Software development projects are complex – they involve a lot of technical knowledge, managerial skills, and the implementation of user feedback. You want to develop a product that will be:
- Well received by your customers,
- On the market at the right time,
- Developed within the planned budget,
- Comply with standards and regulations (when applicable).
A few things are essential when developing a software product or a product with a software component.
1. Product vision & roadmap identification
The product vision is one of the first things you must identify when developing a new software product. Product vision will describe the main objective you want to achieve with the product you are working on and includes a bigger picture. This will help your development team to understand what they are working towards and why.
A product roadmap is a tool you can use to communicate the product vision to people involved in the product development process. The product roadmap should provide high-level goals connected to the product vision, with tangible milestones that the product development team will take to launch a product successfully.
Product roadmap can be used for the development of new products as well as for more extensive upgrades of existing solutions.
We help our partners define their product vision & roadmap by preparing a list of open questions that help them and us better understand the project. These questions can be related to different topics, from software architecture and technical characteristics to user requirements and business logic behind the project.
2. Allocating managerial resources & identifying product manager
When designing a software product, people usually pay the most attention to establishing a technical team of software engineers with the most relevant knowledge and skillset for the successful design and production of the end product.
However, it is essential to secure enough time and budget to have a “team lead”: a product/project manager on the team. The product or project manager will ensure the project is progressing following the prepared roadmap and product vision. The product manager oversees and coordinates:
- Team’s work,
- Communication between all stakeholders,
- Progress overview,
- Specifications overview,
- Implementation of user feedback.
A product manager should be well informed about the software product development process, the project’s content and the managerial and business side of the project. Product managers usually have an essential role in decision-making since they have a good overview of the entire project and insight into their team’s work.
Most projects need inputs from different stakeholders, and collaboration makes the final product more successful. It is beneficial to have transparent and open communication so that people involved have sufficient information to make informed decisions and contribute to the project to the best of their abilities.
When our customers have a dedicated project manager during software product development process, the collaboration is more successful since it is a great advantage to have a person with a good overview of the project and insight into the internal team’s work.
At BioSistemika, we pay a lot of attention to project management tasks for every project since it pays off in the quality of the end product and the success of the collaboration.
3. Market research and customer validation
A thorough software product development requires performing product management activities such as market research, user surveys, competitor analysis, SWOT analysis, business model establishment, and other industry/product-specific tasks.
You can think about product management as a strategy and software development as a tactic. So, before diving deep into a software product development, we encourage clients to perform a thorough information-gathering that needs to address all the common product questions, such as:
- What problem/s will the product solve?
- Who will be the product’s target audience or its users?
- How will the product be monetized?
Product development and software development are two intertwined processes that influence one another. It is essential to keep people involved in both processes informed on (at least) a high level of the happenings in the project on both fronts.
We encourage our customers to do market research before we start working with the software product development process. That way, if the market research indicates a need on the market, our customers invest in developing a product that will have a higher likelihood of succeeding.
Often we develop mockups that enable our customers to reach out to their customers and seek additional customer feedback and validation. We implement these comments in the end product, which influences the successful user adoption of the product.
4. Defining the product development process
Different products will require different product development processes, but there are some key steps that most software product development process take for a successful launch.
Some of the common software development process methodologies are:
- Agile software development,
- Continuous integration,
- Incremental development,
- Rapid application development,
- Waterfall development,
- and others.
You can read more about the software product development process for IVD medical devices and its important steps in our blog post – IVD medical device software development and regulations.
With our custom software development, we usually adopt a hybrid model – meaning we start with an end goal in mind (and in writing, in the software requirements document) and work from there.
During the development, we adopt more Agile approach, so we are still flexible with changing the requirements, if we mutually decide with our customers, that the initial idea needs some alteration. With our product development projects, we tend to adopt Agile methodology very early in order to reduce time to market.
4.1 Product development trade-offs
In many cases, making trade-offs to meet the desired timeline and stay on budget is necessary when defining a product development process. You can tackle a specific customer pain with many different approaches to develop a software solution.
The variation lies in the nitty-gritty details and the decisions you must make about the product development process. The technical trade-offs can involve many decisions – the more important product-level requirements, constraints, and product-level trade-offs must be considered and evaluated, with a focus on maintaining quality assurance.
During the software product development process, we dedicate a lot of effort to the technical discussions with our customers. With these discussions, we identify an optimal way to meet the timeline and provide the best possible technical solution.
4.2 Software architecture role in product development
Before planning the software development process and setting up software architecture, it is important to understand the product’s requirements and intended use.
Software architecture is, simply put, a high-to-mid-level blueprint of how the software needs to be built. That needs to be based on the information provided in the research phase of product development.
To prepare a suitable software architecture for a specific product, you need to address questions such as:
- How will the software be distributed to the users?
- How much data will users process?
- What about the security and safety measures?
- How technically adept are the envisioned customers?
- What is the optimal user experience to help users with their problems?
To delve deeper in the topic of how to build future-proof architecture for your lab software, watch this webinar.
At BioSistemika, we have the expertise to consult customers’ internal teams on building software architecture most suitable for the specific project. We consider the current state of the architecture, desired product use, and the trade-offs we decided on with our customers.
4.3 Avoiding technical debt
Technical debt results from a decision to make an easier approach to development in the given phase, rather than setting up a better system that would take longer to establish.
As we previously mentioned, software product development is a series of trade-offs that you need to make to provide the best solution for your customers. There are often different paths you can take in your software development process, and they all have pros and cons. If you want to avoid creating technical debt, you must pay attention to balancing, meeting the timeline, and preparing a system that will support continuous product development.
To avoid creating technical debt, it is important to understand the product roadmap thoroughly and have deep insight into user requirements and their reasoning. It is also beneficial to know the market you are targeting with the product that is being developed.
Our approach to avoiding or minimizing technical debt is introducing a long-term vision for the product during the software requirements specification and product design. We also encourage this thinking with our customers with technical discussions and open questions that help support the decisions that will contribute to reducing technical debt in the long run.
5. Collaboration with external partners
Collaboration with external partners is not necessarily a part of every software development project. However, they can bring different benefits to the product development – from accelerating the timeline, adding additional domain knowledge and niche expertise, adding workforce to the project, etc.
If you decide to go on that route during your software product development process, it is essential to note a few things about this kind of partnership:
> Think about product vision and roadmap
Generally, it is the role of the internal product team to provide a vision and roadmap for product development. However, asking your external partners about their feedback at the beginning of the project can be beneficial since they are not involved in the project yet and can see things from another perspective.
While your external partners can help you out with some ideas and address the open question, it will ultimately be on you to decide where you want your product to go. That makes sense also from your perspective, knowing your customers the best, and being able to reach out to them for feedback on the product you are developing.
> Explain your processes
Your external partners do not know your processes as well as you do, so keeping them in the loop with what is necessary for them to learn is essential.
> Set expectations
Be clear in your expectations and communicate them as frequently as needed. Explain what you expect in regular team meetings, reporting, invoicing, etc.
That will save you time and money usually used for solving unnecessary challenges that can arise from the lack of quality communication.
> Establish communication and feedback cycles
Establishing a functional communication channel where people involved in product development can exchange information is essential. Keep in mind to include the product team, as well as the software development team and external partners, so people are aware of what is going on with the project.
Attempt to shorten the feedback cycles as much as possible. This normally means doing product and software development in parallel as much as possible and launching software to the users in incremental iterations.
At BioSistemika, we successfully finished several projects as external partners for software development. During the years, we developed a set of good practices with continuous improvement approach that we use to establish successful long-term partnerships with our customers.
Suppose our customers want our help with finalizing the product vision and roadmap. In that case, our senior software developers and senior product development managers can help out and contribute our expertise from life sciences and regulated markets.
Take home messages
- Think thoroughly about the vision of your product, as well as the roadmap for the development process and future improvements.
- Market research will provide insight into the market situation and help guide your product development and roadmap.
- Product vision and roadmap will help you with decisions about software architecture and trade-offs that you might have to make.
- Include external partners in your product development process. They can bring additional expertise and more workforce or help bring products to the market faster.
- Put a lot of importance on the end-users feedback on your product – starting from the beginning of the product development. That will help you develop a successful product.