The pitfalls of developing digital products under pressure - and how to avoid them
It’s a commonly held belief that people do their best work under pressure. Be it pressure from management, clients or even society, we often believe that the stimulus pushes us to deliver a better product, quicker.
However, while pressure may spur you to work faster, jump higher or meet tight deadlines, is the point to “avoid failure or to achieve success?”.
In fact, there are many pitfalls of developing digital products under pressure. When client expectations are high and the end-user is turning up the heat, be aware of the following risks and take the necessary precautions so you can be sure to deliver your best work - even under pressure.
Don’t tip the balance
Building digital products is an iterative process, but often external pressures mean we must work under pressure to develop and deliver an end product. In some cases, the pressure comes from an immediate need for a solution to a problem - like when we worked with Elanders to streamline their print and distribution process, so they could provide an accurate and timely service every time. We needed to develop a long term solution to save time and improve delivery service for Elanders, and we didn’t have all the time in the world to do it.
When the risk of not meeting a deadline or meeting external pressures prevails, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “technical debt”. You may find yourself making sacrifices now, taking out a loan now “to be paid back through future refactorings.”
Walking the tightrope of technical debt is the difference between delivering a profitable rapid prototype to fund the next iteration of a development cycle, and creating something that lacks quality, cloud and, ultimately disappoints customers.
So, how do we make sure our work created under pressure exceeds expectations?
It’s all in the process
Just because you’re developing under pressure, it doesn’t mean you have to skip the planning and jump straight to writing code. It may seem counterintuitive to take a step back when the clock is ticking, but if you fail to prepare, then you might as well prepare to fail.
When laying the foundations, you will identify areas that need additional resource - that’s where your digital agency comes in. Depending on how your agency slots into your business, you will get difficult results.
At Komodo, we opt for a co-creation method, whereby we take a strategic but agile approach to development and delivery. The earlier we join the process, the better - as we can provide a systematic approach that includes idea generation and knowledge sharing to create something that is not only realistic within the pressured timeframe but also forms strong foundations for future development.
Learning from the past
Another benefit of taking the time and energy to establish a project plan is the predictive stage.
Our extensive experience co-creating digital products with public and private sector clients in a wide variety of industries has given us an instinct for spotting trouble - long before it knocks on our door. Past experiences allow us to identify likely problems in the process and account for these in time, resource and budget. Laying the groundwork will save time in the long run.
While the preparation stages are vital to delivering a successful end product under pressure, don’t drop the ball after coding begins. Employ the Broken Window Theory to problem-solving:
“Don't leave ‘broken windows’ (bad designs, wrong decisions, or poor code) unrepaired. Fix each one as soon as it is discovered. If there is insufficient time to fix it properly, then board it up. Perhaps you can comment out the offending code, or display a "Not Implemented" message, or substitute dummy data instead. Take some action to prevent further damage and to show that you're on top of the situation.”
This leads us nicely into the delivery stage of our digital product and, more specifically, how we communicate this to our client, our stakeholders and our end-users. Firstly, all parties appreciate honesty and clear communication.
Whether you are releasing a rapid prototype or finished product, make sure it is clear from the marketing materials and UX writing what the purpose of the product is and whether they can expect a new version, how to report faults and the preferred feedback method.
By maintaining integrity and honesty, you avoid making the same mistakes we’ve seen the UK government make in recent weeks surrounding the Test and Trace system for monitoring the spread of COVID-19.
Now, we don’t claim to know the ins and outs of this particular project development, but we can only discern from the media attention where mistakes were made and, in our experience, how these could have been avoided.
When it comes to developing a digital product under pressure, there’s no pressure comparable to that experienced by the team responsible for Test and Trace. The platform holds the power to significantly decrease the spread of COVID-19 and, ultimately, save lives.
Nothing says poor organisation under pressure like the trials and tribulations of the app’s impending release, including a strategic U-turn to the “Apple and Google Model”. An anonymous ‘customer service adviser’ appointed to the ‘world-beating’ platform in May wrote in the Guardian of their concerns around training and poor communication: “I learned more about my job from watching the news than I did from those who were supposed to supervise me.” While many of us working under pressure are not under the scrutiny of an entire nation, there’s a lot we can learn from the government’s communication strategy for the Test and Trace app.
While we cannot comment on the intricate details of the planning of the software development project, it’s clear from internal reports that there are two key areas for improvement that we can learn from when building digital products of our own: communication and managing expectations.
Even the most intensive planners can’t foresee every delay, that’s why we must take a realistic approach to deliver information to clients and end-users. Communicating progress and delays clearly and regularly will build trust from both audiences. While keeping them in the loop will manage expectations regarding deadlines and outcomes. By taking an open and honest path, you can accurately communicate progress, creating an environment conducive to doing your best work - even when the pressure is on.
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