A Script in Time Saves 9 - 23 Feb 2007

In the development world, many powerful forces work to push out software before it's ready, but waiting to release complete, well-tested software is really best for both the customer and the developer. I spoke with the customer-support manager of a software-development firm that was far along in its next release's development process. Predictably, the project was running late, and the customer-support manager dreaded the decisions the firm might make to complete the project on time. One of the biggest mistakes that most companies make in software-development projects is rushing the next release out the door.

When talking with end users, department heads, and customers, software-development companies tend to point to the next release as the solution to the problems in the current application. End users and customers develop high expectations for the next release, and they pressure the software-development company to complete the projects as rapidly as possible. In response to this customer demand, the software-development company tries to find ways to bring the software project to completion early. But an early release can trade code quality for time and can require cutting essential features from the software.

Other complications can arise from changes in the development tools that developers are using to produce their software. Each release of software-development tools has a more complex development process than the one before it, which can mean developers need more time to produce well-tested products.

When software needs to be released earlier than expected, the developers must compensate for the abbreviated production timeline by shortening or cutting out processes. The evolving nature of software applications ensures that each subsequent release of a product has more features than the previous release. Plus, as each release is being developed, most firms incorporate new technologies and the capabilities they bring into the development process.

All of this adds time to the software-development process—not just for the code development but also for testing the code for quality, security, and reliability. When projects get pressed for time, this important testing and quality assurance phase is often the first thing that gets cut back.

Although there are many compelling reasons for companies to release software early, there are few worse decisions. Pushing out software that isn't quite ready will have unwanted consequences both for the customer and the development company.

The customers are often the ones pressing for the release, but they're also the ones who must deal with unwanted and unexpected software bugs. At best, these bugs can delay business while the company attempts to find workarounds. In the worst cases, these bugs can result in lost data and data corruption, which must be repaired. The developer has to deal with a flurry of support requests and deploy and manage a series of software updates. As the old adage "a stitch in time saves nine" aptly points out, when software-development companies take their time up front, they and their customers will see the savings down the road.

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