The Basics of Software Product Development
Whether you have an elaborate or a high-level idea for a software product, you may find yourself equally confused at the thought of actually launching the development project. Especially so, if your product is a part of an Internet of Things (IoT) solution, includes big data analysis, or should be integrated with other software systems.
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you should consider before embarking on your project: from theoretical particularities of software product development to hands-on organizational tips.
- Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)
- Application monitoring
- Integration with specific hardware
- Mobile availability
It’s important to understand that development of a product is a quite specific software development process. Below we list the points that define product development and will require your attention throughout the project.
If you already have an idea for your product, ask yourself, who will find it useful. After you list all the various possible users of your software – that is, create user personas – think about their use purposes. By imagining how exactly each persona will interact with the product, you create user scenarios that will help you see what features could drive people to buy your product.
No matter how complex the functionality behind any scenario may be, the product should not impose this complexity on your user. Make sure your UI isn’t overwhelming and the navigation is self-explanatory. The visual appeal is important too, for both catching the attention of your users at the start and investing in their long-lasting positive impression of your product.
So for example, if you’re creating software for a medical device, you’ll need to think of its possible users (patients, doctors, nurses) and their different intentions when using a device. Take the age of your users into account too: if your user base includes children and the elderly, you may want to make your features more easy-to-understand or even add a simplified UI version.
The list of user scenarios can be endless. Yet, you should always remember that if you try to satisfy all the various user needs, your product will be too complex and won’t be successful on the market. Chances are, it won’t even hit the market any time soon, since you’ll need a good deal of time to develop such a product.
It’s important to draw the line and limit your functionality. Take a number of features that are most common among the scenarios for different user personas and make them the core of your product’s initial version.
Any software product has to be as faultless as possible. Even if you fix the errors in an already released product with a swift and freely downloadable update or by offering the next version, your users will most likely have formed a negative image of your product by then and won’t trust you enough to invest in your product.
Furthermore, seriously bugged or insufficiently secure software can cause data losses on your users’ side, and the costs of covering for them are something you don’t want to include in your business plan. Concentrating on delivering quality and secure code is key, so build your product development process around the principles of a Secure Software Development Lifecycle policy, such as Microsoft’s SDL.
The evolution of your product allows you to gradually cover more and more scenarios. Besides, no matter how well you think you know your future users, people will always surprise you with unpredicted needs and expectations from your product creating even more scenarios. Consider using application performance monitoring to get this information from your users and draw on it while tailoring your product to the target audience in further versions.
Apart from the general product development elements listed above, there’re also a number of technological strategies and approaches that don’t necessarily suit every project but can be considered and applied individually.
The SaaS model implies providing online access to the software product hosted on cloud servers. It remains a very lucrative option for software product delivery, since it saves you a lot of product distribution troubles. Moreover, the model doesn’t narrow your target audience to users of specific hardware or platforms, as all a customer needs in order to use your software is the internet connection and a subscription for your product. Your advantage is also in the possibility to set flexible pricing options and deliver updates instantly.
Application monitoring is a strategy that lets you track the performance of your product in use and get important data about it from your customer behavior. For instance, you can retrace code transactions in order to understand and address a user’s performance problems. Moreover, you can get reports on how your users interact with your software to better understand what they expect from your product’s UI and functionality.
If you’re working at a company that produces its own hardware – such as IoT smart appliances, industrial machinery, or medical equipment – you’re well aware that these devices need specific software to function. This type of development is quite specific too, since the development team will most likely need access to the hardware product you manufacture for successful integration.
Think about this before choosing a vendor: if your hardware is expensive to ship, a local vendor is probably a better fit. At the same time, the vendor’s experience with your type of hardware can compensate any shipping costs. So, in case of a dilemma between a local inexperienced vendor and a remote yet experienced one, make sure to choose the latter.
If your product isn’t already aimed at mobile devices, the market will expect it to offer mobile availability. Depending on your product, there’re several ways to introduce it:
- Adapt it for a mobile screen (in case your product is a web solution).
- Create a native or cross-platform mobile app version of your software (you may want to include only key features to keep the app lightweight).
- Develop a complementing app to control your software product remotely (in case your software is intended for specific hardware).
Whether you choose to develop your product with an in-house or an outsourced team, you’ll have to organize the development process from the business perspective. Let’s take a look at the major points that are important to take into account.
By introducing this research-based strategy, you concentrate on understanding how a product can bring you benefits. Basing on your individual vision of ‘value’, you can choose to make user interest, competitiveness, or brand image your ultimate goal that will define the feature choice of your product. Thanks to this laser-focus approach, you’ll be able to discard secondary features and cut the time and costs of product development.
- Reuse of components
Creating everything from scratch isn’t always necessary, and realizing that your product can use an already available framework, platform or services is crucial before the development launch. Make sure you reuse as many components as possible to cut your costs and development time.
Even when preparing your product for its very first release, you have to think one or two versions ahead. Of course, each of the iterations will have certain corrections based your users’ feedback, but by making past mistakes always drive your versioning, you won’t let your product truly evolve. Let the feedback help you adjust what was done wrong, but don’t limit yourself to making fixes only.
Product software development requires a risk management plan. Take different risk areas into account – time, budget, performance, etc. – and carefully estimate each of them. After prioritizing the risks, basing on their probability rate and potential damage, you’ll be ready to develop an individual strategy to address each of them.
Development vendor issues – productivity, schedule or communication problems – is a specific kind of risk here: lack of proper preparation for them can be grave for your entire project. You can fall seriously behind your release schedule (which can subsequently increase product costs) or will need to hastily release a product of low quality.
The crucial part of risk management is to always keep ownership of your product – that is, to have rights and access to initial code, tests, configuration files and all the necessary documentation. This way, you will always be able to end your partnership with a problematic vendor and continue right from where you left off with a different software product development company.
Many important decisions, which can define the success of your software product development project, have to be made at the very first stage of the product lifecycle.
Before you choose the functionality pack, make sure you know your target audience and have a list of future user scenarios. Focus on quality and security to avoid after-release hurdles. Depending on the type of your product, consider SaaS and hardware integration, as well as give application performance monitoring and mobile availability a serious thought.
Most importantly, never lose sight of the business aspects. Save your costs by concentrating on the benefits from your product and casting aside everything that doesn’t get you closer to them. Keep time, budget, performance, and vendor risks in check and be prepared to answer them. And lastly, start thinking about the future versions of your product from the very start and always stick to the evolution plan while fixing past errors and defects.