Whether in life or in software development, problems are pretty much guaranteed.
In the software world, however, there are ways to detect and prevent problems before they impact your project or timeline.
Adopting a preventative mindset and equipping yourself with the right tools and knowledge ensures smoother project execution, more reliable outcomes, and happier clients and users.
This article will explore proactive strategies and best practices to help you identify, mitigate, and avoid problems that could disrupt your development process.
The Right Plan Makes a Difference
We’ve all heard Benjamin Franklin’s famous—if overused—quote, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
Agile teams rely on strategic planning to identify potential problems and map out the route to the product’s release. This planning happens on two levels: release planning and sprint planning.
Release planning focuses on the long-term vision of the product’s maturity path, balancing business value with what the team can deliver. This exercise helps with planning multiple future sprints, even if the priority of the work changes in those sprints. The release plan sets the release date, the number of sprints required to complete the release, and the length of each sprint.
Sprint planning creates a sprint backlog. Before a sprint begins, the team reviews the items in the backlog and agrees on the user stories that will be developed in the sprint. They take into account the estimated level of effort for each story, as well as the team’s capacity and velocity for the sprint.
While planning won’t eliminate every potential problem, it can help alleviate some of your team’s significant challenges during development.
Create a Good User Story
Writing strong user stories is one of the first steps in creating a solid plan.
User stories are short, descriptive summaries that tell developers what they need to build from a user’s perspective.
The better a user story is, the greater the chance the final product will deliver what the user wants.
At Taazaa, we believe a quality user story should:
- Include good business value
- Provide acceptance criteria
- Include a helpful design
- Be easy to understand
Creating a good user story requires a balance of brevity and detail. It’s a matter of giving developers enough information to build the right feature while allowing them the space to innovate and find the best way to build it.
Once you have a good user story, the next step is backlog refinement. This step involves sharing user stories with your team so they can analyze and clarify them. It gives the team a chance to look at each user story, understand all the aspects of the features described, and, when necessary, develop an impact analysis.
Backlog refinement is less about getting a specific point estimate on a user story and more about assembling multiple brilliant individuals to discuss that feature’s plan.
Your goal here is to come up with every possible issue—no matter how small—and consider how they could impact the entire application.
With a thorough understanding of potential problems, you can make a plan to deal with them.
The goal of each sprint is to deliver a working version of the product for the stakeholders to review.
Part of the planning process involves creating realistic and well-prepared sprints—with the expectation that a software team needs well-planned sprints to deliver working software.
Poor planning leads to your team repeatedly rushing to meet a sprint goal—or missing it.
Renew Your Focus on Quality
No one goes into a project intending to create a sub-par product, but when crunch time hits, it can be tempting to sacrifice quality to meet scheduling demands.
To maintain a focus on quality, it helps to engage the quality assurance (QA) team early, find bugs before they get to QA, and deploy efficient QA software tools.
Engage QA Early
Quality assurance is one of your most vital assets in discovering issues.
Rather than engaging them at the end of the process, involve them early on to ensure they understand the software’s purpose. Test cases are critical factors in well-developed software.
Get your QA’s opinion on the product. Make them feel like they’re contributing to the project’s overall success rather than a stopgap at the end. Encourage your QA to own the product just as much as the developers and product managers.
Prevent Shots on Goal
The development team should try to catch as many bugs as possible before the product gets to QA.
If your developers focus on finding bugs before they get to the goalie, it’s less work for QA to manage and reduces the chance that a bug gets past them to become a defect.
Use Technology to Check the Technology
As you develop more complex software and mature products, you must invest the time to utilize software tools to prevent defects from entering the product.
Could this mean slower development? Temporarily, it might, but it should be viewed as a long-term benefit to the product.
What Would Mom Think?
A great way to maintain a focus on quality is to ask yourself two questions:
- If one of my parents used this software, what would annoy them?
- If my sister were a developer, what would she notice that would cause her to laugh at me?
These questions may seem silly, but they shape how you respond to the project. It solidifies the end user’s perspective in a way that has more impact.
If you see the software through the eyes of someone you know, you’ll take steps to prevent their irritation.
Anticipate Unavoidable Problems
You can’t prevent every problem. Some issues are bound to crop up, and you need to have a plan for dealing with them quickly.
Let’s focus on how understanding your project risks can help you anticipate and minimize problems.
If you owned this product, what would worry you?
Personalizing the project you’re working on is one of the best ways to ensure it meets the highest quality standards.
Ask yourself, “What areas in this project are scary, potentially problematic, and need to be addressed?”
Here are a few common examples of potential problems:
- What tech debt do we have?
- Can the product scale?
- If a developer quits and we lose all our knowledge about the customer module, what’s our immediate plan?
Analyzing the product path from your perspective can give you fresh ideas on handling issues before they become unmanageable.
Reflect on Your Experiences
Each member of your team will come into a project with past experiences—both positive and negative.
Those experiences are not only powerful learning opportunities but guides on how to prevent and manage future problems.
What worked before?
Everyone on the team has experienced a successful development and launch. Ask each member to think about why it was successful.
What tactics or plans made the difference for them, or did they find helpful in completing a quality project?
Give your team time and space to collectively reflect on what made previous projects work or what processes they feel would be essential to replicate.
What problems occurred?
Just as everyone has experienced success, every team member has also encountered problems.
Ask your team what issues popped up in similar projects before and how they would handle them differently now.
What steps will you take to ensure this project goes in a different direction than others?
Have these conversations early and often. The more brainstorming and ideation you allow for in the beginning, the more likely you are to spot and fix similar issues before they become too problematic.
Did you do your research?
In addition to getting an in-house perspective, look at outside sources to understand issues that have occurred for other developers in similar projects.
Check out Stack Overflow posts, journal articles, and other reputable sources to see what similar technologies you’re using and what problems others experienced in those situations.
Even a little outside research can help you plan for and avoid other people’s mistakes on similar projects.
Ask More Questions
We’ve all experienced a time when we had an important question but didn’t ask, and it came back to haunt us.
Don’t be afraid of asking questions, especially when doing so can help accomplish the project’s goals more effectively.
The right questions can help identify problems that may not have been considered.
Ask Your Team
Ask team members:
- What problems should we anticipate?
- What potential issues could we run into?
Don’t be afraid to involve your leadership team. They have vast experience from which to draw.
Consider asking them:
- What are you concerned about us doing?
- In your experience, what risks should be on our list, or what possibilities should we be prepared for?
Ask Other Teams
Take some time to share your project with other groups within your organization and get their thoughts. Working on differing projects could give them valuable insights.
Questions to ask them could include:
- What weaknesses do you see?
- What issues could you foresee in this type of project?
Don’t be afraid to tap into the collective experiences and wealth of knowledge of your internal resources.
Your Mindset Is Key
With a preventative mindset, a solid plan, refined user stories, and a focus on quality, your team is better equipped to mitigate potential issues.
Engaging your QA early, preventing “shots on goal,” and making the project personal are additional strategies that can help ensure a smoother development process with fewer roadblocks.
Approaching potential issues from the right mindset can make all the difference in preventing problems or minimizing their impact on the development process.