Large, industry-changing software intiatives can be exciting - rallying staff behind visions of disrupted societal norms. Yet, more often than not, many software projects become overburdened in technical scope creep, often only weeks after the first lines of code are written.

If you are thinking about modernizing existing software or writing a new core line of business application, have you defined all the functional requirements? Are you wondering if your current project is showing signs of scope creep & slowdowns in the software delivery process?

Agile methodology emphasizes continuous iteration, flexibility and adaptation to change, which helps to keep the scope of the project in check and avoid scope creep. Agile methodology is based on the principle of "working software over comprehensive documentation" and it encourages stakeholder involvement and collaboration among the team members. By breaking the project into smaller, manageable chunks called "sprints" and regularly reviewing and adjusting the scope, Agile helps to ensure that the project stays on track and that any changes to the scope are identified and addressed early on. Software development projects can be complex and multifaceted, and as such, there are many potential issues that can arise.

Mismanaged Agile - What are the signs?

There are several signs that a software development project may not be being managed well. Some of these signs include:

  • Missed deadlines: If the project is consistently missing deadlines, it may be a sign that the project is not being managed well. This could be due to a lack of clear project goals or timelines, or a lack of oversight and direction from the project manager.

  • Unclear project scope: If the project scope is not well-defined or is constantly changing, it may be a sign that the project is not being managed well. This can lead to confusion among team members and difficulty in prioritizing tasks.

  • Lack of communication: If team members are not communicating effectively, it may be a sign that the project is not being managed well. This can lead to misunderstandings and delays in the project.

  • High staff turnover: If a large number of team members are leaving the project, it may be a sign that the project is not being managed well. This could be due to poor leadership, lack of direction, or a toxic work environment.

  • Quality issues: If the software being produced is of poor quality, it may be a sign that the project is not being managed well. This could be due to a lack of testing, poor development practices, or a lack of oversight.

  • Lack of progress: If the project is not making progress or is consistently behind schedule, it may be a sign that the project is not being managed well. This could be due to poor planning, lack of direction, or a lack of resources.

  • Inadequate testing: If the software is not being thoroughly tested, it may be a sign that the project is not being managed well. This could lead to defects in the software and user dissatisfaction.

  • Security risks: If the software is not being developed with security in mind, it may be a sign that the project is not being managed well. This could lead to data breaches and legal or regulatory issues.

  • Budget overruns: If the project is consistently going over budget, it may be a sign that the project is not being managed well. This could be due to poor planning, scope creep, or a lack of oversight.

It's important to note that it is not always easy to spot these signs, but by paying attention to them, it can help to identify problems early and take corrective action.

Common Issues that lead to scope creep

Scope creep, which refers to the tendency for the scope of a project to expand beyond what was originally agreed upon, can be a significant problem in software development projects. One methodology that can help avoid scope creep is the use of a formal project management methodology such as Agile or Scrum. Common factors that contribute to scope creep include:

  • Inadequate requirements: Requirements for the project are not clearly defined or understood, it can lead to confusion and rework later on in the project.

  • Lack of communication: Team members are not effectively communicating with one another, it can lead to misunderstandings and delays in the project.

  • Unforeseen technical difficulties: Poor planning and architecture review leads to delays and increased costs as major decisions are reworked down the line.

  • Resource constraints: Proper estimation of personnel or equipment to complete the work is absolutely necessary to meet timelines for onboarding and offboarding resources into the project.

  • Inadequate testing: If the software is not thoroughly tested before it is released, it can lead to defects and user dissatisfaction. Building in automated quality assurance & regression processes speeds up testing iteration cycles and accelerates defect resolution.

  • Dependencies: The project may rely on external systems or components that are not available or not working as expected, which can impact the project timeline and deliverables. Dependencies for each project sprint or phase should be clearly identified and facilitated in advance of any development execution.

  • Security & Compliance risks: If the software is not secure, it can lead to data breaches and legal or regulatory issues. Specific requirements, such as PHI & PCI data compliance, as well as compliance guidelines (HITRUST, NIST, SOC) will help to define requirements & testing frameworks early on in project definition. These requirements should be clearly testable/auditable and baked in as part of Agile efforts.

Mitigating Scope Creep in Modernization Projects

Consider a thorough technical assessment for your business when a software opportunity, or existing software dilemma, is before the organization. A technical assessment for a software development project typically involves evaluating the technical feasibility of the project and identifying any potential technical risks. This can include:

  • Reviewing the project requirements: This includes understanding the overall goals of the project, the functional and non-functional requirements, and any constraints or limitations. Before any code is written, a clear understanding of the business outcomes and associated timelines need to be outlined. Ensure that technical requirements fulfill the business objectives. Do you have a clear understanding of the ‘definition of done’, not only for the project but for all the features & components contained therein?

  • Evaluating the technology stack: This includes assessing the suitability of the proposed technology, tools and frameworks for the project, and identifying any areas where additional research or expertise may be needed. This goes beyond just ensuring the technical stack can be implemented, but also understanding how the business is going to onboarding customers & end users, support the existing user base and the associated support actions around the software. The technology must meet usability requirements not only for the user, but also the business itself.

  • Identifying any potential scalability or performance issues: This includes assessing the ability of the proposed solution to handle expected traffic, user load and data volume. This often correlates to cost implications which can quickly erode your software licensing model or Software-as-a-Service margins. Performance issues are often lagging indicator on support volume and can strain other high-cost areas of the business.

  • Identifying any security risks: This includes assessing the potential vulnerabilities of the proposed solution and identifying any measures that need to be taken to secure the system. Align compliance & security requirements into functional parameters that can be measured by a repeatable, auditable, traceable solution. Compliance should be baked into all software delivery pipelines & methodologies, not an afterthought.

  • Identifying any dependencies: This includes identifying any external systems or components that the proposed solution will depend on, and assessing their readiness or availability. Often times the “5 Why’s” will bring to light unforseen dependencies. Ensure as well that all relevant team members - not just a development or platform team - are involved in dependency evaluation. In many cases, critical requirements are missed because development staff has not documented all the dependencies.

  • Evaluating the project timeline and resources: This includes assessing the feasibility of the proposed project timeline and identifying any resource constraints that may impact the project.

  • Identifying any other potential risks: This includes identifying any other potential risks that may impact the project, such as regulatory compliance or legal issues. Consider bringing together a cloud adoption framework (CAF) or architecture review board (ARB) ecosystem around large projects to ensure risks & perspectives are regularly evaluated and fleshed out.

The outcome of a technical assessment can be a document that list all the identified technical risks, their likelihood and potential impact, and a plan to mitigate them. Whether you are writing a fully featured application or a low-code integrated component, clear requirements definitions are necessary. When a project feels like it has gone off the rails, often times a brief pause and technical assessment can give perspective that helps bring the team back in line. Working with a trusted partner is key. Eastwall has a proven, thorough technical assessment methodology that has helped dozens of leading organizations identify how to bring successful software to market. We help design, build, and operate innovative cloud solutions on the Azure platform. Please contact us for a free consultation on how various Azure cloud services can help transform your business.

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