Software development is a complex process. As such, it requires a carefully constructed plan that will successfully guide it to completion.
How you construct this plan will largely depend on your project management methodology of choice, as well as the software development platforms your team relies on.
However, regardless of the method you choose to follow and the tools you use, there are several basic elements every software development plan should contain.
Today, we have decided to tackle these elements — we’ll guide you through the 3 basic stages and 9 steps that will help you create a functional software development plan.
Table of Contents
What is a software development plan?
The software development plan is a timeline of the project, containing all the information needed for the proper execution of the development process.
As we mentioned, software development is an incredibly complex process. We tackle this issue by separating it into smaller, more manageable parts.
This process is called software development planning.
There are various software development methodologies, such as:
But, let’s focus on the 3 basic stages this process has to go through.
What are the 3 basic stages of software development?
For starters, we will divide the software development plan into 3 basic stages. They will help us determine the main idea of the path that our software development process will take.
The 3 basic stages of software development are:
- Implementing & testing, and
- Deployment & maintenance.
Having the process divided into these 3 stages will allow us to further divide it into even smaller, more manageable steps, which we will talk more about later in the article.
Stage #1: Planning
At the start of the planning stage, your software is still just an idea, and ideas are not specific. Therefore, the goal of the planning stage is to turn your idea into a concrete, feasible plan.
The planning stage consists of three steps:
- Feasibility study, and
- Requirement analysis.
Stage #2: Implementing & testing
The implementing & testing stage is where your software comes to fruition. Designers create the visuals, and software engineers write the code.
Testers constantly check for bugs and security issues during this process, but even more so after it’s completed.
The implementing & testing stage includes:
- Progress tracking,
- Construction, and
- Integration & testing.
Stage #3: Deployment & maintenance
After the software’s been created and thoroughly tested, it can be approved for release.
Typically, the new software will first be deployed to a certain number of individuals — think of alpha and beta video game releases.
This gradual release will help control feedback early on. It will also lead us well into the final part of software development, which should last as long as the software exists — maintenance.
As part of the 9 steps of software development, we will refer to deployment and maintenance as implementation and post-implementation respectively.
What are the 9 steps in software development?
After we’ve divided it into stages, we can further divide software development into 9 steps:
- Feasibility study,
- Requirement analysis,
- Progress tracking,
- Integration & testing,
- Implementation, and
To help you better understand these steps, we will use an example of developing a specific piece of software — in our case, a mobile application.
We will run our example through all the steps, and go through the most important questions for each step.
Step #1: Initiation
Every software development plan starts with an idea. Whether you got it in a coffee shop conversation, as a client request, or in the shower, an idea is the basis of your software development.
In the initiation step, we want to determine:
- A solidified idea,
- A mission, and
- A project sponsor (if one is needed).
This process should be documented as a “concept proposal”, which would also be one of your project deliverables.
Initiation — app development example
You’re scrolling through the app store, and you realize there’s no mobile rogue-like game about cute mice finding treats in a comically large house. You’d like to create one.
- What will the core of your gameplay be like?
- Are you aiming for a high production or an indie feel?
- Will you finance the creation process yourself, or can you contact a possible sponsor?
These are the main questions you should aim to answer in the project initiation phase.
Step #2: Requirement analysis
As you may have inferred from the name, in this step, we want to determine both user and system requirements.
Because of this, the most pressing question to answer is — how do we meet user requirements?
However, we will also determine:
- The goal of the project,
- The return value,
- The software, hardware, security, and network specifications,
- The deadlines,
- The coding language that the software will be written in, and
- The estimated cost.
Usually, the plans that are required for a specific type of system are created by all members of the project team.
All of the information gathered in this step will go into the software requirement specification (SRS) document.
Requirement analysis — app development example
Some important questions about our app that we should ask in the requirement analysis step include:
- When do you plan for the game to be released?
- Will it be completely free, have microtransactions, or will it be purchasable?
- Will there be any software, hardware, or network necessities to create or play it?
Step #3: Feasibility study
The feasibility study aims to determine the business goals and resources within the project.
In this step, you should answer 5 important questions:
- What are the operational requirements of the project?
- What is the required timeframe?
- What budget constraints does the project have?
- What legal boundaries may exist?
- What know-how does the project team have?
The answers to these questions will be expanded upon in your SRS document. By that point, you should be aware of your project management plan.
There are also several other documents that these steps will result in, such as:
- Acquisition plan,
- Concept of operations,
- System boundary document,
- Cost benefit analysis,
- Feasibility study document, and
- Risk management plan.
This is also a good time to determine your KPIs — your key performance indicators.
Feasibility study — app development example
Are there similar games in the market, and what can you do to distinguish your app from them to avoid plagiarism complaints?
Accidental plagiarism can happen, especially with the rise of simplistic design in mobile games. See what you can do to distinguish your app from others like it.
Has anyone in your team worked on creating a mobile game app before?
If not, you might want to invest in educating your staff on the skills they will need for this project. Or, ultimately, you might even want new team members with more experience.
Step #4: Progress tracking
Now that your planning stage is finished, your whole project team will start working on developing the software. So, now would be a good time to start tracking progress.
Progress tracking happens continuously, throughout the whole development process.
It allows you to be aware of missed deadlines, weak links, or difficulties you might not have anticipated. It also notifies you of deadlines ahead of schedule, which might lead to new opportunities in the project.
In essence, it allows you to modify your software development plan according to the real-time progress of software development.
For this step, it’s best to use project management software. We recommend Plaky — a free project management app that will allow you to efficiently track progress in your software development plan.
Progress tracking — app development example
What tasks should you input and track in your project management software?
Determine what tasks you should start tracking and set up a status bar that can show you the stage at which a specific task is at the moment.
Then, add a task description, set up the deadline, and finally, assign one or multiple specific team members to the task.
If your team is not familiar with the software, you might want to organize a short presentation with the purpose of educating your team members on how to use it.
Step #5: Design
In the design step, the SRS document requirements should be turned into detailed specifications that will be used in the construction step.
Just like progress tracking, this step also usually repeats throughout the entire software development process.
This step may include the following types of design:
- Database design,
- UI/UX design,
- Features design, and
- Security measures.
The design stage is also suitable for creating a prototype of your software. If your software is an application or webpage, this prototype will be called a mockup.
Creating a prototype is considered a trade-off — it takes up a lot of time, but it’s a much better option compared to retroactively making changes after the construction step.
Design — app development example
In our example, design is an incredibly important step. Therefore, you should pay close attention to important design questions, like:
- How will the aesthetic of the game feel — dark and moody or funky and upbeat?
- How will the UI function?
- But also, how does the system store user data, like login information, or payment information (if necessary)?
Step #6: Construction
The construction step takes the designs from the previous step and turns them into a functional system.
Of course, the first thing that comes to mind here is writing the code for the software.
However, this step includes all infrastructure that is necessary for development, as well as minor testing throughout the software’s creation.
This infrastructure may include the following:
- Frontend development of the software,
- Backend development of the software,
- Hardware, and
- Communication systems.
In addition, in this step, it’s recommended that you create a contingency plan — a plan that contains instructions on what to do in case of a possible significant future incident.
Construction — app development example
The development team does most of the work in this step, but there are still important questions.
As this is usually the most time-consuming step, there is plenty of room for unexpected issues, for example:
- Does the development process stick to the deadlines?
- Are there additional resources required?
Various roadblocks could occur along the way. Perhaps the know-how you’ve acquired is inadequate for the complexity of creating a part of your software. Or, the software your team is using increases its subscription fee, causing delays due to budgeting constraints.
Step #7: Integration & testing
While minor tests are performed throughout the construction step, this step allows for more thorough testing.
These tests serve to determine whether the software follows the specifications set in the software requirement specification (SRS) document.
There are many possible tests, but the 4 most recommended ones in this step are:
- Integration testing — Checks how different software parts, usually made by different teams or individuals, interact with each other.
- Security testing — Checks that all user data is safe and secure and that the software is safe from future attacks.
- User testing — Requires a select group of actual customers testing the software, getting “new eyes” on your product.
- Unit testing — Tests specific, small portions of the software code. This is the “minor testing” mentioned in the construction step.
If a deficiency is discovered during the integration and testing step, the team responsible for creating that part of the software will be tasked with repairing it.
The goal of this step is to ensure the effectiveness of the product and minimize the possibility of failure of the next step — implementation.
Integration & testing — app development example
No matter how well-designed or thought-out your mobile game is, if it has a lot of bugs, it will deter almost any player that comes across it.
Bugs aren’t the only thing to pay attention to in this step. For example, are there any non-bug-related issues that the user testing is aiming to find, like clunky movement or too much repetition.
If your game has payments or microtransactions, pay close attention to the security testing. Customer trust is hard-earned and easily lost.
Step #8: Implementation
Implementation is the step in which the software becomes available to end users.
It’s important to notify any existing users (either from user testing or alpha/beta version users) of the upcoming changes to the software before implementation.
The best way to do this would be to create a user manual for your software. A user manual can be any set of instructions that will explain to the user the main functionalities and purpose of your software.
Pay attention to the users’ initial reactions to your software to see how stable the final build is. Remember, there always might be faults that the testing stage overlooked.
Implementation — app development example
Publish an alpha build, then a beta, collect feedback and fix what needs fixing. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How much success have these builds garnered?
- How much budget are you putting into marketing the release of the final build?
Step #9: Post-implementation
In the world of IT, a new piece of technology comes faster than you can anticipate, with it depleting the relevancy of all older alternatives.
Therefore, it is imperative to keep your software consistently updated to keep up with the competition, but also with the overall growth of the market.
- New features,
- Bug fixes,
- Maintaining databases, and
- Software support.
Pay attention to those KPIs. If determined properly, they will tell you what features are received better or worse in your software.
Information gathered from user feedback can tell you what to focus on in future updates.
Post-implementation — app development example
Your app has been out for a while, and it’s doing well. However, due to the nature of repetitive gameplay, you will start losing your player base unless you keep adding new features like new enemies, room layouts, or items.
Let’s say you’ve created a live chat box, but there’s no traffic on it — consider deleting that feature, or better yet, try to see how you can incentivize users to use it.
Software development plan examples
We’ve talked quite a bit about software development plans, but it might still be difficult to visualize what one would look like.
Additionally, you might be having issues with creating a well-organized plan or keeping your team on track.
Luckily, Plaky is a great software development tool, that offers free software development plan templates, at your fingertips.
Example #1: Product roadmap plan
The product roadmap plan allows you to easily delegate tasks during software development, organized in groups by quarter.
The product roadmap template Plaky offers also makes communicating easier, especially across departments.
For example, imagine this:
You have a group chat with your project team. You text them “I need someone to build a QR code scanner for our app.” You add another text “It’s not urgent, though.”
Three separate developers start working on the scanner. One of them misses the second text, and finishes very early, causing a delay on a more pressing feature that they should’ve been working on.
With this template, issues like this are easily avoidable. Fields for task assignees and task importance resolve this issue with a simple glance at your Plaky board.
Example #2: Product launch plan
This template works wonders for the implementation and post-implementation steps.
The product launch template helps you launch a product or feature in 3 simple steps:
- Break product/feature launch into stages,
- Assign people to tasks and prioritize, and
- Set due dates.
Your marketing team will usually want updates on alpha/beta launches, expected launch dates, etc.
Instead of constantly messaging (bugging) your developers about their progress, they can simply check it on that task’s Plaky board, and get all the information they need.
Example #3: Bug tracking plan
You’ll find this template most useful during the testing step. However, the bug tracking template is also essential for the construction, implementation, and post-implementation steps.
You’re using a group chat for team notifications, and testers are reporting new bugs they find. *Ping* — they’ve reported a bug, so the developers start working on it.
*Ping* — here’s another, let’s have part of the team switch to that one.
*Ping* *ping* *ping* — You get overwhelmed with texts about bugs the testing team found very quickly.
By the time you’ve got your bearings, some bugs are 47 messages away in the chat.
This Plaky template allows you to cleanly sort bugs, assign them to specific developers, label them by importance, and avoid any rush and confusion.
Conclusion: Informed planning can simplify even the most complex projects
Hopefully, by now, software development seems like a much less scary beast to tackle.
As you could see, we can make a software development plan much more manageable by dividing it into stages and steps.
Pay attention though — even those steps can be further divided. Always look for ways to get to another layer.
Practice — imagine a software you’d like to create and go through all of these steps in your head, keeping the nature of that software in mind and the difficulties that might accompany it.
✉️ Has this guide helped you understand the process of creating a software development plan? Do you know any steps we’ve missed? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we may include your answers in this or future posts. If you liked this blog post and found it useful, share it with someone you think would also benefit from it.