Why Is Software Development So Difficult?
Technology is everywhere. Software runs devices like phones, vehicles, buildings, manufacturing processes and just about everything in between. Building software is difficult. Writing code isn’t necessarily difficult, although it can have a steep learning curve for new developers. But there is much more to developing software than the coding aspect of it. Three of the many reasons as to why developing and ultimately delivering software is difficult are: a development team misunderstanding the purpose of the software they’re building; the business or customer not knowing what they want (or their own processes); and developers selecting less-than-optimal technologies as opposed to what is best for a particular project.
What is the purpose of software? The purpose of software is to guide and automate processes. It is a crystallization of a workflow into a repeatable action. Why is this important? Because software can’t fix a broken process. People want to use software to “save” a business but this inevitably ends poorly because the software only makes it worse. Software will make a “good” process better by streamlining and simplifying the workflow. Software will make a “bad” process worse by further locking the user or business into poor practices that are counterproductive.
A related problem is that business groups and customers often don’t know what they want. Worse, they often don’t understand what makes their own process function or succeed. A development team is only as good as the requirements communicated to them by the business. Even if the business has a successful process in place, translating that into good software is difficult. Development teams have to sometimes tease the design out of the stakeholders by asking questions and proposing ideas. Stakeholders will have a lot of ideas and it is the job of the development team to winnow those ideas and prioritize them to ensure only those that provide value to the business and its users are completed. The client will often resist this because the priority they place on certain, less valuable ideas is often greater than the particular ideas important in the overall design. Managing expectations and timing as well as prioritizing the most important features first is another reason why building software is so difficult.
It isn’t only the business groups that make the software development process challenging. Developers have their own role to play in the problem. Software developers are people too, and they have strengths and weaknesses. They have technologies they are experienced with and other technologies which may be unknown. This causes many difficulties in creating successful software because often, developers will pick the technology they know rather than the one that would have the most practical benefit to their current design. Of course there is the opposite end of the spectrum where developers will prioritize new and shiny technologies for a problem that can be solved with existing well-established practices as well. Both of these can cause a software project to be deemed a failure without even realizing it until the end.
In conclusion, software development is tough. The problems mentioned above are only some of the considerations that make it so difficult, but they can be overcome. Business groups and customers have to find the development team that will balance their experience with new technologies, help them to discover the optimal design, and fulfill the true purpose of software. They must take a successful business practice and create a software system that allows that practice to work in a repeatable way.
– Kenn Williamson (Senior Software Engineer, SEQTEK)