In our previous articles, we shared our experience on topics such as the advantages of having a dedicated development team and ways to cooperate with a software development company. Today, we would like to continue this discussion and focus on the inner workings of the IT industry, a topic we merely mentioned previously. If you are the CTO of a large organization that is already creating great products or involved in a startup that is going to break through the competitors and change the world, you might be interested in this. We will provide you with our own insights on how to 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 a few 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 the existing one, maximizing the effectiveness of your teams.
What is a product development process?
In software development, it is a combination of steps, tools, methodologies, and management techniques aimed at setting up effective teamwork. Basically, this is a set of daily, weekly, or monthly activities that development teams must engage in.
What is a product development life cycle?
Often misinterpreted as a product development process, a product development life cycle comprises all product development steps—from an initial idea to a market-ready solution. The life cycle can last for years, and it is much more than just the software development of a particular project. It often includes steps such as planning, discovery, market research, creating requirements and conducting feasibility analysis, product design, integration and testing, deployment, maintenance, and 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 the two and share some valuable insights based on our experience at SPD Group.
The 10 Steps in Software Product Development Life Cycle
Ideation and planning
It all starts with an idea. But how good is it? What you can do to improve it? The answer to these questions is brainstorming—the first thing you should do in building a software product without a shadow of a doubt. You need to answer the following questions:
- Does this product connect to a larger mission of the company?
- What additional experts and tools do you need?
- How much will it cost to build this product?
- Does your company have enough time to build this product?
Discovery and market research
The next step is to find out whether your potential product is what the market needs at the moment. Find out the market demand on the type of product you are building and conduct research on the needs of your customers. It will be a good idea to sit down with your team and ask yourselves:
- Why your project might fail in X years? What factors might lead to this potential failure? If there are any risks, what exactly are they?
- What you can do to reduce them?
- Do you have competitors with similar products? How can your product be better?
- What key features must your product have?
- Can you somehow benefit from current trends and predict future ones?
Creating requirements and conducting feasibility analysis
When the market research is done, it is time to figure out how to build your product from a software development perspective. Your development team needs to understand the project goals and conduct a deep analysis of its feasibility with actually coding it.
At this phase, your specific project requirements meet the detailed software architecture. Here is where the whole design of a software product is being created, including setting workflows and standards for the project, deciding on a tech stack, structure capabilities, and building the final prototype.
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 to add or remove some features from the final product.
“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
Now your team is coding a fully functional product according to design documentation. This is where the vision turns into reality and your project finally comes to life. This phase alone deserves a set of articles dedicated to it, so we won’t dive deep into the details for now.
Integration and testing
The approaches to system testing and integration may vary, but it typically involves Quality Assurance experts using multiple frameworks and continuous integration for high-quality testing. Both manual and automated testing are very popular and widely used in projects. Only when the software is considered bug-free can we move on to the next step.
Here is where your software project is moving to 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 real-world feedback, your team can focus on introducing fixes that will improve the performance. Maintenance and regular updates will help to cover any additional needs of your users.
Last but not least, marketing activities must begin along with the development process. Even if you don’t have a finished 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 name of these steps may change, some of them could be removed or new ones added to better fit a particular case. It is important to acknowledge that, usually, the life cycle of a product comes naturally and is dictated by the particular situation. Based on our experience, we can say that the life cycle by itself can’t go critically wrong and mess up the project. What really can make or break your project is the product development process, which can either go incredibly well or horribly wrong depending on the execution. That’s why, to provide you with as much information as we can on this topic, we will focus on the proper setup of processes 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 some 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 budget||Having frameworks for communication and standards for internal processes leads to a reduction in wastage of time and saving on the budget.|
|Understanding the processes||Both the client and the development team understand what’s going at each stage and why certain decisions are made. The goals and roles are transparent and tangible.|
|Testing the product||At each stage of the development process, the client can evaluate the product on-demand to see how it works and suggest changes or offer feedback.|
|Controlling the direction||You will have tools that will help manage the project at each particular moment. Your team will be able to offer you feedback before each sprint, which will maximize its efforts.|
|Leveraging predictability||You will have an opportunity to better estimate your goals with the development team and also be able to predict the status of the project in the next quarter or two.|
Top Software Product Development Processes to Choose From
There are numerous software development processes invented to deal with projects of different levels of complexity. Which one is the best for you? It depends on your specific goals, the size of the team, and the number of experts you can hire additionally among many other factors. We will present the five most common software development processes with their advantages and disadvantages to help you decide!
Also known as a linear sequential model or a classic life cycle model, Waterfall is one of the oldest and most popular models for creating software. You can imagine this model as consecutively following each step of a product development life cycle. In the real world, there is a slight overlap between the steps—you receive feedback during the process and go back to the previous step to make some changes. The name “Waterfall” comes from the fact that this is a plan-driven process with a strict order, where phases are cascaded to each other and flow downwards like an actual waterfall. Here is what the key phases look like:
Waterfall is great for cases where the documentation and structure of the project do not change radically. If you are sure about your goals, scope, team composition, requirements, and tech stack, this model might 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 might not be the right option for your case. This process is logical and transparent but has one main disadvantage—a lack of flexibility. With Waterfall, you won’t be able to change your mind much and get full advantage of prototypes and MVPs. The scope and direction of your project must be determined to benefit from the Waterfall model.
Note: Do not confuse Waterfall with absence of process. Often, teams with chaotic or not 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, and Scrum is the most popular practical implementation of this methodology. In other words, Scrum is a real-world framework, a set of tools and instructions based on high-level Agile principles. 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” which can last anywhere between two weeks and two months. At each sprint, the development team must deliver a usable software product to receive feedback on improvements.
The Agile approach is great when you need to react to the needs of your users fast and change the direction of your project, sometimes making radical changes to your plans. You don’t need to have a complete list of requirements or a statement of work before you begin the journey. Just choose a direction to move forward to and keep in mind that when you decide to make a change, it won’t damage anything.
Here is a quick example. If you want to build a product with multiple features, with the Agile approach it would take 2–4 weeks of a sprint to build a functional product with a single feature, but it will be usable and ready for user evaluation.
Here are the key phases:
This is the best fit for teams that expect changes and continuous updates along the way. Meaning that startups and companies 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 its dynamic nature, following Agile can easily lead to exceeding the initial budget or create conflicts in existing architecture.
To make sure that Agile is really what you need, we would like to recommend this article, which focuses on the characteristics of Scrum, Kanban, and Lean Development—the most popular practical implementations of Agile principles.
Incremental and Iterative
These processes can be considered middle-of-the-road between the predictability of Waterfall and the flexibility of Agile. Both Incremental and Iterative are similar in the idea of building small bits of software, but differ in what is actually created for the release.
In the Incremental process, you add one feature or function at a time. You can think of it as building a working MVP with bare functions and adding new features later. The Iterative process is different because you must have all the planned features in the initial release, at least the most basic versions of them.
These processes will provide you with some flexibility while also helping you keep everything going according to the global plan. You may consider them for large projects with defined scopes, but choose something else if you don’t have a clear long-term technology plan.
How do Incremental and Iterative differs 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—add new feature one at a time, and improve versions of the existing features with each sprint
This process is an improvement upon Waterfall, making up for its biggest disadvantage: a lack of testing. The V-Shaped process has a mandatory validation and verification step after each stage of the development process.
The V-Shaped process works for relatively small projects with requirements and scope that won’t change later. Compared to Waterfall, you don’t find out about the problem of the product at the very end of the development process but will have the opportunity to be aware of any blockers early on.
If you have a big project, need flexibility, and expect to make changes based on feedback, this might not be the best process.
The last process we will talk about is combining the flexibility of Agile, Iterative, and Incremental with the testing-based approach of V-Shaped. With each milestone, the risk analysis is mandatory to prevent any failures during the development process. With every milestone, the scope of the project expands and the planning and risk assessment begins all over again.
The main goal here is to reduce risks. If you have a big budget and work on a large project with a big amount of documentation that requires validation, you might consider this approach. However, this approach can be considered “exotic” because of the time and costs to make this theory 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 our experience at SPD Group, we can say with confidence that Agile/Scrum is the most popular process in our projects. Agile and Scrum is the most beneficial approach for us because it is effective, stable, understandable and flexible.
When you pick one of these processes, you can choose different approaches to add to it. 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 these that give you the experience to end up with a better result. Here is a short list of the challenges you might face:
This can lead to a longer and less effective development process. Do everything you can to understand what exactly you need to build and feel free to go back to the discovery phase if needed.
Make sure to spend additional time to sync thoughts with the software developer on a global vision and practical implementation. Ineffective communication can also be a factor that results in different expectations from a project.
This can lead to delays and missing deadlines. Luckily, the Agile process, for example, will deal with the most issues of this kind, if implemented right.
Sometimes you build more features than needed. Focus on the core features first and don’t miss the opportunity to launch an MVP.
This is another thing that Agile or other similar processes can help with. Often, the initial plans change dramatically. Be ready for it.
Not enough attention to tech debt
Changes to the software architecture during the development process can pile up and become a problem of scalability. The code must be cleaned regularly and stay up-to-date with changes in the product.
It is impossible to overestimate the importance of testing the product. Use your QA team to their maximum advantage and always plan more time for testing than needed, in case something goes wrong.
Change in the plans can make adding new features a necessity. This may lead to hitting budget limits and cutting existing features that were planned. Make sure to have an additional budget in your project for unexpected turns in the direction of the development.
Our Expertise in The Product Development Process
For 15 years, SPD Group continues to be a trusted software development partner for companies around the world, delivering great products in multiple industries. In a recent case, our partner—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 partner. After this, one of the decisions taken was to shift to Agile. Meaning that the sometimes inefficient Waterfall process that our partner used would be replaced completely by Agile and Scrum.
To achieve that goal, the new owners hired a team of coaches with experience in similar transformations in large organizations and made them a part of our partner’s company for a few quarters. The coaches essentially became employees of the company that connected to product lines and worked with team leaders and 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 how to practically implement it in this particular company.
The Agile process was successfully implemented in most departments of the company, especially in the Ukrainian teams of SPD Group because our teams were already adhering to these principles—SPD Group’s teams were pushing to introduce the Agile process before the acquisition to improve the transparency of the roadmaps and mid-term planning (2–3 months periods). With the new owner and Agile coaching, our teams achieved these goals.
While the coaches predicted that the transformation process would take up to a year, the first tangible results became obvious after just the first quarter. It became much easier to build dependencies among all teams across the organization and visibility for planning was improved dramatically for departments. The addition of metrics to the Agile process allowed management to understand the effectiveness of particular teams better and make changes where needed. The management began to pay much more attention to more detailed estimations of the goals.
In one of our other cases, we found out about the problem that startups face when using a somewhat chaotic version of the Waterfall process. When the startup grows into a large organization, the product development process must also change for internal teams to work with maximal efficiency. In the scenario when a startup becomes an enterprise, experts can’t take the same roles as they did before. Managers can’t be software engineers anymore because the more important management responsibilities will suffer. It is easy to get stuck in a startup mindset, so it is crucial to adjust the processes along with changes and the Agile approach can help here too.
What is the difference between the new product development process and the product development life cycle?
The product development process is a combination of steps, tools, methodologies, and management techniques aimed at setting up effective teamwork while the life cycle is a global plan for taking a product from an idea to a market-ready solution.
What are the product development life cycle stages?
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.
What are the key benefits of having a fine-tuned product development process?
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.
The biggest drawback of not having a proper product development process is your team not reaching its full potential. We had the experience of working with teams that have not fully embraced the Agile/Scrum process or had some formal methodology without actually using it. This led to chaos inside the project and a loss of focus on the initial goals and the ways to get there. Of course, adhering to the methodologies and approaches does not guarantee anything, but having a defined development process increases the chances of making your product a success.
Maintaining an effective development process requires constant effort, it won’t build itself overnight after a single decision has been made. The members of your organization must share your vision and understand the value of the process for the company. Only with the support of people in your organization will the idea of having a fine-tuned development process turn into reality and bring actual benefits.
- New Product Development Process in 6 Steps – https://www.tcgen.com/product-development-process
- What is Agile? What is Scrum? – https://www.cprime.com/resources/what-is-agile-what-is-scrum/
- The Ultimate Guide… Waterfall Model – https://www.projectmanager.com/waterfall-methodology
- A Survey of Software Development Process Models in Software Engineering – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/298656663_A_Survey_of_Software_Development_Process_Models_in_Software_Engineering
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