Software product development is a complex process that requires a lot of preparation. Without a proper step-by-step strategy, a project is most likely set for failure. To avoid that, you should choose the most suitable methodology and plan the process accordingly. Read on to learn everything you need to know about software product development.
Software product development means creating a new product that meets particular market needs. It's a systemic, logical process that results in entirely new software or an upgraded version of an existing product. It always aims to achieve a specific goal – it may be changing the current market or offering a new customer experience. It consists of different procedures and phases, resulting in a high-quality, robust software product.
This process plays a crucial role in growing a business. Whether a startup or a well-established organization, software product development gives you a technical advantage over other players on the market. It provides an innovative solution and a new product to commercialize.
Software product development can involve building different kinds of products. Various types of product development answer specific business needs. Here's an overview of the basic types of software products.
System software means products that provide a platform for other software. It can be an operating system, networking software, game engines, computational science software, or database management systems. This kind of product aims to manage a computer system's resources and make application programming easier.
Applications are software products designed to perform specific tasks. These programs can run on mobile or desktop devices and do virtually anything, from text editing, sending messages, and counting your taxes to tracking your sleeping pattern, steps, or calories. Other examples include video games or social media apps. They are often a significant revenue stream, with people spending a third of their waking time using mobile apps.
Programming software products target the needs of software developers. They help create, debug and maintain other programs or applications, making devs' work more effective. These development tools can be text editors, debuggers, compilers, linkers, and many more.
There are different kinds of programming software: one example is IDE (integrated development environment), and it includes products like Visual Studio Code, intelliJ IDEA, Atom by GitHub, and Netbeans. Besides IDEs, there are many frameworks and libraries. Front-end developers use frameworks like Angular, Ember, or React, and back-end devs use Node.js RE, Express.js, or .NET. There are also full-stack frameworks, like Django or Flask.
This kind of software is designed to program devices other than PCs. These products control machines like industrial robots, wearables, IoT devices, or cars using integrated circuits and microchips. Embedded software products have fixed hardware requirements and are created exclusively for a particular device. Developing this kind of software is quite complicated because of equipment limitations, the code's energy consumption, and its influence on the electromagnetic compatibility of the devices.
Software product development is a process that leads to creating an operational product. Therefore, there needs to be a strategy, a plan, a set of steps, and a way of prioritizing tasks and dividing responsibilities. There are many different approaches to managing software product development. Here are a few software product development methodologies that are commonly used by software teams.
They differ in workflow and benefits. Some of these methodologies can connect, creating a personalized workflow suited to the project's needs. For example, test-driven development works in Agile and Waterfall projects, and DevOps is used in various Agile methodologies.
The Waterfall model can be considered a traditional software product development methodology. It consists of sequential phases, and the team can move to the next only when the previous one is finished. This approach has limitations but works great for projects with defined goals and accurate documentation. The waterfall is used in projects with no place for risks, such as military-grade, space exploration, or banking projects. If it's planned well, it can save time and reduce project costs.
The V-model is a modification of the Waterfall model. It consists of two phases: the product definition phase and the validation phase. This methodology emphasizes the relationship between development and testing. It has significant limitations and sometimes is too simple to cover the whole software development process. Despite its flaws, the V-model works for products that require strict quality and risk control, for example, medical projects. It's helpful for accountants, lawyers and managers; developers usually opt for more flexible methodologies.
One of the most popular product development methodologies is Agile. It's based on an iterative approach - new product versions are available to clients after every sprint (a set period of time in which specific development goals are achieved). This methodology makes it easy for the development team to incorporate customer feedback and constantly improve the product. It involves a lot of testing, ad-hoc adaptations, and overall flexibility. Agile methodology puts customers' needs first and focuses on responding to change rather than sticking to a plan.
This approach is widely used among software development teams. Agile is a broad term - within this methodology there are also more defined frameworks. Here are a few examples.
Scrum is a framework that belongs to the category of Agile methodology. It follows the same values and principles, but Scrum has a more defined workflow. It consists of sprints, which are iterations that usually take two weeks. This methodology works best for smaller teams that work on projects with changing requirements. It is also great for maintaining and improving an existing product.
Kanban is another Agile framework. Its main principles are real-time communication and full transparency of work. The whole workflow is based on the Kanban Board and tasks. The board consists of columns that define the tasks' progress. An elementary version of this board would have headings such as "backlog", "to do", "in progress", and "done". This framework is flexible, so it can be easily adjusted to specific project needs. The benefits of this model include a clear visualization of progress. It helps team members stay motivated and on track with the project, therefore increasing efficiency and productivity.
The test-driven development (TDD) approach emphasizes testing as one of the most important part of the software development process. In this framework, the team converts the project's requirements to test cases at an early stage of the development process. All progress is tracked by repetitive testing against those cases. It works best for more complex, agile projects. Running this many tests in small projects would be too time-consuming and expensive to be beneficial.
This methodology is a combination of development and operation processes. The fusion of these two branches makes software product development more efficient. It allows building many modules of the app simultaneously and making changes after the end of the process. It also saves time by utilizing automation in some phases; for example, testing.
The incremental and iterative model compromises Waterfall's meticulous planning and Agile's flexibility. While it also utilizes the concept of iterations, there are increments in this case. They are small, manageable portions of the project. The planning process includes deciding which increment the team will work on during each iteration.
The spiral model is represented by a diagram in the shape of a spiral with many loops. Each stands for a different phase of the software product development process. The number of loops is not defined and can vary from project to project. This model provides enough flexibility to manage software project risks. It is also sometimes called the Meta-model. It works best for large and complex projects.
Sticking to a plan is necessary for software product development. It guides each member of the team and makes collaboration possible. While each methodology follows its own route, the strategic outline is usually based on the same steps. Below you can see a basic plan of the software product development process.
It’s important to remember that this is just a flexible guideline. It is followed strictly only in projects that use the Waterfall methodology; in Agile projects the phases often happen simultaneously, the team comes back to previous ones before finishing the whole process, and the steps are repeated in iterations. These steps can be easily adjusted and their order can be changed according to the project's needs.
Discovering the idea for your product is where it all begins. However, the concept should not only be creative but also thought through. A vision of the product itself is not enough - you also need a business justification for the product. That means you should consider how it will meet the market's needs. Another vital part of this step is planning the project's scope, timelines, and resources.
This step is crucial - without an idea, there is no product. It also defines how the workflow will look, how big the team will be, and how much time it will take.
This ideation phase can take different forms. Sometimes the concept comes after meticulous research into customers' requirements, and sometimes it's a solution to an issue you came across using other software. Wherever the inspiration comes from, it's essential to keep the business aspect in mind and not skip the next step.
This stage of software product development is a thorough analysis of the project's feasibility. The result of this step is a set of project requirements and objectives. It is essential for your whole team to know and understand them. They will act as a guide later on in the process.
Requirements and feasibility cover the technical aspect of development as well as the economical. It is also the stage at which potential risk is identified. This analysis helps choose the most suitable methodology for product development and prepare for any issues that may come up along the way.
Designing the software product is when the fun begins. When you already have an idea and know the approach you're going to take, you can proceed to the conceptualization of the actual product.
At this stage, the team should create the software architecture. It must meet the requirements fixed by the feasibility analysis. This step aims to create a design that sets precise standards and shows what needs to be done. The outcomes can be prototypes and mockups - developers will make the actual product based on them in the following stages.
This point is where the coding and development of the actual product happens. The design is turned into operational software step by step or all at once - depending on which methodology was chosen.
This stage is the longest part of the software product development process, as well as the most laborious. It is also the core and the backbone of creating a product. The developers must ensure their work meets the requirements and criteria, and corresponds to the original vision. It is also necessary that they deliver high-quality, robust software that meets the standards of the market.
The testing phase happens once the product is built. This step aims to ensure that every feature of the product works and that the whole product meets the requirements. It's good practice to use a variety of tests: unit tests, module tests, system tests, or end-to-end tests. It is also vital to run non-functional tests, like user acceptance testing, to check stability, performance, and usability. You can read more about software testing on our blog.
Quality assurance is a vital part of this step. It's a process that ensures that the project meets set requirements and customer expectations. QA is a reliable, standardized practice. You can read more about it here.
The testing stage is quite time-consuming. The good news is that the majority of it can be automated. Running a large variety of tests is vital to software product development because it reduces costs. It helps find bugs and issues before launching the product and avoids dissatisfied users.
At this point, the product is ready for its launch. It becomes available to users, but that doesn't mean the work is finished. This is when the issues arise - it's impossible to test every feature and use scenario, so it's not unusual to make corrections at this point. This process should mostly be automated, but the product development team should stand ready.
Sometimes the product can be deployed in parts - first, a minor version may be released to the public to test the delivery, then the team can implement some changes and prepare the product for a major launch. It all depends on the specifics of the software project.
This stage is quite different from other phases of software product development as it happens while the product is out on the market. At this point, the team relies heavily on customer feedback. Collecting this information and developing new features or eliminating bugs is essential for product maintenance.
Maintenance means taking care of an existing product and supporting users' needs. Without periodic updates, the software will not meet the market's requirements, and the competition will quickly get ahead of you.
There is no better way of testing the product than seeing how it performs in the real world - that's why you must stay ready to improve the product during this stage.
Software product development is a flexible process. You can and should fit it to your project's specific needs by choosing the most suitable methodology and workflow. It all depends on the type of software you want to produce and your resources. With a great idea, adequate preparation, careful planning, and a qualified team, your product should be a success.