact of — any pivots you make in your software solution.
Challenges of the Software Improvement Process
There are a few obstacles in the continuous software process improvement to take into consideration.
There are many approaches to a continuous software development process and process improvement can be costly. Beginning with tasks and improvements that are high-impact and low cost is a great place to start. Working on small incremental projects versus a large scale improvement can help ROI as well. Additionally, the organization may not have the resources to have a project team or software engineer in-house to be dedicated to an SPI initiative.
Working with Diffco, an expert software development company can alleviate these issues for your company.
No matter how simple or complex you think your application might be, continuous process improvement is the best way to keep it aligned with your expectations — and help you achieve your product and business goals.
To see how Diffco’s professional software development team can apply the best practices of continuous software process improvement to your application, contact us here.
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