The startup landscape is constantly increasing – in Australia alone 974 companies are founded every day and globally approximately 100 million startups commence every year. We have seen a steady increase in the number of new companies that are investing in software development projects to build solutions for customers or internal users thanks to:
This investment in software product development for a startup represents a large part of their available capital, with the remainder typically reserved for other activities such as sales, marketing, and key personnel hires. For a lot of startups, they rely on investment from external parties to take the product to market. Given it is such a significant investment for a new company and its investors, it is important to take the necessary steps from the outset and throughout the project to maximize the product’s chances of success.
There are usually two high-level risks that need to be addressed, each of which can be broken down further and addressed as part of the product development process:
In this article, we cover some of the strategies that a startup can use to reduce risks and maximize the efficiency of their software development projects.
Starting a product development project without a clearly articulated and communicated vision can result in:
This can lead to significant increases in cost and time to market, which in turn increases the risk associated with the product’s success. It will help at this stage to think about what type of problem or challenge you’re trying to solve, or what type of value you’re trying to deliver with your product. There are many exercises and frameworks you can use to help you frame your product vision, which help you clearly identify what you’re trying to achieve, how you’re going to try and achieve it, and who benefits from it.
It is vital to not only define a clear vision but to ensure it is also validated with your stakeholders, team members, and target market. The number one reason why startups fail is due to misreading market demand – approximately 42% of failed startups faced this issue, so you don’t want to underestimate the importance of feedback especially early on in the journey.
Once you have a vision and you start thinking about the features your product will have, you probably will get inundated fairly quickly with possibilities. It’s very important to adopt and maintain a lean mindset, to ensure that you are focussing on delivering value first and foremost. Using a high-level product roadmap, you can de-risk your project by focussing your efforts and resources on what is going to deliver the most value, not committing to delivering every feature upfront, and clearly identifying an order of when features will be delivered. We’ve listed a few ways you can prioritize your features for development here.
This will help you and your team to frame what is most important to deliver now and also what will come next, and next after that. This becomes very important when you start to plan for the capacity of your development team, the infrastructure and tools you’ll need, and for your business as it serves its customers. It does not need to be a very detailed plan, in fact, detailed planning should be kept to when you have the most information available about how your product is being used and delivering value.
Your roadmap will be a living document, continually revisited and revalidated with stakeholders with the latest information you have at hand.
Forming the right team to deliver on your product vision is crucial to successful product delivery. Many startups, particularly those with strong technical co-founders, can build, maintain and scale teams of developers to help create their software products. However, for many startups at the seed stage, a more cost-effective and risk-averse approach is to engage the services of a Technology Partner for the first few releases of their software.
This has the benefit of allowing you to rapidly engage a team with the varying skills required to deliver a full software product into the market without having to maintain full-time employees (FTE). Especially in the early stages of your startup, it may not be feasible to bring on a large team of employees on a permanent basis. Using a technology partner allows you to engage only the resources you need for the period of time that you need them, while also having access to other on-demand services to support your startup through its maturity phases. Not only will you get access to designers, developers, and testers, but you will also be able to engage business analysts, project managers or delivery leads, and solution architects that can help you with the entire product development journey. Many technology partners will also be able to continue to help you from an operational and product support perspective.
To select the right development partner to help you on your journey, make sure you look for one which:
Traditionally, software products and projects were delivered using what was called “waterfall” methodologies, where the major phases of a project were delivered sequentially – starting with the requirements analysis, then the detailed design of the application, development, and coding, followed by testing, and finally deployment or launch of the product.
While there’s nothing wrong with delivering software projects in this manner, it requires a very clear understanding of the most granular details of what is being delivered, with very little ability to change throughout the development process. From the requirements analysis phase to the point in time where you can actually inspect the work in the testing phase, for a large project many months may have passed, meaning if something has either been misunderstood or has been invalidated by new market information, the cost of making any changes and the risks associated with making those changes could be catastrophic for any company like a startup.
You may have heard of Agile in the context of software development, and many development teams and companies will prefer to develop software this way. Using an iterative development to deliver software in accordance with Agile principles focuses primarily on delivering value, by breaking up the entire product delivery into small independently deliverable parcels of value.
There are many Agile frameworks, the most popular one being Scrum. You can view more information on the Scrum framework here, and we will not go into the finer details of this framework in this article, but to reduce the risk of complex product development initiatives, Scrum’s framework incorporates fixed timeboxes of development with regular checkpoints with stakeholders to ensure anything developed is constantly being validated.
Where in a waterfall project, it may be months before anything is inspected, and it’s usually the entire working system at that point, with Scrum, the focus is on delivering something at least every four weeks, and ensuring feedback on what is delivered is considered when planning what to do next. This ensures that we are identifying any elements that need to change in order to deliver more value early on rather than when the cost and risk of changes to the system are high.
Using the right tools is an excellent way to mitigate the risk of misalignment between people working on a software project. There are a number of tools that enable teams to work more effectively, such as:
|Testing & QA||Jira
In addition to the above, depending on the complexity of your product, you may want to investigate using automated testing. Using automated rather than manual testing allows for the rapid quality analysis of requirements as they are developed – significantly reducing the time required to release new features for market testing and increasing the chance of defects and bugs being identified. This means your software product is kept to a high standard of quality, and your ability to respond to changing market conditions is high given you can release new features quickly.
Related article on 5 Tools that can help increase the ROI of Start Up Software Projects
Any startup embarking on a software product development initiative needs to maximize its chances of success, firstly by ensuring they do not deliver the wrong product and secondly by delivering the right product in the most efficient and effective manner. Clearly articulating and communicating your product vision, engaging the right internal or external delivery team, developing in an iterative manner, and utilizing the right tools are just a few ways that the risks associated with delivering software can be managed properly.
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