Lessons from three years of software development

In the past three years I’ve learnt so many things about developing software, I could probably write a few books on the subject, but I have listed a couple of takeaway points below:

Change little and often

The mantra “change little and often” can apply to a lot of things: it’s relevant to making positive changes in your life, but it’s also very relevant to designing and delivering software. When implementing new features the most important thing for me is to find an iterative approach. It is very uncommon to know everything about a problem and be able to design a solution that will work perfectly. I would always prioritise finding a multi-stage plan that involves releasing small related features that make up the whole where possible.

Users can be quite unpredictable, and often won’t use features in the way you expect. For this reason it’s always better to implement something small that can get you some of the way there and at the same time will enable you to learn more about the problem. Coming up with these iterative approaches often isn’t easy, but there are so many benefits. It stops you from wasting time on a feature that won’t work the way you designed it. It stops end users from feeling overwhelmed with having to learn too much new information at once. It gives them a chance to give feedback, which allows you to make the solution better. It also enables them to feel listened to and be more invested in the solution. Getting users involved is a huge part of making a solution successful.

Plan Properly

Another thing I’ve learnt is the importance of proper planning. It’s sometimes tempting to think you don’t need a plan as situations always change, however this is a mistake. It’s always better to have a plan, even though it will often become obsolete. Without a plan you can’t be efficient, switching from one task to another takes time because each time you must re-evaluate your priorities. It’s important to set aside time specifically for planning, it will save time in the long run and eliminate that mental effort of holding all your priorities in your head.

When planning, first create a long-term plan, then create your medium-term plan based on that, and your short-term plan based on the medium-term one. Even though your long term plan is almost guaranteed to change, creating one helps ensure your shorter-term plans are based on the correct assumptions. Re-evaluate your plans regularly and don’t worry that they will become obsolete. Don’t waste energy going into detail on long-term plans as these are the most likely to change. You can include more detail in your medium or short-term plan when the time draws nearer.

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