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Understanding Your Business Goals: The Real First Step of a Software Project


Successful software projects start slowly. Rather than diving into coding — one of the most straightforward parts of a project — development teams and agencies should start every project with a thorough discovery phase.

“Discovery is key to minimizing the risks associated with software development projects,” says Bill Clerici, CEO and Partner at Kingsmen Software. “One of the most important aspects of this process is identifying the company’s business goals and how the software project will achieve them.”

It’s only when overarching business goals have been defined can work truly begin. Here’s why.


Why Understanding Business Goals Is Essential

For the vast majority of enterprises, software has become business-critical.

Software is no longer a separate entity, says Altaz Valani, research director at Security Compass. The success of software and the success of the company as a whole are entwined to the point where software failures often mean business failures. Every software project must therefore proceed with an eye toward the company’s overarching goals.

When business goals are clear, software projects become much more impactful. By analyzing projects through a business lens, stakeholders can ensure only necessary developments — those that are key to business growth — are undertaken. Consequently, enterprises can budget internal and external resources far more effectively.

The act of defining business goals with a broad range of team members will ultimately lead to a more successful project. Communication is key during development, and sitting down early with relevant stakeholders will ensure everyone is reading from the same playbook.

“One of the biggest mistakes in IT/business alignment is that the senior officers/leaders make plans and then call on IT teams for implementation,” says Matt Warcholinski, COO at Brainhub. “In fact, the earlier team members begin to cooperate and are engaged in the whole process, the easier it is to shape the strategy.”

This ensures that a business’ top-down strategy is aligned with bottom-up development principles throughout the company, says Denise Beachley, CIO and Partner at Kingsmen Software.

“Cooperation really is key when it comes to a software development project,” Beachley says. “Whether it’s interdepartmental or between an enterprise and a development partner, communicating clearly at the start of a project can clarify goals and ensure everyone is clear on what the software needs to do.”



What Happens When You Fail to Outline Business Goals?

Not every software project begins with the discovery process mentioned in the introduction. It’s reasonably common for internal teams to focus only on the goals of the software project and not widen their view to think about overarching business goals.

Unfortunately, that kind of myopic approach to development can be fatal to the project.

A decrease in productivity is a common result of misaligned goals, writes Natalie Kaminski, cofounder and CEO of JetRockets. That’s because developers need to guess at what they are trying to create and why. Usually, the end result is something that fits the requirements of the software project but does nothing to meet the goals of the business.

Ultimately, large swathes of your developers’ code and efforts risk being wasted when goals aren’t outlined, says Ferreneik Betton, head of content at BlueOptima, a developer analytics platform. Further, it can also lead to developer burnout.

In the end, failing to consider wider business goals can result in the failure of digitization efforts. According to research by BCG, 70 percent of digital transformations fail to hit all of their objectives.

A lack of clear goals is one of the most common reasons for failure, says Avi Shua, cofounder and CEO of Orca Security. “Organizations need to understand what the key areas of focus are and what they are trying to achieve from the business point of view — be it reducing costs, or being more agile or being more secure."


Use Project Portfolio Management to Rectify Issues

Although the fallout of failing to align software projects with wider business goals can be severe, enterprises needn’t stress if they haven’t completed an in-depth discovery process before every project. Often, all that is required is a shift in mindset away from project management to portfolio management.

“Project portfolio management (PPM) is a process by which an organization’s projects are evaluated and executed to ensure strategic alignment with company goals,” says Moira Alexander, a contributing writer at CIO and the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership.”

“PPM provides executives, project managers, team members, and stakeholders an overarching view of their projects, including how they fit into the organization’s directives and strategy, thereby lending insights into the potential returns and risks involved.”

Aligning projects and broader strategic goals is an essential aspect of project portfolio management, writes Grace Windsor, product manager at SocialTalent. “Without a clear ‘big’ picture, it’s too easy to waste time and resources on the wrong projects or to assume all projects are equal and deserve the same support.”

Welcome the input of executive stakeholders when analyzing portfolio projects in relation to business goals.

“These stakeholders should work directly with program management and software team leads to prioritize initiatives and maintain a focus on the high-level business values,” says Diane Hoffman, principal consultant at Intelopment Group LLC. “This practice will help clarify the epics, metrics and other elements that will define the specific software project portfolio management plan.”

Be careful, however. Too many stakeholders can spoil the process. A surfeit of views can complicate project requirements without helping projects better meet business goals.



First Steps to a Successful Partnership

It’s not just successful software projects that start by defining and understanding business goals. Successful partnerships between clients and custom development teams are built on a foundational understanding of business goals, too.

“When a knowledgeable custom development team immerses themselves in a client’s business, they can provide far more meaningful and impactful advice in the long term,” says Frank Wanicka, CTO and Partner at Kingsmen Software.

This leads to a culture of continuous development where custom dev teams can act as a guiding star when it comes to portfolio management and allow internal teams to focus on new business initiatives —safe in the knowledge that previous projects continue to deliver business value.

That’s the power of understanding overarching business goals, and the reason a discovery process is key for any successful development project.


Images by: Floriane Vita, John Schnobrich, Jason Goodman

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