Product development processes add value to development efforts, but they can also reduce value. A useful process won’t hinder developers or subtract value by making projects more difficult than they need to be. It should be based on the realities of product development, and it should focus development resources in order to maximize efforts. I’ll raise some issues to consider when revising and streamlining your product development processes.

Why have we deviated from our product development process on previous projects?
The value of a product development process is unclear when developers have to resort to their own devices instead of project management and development processes. If developers have to constantly deviate from the product development process in order to achieve project goals, the process loses credibility and value. In such cases, developers may recognize that an unfocused, ad hoc approach—rather than a replicable product development process—gets the job done. It’s a red flag that your process is not working.

Analyzing why development teams deviate from a product development process provides a window into some of the major weaknesses of your process. If your developers aren’t following the process during software development projects, you need to review the reasons. Some typical reasons for not following a product development process include:

  • The product development process was developed in a vacuum by a centralized project management office and/or third-party project management consultancy and did not solicit significant input from the development teams.
  • Developers are inadequately trained in the process. Perhaps the process is inadequately enforced, or the documentation is inadequate.
  • Project managers and other managers are inadequately trained in the development of product development processes.
  • Project management is too far detached from product development efforts, resulting in skewed perceptions under which the development team has to drive hard, using any means necessary, to meet deadlines and expectations set by corporate management.
  • A product development process that is constantly under development by the project management office and never sees the light of day.
  • A development process that doesn’t account for the typical issues encountered during product development.

Conduct a postmortem of your product development process. Ask yourself why your development team had to deviate from that process. Document your findings, and look for trends that show where the process is breaking down, requiring deviations to get the job done. With this information, you can refine your product development process. Identifying where the process went wrong can lead to a set of true business requirements, enabling you to streamline your process for future development efforts.

What is the value of our product development process?
Product development processes add considerable value to projects. Some of the tools a useful process helps you manage a project and its resources include:

  • Management tool to track project progress
  • Quality assurance tool to ensure a replicable development process
  • Budgetary tool for financial tracking of the project and its resources
  • Project management tool for resource tracking

Compare these advantages to your current product development process. Ask yourself if you’re getting full value from your process, and where it can do better.

How has our organization and product line changed since we developed the process?
The landscape of the software development environment has changed along with the changing economy—project managers and developers are now expected to do more with less to accomplish the same task. A product development process that worked well in the boom period may not be the right choice today—using a late-1990s product development process to manage the realities of product development today can actually cost your company in the long run. Some potential problems include:

  • Project benchmarks that suffer from inadequate resources, making it difficult to move product development forward
  • Inadequate budget tracking of the project’s progress
  • Chokepoints in the product development process because of a lack of needed resources

Refine your product development process
A product development process should work for the development team, not vice versa. Refining your process is necessary to maintain developer productivity and a competitive edge in the market. It will also give credibility to the process by keeping product development on track and under budget. Such refinements mean fewer obstacles—like the arbitrary benchmarks and steps often found in resource-intensive product development processes that bear no semblance to reality. The value a product development process brings takes on new meaning in a down economy. Using a realistic process can have a positive impact on your bottom line.