Software development workflows can have a large impact on the efficiency of your team and the quality of your offerings. Without an optimized software development workflow, your devs will have difficulty staying on schedule. They're also less likely to be engaged and aligned with your business's goals.
Read our guide to learn how to create an optimized software development workflow. We'll cover elements of what workflow is in software development, six ways to optimize your software development flow for continuous improvement, and common challenges faced by Agile teams. By the end of our guide, you'll also learn how to optimize your workflow by hiring a dedicated team.
Elements of a Software Development Workflow
When it comes to the elements of workflow, software development has a notable amount of technical parts. Let's discuss those before we get into how you can optimize your software development.
Also known as a systems development lifecycle (SDLC), a software development workflow is a process for planning, building, testing, and deploying a software application. Your team needs to follow an established SDLC to create high-quality software in the shortest time possible.
Planning and Assigning Roles in Your Development Team
The first step of the SDLC is planning and assigning roles in your dev team. This requires looking at the following to ensure that you have everything you need to start the project:
- Product requirements or scope: What are the features and functions required for the software, website, application, or service being developed? What do you or your client want? Are there specific branding guidelines?
- Alignment: How does the project connect to your business' overarching mission and goals?
- Project scheduling: When will this project begin and end? How and when will your team work on this project? Will they work on it every day? Twice a week? If your team is juggling other projects simultaneously, where does this project fit in?
- Resource availability and allocation: Look at your existing personnel and staff. Do you have the tools and talent to tackle this project? If not, do you need to expand your team or hire a new development team?
- Cost estimation: How much will your project cost? Include a breakdown of estimated costs.
- Requirements: You also need to understand the technical requirements of the project. Ask questions about the specifics of the project, like:
- What problem does the project solve?
- Who's going to use the product and what will they use it for?
- Do you need to purchase or create new software development workflow tools, platforms, and application programming interfaces (APIs)?
- What kind of data output or input is needed?
- How will you handle privacy and security?
- Role allocation: Once you've determined all of the above, it's time to assign roles to your development team. Look at each member's experience, preferences, personality, and skills, and talk to them about which role would be the best fit.
The goal of the first step of the SDLC is to start on the right foot. Accordingly, you need to get input from all of the departments that will be impacted by this project. This typically includes:
- Information technology (IT) services
- Product development
- Quality assurance (QA)
- Business development
- Sales and marketing
At the end of this phase, you should have enough information to create a comprehensive scope of work (SOW) — a narrative description of your project that defines timelines, deliverables, and project-specific activities. A well-written SOW will:
- Help you meet timelines and milestones on and ahead of time
- Prevent scope creep, which is when additions and features expand beyond your initial scope
- Reduce confusion and keep everyone on the same page
Creating and Designing the Software Development Environment
The next step is to create and design the software development environment (SDE). An SDE is a collection of software and hardware tools for building software systems. Simply put, it's everything your dev team needs to get their work done. The contents of an SDE vary between projects and companies, but most SDEs will have the following:
- Code editor and compiler: This is where your developers write, edit, and save code for your project. If your programmers use compiled languages like C++ and C%, the code editor and compiler should also be able to compile code. Many companies use pre-existing code editors and compilers like Sublime, Atom, and Visual Studio.
- Command-line interface (CLI): CLIs allow team members to access the file system, create folders, and delete folders. They're much more powerful and precise than graphical user interfaces (GUI). Common examples include Git Bash, TEXTREME, and PowerShell.
- Version control system: These tools empower devs to share code with collaborators, save their work, and keep track of the different build versions so they can reuse and modify parts of the code base as needed. A great example is GitHub.
Using the SDE to build the product is probably the most difficult stage of the SDLC. Your team needs to be extremely careful when building the product — if they make a mistake, they may have to return to the planning stage, especially if they're following sequential project management methods like Waterfall. That's why your team should always follow the SOW. Otherwise, they won't be able to keep everyone on the same page and reduce scope creep.
Reviewing Code for Quality and Errors in the Code Review Process
After your team has finished building the product, they will release it to the beta environment for testing. Your development team will then work with QA to test, track, and fix bugs.
Once the product is deemed ready for release, your team will do another round of detailed testing. This may involve:
- Releasing the product to a small group of beta testers
- Using user experience (UX) tools to track and analyze how users interact with the product
Testing can take a long time, especially if your software is complex. However, it's vital to ensure you're not shipping buggy products to customers. Bugs, lags, and other performance issues can:
- Suck up hours of development time that could've been used more constructively
- Destroy your reputation
- Reduce your return on investment (ROI)
Deploying and Conducting Tests of the Software
Once all of the bugs, lags, and other issues have been fixed, it's time to ship your software to real users. Most companies automate this step by using an Application Release Automation (ARA) tool or a continuous deployment model.
However, the SDLC isn't over yet. After releasing your product into the wild, you need to maintain your software to ensure customer satisfaction and uptime. You also need to continuously conduct tests on the software based on evolving customer needs and requirements.
Six Ways To Optimize Your Software Development Flow for Continuous Improvement
Now that you know the elements of an SDLC, let's explore six ways to optimize your software development flow for continuous improvement.
1) Use a Project Management Tool to Assign Roles Within Your Project Team
Many companies still manually assign roles during meetings, phone calls, and emails. While this works well for most small companies and projects, larger companies may want to use a project management tool to assign roles within their project teams. The right project management tool will empower project managers to:
- Assign tasks and roles through a user-friendly interface
- Customize schedules to comply with specific projects
- Predict and prevent risks
- Create detailed reports, charts, and documentation
Top project management tools include:
2) Emphasize Code Quality vs. Documentation
Emphasizing code quality over documentation development will save you a lot of money, time, and rework.
While it's important to have an actionable SOW, over-documenting can be a waste of time and resources, especially when you have short deadlines. When you spend too much time on planning and analysis, you'll have limited time for ensuring code quality during the building and testing stages. This can lead to an increase in the number of bugs, design flaws, and other pre-production problems.
As such, you should shift your focus to the testing phase. Specifically, you should focus on:
- Developing the right types of tests for your product
- Testing and retesting to spot and fix all issues in code contributions, including environment variables
- Implementing code review as part of your development workflow. Make sure that the project codebase is reviewed by more than one person. This will:
- Keep your team engaged
- Stabilize your codebase
- Help teams identify issues early in the SDLC
- Maintain coding standards throughout the SDLC
3) Transition to an Iterative Process or Agile Approach
Traditionally, most companies used the Waterfall product development workflow. This methodology divides a project into distinct phases, with each phase starting only after the previous one has been completed. Businesses that use Waterfall map the entire project at the beginning. If changes need to be made, they need to go back to the first phase and start over.
While this works for linear industries like manufacturing and construction, Waterfall is increasingly becoming out of touch with the tech industry. Thanks to the breakneck pace of technological innovation, tech customers are more fickle than ever. To capture and retain customer interest, many companies have started adopting the iterative process.
The iterative process is an approach that software developers, scientists, and others use to continually improve products and design. Developers create, test, and release a prototype. After receiving customer feedback, they modify, test, and release a revised prototype. They will do this at regular intervals to continuously improve the product.
Unlike the Waterfall approach, the iterative process can quickly address development flaws and adjust to marketplace changes. It also offers continuous integration and improvement since each iteration allows the team to incorporate lessons learned from previous runs and continually refine the software development process.
Other benefits include:
- Cost-effective: Changes to the project's requirements or scope are less costly and easier to make than with a Waterfall approach.
- Collaborative: You don't have to wait until the last stage of the SDLC to present results to clients and stakeholders. Instead, you can instantly present results at the end of each iteration, giving clients and stakeholders the ability to witness the evolution of the project.
- Less prone to confusion: Misunderstandings are less likely to affect the team and the overall project since you can instantly detect and fix flaws in each iteration.
The most popular iterative product development process is the Agile workflow, which helps teams deliver value to customers effectively and efficiently by delivering work in small increments known as Sprints. The most popular Agile methodologies include:
- Extreme Programming (XP)
4) Invest in the Right Tools and Platforms
Don't skimp on your tech stack — you need to invest in the right software development tools and platforms. Without the right tools, you'll have a hard time reaching your milestones and goals on and ahead of time. Project managers and leads will also face difficulties managing team members and establishing timelines.
The most popular SDLC tools include:
- Confluence: An online tool for capturing and sharing information, teams can use Confluence to capture project requirements, manage several calendars at once, and assign tasks to specific users.
- Git: The most commonly used version control system, Git lets devs track changes made to files so they have a record of what has been accomplished. They can also use Git to revert to specific versions as needed.
- GitHub: GitHub comes with an in-built code review tool that has a free plan for developers. GitHub lets code reviewers assign themselves to pull requests to complete reviews. Developers can also comment inline, resolve simple Git conflicts, and check the history of changes.
- Haystack: Haystack uses Elasticsearch to store time-series data. Developers can use it to track bugs, commits, and other events throughout the SDLC.
- LinearB: A real-time performance analysis platform, LinearB can be used to locate bottlenecks, monitor rollups, and alert team leads about potential patterns. It measures the speed of each team member by capturing the time spent on tasks by category.
- Kanban Tool: If you've chosen a Kanban project development methodology for your project, consider using Kanban Tool to increase team performance. An online Kanban board with seamless time tracking, Kanban Tool powers over 25,000 businesses, including Cisco, Expedia, NHS, and Siemens.
5) Develop an Agile Team
Once you've transitioned to an iterative or Agile approach and gathered the right tools, it's time to build your Agile team. Here's how:
- Create two new roles: The first step is to create two new roles to support the dev team — the Product Owner (PO) and the Scrum Master. Scrum Masters are facilitators that act as coaches for the rest of the team. On the other hand, the PO is responsible for establishing the priorities and vision of the project. They're also responsible for creating, editing, and maintaining the team backlog, which is a collection of tasks and materials that have yet to be processed.
- Keep everyone on the same page: If you have a small team, consider using post-it notes or a physical whiteboard. For large or distributed teams, however, we recommend digital options to keep everyone on the same page. Examples include online Agile backlogs and Kanban Tool.
- Keep on building and improving: You can then start building and improving the product. If your team members are new to Agile, consider hiring Agile coaches to help them absorb Agile values.
6) Identify Goals for Your Entire Team
Finally, you need to identify goals for your whole team by including retrospectives as part of the SDLC. A retrospective is a meeting that's held at the end of each Sprint. During the retrospective, the team inspects how the last Sprint went by asking:
- What did the team accomplish?
- What obstacles did they encounter?
- How can processes be improved?
Besides retrospectives, you should also hold daily standups. Standups are meetings that involve the core Agile team: the Scrum Master, product owners, and developers. This meeting differs from company to company, but most standups require team members to answer the following:
- What did I work on yesterday?
- What am I working on today?
- What challenges am I facing?
Challenges Teams Struggle With in Agile Software Development
As you can see, Agile adoption offers many advantages. However, teams can face significant hurdles after and while adopting Agile frameworks and mindsets. These include:
Lack of Communication
Even with all the right tools, an Agile team can't succeed if communication is lacking. There are a few reasons why Agile teams may not be able to communicate well:
- Little to no experience working in an Agile environment
- Not reporting concerns or risks in time
- Testers and developers aren't sharing complete scenarios or details with each other
- Lack of retrospectives and standups
- Lack of regular conversations among team members, product owners, and customers
Continuous Testing of Software Components
Your Agile team may also lack continuous reasoning — they may lack the time, expertise, and understanding of Agile principles to test software continuously throughout the SDLC. Additionally, they may not understand how, when, or why to test software. Some team members may even disagree with the concept of conducting tests during every Sprint.
Changing Expectations and Requirements
Last but not least, your team may find it hard to understand and meet Agile's changing expectations and requirements. This is especially likely to happen if:
- All or most of your team members are used to the Waterfall methodology
- Executives and team leads are still ingrained in Waterfall culture and aren't prepared to embrace Agile
Optimize Your Workflow by Expanding Your Internal Team
Agile is a great way to optimize your software development workflow. It's collaborative, efficient, cost-effective, and much more attuned to market needs than Waterfall.
However, creating an optimized Agile software development workflow is easier said than done. Although more companies are shifting towards Agile development workflows, many devs still prefer the Waterfall methodology.
That's where Revelo comes in. We provide pre-vetted Agile talent who have been pre-vetted for their English proficiency, skills, and experience. We have talent specializing in every tech stack and Agile methodology, including Scrum, Kanban, Git, and Haystack.