Nearly every company now produces software or applications to enable it to do business. That can include using software as an interface to customer support, enabling e-commerce channels, and powering internal operations to serve customers and keep the business running.
All business software is code. So, most medium to large companies use a lot of code, and even small companies are increasingly basing large parts of their business around code.
If you’re not paying attention to code, that inattention can create problems down the line for your business. Here’s why – and what you can do to avoid such problems, improve your code to stay competitive and grow, and engage and retain your customers and employees.
Learn How Code is Different from Physical Products
Typically, a more traditional business might design and build physical products. Once products are created, businesses typically manufacture them en masse. They can only make changes on long time cycles, like once per year, because retooling manufacturing is so expensive
Code is different. It can be changed rapidly, tweaked, tested, and changed in a matter of days, without any of the costs or constraints of the physical world. Because it is possible to make rapid changes and learn from them, the best companies do just that. For example, Duolingo, which recently had a successful IPO, now releases and tests new software multiple times a day.
Creating code is an iterative process based on research and understanding. You start with a rough product and learn and improve as quickly as possible to make it better. You grow your codebase and expand it to add new functionality, new services, new products. These can be added very rapidly without reliance on the sources of physical materials or external suppliers. In short, code can and does get improved very rapidly by your developers and engineers, improving your business as it does so.
Use Data to Improve Your Code
You are going to need to use metrics to understand what needs to be improved in your code and the rate at which you’re improving. Besides input from your product teams and business ideas, you will need to gather information from your application and code itself as well as from the teams developing and deploying it.
This lets you gauge the speed, efficiency and success of your code development process. Track deployment frequency, lead time for changes, change failure rate and time to restore service. These metrics are backed by research, and are key for continuous code improvement. Google encourages the use of these metrics specifically and its “2019 Accelerate State of DevOps: Elite performance, productivity, and scaling” report dives into how using these metrics effectively can improve your business. For example, the report highlights that the teams performing best on DORA metrics deploy code 208 times more frequently and have lead times 106 times faster than the lowest performing teams.
Plan With Continuous Improvement in Mind
People may think that software is perfect. But there is no business software application in the world that is completely free of bugs or errors. The reality is that defects are endemic to code.
Errors may be the result of a developer mistake, such as if the developer forgets to handle an edge case. Sometimes problems with code occur because systems don’t communicate with one another correctly. For example, this may be to blame if your checkout page stops working — it could be that your payments provider changed the behavior of their API.
There are many kinds of errors. Be aware of that, and act on this knowledge by designing your processes to anticipate failures. Have the technology in place to minimize the cost and time needed to identify, prioritize, understand and resolve code bugs and errors.
Helping developers understand which bugs and errors are impacting critical processes, and getting the data they need to address those issues, are key. Your developers can then focus on the issues that are most impactful to your business and move faster to fix them. If they can identify, prioritize, understand and fix bugs quickly, they can quash them before customers even notice.
Recognize That You Need Quality Code to Be Competitive
But quality code is not simply about fixing bugs and other software problems. It’s about meeting customer requirements and staying ahead of the competition.
The primary way customers interact with your business nowadays is often through your software or apps. Use continuous code improvement to deliver quality code to ensure that customers have good experiences with your apps and software. Avoid thinking about your solution as a monolithic product that you can only change once every six months. Instead of solving for perfection, solve for releasing code more often. Making small changes more frequently adds up to big benefits over time.
Car manufacturers typically release a new model once a year. By embracing software, Tesla is now able to update their models much more frequently. Tesla releases new software about once a month, and it’s not just to tweak the user interface. They used a new release to turn on Model 3 rear seat warmers, which until recently required too much power. This added new functionality for customers, increased customer satisfaction and drove new revenue for Tesla.
Keep in Mind That Your People Make Your Code
Code is not just technical — it’s not only a science, it’s also an art. It’s emotional. Code can evoke a strong sense of ownership from those who develop it and a strong response from the people who use it.
Avoid thinking about your code and engineering teams as a black box. Developers are people who are interested in helping you improve your products and code. But without the right tools, developers become frustrated and disengaged. According to “Rethinking Productivity in Software Engineering”, being stuck in problem-solving and time pressure are the two most frequent causes of unhappiness for developers. The book adds that “the third most frequent cause of unhappiness is to work with bad code and, more specifically, with bad code practices.”
That’s a real problem, considering that, as TechRepublic reported this year, 61% of human resources professionals believe that hiring developers will be their biggest challenge in 2021.
Embrace technology to make developers’ jobs easier, less frustrating and more engaging. Your business relies on quality code. That means that you rely on your developers.