We start by considering what success means in this context, before looking at what best ‘strategic’ practice could look like.
Pulling it all together, Joe Patel, our Head of Product and Client Relations, provides his own guidance. He draws on his experience to provide several practical takeaways that could make a significant difference to your approach.
It’s no secret countless software projects fail. We discussed some of the reasons in our previous article, showing how it can often stem from a non-strategic approach.
Wellingtone highlights several strategy-related reasons, such as having unclear objectives or no roadmap. Poor communication comes high up the list too.
So, what does having a strategic approach to software development look like?
The answer isn’t identical for every business. Yet, reflecting on key questions helps to ensure you’re aligning development with your business strategy.
Start with understanding where you’re at right now. What does your approach to software development look like today? And is it working for you?
Taking stock gives you a baseline to build from. You might be happy with your approach, or you could spot room for improvement.
From our experience, you must answer several key questions to achieve an effective strategic health check:
- Does everyone have access to the business strategy?
- Do you consider how each software project relates to your wider strategic direction?
- Are you inviting the right people to your software planning meetings?
Considering the third question, this could include senior leaders, IT heads, project sponsors, and those developing the software.
Whilst there are no right or wrong answers, and every business is different, the fundamental goal is to feed software projects from a widely communicated business strategy. This approach is more likely to be successful.
A non-strategic approach in practice.
Software projects can fail to align with business strategy for many reasons. A common reason is impatience.
Here’s an example. The marketing department wants to improve its remote communication for hybrid working. Not considering other department needs (for fear of slowing the project down), it brings in suitable software for its team.
This can prompt two issues.
If the method works well, the business has missed an opportunity to install it across further departments simultaneously. If it doesn’t, the marketing department has developed a compromised system, losing out on wider business involvement whilst wasting budget.
This example highlights how communication is crucial for strategic alignment.
Why roadmaps help.
Roadmaps provide a valuable structure when aligning projects to your business strategy.
Whilst a project focuses on a fixed piece of development with a start and end date, a roadmap helps shape the product’s life for three years or more. Typically, it includes maintenance and development, whilst also predicting future requirements given internal goals and external influences.
Depending on the organisation size, your product or service may require a dedicated roadmap. For example, large supermarket chains often have many teams working on a roadmap for a specific product. That might be the checkout system or the evolution of a loyalty scheme.
Smaller businesses may prefer a roadmap to cover the lifecycle of a general product – such as a website. Within this, you’d have many smaller products relating to sales, marketing, and account management.
Roadmaps evolve over time. They must adapt to suit the current and near-future environment – always keeping your business strategy front and centre.
The main value of roadmaps is simple: they help you allocate budget and resources effectively. You’ll focus what you have around strategically aligned priorities to heighten success.
Roadmaps also help you manage risk better. Whilst it’s impossible to eliminate risk, a clear roadmap highlights when to adapt and still deliver on your goals.
Getting buy-in for roadmaps.
Roadmaps can be a useful strategic tool for many businesses. And not just in planning software development. They can help shape other future development too.
How you choose to create roadmaps doesn’t matter. What does matter is ensuring they add value to your business.
From our experience, some people prefer to keep ‘the plan’ in their heads. They feel roadmap creation is time-consuming and something else to update. But how can others understand their vision?
Then there’s the issue of who’s responsible for creating the roadmap. Again, it doesn’t matter so long as you do something that works for your business.
All project managers should be asking what’s coming next. And all product managers should want to consider the lifecycle of their product and what might influence it.
Roadmaps support changes in direction.
Consider how gyms might have used roadmaps during the Covid pandemic. Their product is 24/7 membership with a physical service location. Customers pay a monthly subscription to access it.
When gyms had to close, customers started to cancel their memberships. So, the roadmaps had to adapt quickly.
A gym’s strategy may focus on supporting individual fitness, health, and wellbeing. So, when physical premises closed, virtual spaces appeared to support this goal.
Proactive gyms offered online videos, nutritional tips, and recipe ideas – all accessible to customers in their homes. Pivoting their service to provide timely value slowed membership cancellations. As a result, many gyms offer a hybrid approach today.
The banking industry is another interesting example for change management. Their strategy typically provides convenient money management for customers. Constantly responding to outside influences (such as competitor activities, changes in technology, and security needs) product roadmaps must be quick to adapt.
This can prompt projects to improve user experience or enhance security features, for example. Not to mention cryptocurrency development as the market shifts in this direction.
Whether you’re responding to an external influence or an internal change in direction your roadmap must be at the heart of it. And sharing your roadmap with everyone ensures aligned activities. Effective communication is crucial.
Communication heightens strategic success.
There are many ways to align your software development with your business strategy. And taking small steps towards this is better than no steps at all.
If we were to suggest just one step, though, it would be communication.
However you move forward, success depends on the right people communicating both up and down the line effectively. Plus, you’re risking failure if you leave this communication to chance.
Consider who should be responsible for communication at each level – and to whom. Project managers and product managers are often the centrepins for communication.
Perfect your internal and external system. Effective communication must also include contractors, development teams, and users.
At Redox, we’ve discovered huge value in enhancing our communication. For example, we now explain our clients’ business objectives to our development teams. This helps them feel more invested in the project. In fact, it helps them contribute ideas, adding further value to the project outcome.
It’s clear to us: a strategic approach to software development delivers a better outcome. So, consider how strategic your own activities are right now, and how you could improve. Many principles and tools exist, but it’s how you use them that counts.