Aligning software development with business strategy
There's no doubt that developing a solid software product is both a science and an art, with tremendous demands on the creativity and execution skills of the participants. However, with rising digitization, software products exist in a market with ever-increasing competitiveness.
For instance, 29% of smartphone users will immediately leave an app or website if they can't find it helpful, and 69% of online consumers agree that their perception of a brand is influenced by the timing, quality, and relevance of the company’s message.
The success of a software project is heavily hinged on striking the perfect middle ground between software development and business strategy, so let’s discuss how to fuse the two effectively.
But first, what causes the misalignment of software development and business strategy?
Let’s say both sides are good at what they do. Here's how many organizations find their software development and business strategy efforts misaligned:
Siloed departmental operations
Many organizations prefer to maintain a clear distinction between different departments, with most interdepartmental interactions initiated and overseen by a higher administrator who needs help from multiple departments.
That creates a scenario where someone from accounting barely knows the people in marketing, legal, or even the developers. Consequently, everyone focuses on their immediate KPIs and doesn't anticipate other employees' challenges or think about how to help.
And occasionally, some departments may look at others as detractors and try to show them up by refusing to provide requirements promptly or jumping the gun on cross-department assignments. Examples include delaying branding materials or instructions to UI designers, prematurely announcing forthcoming features, and leaving developers with strict deadlines.
Unclear or constantly changing objectives
It may appear more common when developing software for a client, but it also happens in software companies that create and deliver their products. In most cases, it’s a result of the competitive nature of tech markets.
When a company says they’ve made a breakthrough and will offer an advanced feature soon, others rush to instruct their development teams to add it to the next release. Unfortunately, this can be detrimental to developer productivity since developers are never sure what they'll be working on the next minute.
Developers constantly jump from one task to another with an ever-increasing and unpredictable workload. Subsequently, they can spend a week working, with nothing complete at the end, but rather a few pieces of different assignments which together don’t do much.
And remember, these abrupt changes in objectives aren’t always backed by concrete research showing that the new feature will be integral to gaining a competitive edge.
Poor communication of business requests and engineering implications
When developers and other technical personnel discuss future software features with business heads, miscommunication can mess with the entire project. For example, the business side may ask whether a component can be ready within a particular period, and the developers may say yes.
However, the business side may not clarify what they mean by "ready," and the developers may deliver something that still needs minor polishing. On the other hand, the developers may be able to offer something ultimately, but they need additional engineering resources/expertise.
Suppose each side doesn’t endeavor to understand the other entirely. In that case, developers are drowning in technical debt as they scramble to finish several tasks or revise those where shortcuts cause more issues. As a result, the project ends up behind schedule and is more likely to fail commercially.
This problem usually starts with whoever comes up with the product idea. When it’s from a developer, they may be more focused on answering the question, “Does the current technology allow for it to get done?” And when it arises from a business mind, they may focus on finding out whether the idea is commercially viable (Can it generate profits?).
In either case, the person or team embarks on the mission equipped with enormous enthusiasm and little practical knowledge of critical aspects of the project. These may include price quotes for the tools and personnel required, the full compliance checklist for various target regions, and more.
Ultimately, your estimates for project costs will need to be revised. You'll also have many regulatory hurdles before delivering one feature to the general public or your target sector.
Uncoordinated fund-raising efforts
It's common for many software projects to start with less money than they need to see things through. And don't forget that most costs aren't set in stone, so teams often realize that their mission is quite expensive later.
Accordingly, many teams start with what is known as a Minimum Viable Product and gather statistics like the number of downloads, free trial signups, premium subscriptions, referrals, website visits, and more. These are the metrics the business heads go with to boardrooms and other meetings to show the product's potential when seeking funding.
However, sometimes there are disagreements over which metrics and rollouts will be most convincing, or technical personnel delay providing the numbers. In other cases, the business side focuses on the funds they can get in the short term and fails to prepare the engineering side for later shortfalls in funding.
Essentially, the team either finds itself unprepared for fund-raising exercises or builds without prioritizing the higher revenue-generating features. Their income streams dry up before they have a balanced feature set that offers substantial value to customers.
Disorganized feedback loop
Many people like to throw around catchy phrases like “build, measure, learn” regarding feedback loops. But, sadly, they forget that you can build the wrong thing, measure the incorrect metrics, and get misleading lessons that keep you putting out features that don't resonate with the audience.
How does that happen? Well, many teams start okay. They make assumptions about their target market’s preferences, which nearly everyone does. But unfortunately, when they build the product, they fail to embed elements that answer their questions (affirm or deny their assumptions) when users interface with them.
So once a product version is out, they gather lots of information, but this data isn’t pertinent. Alternatively, they may build and deliver something relevant and collect vital feedback but lack the data management and analytical capacity to derive the appropriate response from this information.
How to harmonize software development and business strategy
Since software development and business strategy can deviate at any stage of the project's life cycle, let's examine possible solutions that can keep the two aligned:
At the start of any project, the software development leadership should meet with business leaders and set up a small series of activities where people on both sides get to know each other. That may include simple introductions (name, role, and brief background), fun games, and planning sessions.
Such efforts help employees to bond and have an easier time collaborating. For example, two employees from different sides may have experienced a similar challenge at their previous jobs. They could end up laughing about it and agreeing on navigating such a situation.
These orientation exercises also help team members understand the importance of each other's roles in moving the project forward. More importantly, they can zoom in on a typical workday or cross-functional task and brainstorm how to tackle it.
Such conversations highlight possible bottlenecks in approval processes, conflicts of interest, and hidden opportunities to augment each other's contributions. They also limit the number of internal surprises you'll encounter once you start development since everyone knows their teammates' preferred approach and shared big-picture goals.
Translating requests and eventualities
Every software development project needs at least one person who can speak a little bit of the tech and business language to be a conduit between the two sides. That is the person developers and testers can talk to about the types of bugs discovered.
That person then accurately translates that information into the amount of time required for debugging or more representation that lets the business team know what that means for their work going forward.
Additionally, this person can convey the business team’s desires to the technical team in a way they understand better. For instance, business heads may say they want to reduce the cost of delivering each feature by a certain percentage. The intermediary then tells developers and other engineers to explore less memory-intensive coding techniques and more minimalist databases so that they can use fewer server resources.
Enhancing the analytics stack and procedures
This effort begins with internal work. Leaders should work on getting more comprehensive analytics tools or those with broad integration capabilities to make the required comparisons easily. Such comparisons may include the number of code-related requests each developer receives per day/week compared to the number of code commits in that same period.
They could also extend to the number of issues discovered during a given testing period vs. the number of problems resolved. Analysis may also cover non-technical details like messaging app usage or the number of back-and-forth emails on a specific thread/subject. These help teams know whether they are doing too much while achieving little.
You can also address external events like user interactions by building links between your internal productivity tools and the usability testing tools. That includes creating a workflow where specific usability metrics like clicks and time spent on a page are tracked, and the values are used to populate tables that marketing teams access.
Eventually, marketers can make more precise decisions on where to display signup CTAs and other ads for maximum effect. Salespeople can also give their opinions on accelerating conversion, and the legal team can suggest disclaimer copies or awareness messages regarding fraud.
However, these efforts aren't restricted to the tools used. You also have to create a framework that outlines who will access what, when, and for what purpose – helping reduce information overload. As a result, every concerned party receives something condensed into what they need. Such efforts pay off in the future when administering features like loyalty programs, referrals, donations, etc.
Embed marketing and sales features into the software
As developers flesh out a software product, it helps to think about some facets of the product from the perspective of “How can they strengthen our relationship with the user?” or “How can they make the user buy/subscribe more?”
Say a particular feature is only available in the top-tier enterprise-level price plan. Consider enabling users to subscribe to a lower tier and pay extra for that feature. For example, you can allow the user to select their preferred feature and create a custom feature set instead of selecting one of three.
Marketing and sales features can also include meters progressively showing the discount a shopper earns or the carbon emissions they offset with each cart addition. You can even have options to share in-app/on-site activity via social media or view other users’ public designs.
Involve users early
One of the toughest challenges to overcome is revising an app that people don't want. It costs a lot of money and leaves you lagging behind the competition. To avoid such problems, involve your target audience in developing the software product as early as possible.
Whether using focus groups or inviting people to exclusive beta testing, you should always seek user feedback. Not only does this help you deliver features that people want, but it also makes users feel special and excites them for the official release.
They’ll want to see how much of their input was considered and applied, so be sure to infuse feedback collection features in the software you deliver.
Incorporate branding elements in the UI and UX
Now and then, you'll use software that makes you go like, "The people behind this must be interesting." It could be because of a witty congratulatory message they display when you complete a task or a self-deprecating message shown when loading slows down/a search has no matches.
The point is branding goes beyond names and logos. You can even differentiate yourself using audio clips, animations, and haptic feedback when responding to the user. However, remember that the more elaborate your branding elements are, the more you'll have to collaborate with designers and developers to ensure that everything fits neatly and doesn't slow down the app or make it much heavier.
Revise your recruitment process
When hiring technical personnel, consider tweaking your recruitment process to include exercises that help highlight the candidate’s skills outside development and engineering. More specifically, you can introduce questions that show how the person thinks about the intersection between software development and business strategy.
Some developers are self-righteous purists who view business heads as soulless vultures that water down every good idea. They may even call them nicknames like "suits" and perceive them as rule junkies who enjoy taking all the fun out of development. This energy may not be suitable for your team, considering business heads are pivotal in project financing and product commercialization.
They are the ones who have to endure the grueling work of ensuring that the bills are paid, lawsuits are avoided, and customers are retained. Therefore, you want to ensure you bring on people who respect what others offer and are eager to complement it. During developer onboarding, you can also capture this ethos in videos, presentations, tours, literature, and other materials.
And the same goes for potential business recruiters, who might view technical personnel as rebellious hedonists or extravagant renegades who are oblivious to ordinary people’s desires. Some may even view developers as people who are naïve about the revolutionary capabilities of tech and incapable of making pragmatic decisions. All those sentiments should be filtered out during recruitment.
Experiment with different development models and methodologies
Don't be too rigid or formulaic when thinking about how software development teams should work. For example, you can pursue agility by coding and testing concurrently, using a Kanban board to give business heads the required visibility.
Be open-minded and select the methodologies and practices that increase technical team productivity and blend well with existing organizational procedures. Remember, change is most palatable in small doses.
How organizations benefit from aligning software development and business strategy
- They cut development costs and other recurring costs like hosting and customer support.
- Organizations learn more about how to retain customers and acquire new ones.
- This alignment can improve a company’s brand reputation since it is subtly but effectively embodied in more aspects of the software product.
- Employee satisfaction increases since everyone feels like they are working toward a common goal and see their collaboration's profitability.
- Companies increase sales/subscriptions by leveraging tech to simplify and shorten the journey toward the final conversion point.
- Harmonizing the two sides helps improve the quality of research results, and teams release better features for solving pressing problems.
Code remains a significant part of the core of any software project. Great culture, savvy marketing, and all those other techniques can hardly save you from the downside of poor-quality code.
So as you align software development and business strategy, select the proper code health tools. You can schedule a demo to learn more about DeepSource and how our solution addresses security, stability, and developer velocity in software development.