Scale your software like a tech native
Technology tools and frameworks are rapidly advancing innovation. Software development is currently essential for any competitive business, which is why, for all CxOs, adopting a strategic approach to building and scaling digital products is vital.
If you’re a C-level professional, buckle up to explore software development topics like:
- system scalability,
- the development of new features,
- effective management of technical debt,
- system observability,
- alignment of business goals with project requirements,
- and the critical task of finding and retaining tech talent.
We're here to unpack the tech puzzles and arm you with savvy solutions to 5 common software development challenges we’ve often seen ourselves.
Why talk about this?
Well, at SoftwareMill, we aim to be a reliable technology partner. Our team works on diverse projects daily, encountering both good IT projects practices and challenges. By sharing insights into common issues in software projects, we might offer some helpful perspectives for your own digital product, contributing to an overall improvement in the quality of software solutions. And make our brand better known in the world! ;)
In an ideal scenario, your software product would have the perfect IT infrastructure, cost-effective, and ready to serve both existing and future clients. However, the reality is different, and change is a constant in software projects. Every process of delivering software is hard for many reasons. It’s usually difficult to:
- anticipate all the situations a software program will be faced with,
- manage the complexity of system development in the context of changing requirements,
- plan and continuously execute development plans well,
- compete in the industry without introducing some new ways of doing things.
Very few companies have no issues during the development process. Many struggle to:
- build software on optimal technologies in an ever-changing environment and manage technical debt efficiently,
- motivate the delivery team and create honest feedback culture among developers and business,
- establish development processes oriented toward quality,
- coordinate and communicate effectively.
We believe that exploring our list will help you prioritize the continual generation of enhancements and the delivery of high-quality products as fundamental elements in scaling your software like a tech native.
1st problem: scalability
To meet changing demands of a business, you need to be ready to scale. If this is not the case now, it might become your challenge in the future. That is not to say that you should make significant investments upfront into e.g. sophisticated auto-scaling or an overly flexible architecture. However, you should avoid the opposite, and design the system in a way which at least permits scaling. This does need some upfront design. But, this will be an enabler for teams tasked with adjusting the system to cope with higher demand, if such a need arises.
To manage challenges connected with growth, you need skilled software engineers with a good understanding of, e.g., performance patterns, real-time data processing, and software architecture growth-related issues.
First of all, how do you even know whether your company has a scaling problem? During the peak workloads, such as Black Friday, users may complain about user experience, or the project may become unavailable. If architecture is ineffective, you may also see huge costs increase.
If your system is not scaling, you need to investigate various potential sources of a problem. Let’s take a look at this from the software architecture perspective. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as “magic scaling sauce” (a term by Martin Kleppman). There might be problems in many elements of the system, and usually, it is a mixture of many issues that need to be fixed. Maybe your database doesn’t support scaling, or your data model is wrong. How to uncover that?
Start with the planning and dig deep
Clients who approach us often deal with scalability issues. In order to investigate what’s wrong, we usually follow these steps:
- We start by conducting an in-depth examination of the client's product and its software architecture. During our collaborative workshop or series of meeting sessions, we actively engage with the client, asking questions needed to grasp their requirements comprehensively.
- We make sure to really understand which business flow, or use case is problematic, because usually it’s just a small part of the whole system and processes.
- Subsequently, we discuss the challenge internally. We focus on making a rescue plan for this particular issue and the biggest problem in the whole system architecture. This collaborative brainstorming ends in formulating a detailed plan listing the necessary steps for system analysis. These steps may include:
- Setting up a dedicated environment: establishing an environment exclusively for performance tests and accurate evaluation.
- Creating performance test scenarios: using tools such as Gatling, we craft test scenarios that comprehensively cover distinct segments of the system. This approach is essential for identifying the throughput of each flow component and the potential bottlenecks.
- Microservice profiling session: if the problem lies inside some specific microservice, a profiling session becomes useful. This deep-dive allows us to meticulously analyze and address challenges within that particular component.
- Once our plan is refined, we present it, along with our findings, to the client. Our objective is to ensure alignment between the proposed project scope and the client's budget and timeframe. This collaborative and transparent approach ensures that our strategies are not only effective but also feasible within the constraints defined by the client.
Another perspective to take into account when scaling becomes hard is your technical team. Trying to do too much with too few programmers is a common strategy for startups. But as the business naturally grows, the backlog steadily increases, and you need to make that leap into recruitment, or look for external dev talent to help your team.
You might be interested in reading: What happens after you contact us?
2nd problem: adding new features
Navigating the market, driven by the need for swift deliveries and a competitive edge, prompts the continuous enhancement of software. Whether opting for incremental improvements, a complete rebuild, or a hybrid approach, encountering challenges when modifying code brings potential issues that demand attention.
When adding new features becomes hard, your software most likely deals with some form of technical debt. Technical debt may be created in a few situations:
- when speed of delivery becomes a priority. It introduces technical decisions that are made for the immediacy, simplicity, or budget that, while working today, will harm the software in the long run.
- when management does not include any time for technical tasks like cleanups, refactorings or upgrades.
- due to the flow of time: software is in an ever-changing state. Libraries, frameworks, and operating systems evolve and become obsolete. New versions might bring performance, usability, or security improvements, but also mean that every software project needs maintenance not to fall behind too much.
Unlike financial debt, technical debt operates in the shadows, often escaping immediate notice. The peril lies in its silent accumulation, posing a threat that can impact your development pace, dampen team morale, and, in extreme cases, jeopardize your business.
The initial stride in handling technical debt is evaluating its extent. While managing technical debt is a nuanced process with no universal playbook, understanding where it arises provides a crucial starting point. This awareness allows you to identify issues, paving the way for targeted solutions tailored to your specific challenges.
A fine selection of tech debt memes in article by Chris Fenning
Tech debt in code
As code quality issues pile up, the process of adding and testing new features takes a hit, demanding extra manual effort and exhaustive regression testing from developers. Regardless of the programming paradigm employed in your product, it's crucial for developers to consider how components connect and adhere to guidelines for crafting maintainable software.
The creation of clean code and adherence to programming best practices play a pivotal role in managing technical debt and unveiling what's hidden. While low code quality is a clear indicator of technical debt, it's important to note that the comprehensive scope of technical debt extends beyond what can be calculated solely from the source code.
Let’s look beyond the code.
Tech debt as a result of business decisions
Ensuring the long-term success of your product hinges on effective technical debt management. While some degree of it is inevitable, a proficient development team can adeptly navigate and address it. Intentionally incurring technical debt may speed up time-to-market, but it demands vigilant monitoring and stakeholder accountability on what they want to introduce to the system on purpose and at what costs.
Let's steer clear of introducing features that might become a headache later. And don't forget, regularly checking and updating your system isn't just a good habit – it's super important to keep everything running smoothly. It’s good to remember that the more code you have, the more, unfortunately, time you have to allocate to maintaining it. It's not like you can write it once and it will work "forever".
Tech debt caused by insufficient or out-of-date documentation
In a perfect world, developers document what decisions were taken and why (e.g., using Architecture Decision Records - ADR). In reality, not everything is well documented, and the worst case scenario we’ve been seeing, not that seldom, is that no one working at the company knew anything about the technical side of the project. Yikes.
Tech debt caused by poor technical leadership
Bad technical leadership may prioritize quick fixes and short-term solutions to meet immediate goals without considering the long-term implications. CTO must reconcile business needs with technical needs. Remember the already mentioned growing maintenance cost? A good CTO knows how to reconcile such things well.
In case of bad leadership, there also might be no clear vision for the product, a lack of implementing best software practices, coding standards, and architectural guidelines, a lack of code reviews, and overall bad communication that impacts the whole development team.
All these results in a failure in creating an environment for sustainable and high-quality software development. As a CxO, you should prioritize long-term planning, foster a culture of continuous improvement, and guide the technical team toward decisions that align with the organization's strategic goals.
You might want to read: The art of making technical decisions
3rd problem: software system management
Understanding your software's behavior is crucial for ensuring proper functionality and meeting user needs. Software failures happen, and can have severe consequences.
An interesting read: Bad software examples - how much can poor code hurt you?
First and foremost, many people have realised that microservices are not the way to go ;) It is much better to create a modular monolith, sometimes called modulith, than to go into all microservice complexity. While containers and microservices boost development speed and agility, the dynamic nature of these architectures makes identifying current issues a more significant challenge. In the case of microservice-based systems, monitoring, and troubleshooting complexity are further amplified.
The need for observability in software systems has always been paramount, but with the rise of distributed software trends, it has become more critical than ever. What steps should you take when your product faces observability issues?
How to have an eye for your system?
Ensuring the health of your system requires a robust observability framework that analyzes inputs and outputs effectively. To achieve this, your system should generate sample data, and you must establish mechanisms for collecting, analyzing, and visualizing this data.
Design your software, production, pre-production environments, and deployment pipeline with a focus on continuous telemetry records. This facilitates ongoing monitoring and tracking of your system's behavior.
Consider exploring the OpenTelemetry project, which seamlessly integrates with various commercial and open-source tools. This integration allows your system to gather logs, traces, and metrics. OpenTelemetry then correlates this data in real-time, providing your Cloud engineers and development team with comprehensive, contextual information. This proves invaluable for identifying the root cause of performance issues and understanding the system's behavior.
It's important to note that building a business case for observability can be challenging. Despite being a significant investment, the benefits of observability are often intangible and challenging to quantify. However, you may confirm yourself, CxOs appreciate the ability to identify problems before users. This ability distinguishes outstanding software products from good ones and positions you at the forefront of innovation.
Interesting read: Platform Engineering vs. DevOps: which is right for your organisation?
4th problem: matching business goals with project requirements
In the intersection of business and tech, misunderstandings arise when language and terminology differ. Problems emerge when both parties fail to understand the broader context. In our software development experience, we've noticed the following challenges in translating business requirements into the right technical solutions.
- Communication hiccups can arise within a team, with programmers using jargon that business doesn't get or the tech team not tuning in to business needs. Different interpretations of the same concept among various business reps or departments can lead to confusion. Using different terms to describe things only adds to the mix-up.
- Another issue is the absence of future plans. Without a clear vision, staying focused becomes tricky, causing delays and team misalignment. Stakeholders also struggle to grasp the project's progress.
- Even with plans, deciding on priorities is a challenge. Opting for a smaller, cost-effective feature over an expensive one can be smarter. Assessing feature development cost versus probability helps in making these choices.
- Lastly, when there's no collaboration and project deadlines are set without the tech team's input, goals become unrealistic and unattainable. It hurts everybody involved in the software development project.
Is there a solution?
For effective collaboration between the business and tech teams, we rely on event storming. It's a workshop approach designed to uncover, discuss, and build a shared understanding of a complex business domain. Typically, at the start of software development or when planning the next milestone, we meet with the client. Together, we identify key events and processes in the system, mapping out interactions among stakeholders and components. The workshop's aim is to pinpoint crucial events and processes, fostering a shared vocabulary and understanding of the system's workings.
Download our ebook on remote software development project management
5th problem: finding and retaining tech talent
For any tech-focused business navigating, the tech landscape and choosing the right stack is crucial. Many CxOs recognize their role in managing software products, but without a top notch dev talent, they fail to set a strategic vision and tap its full business value. Losing developers periodically is normal, but if it's a recurring trend, it signals an issue that needs attention.
Creating a comfortable work environment for developers doesn't have a one-size-fits-all recipe, but you can ensure your workplace is an appealing space that nurtures and amplifies their skills. Here's what my colleagues say about such an environment:
- Outdated tech stacks often drive developers away. Imagine your system still running on Java 1.4 with no upgrade plans while Java 21 is already released! watch the video. In such situations, your team members' skills feel underutilized, working with outdated tools. Developers seek challenges with modern technologies or strong communities for continuous learning and growth.
- Effective tech leadership is crucial. A good tech leader should be technically savvy, aware of the latest trends, and possess strong communication skills. Leadership matters more than tech knowledge – inspiring and motivating the team is key.
- Avoid the nightmare boss persona – unnecessary meetings, tight schedules, and unclear objectives cause job burnout. Foster a collaborative environment. Managers focusing on team development act as the glue that keeps everyone together.
Creating good software is a never-ending iterative process. When issues arise, the process involves pinpointing the problem, collecting information, and receiving recommended solutions for your project.
While it might sound straightforward, as a non-tech person, you have to rely on tech experts to make this software-building process accessible, clear, and understandable for everyone involved. That’s why building trust and making sure you create a culture where people can review each other's work often and honestly is important.
Stay tuned for a second part when we discuss a more soft-skills approach to delivering software. At the end, behind every great product, there are people and relationships.
Reviewed by: Adam Warski