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In our previous articles, we have shared our experience on topics such as the advantages of having a dedicated development team and ways to cooperate with the software development company.

Today, we would like to continue this discussion and focus on the inner workings of the IT industry. If you are the CTO of a large organization that is already engaged in creating great IT products or involved in a startup that is going to break through the competitors and change the world, this topic may be of interest to you. We will share with you our own insights into how one can improve the internal process for both scenarios, but first, let’s start with the basics.

Introduction to the Product Development process

Every great product we know was once just an idea. Sometimes, the initial idea seemed unrealistic, but the development team made it a reality. What distinguishes success from failure? Why do only some brilliant ideas survive and materialize into something special? Among the most important factors of the product’s success are a well-organized development process and proper marketing activities. In this article, we will focus on the IT industry and try to offer you some advice on how to set up a new product development process or improve an existing one, thus maximizing your teams’ efficiency.

What is a Product Development process?

In software development, it is a combination of steps, tools, methodologies, and management techniques, intended to ensure effective teamwork. Basically, this is a set of daily, weekly, or monthly activities that development teams engage in.

What is a Product Development Life Cycle?

Often confused with the Product Development process, the Product Development life cycle includes all the product development steps—from the initial idea to a market-ready solution. The difference is that the life cycle can last for years, and it is much more than just the implementation of a specific software development project. It often includes steps such as planning, discovery, market research, the creation of project requirements, feasibility analysis, product design, solution integration, and testing, deployment, maintenance, and, finally, marketing.

Both a well-planned product development process and a thought-out product development life cycle are very important to the success of your project. We will describe both and share some valuable insights that are based on SPD Group’s experience.

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The 10 steps in software Product Development Life Cycle

Ideation and planning

It all starts with an idea. But how good is this idea? What can you do to improve it?

The answer to these questions is brainstorming—the first thing you should do while building a software product without a shadow of a doubt. At first, you need to answer the following questions:

  • Does this product connect to a larger mission of the company?
  • What additional experts and tools do we need?
  • How much will it cost to build this product?
  • Does our company have enough time to build this product?

Discovery and market research

The next step is to find out whether your product-to-be is what the market currently needs. Find out the market demand for the kind of products you are intending to build and make the research into your potential customers’ needs.

It will also be a good idea to sit down with your team and try to jointly answer the following questions:

  • Why could your project fail in X years? What factors might lead to this potential failure? If there are any risks, what exactly are they? What can we do to reduce these risks?
  • Do we have any competitors with similar products? How can our product be better?
  • What key features must our product include?
  • Can we somehow benefit from the current trends and predict the future ones?

Creating requirements and conducting feasibility analysis

When the market research is complete, it is time to figure out how to build your product from the software development perspective. Your development team must understand the project goals and determine just how feasible they are to implement.

Product design

This is the phase during which the whole of your software product’s design is created, including the definition of the workflows, standards for the project, tech stack, and functional capabilities. The creation of the final prototype takes place during this phase too.

Launching an MVP

In some cases, it makes sense to launch a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) to get some feedback on the key features before embarking on full-scale development. Sometimes, feedback from the users can be crucial for adding some new features to the product or removing some of the existing ones.

“You want to be extra rigorous about making the best possible thing you can. Find everything wrong with it and fix it. Seek negative feedback, particularly from friends.”
— Elon Musk, Tesla

Development

Now your team is coding a fully functional product in accordance with your design documentation. This is where the product vision turns into reality and your project finally comes to life. This phase alone deserves a set of articles to be written about it, so we won’t delve too deep into the details for now.

Integration and testing

The approaches to system testing and integration may vary, but this phase typically involves Quality Assurance experts using multiple frameworks and continuous integration for high-quality testing. Both manual and automated testing are very popular. They are widely used in projects. Only when the software is considered bug-free can we move on to the next step.

Deployment

Here is where your software project moves into production. In the future, changes and further improvements will be delivered, but the core product is ready for the end-users. Simple projects can be launched in a single release and more complex ones require a staggered release.

Maintenance and post-release support

After receiving enough real-world feedback, your team can focus on making adjustments that will improve the product’s performance. Maintenance and regular updates will help you cover any additional needs of your users.

Marketing

Last but not least, marketing activities must begin together with the development process. Even if you don’t have a complete product, it makes sense to start the preparations and promote it as much as you can to ensure the success of the whole project.

Quick summary on the Product Development Life Cycle

The names of these steps we have reviewed may vary. Some of them can be removed, and new ones can be added to make the process a better fit for a specific case. It is important to note that, the life cycle of a product usually comes into being naturally and is dictated by the specific situation. Based on our experience, we can say that the life cycle in its own right cannot go critically wrong and mess up a project. What really can make or break your project is the product development process, which, depending on the execution, can either go incredibly well or horribly wrong. That’s why, to provide you with as much information on this topic, we will focus on the proper setup of the software development process in the following sections of this article.

The key benefits of an effective Product Development process

Why even care?

Unfortunately, this question still often pops up among many executives when they talk about paying more attention to the software development process. We would, therefore, like to highlight the main advantages of having a well-structured software development process:

Saving on time and budgetHaving frameworks for communication and standards for internal processes in place results in a reduction in the wastage of time and budget savings.
Understanding the processesBoth the client and development team understand what’s going on at each stage and why certain decisions are made. The goals and roles are transparent and tangible.
Testing the productAt each stage of the development process, the client can evaluate the product on-demand to see how it performs and suggest changes or offer feedback.
Controlling the directionYou will have tools that will help manage the project at any moment in time. Your team will be able to offer you feedback before each sprint, to maximize the effort.
Leveraging predictabilityYou will have an opportunity to better evaluate your goals with the development team and predict the status of the project in the next quarter or two.

Top software Product Development processes to choose from

Numerous existing software development processes can help you deal with projects of different levels of complexity. Which one would work best for you? Among multiple other factors, it depends on your specific goals, the size of your team, and the number of experts you can hire additionally. We will dwell on the five most common software development processes, highlighting their advantages and disadvantages to help you decide.

Waterfall

Also known as a linear sequential model or a classic life cycle model, Waterfall is one of the oldest and most popular software development models. This model is based on the project team consecutively following each step of the product development life cycle. In the real world, there is a slight overlap between the steps—you receive feedback during the process and revert to the previous step to make the required changes.

The name “Waterfall” describes a plan-driven process with a strict order, where the phases are cascaded to each other and flow downwards like an actual waterfall.

Here is what the key phases look like:

Learn how waterfall approach looks like

Waterfall is great for those cases, where the documentation and structure of the project do not undergo any drastic changes. If you are sure about your goals, scope, the composition of the team, requirements, and tech stack, this model can be a great fit.

However, if you are introducing a new product and want to have the freedom to change the direction of the project after receiving user feedback, Waterfall may not be the right option for your case. This process is logical and transparent. However, it has one main disadvantage—a lack of flexibility.

With Waterfall, you won’t be able to change your mind all too often, or fully benefit from the advantages of prototypes and MVPs. For you to benefit from the Waterfall model, the scope and direction of your project must be clearly defined in advance.

Note: Do not confuse Waterfall with the total absence of any process. Often, teams with chaotic or not well-thought-out processes call it “Waterfall”, but it is not true.

Agile and Scrum

Agile methodology is a set of principles that you need to follow to build an effective development process. Scrum is the most popular practical embodiment of this methodology. In other words, Scrum is a real-world framework or a set of tools and instructions that are based on high-level Agile principles. The Agile/Scrum combination can be considered a separate software development process worth a more detailed explanation.

While the Waterfall process has its strict flow, in Agile, teams work in “sprints”. These sprints can last anywhere between two weeks and two months. At each sprint, the development team must deliver a usable software product with a view to receiving feedback on the improvements that need to be made.

The Agile approach is great when you need to quickly react to the needs of your users and change the direction of your project, sometimes by making radical changes to your plans. You don’t need to have a complete list of the requirements or a statement of work before you begin the journey. Just choose a direction to move forward and keep in mind that when you decide to make a change, it won’t damage anything.

Here is a quick example. Suppose you want to build a product with multiple features. With the Agile approach, it will take a sprint of 2-4 weeks to build a functional product with one single feature, but this product will be usable and ready for user evaluation.

Here are the key phases:

Learn how Agile approach looks like

The Agile approach is the best fit for teams that expect changes and continuous updates along the way. This means that startups and companies that are testing new products will benefit from this model the most.

On the other hand, if you are tight on budget and time, or you know precisely what you want to do, Agile may not work that well. Because of the approach’s dynamic nature, following Agile can easily lead to the initial budget being exceeded or conflicts being created in the existing architecture.

For you to make sure that Agile is really what you need, we would recommend that you read this article that focuses on the characteristics of Scrum, Kanban, and Lean Development—the most popular practical embodiments of Agile principles.

Incremental and Iterative

These processes can be considered middle-of-the-road ones between the predictability of Waterfall and the flexibility of Agile. The Incremental and Iterative processes are similar in their focus on small parts of the functionality. The difference between them lies in the actual release deliverables.

Learn how Incremental planning looks like

In the Incremental process, you add one feature or function at a time. You can think of it as building a working MVP with basic functions and adding more features later. The Iterative process is different in that you must have all the planned features in the initial release – at least the most basic versions of them.

Iterative

These processes will allow you some flexibility, while also helping you keep everything going in accordance with the global plan. You may consider them for large projects with well-defined scopes, but choose something else if you don’t have a clear long-term technology plan.

How are Incremental and Iterative different from Agile?

  • In Incremental, you build a complete feature for each sprint
  • In Iterative, you build a version of a feature for each sprint
  • In Agile you do both— you add new features one at a time, and improve the versions of the existing features with each next sprint.

V-Shaped

This process is an improvement upon Waterfall and makes up for the latter’s biggest disadvantage: an insufficient amount of testing. The V-Shaped process has a mandatory validation and verification step after each stage of the development effort.

The V-Shaped process works for relatively small projects with requirements and scope that won’t change later. Compared with Waterfall, you learn about your product’s problems at the very end of the development effort and have an opportunity to be aware of any blockers early on.

If you have a large-scale project, need flexibility, and expect to be making changes based on user feedback, V-Shaped may not be the best development approach option.

Spiral

The last process we will talk about combines the flexibility of Agile, Iterative, and Incremental with the testing-driven nature of V-Shaped.

With each milestone, the scope of the project expands and the risk analysis and planning become necessary again to prevent any possible failures during the development process.

Discover how Spiral approach looks like

The main goal here is to mitigate the risks. If you have a big budget and work on a big project with a significant amount of documentation that requires validation, you can consider this approach. However, Spiral can be considered “exotic” because of the time and costs required to make it a reality. It is often used as an example of critical thinking in the Iterative approach.

Quick summary of the Product Development process

Based on SPD Group’s experience, we can say with confidence that Agile and Scrum are the most popular development approach as far as our projects are concerned. They represent the most beneficial approaches for us because they are effective, stable, understandable, and flexible.

When you pick one of these processes, you can combine it with one of several other approaches. For example, you can combine Agile and Scrum with Feature Driven Development, or add Extreme Programming to the Waterfall process.

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Challenges of the Product Development process

It is impossible to build a new product and avoid mistakes, as it is mistakes that give you the experience to end up with a better result. Here is a shortlist of the challenges that you may encounter:

Unclear requirements

Unclear requirements can lead to a longer and less effective development process. Do everything you can to understand what exactly you need to build your product and feel free to go back to the discovery phase if required.

Different expectations

Make sure to spend some additional time syncing thoughts with your software provider on both your global vision and its practical implementation. Ineffective communication can result in varying expectations for the project.

Ineffective communication

This can lead to delays and missing deadlines. Luckily, if implemented the right way, the Agile process can eliminate the majority of issues of this kind.

Redundancy

Sometimes, you build more features than needed. Focus on the core features first and don’t miss out on the opportunity to launch an MVP.

Changing scope

This is another problem that Agile and other similar processes can deal with. Often, the initial plans change dramatically. Be ready for this.

Not enough attention to tech debt

Changes to the software architecture that occur during the development process can pile up and turn into a scalability problem. The code must be purged regularly and stay up-to-date with the changes in the product.

Proper testing

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of testing the product. Use your QA team to their full capacity and always plan more time for testing than is required at first glance in case something goes wrong.

Budget constraints

Changes to your development plan can entail adding new features. This may lead to exceeding the budget limits and having to cut some of the planned features. Make sure to have an additional project budget to cover any unexpected turns in the direction of your development effort.

Our expertise in implementing an efficient Product Development process

For over 15 years, SPD Group has continued to be a trusted software development partner for companies around the world, delivering great software products to multiple industries.

In a recent case in the eCommerce industry, our client—a leading provider of prepaid and payment products with 3500+ employees—was acquired by a bigger company. The new owners evaluated the management level, delivery, and internal processes of our client. After this, they made a decision to shift to Agile. This was done to completely replace our client’s sometimes inefficient Waterfall process with Agile and Scrum.

To achieve this goal, the new owners hired a team of coaches with experience in similar transformations in large organizations. They made these experts part of our client’s company for an extended period of time. The coaches essentially became employees of the company, who were linked to specific product lines and worked in collaboration with both the team lead and regular team members. The coaches arranged regular meetings with groups of 30–50 experts, working on the same product lines. At these meetings, the coaches introduced the Agile/Scrum approach and showed the company’s employees how to practically implement it in this particular organization.

As a result, the Agile process was successfully implemented in most of the company’s departments, including the SPD Group’s teams. Moreover, our teams were already following the Agile principles, as they had pushed to introduce the Agile process yet prior to when our client’s acquisition took place. We deemed that this would improve the transparency of the roadmaps and mid-term planning (2–3 months periods). With the advent of the new owner and with the help of the Agile coaching they provided, our teams achieved this objective.

While our Agile coaches predicted that the transformation process would take up to one year, the first tangible results became evident after just the first quarter. It became much easier to build dependencies among all teams across the organization. Agile has also improved dramatically multiple departments’ visibility for planning. The addition of metrics to the Agile process has allowed the company’s management to understand the effectiveness of each specific team better and to make changes wherever required. The management began to pay much more attention to more detailed goal-related estimates.

In one of our other previous projects, we have also come across one of the problems startups face when using a somewhat chaotic version of the Waterfall process.

When a startup grows into a large organization, the product development process must evolve accordingly for its internal teams to work with maximum efficiency. In the scenario when a startup becomes an enterprise, experts can’t take the same roles as their previous ones. The Project Managers can’t be software engineers anymore because in this case, the more important management responsibilities will suffer. It is easy to get stuck in a startup mindset, so it becomes crucial to adjust the processes to support the transformation-related changes. The Agile approach promotes this.

Additionally, we have experience in integrating tools to improve existing product development processes in our project. One of those tools is Metucat, which is an Integrated Framework for developing, maintaining, and evolving data-centric applications. Metucat drives and controls application development using visual metadata, where the architecture becomes an organic part of the system. Metucat can be configured to create applications that fit into any data platform used by your enterprise or a startup. This framework can be used by different experts on your project, including architects, developers, and business analysts.

We created complex models with Metucat within two weeks and can say that the framework helps save up to 50% of the time, spent on planning, analysis, and design. The framework allows distributed teams to work on different parts of the product independently and provides better functionality, performance, and speed of development within the limits of the same budget.

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Conclusion

The biggest drawback of the failure to implement a proper product development process is your team’s inability to reach its full potential.

We have some experience working with 3d- party teams that did not fully embrace the Agile/Scrum process or formally introduced this methodology without actually using it. This would typically lead to chaos inside the project and a loss of focus on the initial goals and ways to get there.

Of course, adhering to the methodologies and approaches does not yet guarantee anything, but having a well-defined development process increases the odds of your product becoming a success.

Implementing an effective development process requires constant effort. It cannot be created and implemented overnight as a result of a single decision. The members of your organization must share your vision and realize the true value of your selected development process for your company. It is only with the support of your employees that you can turn the idea of a well-established and well-tuned development process into a reality and make it bring actual benefits.

Summary

The list of these steps may change, but it usually consists of idea and planning, discovery and market research, creating requirements and conducting feasibility analysis, product design, launching an MVP, development, integration and testing, deployment, maintenance, and marketing.

You will understand the processes and be able to control the direction of your project. Being able to predict the next steps of the development process and having mandatory testing of the product will ultimately save you time and money. With a predictable product development process your employees will be happier, have better roles and promotions while also having a better understanding of their goals and ways to achieve them. Ultimately, your organization will become a better workplace.

Further Reading

  1. New Product Development Process in 6 Steps – https://www.tcgen.com/product-development-process
  2. What is Agile? What is Scrum? – https://www.cprime.com/resources/what-is-agile-what-is-scrum/
  3. The Ultimate Guide… Waterfall Model – https://www.projectmanager.com/waterfall-methodology

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