Mitigating Risks in Software Development

Gimena Aguerreberry
May 14, 2021

The world of software development is becoming ever more advanced. But with greater capability comes greater risk — and if your software stops working as it should, it can have a devastating effect on your business.

If your development team wants to avoid project failure, it's vital to have robust risk mitigation strategies in place.

Risk mitigation is the process of identifying, assessing, and preventing potential risks to your software.

These could be technical risks such as faulty functionalities or project management problems such as going over budget.

In this blog post, we'll explain some key risks you may encounter during your software development project — and, more importantly, how you and your team members can avoid them.

What is Software Risk Management?

Software risk management, or risk mitigation, is the act of identifying risks and creating risk plans to prevent them from occurring. The idea is that by managing risk, you can build resilience into your software and minimize the damage should something go wrong.

Effective risk mitigation strategies should be both proactive and reactive. That means that it should enable you to avoid risk as much as possible while also making it easier to respond to any problems. To achieve both of these aims, your risk management plan should include the following steps:

  • Identifying risks and the potential conditions that could cause them

  • Classifying the risks in order of their severity so that you can prioritize the most important

  • Creating a plan to mitigate each of the different types of risk

  • Risk monitoring throughout the process by communicating the status of your project

Why is Risk Mitigation So Important?

There's no such thing as the perfect piece of software. Every development team will encounter challenges, from technical bugs to collaborating with team members. But how you respond to these challenges can make or break your software development project.

In project management, risk can be thought of as an opportunity for loss. Lost time, lost money, lost custom — all of these can result from issues during the development process. To keep your project as efficient as possible, you'll need a plan to minimize risk. That's where risk mitigation comes in.

Without an effective risk mitigation plan, potential stumbling blocks can soon trip up your team and undo hours of work. If problems arise once your software is live, your company's reputation could also take a serious hit. This is especially true if the software in question handles sensitive data or enables your customers to contact you.

As a software developer, you have two options: attempt to limit problems once they have occurred or prevent them from occurring in the first place. It's clear which of these strategies is the most cost-effective in the long run.

What Types of Software Risk Are There?

Risks in software development are either internal (controllable by the project manager) and external (not controllable by the project manager).

External risks can include events such as power outages or regulatory changes. Although development teams can put measures in place to limit the severity of these events, a project manager can't predict they will occur.

On the other hand, internal risks are problems that most software teams expect to see during the development process. These might include technical bugs, communication breakdowns, bottlenecks, or poor planning. It's much easier to mitigate against these risks by putting risk mitigation strategies in place.

We can break the internal category down into five main types of risk.

Unproven Technologies

During most of your software development projects, you'll use technology that you haven't used before. Whether it's a new tool, protocol, or system, all technologies come with a learning curve — and it's important to factor that learning curve into your risk mitigation plan if you don't want to fall behind schedule.

Perhaps you'll need some extra time to familiarize yourself with the tech before starting the project. You might even need to find alternative tools if your existing software package isn't compatible with the new program.

Whatever you do to handle the situation, make sure to act preemptively, so your project team won't waste time further down the line.

Functional and UX Requirements

The requirements of your software project are usually twofold. When creating your software development project plan, you'll need to consider your program's functional and design requirements. These are probably the first things you think about when creating your software plan, but they can also pose a real risk to your strategy.

Lots of development teams will outline the key requirements of their software project before they start working. However, these requirements are likely to change as you progress down your project timeline. By acknowledging this, you can accept the risk and put plans in place to minimize disruption if changes occur.

Application Architecture

The underlying architecture of your software is one of the major risks to your project. Tinkering with the front end of your application might be all in a day's work — but if you need to re-platform your program, it could set you back significantly.

A strong risk management plan will analyze the efficiency of your application architecture. It should also contain a strategy for adapting to any platforming problems that might arise.

Performance

No matter how smoothly your development has gone, you can't call the project a success until you have a way to measure its performance. Your risk management plan should outline any relevant benchmarking metrics and explain how you plan to test your software.

By incorporating regular testing into your risk mitigation plan, you can increase the likelihood that you'll catch errors early. You can also ensure that your team members (and clients) know what constitutes success for each piece of software. This will lead to reduced risks of disagreements that could derail your project.

Organizational

Believe it or not, the organizational aspects of your software project are just as important as the technical aspects. A good project manager needs to make sure their team members have all the resources, information, and onboarding they need. Without organization, it doesn't matter how talented the developers are — they probably won't be able to deliver exactly what the client wants, exactly when they need it.

Organizational risks can include the following:

  • Poor time management or budgeting

  • Bad communication with the client

  • Inadequate resources

  • Outdated paperwork

  • Not outsourcing tasks to staff with the right expertise

  • Not checking regulatory or compliance issues

Risk Mitigation For Your Software Development Project

If you're working on a software project, you can't afford to ignore risk mitigation. It might be impossible to avoid risks in software development completely, but you can prevent issues from seriously impacting the project through careful risk monitoring.

A strong risk management plan should both monitor and mitigate risk. With this two-pronged approach, you can smooth out potential problems and save time, effort, and money.

"Mitigating Risks in Software Development" by Gimena Aguerreberry is licensed under CC BY SA. Source code examples are licensed under MIT.

Photo by Sammie Chaffin.

Categorized under software development.

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