Many business people don’t fully understand the complexity of a software development process. It’s natural, since specialized books about development are read by developers and other IT people, and many others might still be referring to a software project as ”coding” or ”writing”. With better luck one might add ‘designing’ and ‘testing’. Quite inaccurate.
One can think of several metaphorical comparisons to describe software development, such as writing a book or building a house. Some of them are a good light in the dark, some are rather misleading. And while many people may argue whether creating software is an art, a science, or a precisely elaborated process, we’d leave that choice to someone else. It cannot be described sparsely. But we’ll try to give some descriptions and comparisons in a compact and clear way.
Do We ”Write” Software?
One of the common but rather vague things is comparing creating software with writing. Writing code, writing a book, and so on. You can start writing a book without a plan and go with the flow; with custom software development you cannot, unless developers do a rather small piece of software on their own – and for themselves. Moreover, an outsourced software project never starts with writing code.
Books and software may both have strict deadlines. But once a book is published, what’s written is written; rewriting is not an option. But software keeps being under constant improvement with new versions being released – it’s a natural thing. It’s almost impossible to get every need of your end user, catch up with business and technological changes once and for a lifetime. Books aren’t that dependent on changes; software is. But that’s good: your software, unlike a book, can’t become just another mediocre thing on the market, can’t become irrelevant and outdated. The processes are absolutely different: we prefer using the words ”create” or ”build” software rather than ”write”.
Do We ”Grow” Software?
”Growing” software on a good basis and a good set of documentation is possible to a certain extent. Like with writing, it’s not the best description one can suggest. It partially gets the incremental, agile nature of making and maintaining relevant software. But while ”growing”, the product is rarely tasty until it’s ripe, and the owner has to wait awhile.
The difference is, in software development there are different stages of being ”ripe”. Startups usually demand rolling a minimum viable software product on the market, getting feedback and making corrections and improvements. Each version is more ”ripe” than its predecessor, and it has to be ”watered” by support and maintenance, kept fresh amidst all the business and technological changes.
Do We ”Build” Software?
This one is considered by many specialists the closest way to describe software development, and we can agree with that. Construction works show the huge importance of careful planning, preparing, guiding the work, and performing it. The limits of software depend on how its architecture is constructed. The amount of works doesn’t grow gradually, since every building is different, and requires different approach. There can be a hospital, an office building, a school or a barn, and same physical size doesn’t mean equal amount of labour. Something is done with concrete, something can be done with wood and nails, and the latter doesn’t work well with complex and valuable software for mobile startups and other businesses.
– Everything depends on the kind of a building you need. You need to figure out the problem the software will solve, and conduct the necessary preparations, do market research, gather info, etc. The more complex your software is, the more resources must be spent on planning. Bad planning – and the whole app fails, falls like a house of cards by the first gust of a wind.
– Then you and your chief architect (project manager) can proceed to design that perfectly combines functional requirements and interface, resulting in proper user experience. Sure you want those who will work or live in the building to be fully satisfied with it. Same thing with software. One more good thing, once the design is approved, it’s way easier to give more precise estimations for the remainder of the construction (development) works.
– When furnishing a house, you needn’t building things you can buy: household appliances and furniture. It’s much cheaper and way faster. Same with software: if your software development team is experienced, it will use all the available resources to stay away from writing needless basic things: there are lots of software toolkits, frameworks, classes, and libraries for that, each for a particular case. And if the team means business, they will easily find tools and technologies that will get your tasks done as fast as possible. Custom pieces of furniture take more time and efforts, but in most cases there are already existing pre-built ways to save your time and money without compromising security and efficiency of your software.
– There will always be changes in functional requirements. Again, changes can painlessly happen within the planned architecture. Here we once more emphasize the importance of preparations – although this topic is worthy of a separate article. And we cannot go anywhere without mentioning quality assurance, which constantly checks different aspects of how the software works. What’s more – even a minor change involves testing, so that’s not the place to cut the costs (in fact, QA usually takes about 30% of the whole development time).
– Optimization of software (inner walls of a building) is limited to the approved architecture, and here main expenses are all about labour, not materials. But what you receive in the end is better software and satisfied users. Meanwhile users speak their minds on what they would like the apartments to look – and one should never neglect these opinions.
– One more thing worth noting – a good architect (or a good creative expert in software development) is always ready to consult you on things that should be solved immediately, and what can be left for later without breaking your plans or the quality of your software. You are most likely to not know the subtleties of the technical side – so leave making suggestions and explanations to your team. Unless you are an experienced IT person and you needn’t reading this article to get these insights.
As you can see, the last example is really the closest, and the list of similarities can be continued forever. But the ones we presented here should be enough to understand the process of software development, which is impossible without patience, expertise of the team, and mutual understanding.