The most common wastes of software development (and how to reduce them)

Evandro Miquelito

Evandro Miquelito, Last updated on February 24, 2020

Software development is a complex endeavor that requires much time to be spent by a highly-skilled, knowledgeable, and educated team of people. Often, there are time constraints and deadlines in place that put a lot of pressure on this team. 

When one project is finished, they will move onto the next one, and the cycle never ends. Therefore, it’s crucial that this team operates with as much efficiency and productivity as possible. Sometimes, even efforts to save time and improve the process end up making it slower. 

While every company  is different, there are some general things that are common time-wasters. As common as they are among software development teams, the solutions are effective and manageable with a team that is flexible and willing. 

Below, we’ve covered the most common time-wasters in the software development space. We’ve also included some effective ways to reduce the impact of these issues. While there are many ways you can waste time during the software development process, these issues below are the biggest issues across the board. They are universal among software development teams and deliberate action must be taken to rectify these time-wasters. 

Extra Features

Put simply, extra features are features that the user doesn’t use or even appreciate. They are present in many software releases even though they are ultimately unnecessary. Including these things in the software before receiving any feedback can result in a colossal waste of time. 

First, it increases the code complexity meaning it will take longer to write (and specially to maintain) in the first place. For every feature that’s added, there is more potential for failure, and each of these features runs the risk of becoming obsolete before anyone finds it useful. Lastly, it will continue to take up the team’s time as it will need to be tracked and maintained with the rest of the software as updates are released. 

How to combat extra features: The solution here requires some self-control. It may be tempting to add cool, fancy features, but it’s not a smart move for the first release. For the initial release, aim to include only the essential features that allow the software to function properly. From there, you can add features based on user feedback. Doing this will ensure the features will be used and appreciated. 

Relearning

There is no disputing the fact that software development is difficult. You will have to spend time learning new things and discovering solutions to problems. The mistake that some make, however, is forgetting the important details, or the entire solution altogether. 

This will create wasted time in the future when the same issues arise again and you must relearn the solution. 

How to combat relearning: When you solve a problem, document the solution. Add it to a code library for easy reference in the future. 

Incomplete Work

This concept is pretty self-explanatory – it is work that is consistently left unfinished. Of course, no task is ever left alone with the direct intention of never finishing it. However, even the best of intentions can go awry at times. 

The problem with always leaving things partially finished is that they ultimately get forgotten. They kept getting pushed to the bottom of the to-do list and sometimes by the time they’re attended to, they’ve become obsolete. In the meantime, it ties up resources in something that isn’t being productive or yielding results. 

Common examples of these unfinished tasks include incomplete documentation, stale branches of code and/or untested code. If your team has too many of these things lying around, it suggests issues with project management, assignment priorities, or a flawed intake procedure. 

How to combat partially done work: begin by placing a hard limit on work in progress tasks. Have everyone commit to keeping this limit. Next, prioritize finishing. To the absolute best of your ability, finish one thing before you start another. 

Hand-offs

In most companies, a software developer is expected to be competent in many different software languages and be capable of working on multiple projects. While this is useful to an extent, excessive hand-offs will become an issue. 

Any time a project is handed from one individual or team to another, there is a considerable amount of time spent on transfer. The new person or team must be brought up to speed with what’s going on, and possibly trained in certain aspects they are unfamiliar with. There is also a good chance certain things will be lost during the transition. 

How to combat hand-offs: It’s important to manage these properly. Create efficient transfer processes beforehand so everyone is prepared. In addition, do your best to ensure that the appropriate person and/or team is assigned to the project from the beginning and that they are equipped with the proper tools and knowledge. 

Task Switching

Task switching is related to hand-offs but involves an individual being forced to switch from one project to another too frequently. On the surface, it may seem productive to multi-task, but doing so actually eliminates proper concentration. 

When you begin a task, it takes about 15 minutes to settle into the flow of the work and get concentrated. These 15 minutes are not terribly productive. If you are interrupted at any time, it will take another 15 minutes to regain your focus completely. If a programmer gets distracted even four times during their day, they can lose up to an hour. 

For someone with too many different things on their plate, they will lose these 15-minute increments multiple times every day as they switch back and forth between projects. 

How to combat task-switching: In theory, the solution is simple, though it will take some organization and coordination to get it right. The first step is to minimize interruptions in general. Ensure that developers have everything they need to be successful before they begin their work. Next, try to plan and schedule things in such a way that one person is only working on one project at any given time. This allows them to remain focused at all times and they won’t lose those pieces of time required to switch their concentration over. This will require careful planning and prioritizing. 

Delays

On the surface, delays seem self-explanatory, but they can come in more forms than many people think. Anything that prevents work from being done is considered a delay and creates wasted time. 

Pausing between hand-offs can cause a delay as the new person needs to orient themselves with the project and spend the time to focus and settle into the flow of work. Any time stakeholders or supervisors put off reviewing and approving work, it causes a delay. If defects are found much much later, it wastes time as the programmer needs to return to the mindset, requirements, and flow of a project they put down quite some time ago. 

How to combat delays: The best way to minimize delays is to keep things organized and stay on top of the schedule. Ensure the appropriate people review what they need to in a timely manner and provide regular feedback. Relay important information face-to-face or through instant messaging so the recipient knows what they need to know immediately. 

Defects 

There is no way to avoid defects completely and forever, but it’s how defects are handled that can either minimize waste or create a lot of it. Defects will always cause extra work. They force the programmer to stop what they’re doing and switch gears. The interruption can have an impact on both quality and productivity. 

Defects cause the most waste when they go undetected for too long. It’s much quicker and easier for a programmer to fix a defect if the code is tested right away and they are still in the right flow and mindset for the project at hand.

How to combat defects: ensuring defects are caught right away requires proper scheduling and prioritizing. Ensure things are tested immediately and not put off for any length of time. It’s also important to integrate often so that nothing sits stagnant for too long. 

Additional Ideas on How to Reduce Waste

We’ve provided some specific tips and strategies for reducing the above forms of software development waste, but these aren’t the only things you can do. There are several principles you can implement to reduce waste even further and get your team working at maximum capacity. 

Built-in Quality 

This concept is not a complicated one, but it does require deliberate action and effort to implement effectively. Many teams attempt to ensure quality by testing excessively and being obsessive about logging defects. These things actually create more waste by taking up unnecessary time and effort. 

If you take the appropriate measures to build quality into your work, things like excessive testing and planning won’t be necessary. Lean development recognizes several tools as being effective for building quality in: 

  • Pair programming. You can avoid too many quality issues by having two programmers work together. 
  • Test-driven development: This is when you create criteria for a code before writing it. This gives the programmer an idea of what’s expected and it ensures the code meets the necessary business requirements. 
  • Reduce wait states – this includes the above-mentioned task switching as well as knowledge gaps, distractions, lack of focus, and anything that causes a pause in the workflow. 
  • Automation: Analyze your processes and see if there are any tedious and/or repetitive manual tasks that can be automated by another program. This not only saves time but reduces human error. 

By implementing these strategies, the quality will increase naturally and you can eliminate errors and delays before they even happen.

Creating Knowledge

This one is simple: create, spread, and retain knowledge. When everyone has the proper knowledge and skillset they are better prepared to take on new tasks and do things properly the first time. 

Knowledge can be effectively spread and retained in a number of ways: 

  • Pair programming ensures quality but it also allows programmers to learn from each other on the job. 
  • Thorough documentation. 
  • Code reviews. 
  • Thorough training. 
  • Host knowledge sharing sessions. 
  • Start a wiki for the team so the knowledge base can be continually built up. 

Defer Commitment 

This one can be misleading, but when implemented properly, it is quite effective. This principle encourages the team to be responsible in their decision making. This means keeping options open and always learning, improving, and collecting information. This ensures decisions are not made without the necessary information. 

This also means you should avoid excessive planning. Going months ahead and mapping out every single detail can actually be a breeding ground for error if the team doesn’t have all the necessary information. By remaining open and flexible, the team ensures no decision or commitment is made prematurely. 

Respect People

This principle involves keeping everyone’s humanity in mind. Even the hardest developers need a balanced life. Respect should extend to everything a team does, including communication, conflict management, onboarding, and more. Burnout is all too real and if people feel unappreciated, overworked, or disrespected, they will not perform at their best. They may not even stick around. 

It’s easy to fall into the trap of wasted time, energy, and resources. In the moment, little snippets of time don’t seem like a big deal. But if the entire team is wasting a few snippets of time every day, it adds up to a significant amount of waste. 

Implementing these principles of lean development isn’t terribly difficult, but it does require deliberate attention to detail. You must become aware of the waste that is occurring in your team right now before you can take steps and create a plan to eliminate it. 

Knowing what the biggest sources of waste are is the first step. Then, you can follow the tips we’ve provided here to reduce the waste within your team. Every team is unique, but the general issues and their solutions are fairly universal, meaning an effective, seamless team is not out of your reach. 

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