Who doesn’t want to get more work done in less time? We all do!
But software development is a unique field. If you’ve ever worked as a developer, then you already know that producing software takes time — especially if you care about quality.
That’s because software development is a complex process that requires simultaneous efforts across an entire team, beginning at the requirement procurement stage and extending all the way through to testing and release.
Each step in the process requires significant coordination, and projects are often complicated by poor planning and unrealistic deadlines.
That brings us to an important question: is there a way to speed up and streamline the process?
The simple answer is “yes.” In this article, we’ll explore some of the factors that cause delays in software development. And we’ll also look at ways you can drastically speed up the process.
How development speed is measured?
Before trying to implement methods aimed at speeding up software development, it’s important to understand whether your team is currently moving too fast or too slow. There are a few key factors that will help you determine the answer to that question.
Many developers and project managers measure their pace of performance in lines of code (LOC). But is LOC really the best way to measure your speed? We don’t think so.
Suppose you wrote 2,000 lines of codes on a given day, but added value to functionality developed was zero with lots of bugs. Is this good enough? It’s obvious that the day’s productivity was null.
With this in mind, a better concept for measuring the speed of development was introduced along with the Agile manifesto in 2002. It’s called “called ‘Velocity.”
What does velocity mean when it comes to software development?
In agile software development is velocity described as a metric for measuring the overall performance and productivity of the team delivering application functionality during software development iterations (which are also called sprints).
Put simply, velocity is a team’s rate of progress. The metric is also used to evaluate team performance based on the volume of features delivered (also known as “user stories”) within a given period.
In other words, velocity helps teams estimate how long it will take to deliver new functionality based on their previous “sprints.”
However, this is where velocity starts becoming a problem. When your team’s velocity for its current sprint does not meet the velocity of previous sprints, that fact can create unnecessary pressure.
And as you might expect, when the entire team becomes obsessed with maintaining or improving its velocity, people start making sacrifices and tradeoffs that can negatively impact work quality.
What are the main constraints on development?
The “iron triangle” (also known as the project management triangle) is a model that consists of three constraints at its vertices. These include scope, resources (such as budget and team members), and time. The center of the triangle represents quality.
These constraints are called “iron” because you cannot change one of them without impacting the others.
As the scope of a project increases, it will take more time and consume more resources. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that adding more resources will decrease the time required.
For example, if you add more programmers, you’re likely to run even farther behind. Why? Because your team members will have to spend time working with the new hires to make sure they understand the project and product. Even after the new hires are brought up-to-speed, your increase in velocity might be less than you expected because adding more people made communication and project control more complicated.
As noted previously, quality is at the center of the triangle. As you try to speed things up, you will almost invariably sacrifice quality. You might end up writing poor code with bugs, which will in turn lead to technical debt (when some parts and features need to be rewritten). During this period, your team won’t be able to implement any new features at all; rather, the entire focus will be on achieving stability and laying the groundwork for additional features.
So while velocity may be a key metric to focus on, what’s really important is making a continuous effort to increase the total business value delivered via each sprint.
Factors that impact the speed of software development
The speed of software development depends on many factors, including:
The difficulties and hurdles a developer encounters while producing software will determine the overall speed of development. And there are many types of complexity.
Technical complexity refers to challenges encountered in project design, as well as technical details like complex software architecture, integration with third-party products, and innovation.
As the name suggests, requirement complexity refers to challenges in determining the project’s goals and objectives. An example of this is when the end goal of a software product is not clear. Sometimes, the end goal is even hidden from the development team.
When software projects are restricted by time, it can lead to deadline complexity. Complexity is increased when the estimation of length done by development team is not matched with the deadline date. With that the team is required to take additional actions, such as neglect some quality assurance actions, increase team or decrease scope.
This type of complexity refers to the difficulty that arises from structural (internal) mismatches within the enterprise.
At times, a project encounters more than one kind of complexity, which makes the entire process even more complex (and negatively influences development speed).
Let’s admit it: some of us (probably all of us) have rushed the entire software development process along in order to meet deadlines and achieve earlier releases by compromising code quality.
While this might turn out OK on easier and shorter projects, it has the potential to backfire spectacularly on bigger projects that need proper planning, code reviews, functional and unit testing, testing automation, and other processes.
While writing high-quality code could prove to be time-consuming, it helps you save the extra time and effort that will be needed to fix the poorly written code later.
Definition of “done”
Strangely, the definition of “done” varies from team to team, from project to project, and from organization to organization. While in ideal cases, “done” means that the code is immediately deployable, many teams consider a project completed when the code review is finished, or when automated tests have been run, or when all the bugs have been fixed.
Contrary to popular belief, smaller teams tend to be more productive. Don’t just take our word for it; a study conducted by QSM revealed that smaller teams (those with five people or less) are more productive than bigger teams.
In our experience, teams with three to seven people are the perfect size. When a team consists of more than seven people, communication becomes more difficult and less efficient.
That said, sometimes teams are bigger than seven people. In that case, the best practice is to split the team into smaller groups.
In addition to the factors mentioned above, the overall performance of a team will vary depending on the individual team members. It goes without saying that a team comprised of experienced and skilled people, with the right kind of motivation and requirements clarity, will perform better than a less experienced, less skilled, or less motivated group.
How to speed up your software development efforts
With all this said, it would be wrong to suggest that nothing can be done to speed up the software development process.
Thankfully, we can all play a part in making things run more smoothly.
Proper planning is the first step in a successful software development project. Plan right, and plan ahead. Visualize things and communicate with your team.
Make sure that your developers are aware of all the important details and specifications. This will not only enhance their requirement clarity, but will also drastically reduce the amount of rework required.
Test early and often
Don’t wait until the final stage to test. Instead, adopt agile methodology and keep testing throughout the process. Conduct all types of testing, including unit testing, integration testing, regression testing, and others. Don’t cut corners here.
Pro tip: test automation might not sound reliable, but it can actually end up saving a huge amount of time and effort. It can help you catch major bugs before they even go to manual testing.
Appropriate team size
Avoid assembling big teams. Keep them compact and skilled. If small teams won’t work because of the size of the project, split bigger teams into smaller groups that work independently.
Although complexity is an inevitable part of any software development project, you can do your little bit to reduce it. Avoid blunt workflows, and refrain from adding top-notch new features if they’re not part of the end goal.
Increasing complexity not only delays the process, but also renders the entire product unstable by making it difficult to spot and fix bugs.
Be smart about technical debt
Technical debt is nothing but a simple tradeoff between time and quality. Although taking some technical debt with the aim of fixing bugs towards the end is fine (and can actually speed up the development process in the short run), it can take a toll on your system in the long run by increasing overall complexity.
Mistakes to avoid when trying to speed up development
Relying too much on manual testing
As the development process progresses, it becomes more and more difficult for the team to add new features. That’s because the majority of their time is consumed by spotting and fixing bugs.
Additionally, the person who tests the developed application manually becomes occupied, and going through the full list of application functionality takes more and more time. This is called Regression Testing. At some point just to check all the functions take more time than appointed to that during software development life cycle. That causes the need for another tester, and the cycle continues, but communication complexity has been increased. At some point the quantity of people who are testing the application may exceed the quantity of developers and communication complexity will block the project.
This whole situation can be easily avoided with the help of testing automation, which highlights all the major bugs within the code in just a single click. But this must be planned and executed from the beginning. Catching up and covering your application with test automation after it’s built is also very time consuming.
With test automation the entire process is fast and effective.
Frequent change of scope
This is one mistake that severely cripples software development. The smallest change in scope might sound simple, but it can end up making the entire system substantially more complex than initially expected. It can also lead to the entire documentation and architecture needing revision, and can sometimes cause the design to require adjustment. All of this leads to delays, as well as frustration and chaos within the team.
The sprint time in an agile project is always supposed to be short. But this is not something that is achieved on every project. Daily meetings consume time, and more often than not, teams end up discussing items that don’t add any value to the project.
Rather than holding pointless meetings, stay focused but allow your team to take regular breaks. You’ll see this reflected in their productivity, which will speed up the software development process.
The Final Word
It’s important to note that you can actually speed up the entire process before development even begins. Start the process by planning strategically, and then stay focused on your end goals. Don’t be afraid to adjust team configuration to optimize velocity, and continue to monitor and optimize your processes throughout the duration of the project.