When discussing our software development process, I often use metaphors around building a house. Partly because everyone, including non-techies like me, has at least a basic understanding of what goes on when building or renovating a house. And partly, because the two processes have so much in common.
In this blog post, I delve into the shared processes and challenges of software development and construction, to help you visualise what goes on behind the scenes.
Software Development Process
Here are the stages involved in software development when interacting with a client, listed in the order they take place:
Comparing Software Development and Construction Processes
Whether you want to build a new house from scratch or renovate your home, the process will begin with a site visit from your builder or contractor. This person will check your site, see what is there, and discuss what you want to do. The process will be much the same whether you’re adding a new storey, renovating the kitchen, or building an entirely new home.
Similarly, in software development, the team kicks off a project by collecting information on your software project and business requirements. It will consider the systems you currently use, the project’s specific needs, analyse your competitors, examine your niche, and talk with stakeholders.
Once you’ve decided what you want to build or renovate, your builder or contractor will examine the plans and create a list of the materials and resources needed for the project.
In software development, the team will assess your project’s requirements and provide a rough estimate of the resources required, including the technology tools and the team’s technical expertise.
Once the resources and materials for the construction work have been decided, it’s time to figure out the project’s cost. During this stage, the contractor or builder will determine how much time it will take to finish the project and decide on the materials and other resources needed. They will then give the client a cost estimate based on these factors.
Software development follows the same process. Once the team has agreed on the project requirements, it will provide a cost estimate and timeline. We’ve even swiped the phrase Time & Materials directly from the construction industry.
Design & Development
Once the client accepts the cost estimate provided by the builder or contractor, the development phase begins. Constructing or renovating a home involves creating architectural plans and hiring experts to work on the construction itself.
Likewise in software, once the client approves the project’s requirements and cost estimate, the process moves into the development phase. A team designing the system architecture, UI/UX (User Interface/User Experience) starts work. Next, developers begin building the frontend and backend of the website or application.
Quality Assurance (QA) & Testing
During building or renovating, it’s crucial to verify that measurements and requirements align with the project’s goals at every stage. Then, someone can promptly address any problems or deviations to ensure the project stays on track and the job’s done well.
The software development life cycle, quality assurance (QA) and testing occur concurrently with design and development to ensure the project meets the client’s expectations and, again, the job’s done well.
Once construction work has been completed, the builder or contractor will visit the site to ensure the finished results meet the client’s requirements. The final project can then be presented to the homeowner.
Similarly, the software product is delivered or deployed when developers are confident it’s free of bugs or errors and will align perfectly with the client’s expectations.
Challenges can be similar too
Software development and construction work both face some key challenges. A common challenge in both industries is staying within the project’s defined scope while ensuring the project is profitable.
At the outset of a construction project, there’s often considerable uncertainty for both the builder and the client. As time goes on, the client may change or have new requirements. If the adjustments are minor, the builder or contractor is usually happy to accommodate the changes, even if they’ve agreed to a fixed price. However, it will be different if clients decide they want something like high-end bathroom fittings or extensive alterations to the porch. Changes like this, made after the project has begun, will affect the amount of labour needed to complete the project, the resources, the project timeline – and, of course, costs.
In software development, things are similar. Clients might introduce new ideas or additional features once the development is in progress. For example, they might want to add two-factor authentication for security or a ‘Sign-In With Google’ option even if these weren’t part of their initial plan. Such changes can extend the project’s timeline, strain resources, and increase costs.
It’s clear that, in both scenarios, major changes can pose challenges for the construction or software company. The companies initially provide clients with a cost estimate that includes an extra amount to cover minor adjustments. This flexibility can handle small changes in the project’s early stages. However, significant changes later on can squeeze the budget to breaking point. In such cases, the company might need to reject client requests or impose additional charges, and both outcomes can harm the company’s relationship with the customer.
To prevent this potential conflict, the company and client should establish clear guidelines that both parties understand from the outset. This agreement should outline the project scope, detailing precisely what it includes and doesn’t include. In addition, it should explain what happens if a client asks for significant changes. If the company decides to undertake these without charging extra, it can inform the client that this is a goodwill gesture.
The parallels between construction and software development projects are clear. Both industries involve distinct stages, from gathering requirements to project delivery. Both industries face challenges in managing changes to the initial project scope. And, both industries need to navigate these challenges as it’s crucial to establish clear guidelines and maintain open communication with clients. Ensuring the project sticks to its requirements is vital or understand that their will be implications to costs and time-frames. Keeping stakeholders happy is key to success in both construction and software development.