Software Product Development: Basics and Example Process

Software Product Development: Basics and Example Process

Software development requires discipline, whether you need to create software based on a new concept or add new features to existing software. With the right approach and effective practices, the work should result in an end product delivered on time and within budget that meets customer expectations and needs. A structured process helps teams minimize risks, manage resources, and deliver high-quality software.

In this guide, we’ll explore the fundamentals of the software development life cycle and offer actionable tips to help teams develop software that ticks all those boxes.

Table of contents:

What is software product development?

Software product development involves designing and creating new software products or enhancing existing ones.

From brainstorming ideas to the big launch day (and beyond), the process is centered around developing top-notch software that meets user expectations and adds something unique to the market. This path from the initial planning phase to release encompasses several steps and can use development methodologies:

  • Agile. Agile software development aims to break down the software project into smaller sections. Then, teams can collaborate with customers to prioritize tasks and adjust the project as necessary. Scrum is a framework for implementing Agile methodology. In this process, a team works together to complete a set of tasks in a fixed period (called a sprint), with each sprint creating a minimum viable product (MVP). After each sprint, the product development team reviews the work and gathers feedback to make necessary changes for the next MVP.
  • Waterfall. The waterfall model uses a linear approach for larger, more complex projects requiring extensive upfront planning. It involves a set of tasks that must be completed in a specific order before proceeding to the next phase.
  • DevOps. DevOps, short for Development and Operations, is a methodology that focuses on collaboration between software developers and IT operations professionals. For example, developers write and test code, then push their changes to a shared pipeline with operations personnel who ensure the code meets quality standards before deployment.
  • Rapid application development (RAD). RAD is a methodology that emphasizes quick prototyping and iterative testing. Multiple teams will work on different sections of a project at the same time to have the product completed and running in a short timeframe.

The software development life cycle

The following step-by-step guide outlines the development process that ensures software products are delivered on time and meet customers’ expectations.

Software development life cycle

The software development life cycle:

  1. Planning. This is the initial phase where project goals, requirements, and timelines are defined. It involves stakeholder collaboration to outline the objectives of the project.
  2. Design. In this phase, the user interface and database design are planned. Design decisions are made to ensure the software meets functional and non-functional requirements.
  3. Development. Developers write code by following the design specifications and utilizing best practices and coding standards.
  4. Testing. Different testing techniques, including performance testing and functionality testing, are employed to ensure the software's reliability.
  5. Deployment. Deployment involves transferring the software from the development environment to the production environment, ensuring minimal user disruption.
  6. Maintenance. During this stage, updates and enhancements are implemented to address issues and improve functionality. Ongoing support and monitoring are also provided to ensure the software performs optimally.

1. Planning

This begins with ideation: generating and refining product ideas. The first step is to identify the target audience and understand their pain points through market research and surveys. Understanding the target audience helps you create a software product that addresses customer needs, making market success more likely.

Brainstorming sessions with team members can generate a variety of ideas. Consider feasibility, market demand, and growth potential for each product idea. In an Agile approach, customer requirements are stated as user stories.

Then, create a product roadmap to identify short-term and long-term product goals and initiatives. This roadmap visually represents the product’s development stages, outlining the key features, milestones, and timelines for each stage.

For example, let’s consider a hypothetical marketing software product.

In a traditional waterfall approach, the first step would be to define the target audience, which could be small- to medium-sized businesses looking to improve their marketing strategy. Next, the product team would identify the pain points of these businesses, such as limited marketing resources and a need for more expertise in digital marketing.

The team would then decide what the future of the product needs to be, such as offering a comprehensive suite of affordable and easy-to-use marketing tools. They’d create a product roadmap that outlines key features and milestones, such as adding email marketing, social media advertising, and SEO tools. Each milestone would have a set timeline, with activities like market research, development, and launch spread over several months.

In contrast, an agile approach emphasizes collaboration within the team. The team might start by identifying the most critical pain point, perhaps addressing the need for social media advertising tools first. They would then collectively work on delivering a minimal viable product (MVP) for this feature, focusing on rapid iteration and feedback. With agile, each member in a sprint is aligned on the same objective, enabling close collaboration, shared ownership, and faster adaptation to customer needs.

2. Design

The design phase first involves defining the product’s features and functionalities while focusing on user-centered design principles. Designers can then use various software tools, such as Sketch, to create the system’s iterative visual prototypes (or mockups).

Wireframing is the product design phase where you sketch out the user interface’s layout and structure, making sure the product will be easy to use and have all the necessary features.

For instance, if you’re developing a mobile app for booking flights, you could use Sketch to craft wireframes of the app’s interface. This visual sketch might showcase the layout, complete with buttons and navigation menus, making it easier to visualize the end product.

During the design phase, it’s wise to loop in feedback from stakeholders and potential users. User testing, along with surveys or feedback sessions, can offer a valuable feedback loop and confirm that the design aligns with user expectations while highlighting areas for enhancement.

3. Development

The development phase is where all the planning and design start coming to life. Agile methods like Scrum shine here, helping the team work on addressing bite-sized chunks of the customer needs. This way, the team can deliver a usable MVP to the customer very quickly.

In agile development, team members rally around a single objective or product during each sprint, ensuring alignment and collaboration. For instance, consider a team tasked with developing a banking app. They organize their work into sprints, focusing on writing code for specific functionalities like account management or bill payments. Daily check-ins keep everyone on track, fostering cohesion and facilitating thorough documentation of the app's evolving features.

During this phase, software developers use coding standards and best practices to ensure that the software they are building meets the requirements outlined in the user specifications. The goal is to develop a working product that meets the requirements of the end users. Developers use coding standards, such as certain naming conventions, security practices, and code organization rules, to ensure the code is consistent and easy to maintain.

Forming the development team

A software development team unites professionals with a variety of skills and expertise. Upwork makes it straightforward to connect with talented experts from all over to enhance the software development process. Essential roles to consider include:

  • Software developer. Software developers craft code and develop software solutions tailored to the project’s needs. Collaborating closely with the team, they aim for functional, easy-to-maintain software.
  • UX/UI (user experience/user interface) designer. Individuals in this role design interfaces that are both visually appealing and user-friendly. They team up with developers to build prototypes and finalize designs that make the software intuitive and straightforward.
  • Scrum master. For teams using the Scrum framework, the Scrum master helps the team adhere to the Scrum framework. This includes facilitating daily stand-up meetings and sprint planning sessions. They also monitor the team’s progress with project management charts and metrics, helping to keep sprint goals within reach.
  • Project manager. In this role, individuals oversee the development process, making sure the product is delivered on schedule, adheres to the budget, and meets customer expectations. They achieve this by orchestrating resources and establishing timelines to optimize the workflow.
  • Product owner. The product owner is responsible for establishing the project’s goals and ensuring that the end product meets the client’s requirements. They work with the development team and other product management pros to create a product roadmap and prioritize features.
  • QA (quality assurance) engineer. A QA engineer creates a test plan to ensure the software meets quality standards, business goals, and other product requirements. They also work with the team to fix bugs.
  • Tester. Working closely with the development team, the tester is responsible for conducting product tests created by the QA engineer and reporting any issues.

4. Testing

Software QA involves making sure the interim and final products meet all the necessary client and internal requirements and perform as intended. This testing identifies any issues and bugs that may hinder the software’s functionality before it reaches the end user.

Various testing methodologies are used in QA to test the software, including:

  • Performance testing. This type of testing evaluates the software’s ability to handle the expected amount of user traffic without any issues, such as lags or system crashes.
  • Responsiveness testing. A QA representative can check the software’s responsiveness when used with different screen sizes and resolutions.
  • Functionality testing. This checks that the software performs as intended, including its features and compatibility with different devices.

QA also involves gathering user feedback to improve the software product—examples include input from surveys, user testing, and focus groups. That feedback can be analyzed and used to create a roadmap for future development. This may include bug fixes or feature improvements.

5. Deployment

For a successful product launch, prepare the server needed to host the software product. This process may involve setting up databases or cloud service providers online to run the new product.

Next, outline a deployment plan that specifies the steps of deployment, backup procedures, and rollback plans in case of issues.

Software teams may use deployment tools like Kubernetes, an open-source platform, to automate deploying software products to servers. This process could include deploying a web application to a server, releasing a mobile app to an app store, or distributing a desktop application to users’ computers.

Deployment can also involve setting up security measures and integrating the product with other systems or services.

6. Maintenance

Once the product launches, look for bugs and issues that users might run into. These need to be quickly addressed to maintain customer satisfaction and prevent negative reviews.

To keep the product competitive, update features and functionalities to improve usability and performance.

Continuously engaging with end-users through email, surveys, online forums, and social media can help you identify further issues, gain positive feedback, and provide excellent customer support. Responsive communication and prompt issue resolution can lead to satisfied users who are more likely to recommend the product to others.

Best practices for software product development

Software product development involves several stages and requires proper planning, execution, and monitoring. Follow these best practices below for a successful software development project:

  • Consistent communication. Frequent communication among team members helps to identify and address issues, share ideas, and provide updates.
  • Use project management tools. These can organize tasks, track progress, manage deadlines, and help team members communicate in real time. Platforms like Jira or Asana provide visibility into project status to encourage accountability and coordination among team members.
  • Integrate frameworks. Use frameworks, pre-built sets of development tools, to reduce the code required to implement certain features. They can help development teams decrease the time and effort needed to build scalable products.
  • Document all processes. Document the coding framework and reasons for using certain tools or libraries and outline the system design. This maintains the code quality, simplifies debugging, and creates a valuable reference for onboarding new team members.
  • Make documentation accessible. Ensure each team member can access all documentation, including project plans, design information, and coding standards. Accessibility gives team members the information they need to understand project objectives so they can contribute effectively.

Find software development projects on Upwork

If you’re a talented professional looking to offer your expertise and services to a software product development team, try Upwork: a user-friendly freelance platform to connect you with clients seeking skills in the following roles:

As part of a development team, you’ll collaborate with other talents, learn new technologies, and contribute to meaningful projects that make a difference.

Looking for software development talent? Upwork is your solution. Find professionals who can seamlessly integrate into your projects and drive your business goals. On Upwork, you can easily create a company account and post a job within minutes to get direct access to a diverse pool of experts ready to deliver results. Start building your development team today with Upwork.

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Software Product Development: Basics and Example Process
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