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How to Preserve and Increase the Relevancy of IT Application Development in the 21st Century

By October 7, 2013Article

Many IT and development organizations are experiencing a mid-life crisis of sorts. External service providers that can address business needs faster, cheaper and sometimes better are driving IT organizations to question their relevancy even as they defend it to end users and management. But the old adage is true: Actions speak louder than words. Organizations that continue doing business “as usual” will become increasingly marginalized and potentially irrelevant. 
IT organizations need leaders that can implement measurable change, carry out innovative plans for cost optimization and deliver real business value. But how do you do that when budgets continue to remain flat for the fifth straight year? (Note 1) 
While there is no silver bullet, there are a number of common pain points that continue to linger within application development organizations that, once resolved, may actually create a springboard to transform software development back into a recognized, relevant source of strategic innovation. 
Let’s look at seven of the most common pain points, the impact they have and possible ways they can be fixed.   
Pain point #1: Good projects gone bad and the dreaded Black Swan 
According to the University of Oxford, on average, one in six IT or software projects have budget overruns of 200 percent on average. With budgets being as tight as they are, these Black Swans have no place in today’s organizations.   
Project delays and budget overruns have their roots early in the software development process. Leaders might be tempted to dedicate additional resources to QA, testing and development processes; but this only treats some of the issues and largely addresses the symptoms — not the root cause. 
Research suggests that on average 31% of defects/errors found in delivered applications originate in the requirements and they are the hardest and most expensive to repair. (Note 2)  
Instead of treating the symptoms of the problem, focus on the source. Whether Agile or Waterfall or somewhere in between, organizations must invest in their requirements processes and technology to ensure they get requirements right from the start. 
Pain point #2: The (in)ability to support business change with software change 
The moment a business change occurs — be it a new requirement for regulatory compliance, a merger or acquisition or any number of compelling events — a gap develops between existing software and the new business requirement that the process must now support. An organization’s ability to take advantage of the business change hinges on how quickly this gap is closed. 
The speed with which IT can close that gap is dependent on the health of the existing process. A process consisting of documents, spreadsheets and emails residing in multiple file folders, on different desktops and internal systems is a recipe for disaster and is already putting future projects at risk. IT leaders of tomorrow know that they must have a centralized system of record where all requirements reside delivering key capabilities like traceability, reuse and centralized monitoring and reporting. 
Pain point #3: Poor visibility when and where it’s needed most 
Inefficiencies lead to significant cost overruns and damage credibility due to the failure to meet dates and functional and quality objectives. To counter this, early visibility is essential. Modern technologies can provide leaders the right visibility at the right times. This applies to all aspects of the program delivery process, not just application development and testing. Requirements are no different, and early detection of defects and deficiencies in the requirements phase can save hundreds of hours, thousands of dollars and deliver better business value.   
Pain point #4: Process stagnation may limit innovation 
Processes must be right-sized for the organization. They must be agile and fluid enough to accommodate organizational growth, changes in the economy and market events. What works for an organization of 40 will not work for one of 200, and what works for 200 will not work for 1,000. 
Leaders must plan for these changes and invest in technologies that enable staff to identify and solve problems quickly and in a highly collaborative manner. While these interactions lack the formality and ceremony of formal processes, when supported with the appropriate processes, tools and technology, they enable rapid response without compromising quality, traceability and compliance. 
Pain point #5: Being seduced by Agile without understanding the enterprise implications 
Agile development methodologies are well suited for smaller organizations and ISVs. However, they must be modified or augmented to address enterprise realities like the need to create business cases with well-defined scope to secure funding, adhering to audit/compliance requirements, resource planning across multiple departments, etc. 
As a result, larger organizations often struggle to adopt “enterprise-class” Agile. The promise of improved time to market, software quality and higher customer satisfaction remain largely unfulfilled and in fact can lead to the dreaded Black Swan scenario highlighted in #1. 
Enterprise leaders need to take a pragmatic and incremental approach to introducing Agile practices to their organizations. As part of that, they must pay careful attention to requirements because, regardless of development methodology, getting requirements right is critical to project success. 
Pain point #6: Putting too much faith into outsourcing 
Outsourcing application development may buy your organization some initial and perceived economic savings. However, unless the outsourced project is large enough to be self-sufficient with the necessary subject matter experts to drive and support product development, the additional burden on headquarters’ staff can be significant, with management overheard and process control likely increasing. 
Failures in outsourced software projects are often attributed to poor communication and collaboration issues between the provider and internal stakeholders. These issues usually can be traced back to earlier sources of confusion or miscommunication that were never addressed and evolved into bigger problems. 
Disparate documents, emails and undocumented interactions must be replaced with a purpose-built centralized platform for requirements definition, management and application life cycle management support. This will enable all contributors to communicate using social and visual simulations designed to promote clarity, collaboration, efficiency and airtight traceability — all critical elements for outsourcing success. 
Pain point #7: Overlooking the importance of requirements 
According to Gartner, “The cost of fixing defects ranges from a low of approximately $70 (the cost to fix a defect at the requirements stage) to a high of $14,000 (the cost to fix a defect in production). Improving the requirements gathering process can reduce the overall cost of software and dramatically improve time to market.” (Note 3) 
Requirements have a direct impact on the success of projects and on an organization’s ability to realize technology’s full business potential. To become competitive in the 21st century, IT organizations must have a requirements definition process that is airtight, highly reliable and more in step with business needs than ever before. 
Many of the pain points that impact software quality and the value it delivers to the business, and that result in cost overruns and inefficiencies, can be traced back to one source: the requirements process. 
Leaders that have visibility into a project, program or portfolio before a line of code is written and can recognize delays in the requirements-gathering process provide indispensable insight to the health of initiatives at the earliest stages and significantly increase their organization’s ability to meet business objectives. These positive contributions to the success of the company make IT leaders and their organizations indispensable resources and make the discussion about their relevancy simply irrelevant. 

  1. Gartner Executive Program Survey of More than 2,000 CIOs Shows Digital Technologies are Top Priorities in 2013. Gartner.
  2. Software Quality in 2012: A Survey of the State of the Art, Capers Jones.
  3. Hype Cycle for Application Development, 2013. Gartner. 

Ray Payette is senior vice president of services, engineering and operations at Blueprint, a provider of enterprise Requirements Definition and Management (RDM) software. He is responsible for Blueprint’s technology vision, product development and delivery as well as customer service and support. Known for his no-nonsense, results-focused approach, Ray has been working in all aspects of software development for more than two decades. Contact Ray at or on Twitter @Blueprintsys.  

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