Underpinning all great software is usually a solid Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) process. When used effectively, SDLC can speed up the development process, reduce overall costs and ultimately deliver a more viable product to market. Navigating the SDLC successfully means being prepared for common pitfalls and challenges whilst continually tightening and tweaking the process to support changing needs. In this article, we take a top-level look at Software Development Life Cycles, what they are and how to use them most effectively to improve your organization’s software development.
What is the Software Development Life Cycle?
SDLC is a framework of defined stages (and tasks within these) in which software systematically goes through to be developed and taken to market. And because we’re talking software, these stages form a cycle, because it’s constantly evolving. The SDLC stages differ somewhat in the industry, but typically most developers follow around 5 – 8 key steps, usually starting with requirement analysis through to deployment and software maintenance.
Over the years at Mission Control, we’ve evolved our SDLC process to suit our development philosophy. Our SDLC includes 5 stages through which we develop 3 major versions of our software each year. The typical SDLC process (above), could fit into stages 2, 3 and 4 of ours. Stages 1 and 5 were introduced to capture how we connect with our customer database, something at the very heart of how we develop our software. You can learn more about our SDLC here and also in our Managing Software Roadmaps eBook.
Whatever SDLC process your organization chooses to adopt, the critical stages are ultimately very similar. The key comes in how you best navigate them to ensure your SDLC works as efficiently as possible. Here are some of our key learnings from over a decade of development:
1. Understand your audience
Before you start, you need to understand who the software is targeted at. There’s also an important distinction between the customer who purchases your product (often the System Administrator) and the customer who uses your product (Users). Both audiences will be critical to the success of your software but their motivations for engaging with it will be different. This means your messaging needs to be too. It’s essential you make this distinction from the offset and tailor messages as you work through the SDLC.
2. Set-up clear outbound communication channels
How do you get messages to your audiences? Through clearly established communication channels. When onboarding customers to software, it’s imperative you have access to both the System Administrators and the end users. At Mission Control, we make sure we add all the users of our software so we can communicate and support them directly. This is essential to get buy-in and control messages, which then reflects better on your brand and their experience of the software. Consider how you reach your users, what you’re saying and how often you’re contacting them. Too little and you risk lack of understanding of the product; too much and you risk information overload, meaning nothing goes in. Both are a frustrating place you don’t want your audience in. As you work through the SDLC, expect to review and change up your messaging depending on how successfully it is received. At Mission Control, during the first 45 days of onboarding, our users receive a series of emails covering various topics such as deeper product knowledge of key features and support channels.
3. Listen to your audience
Arguably far more important than outbound comms in the SDLC is the inbound comms from your customers. This business critical feedback will inform and shape future developments so it’s essential that you’re systematically capturing it. At Mission Control, we have found these to be invaluable ways to ensure our customer’s voice is being heard and to support effective collaboration.
- Reviewing support cases for feature requests
- Holding regular customer success ‘health checks’
- Net Promotor Score (NPS) survey feedback (recommended every 90 days in SaaS)
- Customer summits (when possible)
4. …but don’t be too reactive
An easy trap to fall into, is being too reactive to customer feedback. Set-up regular business cadences within the SDLC to review customer feedback so it’s not a constant flow which can be distracting (unless of course you’re in the testing phase where real-time feedback is important).
At Mission Control, much of what we develop comes from our own ideas and then we work in customer ideas alongside that. Developers should ultimately be in control of their own roadmap. Listen to customer requests and consider if it’s got a wider application for your existing customer base. Then evaluate if it falls within your business strategy and where you’re wanting to take the product. If it isn’t, it’s ok not to explore it.
5. Try different project methodologies
The agile method is probably most synonymous with SDLC. But don’t be afraid to try different types of project methodology to see what supports the most efficient SDLC process in your business. At Mission Control, we use a hybrid. For larger pieces of development, we adopt a waterfall approach until we get to the testing and issue resolution where we run agile ‘sprints.’ Ultimately it must work in practice for your business so whatever that looks like, go for it.
6. Accept software development is a continuum
A common pitfall with software development is getting caught in a planning – developing – testing loop. If too long is spent in this space the market may move or a competitor may launch a feature before you. Software development is about creating a minimum viable product and then maintaining its momentum through SDLC stages. It doesn’t have to be the perfect solution to get it out in front of users. The very nature of SDLC is that the software is constantly evolving…and that this is something you do in collaboration with your customers. For providers of SaaS (software as a service) solutions, the focus shouldn’t be on selling what’s already been built but rather meeting the ongoing needs of that customer. As part of this, the product is evolved to keep pace but also keep ahead of a customers’ requirements. Once this ‘software as a service’ mindset is adopted, it becomes much simpler to smoothly move through the stages of SDLC. It also helps safeguard against developing a feature completely, only to take it to market for it not to resonate.
7. Integrate your planning, development and testing
There’s a huge opportunity to gain efficiencies at planning stage by getting information flowing straight through to the development and testing phases. At Mission Control, we use our Program Planner to create the overall Roadmap for the product. It saves re-entering content at each stage. The information flow works quite simply: Ideas and feature requests are captured as Requirements. Within each Requirement, User Stories are built. Included in the Stories are ‘Checklist items’ that the software will then be reviewed against at testing stage. As the list of Requirements builds up, we assign them to individual ‘Projects’ within the Program. Each Project acts as a release of new features. Finally, this then provides us with the visualisation of what is going to be released, and when – ultimately providing us with a formal Product Roadmap.
8. Check in on the bigger picture
It can be easy to get caught in the detail with the product cycle but it’s important to also take time out to look at the bigger picture. Every year at Mission Control, we remind ourselves of our strategic goals, not only for the product but for the wider business. It’s important the work you’re doing within the SDLC ultimately aligns with business direction and that you’re not getting side-tracked with development ideas that don’t add true value.
Before entering a new cycle of development, it’s also critical to look at any changes to both the industry and competitors. Assess any activity of developments that may impact customer behaviours and identify any potential risks and threats from new technologies, competitor products and government policies. This will ensure you are developing a product that remains relevant.
Navigating the SDLC can be challenging. As with good software development, the process needs constant review and to be evolved so it works within your business.
To discuss how Mission Control can support the Software Development Life Cycle in your organization, chat to our team today.