Most software development companies use a common set of principles to guide their process, though exact practices vary. Why? These principles work. They reliably drive a focused, efficient, and cost-effective process that creates the products customers want.
As an entrepreneur and business owner, I’m always looking for insight and guidance about how I can do things better. As the founder and CEO of Distillery, a full-service software design and development company, I’ve been privileged to learn several important lessons from the development process itself. These lessons are central to how I approach any initiative in any area of my business.
This article shares 5 of the most important lessons from the software development process. Specifically, I explain:
- The importance of challenging your assumptions
- How listening to your customers will lead to success
- Why starting small is the right way forward
- How building a backlog lays the right foundation for your project
- Why multitasking is detrimental to productivity
1. It’s Crucial to Challenge Your Assumptions
It’s essential to challenge your assumptions before deciding on a course of action. This is true for any type of project in any business. What we think we know isn’t always correct.
Many clients go into software development assuming they know what their customers want or which features will give them competitive differentiation. Although the client’s point of view is highly valuable, it’s simply one voice among many. User and market research helps us test our assumptions.
Challenging assumptions often leads to necessary course changes. This occurred when one first-time app developer asked us to build an on-demand employment app. He assumed success involved appealing to as large an audience as possible.
Drawing on user and competitive research, we challenged his assumptions about the market viability of his product. We then helped him develop a new concept that focused on an underserved but easily targeted niche audience: college and university students seeking part-time work. We also suggested the audience-expanding inclusion of internships.
Post-launch, the free iOS app is growing its base and winning awards.
If you don’t challenge your assumptions, you risk heading down a path that won’t lead to success. Research helps ensure you’re investing your time, money, energy, and focus in the right areas.
2. Your Customers Will Show You the Path to Success
Your customers will tell you a great deal about what will make your product successful. As we’ve discussed, acting on assumptions is never the best way forward.
Software developers conduct user experience (UX) research to better understand users’ problems and how to solve them. By gaining a clear understanding of users’ goals, needs, wants, and preferences, we test our assumptions. We also learn where we need to correct course.
We develop user personas — research-based representations of our archetypal users — to help us keep our users in mind throughout the development process. Each time we need to make an important decision, we return to our personas, asking, “What makes sense from their point of view?”
Business powerhouses such as Apple, Google, Starbucks, and Airbnb put customers at the center of many of their business decisions. As their success shows, a focus on UX and user research reliably delivers massive ROI.
Who are your customers? Take the time to identify, engage with, and listen to them. If you consistently keep them in mind when making decisions, they will show you the right way forward.
3. Start Small and Build Smart
You give your product the best chance of success by starting small and building incrementally.
It’s tempting to want to “go big” right out of the gate. You may worry that if you don’t release the best version of your service or product as soon as possible, you’ll miss your opportunity. Again, the problem is that you don’t yet know what “better” looks like for your customers.
Software developers use agile practices to build incrementally and validate their product at every step. Agile promotes a cyclical path of building, testing, receiving feedback, learning, and building again. Testing and feedback guide incremental improvements.
Another development best practice is starting with a minimum viable product (MVP). MVPs contain only the features that are truly essential to your product.
By quickly getting your MVP out to actual users, you can start receiving actual user feedback earlier than only releasing your final product. Your customers can show you what they do and don’t value and where refinements are needed.
Most businesses have limited resources to devote to product development. That’s exactly why MVPs make sense.
Starting with an MVP has helped several of our clients quickly get their products in front of investors. This enabled them to secure the funding needed to move to the next phase of development.
One client’s MVP helped the company validate that it provided the right tools and features for its diverse user groups. The client made several changes based on feedback about the MVP, ensuring that employees and customers could complete tasks with optimal convenience.
Even if you’re a service business that doesn’t sell a tangible product, it’s best to start small. A digital marketing business that plans to someday be full-service should still begin by offering a more limited range of services. That way, you have time to learn which services customers really value. You also have time to refine your service approach to ensure consistent quality.
So, remember: Start small and build smart. You’ll save time and money by investing only in efforts that will make a genuine difference to your customers.
4. Minimize the Multitasking to Increase Your Productivity
Many people think multitasking helps them be more efficient. On the contrary, research shows that dividing our attention between several tasks reduces our productivity and causes undue stress.
Transitioning between tasks takes up valuable time. It leads to slower cycle times and increased errors. That’s why I follow an anti-multitasking philosophy. I only begin tasks I can realistically finish in the time I have. I finish the tasks I begin, always doing my best to avoid becoming distracted.
Your process becomes inefficient if your resources are spread too thinly across tasks. You also delay your output, increasing the time it takes to finish the work.
For example, some developers use Kanban to visualize and control the flow of work. Kanban limits work in progress to increase productivity.
By effectively limiting multitasking, Kanban helps you reduce inefficiencies in your process.
The improved flow of tasks means reducing the amount of time wasted and reducing the overall time it takes to get things done, thereby increasing productivity.
5. Before You Begin, Build Your Backlog
A strong foundation supports every successful project. A strategically prioritized to-do list — known in agile development as a “backlog” — is a central component of that foundation.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re beginning a new project. There’s so much to do. You have limited time and resources. Against these odds, you need to find a path to success.
That’s why, before jumping in, it’s best to break your project down into manageable pieces. You also need to look strategically at what should be done and when. Building your project backlog helps you meet both of these objectives.
To create and maintain your backlog:
- Break the work down into discrete, manageable tasks.
- Decide which tasks are most important, and put them at the top of the list. The team will deliver these tasks first.
- Organize all other tasks in accordance with their importance. Less important tasks go at the bottom.
- Working down your list, pull work from the backlog if your team has capacity to do it.
- Periodically review your prioritization to ensure it still makes sense.
The process of building your backlog brings you and your team into agreement on what your priorities are. It helps you create a realistic approach focused on driving maximum value for your business.
Make Your Business Better With Development Best Practices
Nobody embarks on a software development project hoping it will fail. That’s why we’ve adopted these best practices. They’re some of the best ways we’ve found that ensure project success.
Similarly, you don’t want your company’s most important initiatives to fail. Your business can benefit now from these important lessons software developers have learned over time.
As you embark on your next project, remember these simple lessons. Challenge your assumptions. Let your customers lead the way. Adopt thoughtful processes that help you invest your resources in the right areas, build smart, and avoid wasting time and money. Stop spreading yourself and your resources too thin, and start creating the products and services that customers really want.
About the Author
Distillery CEO and founder Andrey Kudievskiy started his career in tech at the age of 19 while working on his degree in computer science. Within five years, Andrey had established his first company and played a key role in creating a successful cloud synchronization startup that was sold to a Fortune 500 company. A serial entrepreneur and talented developer in his own right, he is currently focused on enabling other entrepreneurs to build businesses and continuing Distillery’s expansion in the U.S. and international markets.