If you've ever managed a software development pipeline—or have plans to do so—there's one thing you'll need to prioritize above almost all else: speed.
No matter the type of software you're working on, you'll always be under pressure to speed up your team's deliverables.
Some of that pressure might come from project stakeholders who lack an understanding of how software development works. Sometimes it's because your management team or client fears a competitor will beat them to the punch.
No matter the reason, though, you'll need to know some strategies to speed up your team's cadence without compromising code quality or security.
Doing so isn't as difficult as you might think. All you need to do is to put the right procedures in place and back them with the right technology. To help, here are five tips designed to help software development teams work as quickly and efficiently as possible.
By implementing all of them, it's possible to maintain a quick deliverables pace without sacrificing a thing. Let's get started.
1. Create a Detailed Roadmap and Stick to It
Perhaps the most important thing a development manager can do to keep work flowing smoothly through their team's work pipeline is to take the time to create a detailed development roadmap for every project before work begins.
An effective roadmap delineates all of the major steps required to complete the project and assigns major parts of the work to specific team members at the outset.
This is a step that many software development managers hurry through—believing that every minute spent planning and not coding is a minute wasted.
Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. By making major decisions about the development process in advance, the team won't have to break stride later on. Plus, the process of building the roadmap will often uncover hurdles that would have brought work to a screeching halt mid-stream.
It's always better to clear the road ahead before getting to work if you want to keep a software project moving forward at a high rate of speed.
2. Set Work-in-Progress Limits
These days, most software development pipelines conform to the Kanban or Scrum project management methodologies. And even those that don't still tend to include some form of a Kanban-style board to track project tasks at various stages of completion.
Those work-in-progress (WIP) items help managers maintain visibility into their team's progress and capacity to handle more work.
The trouble is, “scope creep” often sets in, and it's quite easy for a development team's WIP list to get out of hand in a hurry. When that happens, team members will try to multitask, hopping between various WIP items to try and clear the backlog. When they do, it's common for the team's pace to slow to a crawl and for errors to begin creeping into the code.
The problem is that despite many programmers' beliefs to the contrary, humans don't multitask well. The solution, in this case, is to prevent them from trying.
Setting hard limits on the number of WIP items allowed in each stage of the workflow is an excellent way to do that. Doing so guarantees that team members won't bite off more than they can chew and will get more tasks done in less time than they otherwise would have.
3. Centralize and Automate Secrets Management
A software team working quickly can churn out great apps, but it's often at the expense of security. This is especially true for teams working with an array of servers, services, and containers spread over multiple disparate systems.
In those situations, most development teams will designate a single person to manage access to all of the necessary systems and data. However, that creates a bottleneck, since all access requests must flow through that person, and developers can't always move forward until they receive the necessary credentials.
The solution to the problem is to centralize and automate access provisioning and access revocation, and to automate it to the greatest extent possible.
There are a variety of open-source tools that can help facilitate that, and a variety of cloud-based secrets management solutions as well.
One of the most well-known examples is the open-source solution HashiCorp Vault. However, it's not the easiest solution to get up and running with. For some development teams, installation and configuration of the system itself are difficult enough to dissuade them from using it.
It is also worth noting that developers using Google or AWS as a development platform can make use of their respective secrets management tools. They're purpose-built to integrate with project development taking place on those platforms. That means they're typically easy to integrate into workflows without much hassle.
Or, for development teams working in multi-cloud environments, a solution like Akeyless is often a good fit. Since it's API-based, it integrates with most types of secured systems developers depend on. And, since it operates under the zero-trust paradigm, it doesn't require developers to entrust their project's security to any third parties.
Once a project's up and running with Akeyless, the platform handles the rest. That leaves developers to focus on their work, with all secrets left outside the code, because Akeyless automates the generation and injection of secrets. This lets developers can worry less about security and more about getting their work done.
4. Don't Cut Corners to Bypass Code Problems
Any developer who's worked on a complex software project can tell you that there are always code problems that crop up throughout the development process without any obvious solutions.
In many cases, development teams resort to quick and dirty fixes to solve such issues so they can move on quickly. This is how your project can amass a mountain of technical debt in a hurry, and it will come back to haunt the project in the long run.
If overall development speed is your goal, it's better to take the time to find real solutions to problems as they come up. Even if you need to halt development periodically to do so, you'll save more time in the long run by doing things this way. This is because the true consequences of a cut corner may not become evident until later in the development process, when it may be all but impossible to fix.
It's better to build time for code refactoring and other housekeeping steps into the development roadmap in advance to avoid ending up in that situation in the first place.
5. Set Aside Inviolable Deep Work Time
According to a recent survey, the average software engineer only manages to squeeze about 10 hours of so-called deep work time into the average workweek.
The key reason is, most developers have to deal with an avalanche of interruptions that break their coding rhythm and eat up their time and attention. From sudden code review requests to unsolicited client feedback, there's no end to the things that can force a developer to drop what they're doing and divert their attention elsewhere.
A savvy development manager can help the situation somewhat by letting team members set specific time blocks aside as inviolable deep work time. It means letting the team member lock in and running whatever interference is necessary to prevent their interruption.
For remote teams, this is as simple as allowing the team to disconnect from chat apps and email for the duration of their work block.
In-office teams have to work a bit harder to do this. In an office setting, it will be up to the development manager to intercept any and all incoming requests that would otherwise reach the team and disrupt them. It may require putting their foot down to higher-level managers or even clients.
The key is to clearly state why interruptions aren't allowed and tie it to meaningful productivity metrics. Anything to get the message across that leaving the team to their work is essential.
Or, if those things won't work, it could be worthwhile to authorize a rotating work-from-home policy to let team members escape the office to get meaningful work done.
The five tips detailed here work wonders to remove common software development stumbling blocks and other procedural time-wasters that can slow down task completion. Together, they should enable a development team to make quick and steady progress on a software project with a minimum of unexpected slowdowns.
Of course, reality dictates that no roadmap is perfect and that expecting the unexpected is always par for the course. But by addressing the bottlenecks and slowdowns that tend to affect every software development project, you and your team will make the most of their time and maintain a pace that other developers would envy.
Feature image licensed via snowing 12 / Adobe Stock