Development of high-quality software works on a simple principle – Take care of the root causes that affect the software development process to eliminate the symptoms of erroneous software, and continue to develop and maintain quality software every time. Software development best practices are employed to accomplish just that. They are about applying tested and proven practices to the software development process and don’t stop at simply troubleshooting but go beneath the surface and treat the underlying cause of poor-quality software.
In our experience, the most effective software development best practices are:
- Iterative software development
- Requirement analysis
- Employing component-based architectures
- Model software visualization
- Strict quality management
- Track progress regularly
- Controlled deviations from defined requirement
Let’s look at these in more detail.
1) Iterative software development
Classic software development processes follow the waterfall model, where the software development process moves linearly from requirements analysis through design, testing, and deployment. While simple and defined the problem with the waterfall model is that any error and risk gets pushed forward to the next stage, so that the closer you get to deployment, the harder and more expensive it is to undo mistakes from earlier phases. For instance, the initial design could itself be flawed with respect to its key requirements, and its late discovery could result in costly overruns or even project cancellation.
Iterative development of software is a safer, smarter alternative to the waterfall model. It involves continuous discovery, invention, and implementation, with each iteration being scanned for errors and gaps that could result in issues later.
Iterative software development best practices address several root causes of software development problems:
- Any miscommunication becomes evident early in the life cycle when it’s possible to rectify the situation
- User feedback is encouraged to elicit the system’s real requirements
- The iterative model forces the development team to focus on the most critical issues while assigning lower priority to issues that are not critical or pose a serious risk to the project’s success
- Continuous, iterative testing enables an objective assessment and enables early detection of deviations from requirements, design or testing errors, inconsistencies, etc
- The development team’s workload is spread evenly throughout the development cycle, while the stakeholders can be given a clearer picture of the project status
2) Requirement analysis
We all know that in any software development project, understanding and managing client requirements is no easy task. They are usually dynamic and can often change during the course of the development cycle. It is essential to evaluate changes to these requirements and assess their impact on the project, and then plan for resulting trade-offs and decisions. Requirements should be prioritized, filtered, and tracked, making it easier to detect inconsistencies. It is also important to understand the client’s larger business goals and imagine how the software product being created can get the client there faster.
Meanwhile, analyzing a system’s true functions and capabilities is a continuous process because knowing a system’s requirements completely throughout the process is nearly impossible. At the same time, the system must be ready to meet project requirements, which is why the development team must actively assess and document the system’s required functionality and constraints. Requirement analysis is one of the vital software engineering best practices.
3) Employing component-based architectures
Every project has multiple stakeholders (such as developers, testers, analysts, end-users, technical writers, etc.), and each one of them has a different expectation from a project. Naturally, then they will all look at the project and its system differently. To manage their different expectations while controlling the iterations in the development process, a component-based architecture of the system comes to prove most effective. So what decision does the architecture enable? Here’s a brief list:
- The software system’s organization
- Selection if the structural elements and interfaces that comprise the system
- The composition of a system’s structural element
- Selecting the various architectural styles involved in the development process
A software’s architecture includes its structure, behavior, usage, functionality, performance, resilience, reuse, comprehensibility, aesthetics, and technology constraints and catalysts. Component-based architectures are resilient and allow project managers to split work among all the teams involved, isolate hardware, and identify software dependencies. It also supports the reuse or customization of existing components from the multitude of commercially available sources. What’s more, the component-based architecture enables iterative software development best practices by allowing continuous evolution of a system’s architecture and making it easy to identify and resolve any risks.
4) Model Software Visualization
“Building” a model software helps developers, stakeholders, and the entire project team to visualize better and understand what’s being created. They can get a better idea of how the software product will behave in a true environment and also document the most appropriate and best performing system architecture. It also helps ensure that the software will work as efficiently in a larger environment and co-exist with other systems as it does in a standalone set-up.
Visual modeling tools like the Unified Modeling Language, allow developers to create a model as per their specifications and hide/expose features as necessary. Creating model software helps maintain consistency between project requirements, designs, and implementations, better communicate any architectural changes, and mitigate software complexity.
5) Strict quality management
Once the software has been deployed, it can cost tens of thousands or even millions to find the bugs and repair them, making quality management the most critical best practice. Development teams need to continuously assess the quality of software with respect to its functionality, reliability, application performance, and system performance. The main testing activity focuses on creating tests for each key scenario, i.e., individual aspects of the software’s expected behavior. A test will involve assessing the software’s functionality by checking which aspects failed to function and why. Combined with the iterative model of development where every change is tested, you can get a robust piece of software ready.
6) Track progress regularly
In software development projects, things can change real fast. The project manager must review and evaluate new features, requirements, and updates on a weekly basis while ensuring that they stay within the promised budget and delivery schedule. This also helps assure clients of complete transparency and brings instability to the development process.
7) Controlled deviations from defined requirement
A common challenge in software development is that multiple developers are involved, and they could be in a different team or even different locations, making it harder for them to collaborate and manage multiple iterations, versions, releases, products, and platforms. With no disciplined control, the development process deteriorates into chaos.
It is, therefore, important to control and coordinate the artifacts of developers and teams by setting repeatable workflows for managing. This allows project managers to better assign resources based on a project’s priorities. It also becomes easier to monitor changes so that you can actively discover and then react to problems. Coordination and control of iterations and releases will require you to establish a tested baseline after each iteration, make it easier to track various releases in the software and to balance the impact of change actively.
Though we’ve shared some of the key best practices, what makes software development successful is when the client, the developers, and the project manager work together in close collaboration towards a common goal. Also, remember that software development best practices are not just about writing code. It’s about delivering a product that helps solve real problems and not just short-term solutions.