Software Development Life Cycle – Understanding the Process and Choosing a Partner

If you’re about to embark on a software or web development project that you expect to take your business to the next level, you may be surprised to learn that the software development life cycle starts long before the project build actually occurs.

For software development companies, the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) technically begins once a customer has engaged the firm. The SDLC refers to the actual framework of tasks and milestones that will be created by the developer’s project team.

But for you, the software development process starts the day you decide that your business can benefit from an investment in technology to improve branding, streamline workflow or communications,or increase sales. At that point, you pick up the phone to contact reputable companies that can help you not only strategize, but also build your custom web, mobile or cloud computing solution.

Here are some tips for achieving the best possible project outcome via a better understanding of the software development life cycle from start to finish.

Official Phases of SDLC & The Software Development Process

Each phase of the Software Development Life Cycle has its own unique set of goals and milestones. It is critical that your chosen solutions provider has a proven SDLC process in place to ensure the delivery of predictable results. Though vendors may use slightly differing terminology to describe them, all should follow these five basic steps:

Discovery -Outline your objectives and business requirements; identify market opportunity and audience; develop a strategic plan; perform an internal resource and technology audit, and, finally, summarize the project scope of work.

Design -Outline overall project plan; design user experience; develop prototypes;perform usability focus groups; outline site content; develop test plans.

Construction -Build custom system; perform reviews throughout; execute internal QA testing;ramp up marketing efforts; develop a user acceptance test; develop launch plan;develop system training plan.

Launch -Execute a user acceptance test plan; system training; system documentation delivery.

Review -Review project success; identify new opportunities; maintain all applications;plan later phase initiatives.

The Free Consultation

Once you have an understanding of the life cycle of software development and what you will be hiring a vendor to do for you, it’s time to start the process of identifying potential solution providers.

If a company offers a free consultation, by all means take them up on it! You’d be surprised how many people don’t make use of this golden opportunity to steer the conversation away from a sales pitch and get some important questions answered. You can hear about their client successes and request client references in your RFP later on. Get right to inquiring about their technical approach and delivery methodology, and ask some specific technical questions to get an immediate sense if the company has the expertise and reliability you require.

A reputable software solutions provider that specializes in custom web development and software development should be highly qualified in several broad areas -ranging from strategic analysis, project management, and project documentation to testing and project maintenance -to help ensure up-to-date solutions and the ultimate success of your project.Having these characteristics gives a company thorough knowledge of the software development process and how it can be customized to best serve your needs.

Because of its potential complexity and the variety of technologies that may be involved, software development requires a highly systematic approach. Careful planning and a step-by-step process are the foundation for creating and implementing an effective and reliable software solution. Listen carefully for details on how the company addresses each phase of the software development life cycle to help you determine the thoroughness of each provider’s process.

Every conversation you have will also contribute to the formation of an increasingly exacting set of business requirements. Even if you are pretty certain what your business requirements might be, keep an open mind and listen to the pros. You may just pick up some ideas that will create long-term efficiencies for your business.

The Request for Proposal

After interviewing a handful of software solutions firms, you’ll find that you’re ready to take the next step with one or two. Now’s the time to provide as much information as you canto these potential solutions providers in what’s called a Request For Proposal (RFP).

RFPs generally include the specifics of your brand positioning, all your business requirements for functionality, the vision and objectives for the project, a proposed schedule, a request for client references, and specifics on the software development methodology.

Writing an RFP is a bit of an art form, but don’t be intimidated – when you supply as much information as you can and understand each phase of the software development life cycle, it will greatly improve the accuracy of the proposal or scope of work that you receive in return.

The Scope of Work

Solution providers on your RFP distribution list will generally reply with a detailed Scope of Work (SOW)and estimate for the project. For highly complex projects, it is not uncommon to receive a SOW and estimate for just the Discovery phase described above.

Many times, the Discovery phase must be conducted in order for the provider to better understand your business requirements and provide an accurate estimate for the entire project should you wish to move forward towards a complete software development project.

Expect to pay between $10,000-$30,000 for a detailed Discovery SOW and a clear Business Requirements Document. Note that if you contract with a custom software solutions provider for a Discovery SOW, you are under no obligation to hire them for the full project.

After an in-depth Discovery is completed, you will then receive a detailed SOW and estimate for the entire project. Of course, pricing will vary greatly for each individual project.

Getting the Most for Your Money Out of the Software Development Process

Since most software development projects require substantial investments of both time and hard dollars, it’s clearly to your benefit to choose a software development firm with significant experience in custom software development and solutions. In addition to their advanced technical knowledge, a more experienced firm can also help you strategize and make better project decisions – decisions that can move you closer to your long-term goals, while also simultaneously addressing multiple strategic marketing objectives.

Because application and website development is an evolution of technology, it is also important to employ a firm that stays on the cutting edge and adopts appropriate new technologies and platforms as they emerge.

With a clear understanding of the software development life cycle process -and how to use that knowledge to inform your choice of development partner -your chances of enjoying a successful project are very high.

Software Development Company – Offshoring

Software Development Company builds Software. What exactly is Software? In a layman’s language I would say that software is a collection of computer programs and information seized in the memory of a computer for various functions. It performs various fruitful jobs for the users, which edge with hardware to offer the necessary services for application software, which in time coordinates and controls. Software once been loaded in the computers memory executes the application. The process involves three stages wherein the instructions are passed through application Software, through system Software, to the hardware, which eventually receives instruction.

Technically, one would say that Software as a Service is an application model where a software vendor works on developing a software application and hosts and operates the application for use by its users over the Internet/desktop. In a Software development company the focus is on Custom Software, which is developed for a specific organization and targeted to several business, entities, companies or organizations. The second kind of software will be off the shelf Software that is already produced or designed and are more readily available and cost effective.

Software development process has been observed that large numbers of projects now a day are not meeting the expectations in terms of functionality, cost, Deadlines and effective project management which hampers the overall growth of the Software Development Company.
There are lot of Software Development Companies that follow different models for the development of the Software, most commonly used would be Process Model which includes Waterfall Process, iterative process and Formal Methods.

IT Department and Software Development Company across the globe are considering outsourcing in a big way. Considering deeply the cost factor and the availability of highly qualified developers. The major factors that are kept in mind while outsourcing any project is “Track record” of the company and “Knowledge of the Industry Vertical”. The main reason to choose a company with these two important factors is firstly, the company that says that it caters to all verticals in software development may not specialize in any area and which may take lot of time and effort for that company to fulfill the needs of the project. This may adversely affect the deadline and the cost of the project. Secondly, the track record that can only be studied by the previous project company has taken up and by taking all possible references. At the same time it will be important to take into account the quality certification and quality of developers in the company. It is always advised to visit the premises and consider all options before outsourcing a project.

It will be surprising that sometimes no physical contracts or no disclosure agreements are signed between companies while outsourcing the Software project to offshore Software Development Company. The contracts or agreements signed usually are via email and the whole project is taken up on simple mutual trust between two companies. When a project is planned to be outsourced the deliverable should be clearly defined while maintaining the confidentiality rights on both ends as the entire project information is let out to a third person and can be critical for the business. Also the vendor under any circumstances should not directly interact with the employee of the Software Development Company. And of course not to forget the foremost reason the cost, it is often seen that the reason for outsourcing the project often becomes the most common reason for arguments between a supplier and vendor and is applicable in all industries in the world. Thus, a clear mention of the total project pricing and milestones at which the charges will be paid should be included as an important point within the contract.

The success of Offshore Outsourcing rests on the word “customer satisfaction”. Offshore Software Outsourcing is much about building relationships based on trust, and mutual respect. Software Development Company, should provide reliable, quality, and value added services to clients that take care of the definite business needs of the customer. A highly dedicated team for a project proves to be a beneficial point for the success of any outsourced project. Any team should have a Project manager, which fills the gap between the client and the developer. There should be proper goals defined for the team and client should be updated every week of the development made. And in case if there are any issues developers can be kept well informed in time.

Thus, the concentration should be on selecting the right partner for Software Development while evaluating all aspects. Selecting the right partner is often defined as a difficult choice to be made as Software Development Company, which leads to several consequences at a later stage, makes sometimes-false promises. It is suggested to review the resources (Infrastructure, personnel, track record etc.) of the business partner well before committing anything in “Offshore Outsourcing”.

Welcoming Change Whilst in the Realm of Agile Software Development

One of the most difficult principles of Agile Software Development to actually implement is the principle of welcoming change. Two of the statements of values in the Agile manifesto are:

  1. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  2. Responding to change over following a plan

Both of these statements lead to the idea that Agile Software Development welcomes changes from customers and other stakeholders in the project. The Software Development team aims to gather feedback by developing frequent releases through developing the software in a series of iterations. A customer, changing their minds concerning the requirements of a project, isn’t viewed as a problem, which can be in sharp contrast to how a lot of methodologies approach the topic of requirements changing. This incorporation of feedback and customer involvement is an important contribution to the success of Agile methodologies as it leads to the development of software that customers really want. Following this principle is no easy task because the application of this principle needs to start at the very beginning of a project. Guides to implementing Agile Software Development frequently mention the role of the executive sponsor, and other business oriented roles within a company which need to buy-in and support an initiative to introduce Agile Software Development. But in a Software Development company that develops bespoke software directly for customers, the business people in the company need to understand and stick to the principles of Agile Software Development likewise.

There may be support for Agile Software Development in a project of all members but the general perception amongst the business people is that it is one area which the developers do, and does not directly concern them. As much of the material available on Agile Software Development does specifically concern Software Development teams, that is quite an understandable assumption to make. In a company developing bespoke software, the client needs to be made aware of the nature of an Agile Software Development project, and a contract needs to be negotiated that is compatible with the chosen methodology. And it’s the business people who are associated with a project that usually hold the responsibility of setting the customer’s expectations for a project and negotiating the contract.

Customers not really acquainted with Software Development expect that when negotiating a new project with a Software Development company that the process is quite like purchasing almost every other goods and services. The client explains what they need, they agree a price together with a delivery date, and the customer then waits for it to be achieved. The Software Development company will not want to challenge these expectations for the fear of making a customer uncomfortable, and potentially losing their business. This often leads to a binding agreement that mirrors these expectations. The customer continues to expect that the software, by the release date, is going to be ready and do everything the customer wants, and they only need to wait.

However it is inevitable that the customer will need to provide feedback on the software and will be very keen to make some changes. In the above scenario the client is going to find themselves giving their feedback at a time towards the release date when they actually get to see the software.

These changes are unlikely to be very welcome to the Software Development company at this point. In practice these requests for changes results in friction between the customer and the Software Development company, possibly bringing about arguments between the company and the customer. The company will believe that these requirements wasn’t specified originally when the contract was signed and demand additional cash to implement these changes. If the customer agrees, a new contract will need to be negotiated. On the other hand the company may agree to do these changes for free given that the customer is without a doubt quite upset that the software does not do what the customer wants. The more often these changes are handled for free; the company gets closer to generating a loss on the project. In both of these scenarios, the project is sure to be late.

If the development team itself is trying to be Agile and is developing the project in iterations, the case is often improved through getting feedback from the customer earlier on in the project. But if the contract remains to be the same, these changes will still be unwelcome to the business people associated with the project. They will be seen as an extra expense and the developers are going to be instructed to extend the time on making these changes until a new or revised contract can be negotiated. Once the business people perceive that changes will be happening between iterations and that this needs addressing, they should recognise that a new approach will probably be required in future for making new contracts with customers. An effective option that they might choose is to try to break down the ‘development’ of the project into separate, ready planned phases and then make this the substance of the contract. This approach doesn’t challenge the customer’s expectations of being certain of the outcome of a project, and so it appears like a safe option. At the start of a project, a customer is frequently quite positive that they know what they aspire to. In practice, actually seeing and using the software might most likely make the customer consider the project in a whole lot more depth than they had previously.

This phased approach to making contracts is not going to solve the issue of welcoming changes and introduces new problems. When the first phase of the project completes, the customer gets to use the software for the first time and starts making requests for changes. As a consequence the next phase will have to be planned again. If the original phases were time estimated then the next phase will require a new estimation from the development team. And the business people will have to create a new contract for the next phase. Normally, this approach will demand a large administrative overhead for relatively small amounts of work. The customer can also be likely to get impatient over the length of time it takes just to get some more work done. More steps need to be taken to effectively develop within an iterative fashion.

In an ideal scenario, the people setting the customer’s expectations for the project would have bought in to the concept of Agile Software Development and grasp the principles involved. They would have the responsibility of also convincing the customer of these benefits and negotiating a contract that works well with their chosen methodology. Three typical customer expectations shall be challenged during this process:

  1. that they already know exactly what they want
  2. that they can be certain of what to expect at the end of the project
  3. that the Software Development company is exclusively responsible for the success of the project

To convince the customer that developing the project the Agile way is a good idea; the benefits need to be emphasised:

  • That they can change their minds if they want, when they want
  • Their changes will be incorporated in to their application quickly with minimal administrative overhead
  • They will not have to wait long to see their changes in the software
  • The application developed will be what they want it to be not now but what they want on the release date
  • They will have an important role in guiding the development of the project throughout its development

There are of course trade-offs for these benefits:

  • The customer can’t be certain what they are certain to get at the end of the project when signing the contract
  • The criteria for the success of the project will change with time and will not be stated explicitly in the contract as a detailed specification
  • The customer must take an enthusiastic role participating in the project. The project’s success all hangs on on the effectiveness of the collaboration between the customer and the Software Development team.
  • The customer will have to prioritise their changes, choosing which ones are developed first and which of them have to be dropped when necessary

A compatible contract will likely not state a detailed project plan, and make that plan a binding agreement for the Software Development company. General, advanced level requirements will be used as the success criteria for the project.

In return the contract will enable the customer to request changes to the project when the customer wants to. A formal definition of how changes are handled will be included in the contract. This definition will match the methodology used by the Software Development team. With most Agile methodologies this will mean that the development team will incorporate these changes in the next iteration following the change request from the customer. The contract will also not contain specific time estimations for high level requirements. It will instead contain an iteration schedule. A contract that welcomes change is a contract that does not have to be changed.

While the process described is known as change, this term doesn’t accurately describe the all that is taking place. A changing business environment can motivate changes in requirements but what is happening most often is the creation of new ideas for the software from both the customers and the development team. It is part of the creative process that makes the software and it is definitely something that ought to be welcomed.