Monday 14 October 2013

Software development process in Startups

In software development we always start with “Hello World”. We never start with “ABC”. My little one was watching "fruit train" today and this made me think about it. Sometimes we jump into “Hello World” without learning ABC. A dev team for startup is different. How you build it defines most of the tech startups.  

When I thought about process of software development it got outlined as mixture of process and principles. Following is what I discovered.

Agile Process:

The mission statement of our dev team is “Quick with Quality”. We cannot choose one from either of them. This is also one of the reason “People matters” (See my earlier blog). Recruiting the right people will enable you achieve both.
Development process makes quality of deliverables from all the team members agonistic of quality of the people. Common mistakes are avoided by following process. I think if you have right team with business acumen, need for strict process reduce drastically. And building that team is what it takes.
Mostly testing is ignored in early stage start-ups which leads to demo syndrome* and poor quality. This also leads to team getting randomized with lot of bug fixes. Following will help to improve quality and efficiency:
Buddies in team:
1.       Testing each other’s code :Testing improves quality and product understanding.
2.       Avoid single point of failure: At least two developers knows the code and configurations. This will come handy for you in many ways in development and business practice.
Automate: Whenever you have time automate the testing as much as possible. Start by writing Build Verification Test (BVT) and move towards Unit Testing(UT). Start the practice before your code base becomes very large.
Sandbox environment: It is very important to build a sandbox testing environment. Everything works in developer’s box**.Virtual environments is means to reduce the cost.
Scrum: Daily standup meeting are very critical to keep the team focused and achieve the mile stones. As advocated by Scrum Gurus keep it brief and precise. Keep the sprints as short as possible. Maintain backlog of the all the requirements and feedbacks. 

Source control, reviews and testing should be mandated even for small teams.

Business validation process:

In startup the software development team should be integrated to product, customer engagement and sales team. Business development and software development can’t be separated. It is very important for leaders to define purpose and principles of the start-up and make sure that team knows about it. If developer is doing something other than core business, Stop!. It doesn't mean stop innovating, it means focus.
When you reduce the barrier between dev and other teams the inevitable side effect are following:
  • Team getting randomized by others teams
  • Lot of noise-business requirements from other team.
It is very critical for dev leader to make sure that it doesn't go to this extent.
When it comes to features to implement its a haywire. Pick your right battle at right time. Pick the "Right" features for the customer rather than allowing customer to pick the "Right" feature. This task is very difficult than most of us think, especially if your audience is diverse. The above doesn't mean you don't listen to customer. Following practice might help.
  • Problem Validation: Does the problem exist for wide audience.
  • Feedback Analysis: Filter the noise from customer feedback. And prioritize the feedback.
  • Product Validation: Do you want to solve the problem now or guide customer towards some existing solution. It might include suggesting your competitor or other solution providers.This is tough for most of us.
In spite of the speed of development, uniformity among different components, intuitiveness of the eco- system, focus on the problem and value add should not be derailed.
Don’t develop features which you like. "Disconnect” yourself, listen to the market and solve the most important problem. After all you’re not going to use it, your customers are.

Continuous development process:

When you are travelling very fast small mistakes get amplified with time. Continues feedback and corrective actions doesn't have any substitute. Earlier you listen to feedback and fix it less catastrophic it will be.
Following helps in continues development and deployment:
Continues deployment: Integrate as often as possible in the sandbox environment. Let each developer take pride about not breaking the integration environment. There should be daily continuous deployments to sandbox.
Continuity plan: A startup needs business continuity plan. It can be simple but there should be a plan.
Enable the team: Once you have right team, enable the team. We don’t have robots to do software development yet. Come back to reality. Acknowledge that people make mistakes. They need higher purpose to work in startup. Allow them to make decisions, allow them to make mistakes, allow them to interact with business as required. Don't be overprotective about what you developed from scratch. The team should run without you …period.
Build Operable system: Build software which gives you continues feedback from system and business perspective. I have discussed this in detail earlier.
* Demo syndrome : Your application never works when you go for demo with client or leaders..
** Dev box : Developers computer. 

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