For Better Software, Plan Early and Often

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As the world has raced online following the outbreak of COVID-19, new software offerings seem to be the answer to every business question. Yet software is a tool. Like other business tools, it can only benefit a business when applied to a particular challenge or goal.

To envision a new software offering, start by examining the problems your company faces and the goals you want to achieve. Then, look at ways to create software that meets those challenges effectively.

 

Setting Software Goals

The first question to ask when envisioning any new software project is, “What problem do we want to solve?” The answer to this question becomes the focal point of further efforts to develop a product.

For financial companies seeking to build new software or expand their current digital offerings, a lack of planning can lead to a lack of focus and follow-through. “As soon as their well-prepared plans first encounter a real customer there can be a tendency for the leadership team to change direction and deviate from the original strategic vision,” writes Peter Kerr, managing director at AuxinOKR.

To address the risk of deviation, develop goals by taking customers’ perspectives into account as well as the perspectives of the company’s employees and software team. In addition, creating flexible goals can help a team incorporate new information as it is discovered. This allows teams to improve the project without derailing it.

Early goal-setting also helps keep teams on the same page, even as they work on different areas of a project. When a team has clear goals and a clear strategy, “there will be alignment on the direction, as well as the feeling that ‘we are achieving this together,’” says Dia Serazutdinova, project lead at N26. This sense of shared purpose and focus will persist even as teams focus on different parts of the project.

Finally, goal-setting can help advance financial technologies as a whole. These technologies are created to change the way the world handles money. Technologies developed for and deployed by fintech companies may have a profound impact on people’s lives, writes Adam Jones, chief technology officer at Redington.

Consequently, Jones challenges fintech companies to think big when it comes to goal-setting and envisioning the impact of their offerings. Jones recommends that fintech companies ask themselves two questions:

  • “Does this leave the world in a better place than I found it?” 
  • “Are we, as an organization, taking meaningful steps towards this purpose in the work we do?” 

By incorporating this macro perspective, fintech companies can imagine software development in a whole new light. Goal-setting can incorporate broader perspectives, which can help the resulting product offer more value to a wider audience.

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Getting Buy-In and Building a Collaborative Roadmap 

Even the most well-planned software development project may fail if the organization lacks a collective will to help it succeed. To turn a roadmap into reality, organizational buy-in and team building are a must.

The parties involved typically possess a wide range of experience with software projects, from expertise to unfamiliarity.

Including all affected parties in the goal-setting phase of the project can help generate buy-in, as well. Goal-setting has the psychological effect of investing mental and emotional energy into the goal as if it’s already a reality, Dustin Wax at Lifehack writes.

In other words, when we set a goal, “a part of our brain believes that the desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image,” writes Wax.

This feature can be used to build buy-in for a software development project. When everyone is involved in building a roadmap, everyone feels partly responsible for turning that plan into reality.

Involving everyone in the project from the start can also help ensure that everyone has the information they need to understand the goal, the plan for reaching it and the metrics used to track progress.

Building a shared understanding of the software and its goals can address a number of issues. That’s what the roadmap does. When everyone understands the project from the start, requests for changes are easier to integrate as the project progresses. The parties involved are also less likely to be surprised if a predicted obstacle becomes a real one.

This collaborative approach to prioritizing work is a key factor in the planning and execution of a successful software build.

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Gathering Key Metrics and Benchmarks

A goal provides a single rallying point for efforts when building new software. To determine how effective those software development efforts are at reaching that goal, however, the team will need methods for selecting, gathering and analyzing data. It may also need exterior benchmarks in order to tell how the developing program measures up to its competition.

 

How Does the Project Measure Up?

Software development teams can choose from a number of metrics for evaluating various aspects of a software project’s progress and effectiveness.

For any software development project, measurements focusing on code quality are a must, writes Vinod Nair, software intelligence evangelist at CAST Software.

While most people picture software developers as working on new projects, “in reality most of the work developers actually do is maintenance work fixing the bugs found in the production code,” Nair writes. When developers spend their time fixing code rather than generating new code, they are spending time and money that could be better deployed elsewhere.

Implementing metrics for code quality can help keep the team on track and ensure a better finished product.

Other important metrics include the monetary cost of building the new software, deadlines for deliverables, time constraints and a plan for testing. Here, collaboration between a project manager, tech development and quality assurance can help identify key metrics and address potential challenges, as the GitHub team outlines in a white paper.

One way to keep better track of metrics and to improve the quality of the software as it develops is through the use of artificial intelligence (AI). Companies that use AI tools as part of their software creation may reduce their requirements review time by more than 50 percent, Deloitte’s David Schatsky and Sourabh Bumb write. AI and other tools can be considered as part of the early software planning process as potential obstacles are discussed.

 

Benchmarks: Software vs. the World

Benchmarks compare a software project and the company creating it against outside factors. They’re a way for companies to understand how their offerings and approaches measure up.

As such, benchmarks also offer a way to understand the organization’s efforts from a customer’s perspective. In a sector like fintech, customers compare offerings to one another all the time. Benchmarks offer a way to see what those customers see.

Again, the benchmarks chosen will depend in part on the software’s goals. They will also depend on the position of the company within the industry. Choosing the right benchmarks can help companies create a stronger online presence, improve the customer experience and stand out from the competition, writes Jamie Drayton, head of financial services at SimilarWeb.

Having clear metrics allows everyone involved in a software development project to see how that project is progressing at any given moment. Good metrics and benchmarks can also provide advance warning of problems.

We live in exciting times for anyone interested in software and its effect on business growth. To get the most from a software offering, however, it’s essential to clarify what problems the new digital tool solves and how it fits within the context of the organization’s offerings and goals. Goal-setting is one of the earliest stages of envisioning software development and effectiveness. Done well, it’s also one of the most valuable.

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