Most of us know that rocket science is a complex and fascinating subject, but is software product development as intricate or exciting as rocket science? Just as space advancements require a proper vision and detailed planning to succeed, developing a software product demands understanding the target market and addressing market needs.
A comparative study of product development with rocket science will throw up the similarities between the two and highlight the complexities involved, and characteristics needed for product development.
Every space project has a vision that acts as a preamble to guide rocket engineers through the project, from start until launch. In the case of nations building their space program, several political, scientific and economic factors influence the program’s vision.
Similarly, every software product has a vision that attempts to solve a business problem. The vision for any product should always be significant and precise, in order to guide the evolution of the product over time. More importantly, it should create a blue ocean strategy for the product to create uncontested market space and capture new demand.
Quality resources make the vital difference between the success and failure of any project. A space project, for example, requires hardworking, explorative, process-driven, imaginative, persistent and meticulous scientists. They must also possess a can-do attitude and a team-player mindset, in order for the overall project to succeed.
Same is the case with a product development team. Highly skilled people with all the above mentioned attributes, who can work as a team, help in accomplishing the defined goals of developing a product. The product development team must have the capability to understand the product requirements and work around challenges to meet the exact needs of the end-users of the product.
Management & Communication
Rocket building entails pulling together millions of parts, designed and built by different in-house and external agencies. Therefore, there must be close coordination with all the agencies involved to get a complete rocket built within a stipulated timeframe. Communicating with different teams and managing system engineering, technology and organization integration are key factors of successful rocket building.
Likewise, effective management and communication plays a decisive role in developing a successful product. Transparency while communicating the requirements between the project lead, project management team and the development team will result in developing a product that matches its vision. The project management team takes the responsibility of developing the product from scratch to finish while product management takes care of product positioning and other related activities.
Rocket science involves developing products and technology that have never existed before and can never be practically tested until it is actually used. Hence, engineers designing rockets have to rely on their design skills and engineering acumen, rather than experience, to solve complex problems that arise during development.
Comparatively, complete business requirements are typically unavailable when a product is conceived. Adapting to market requirements necessitate that the development team be capable of incorporating constantly changing requirements into the product. This has to happen in such a way that the base product itself does not change too much – which means that the architecture is flexible to incorporate changing needs. Only skilled product engineers can build a product which accommodates rapidly changing requirements.
Testing and Simulation
Before putting a rocket into space, scientists must take into consideration several functional requirements and environmental factors. Multiple scenarios are simulated and tested several times to ensure that the rocket will not malfunction when launched or in orbit.
Excellent products should also be able perform well in different scenarios. The product should be well engineered and tested against various combinations of scenarios. Functional testing, performance testing, load testing and security testing all play their role in making a software product successful.
Budget, Time and Quality
Space projects often involve tough decisions with respect to cost, quality and time. Compromising any one of the factors would adversely affect the others and the entire project.
In the same way, for any product development effort, even before the development process begins, the product development team must be made aware of the product launch date and the features to be developed within the budget. Thereafter, the product and project management team should consciously choose the best approach (from structured engineering to unified modeling) that would suit their product development effort.
Failures or accidents are always a possibility when engineering products are built, especially when it is a very complex project that is attempted. Hence, the ability and willingness to learn from mistakes and overcome them are important lessons in space science.
Every product evolves before it matures and becomes a success. The product should not be abandoned when faced with a challenging situation. Instead, the experience gained by facing and overcoming challenges must become a lesson for the future. Courage and perseverance are key factors in the success of a product development effort.
To be successful, product development efforts require more than just software engineers who can design and develop code as per requirements. Just like rocket science, software product development is a stupendous task and demands dedicated, highly skilled and knowledge thirsty resources.
While developing software products may not be in the same league as developing rockets and space technology, in today’s competitive world, product development requires similar strengths as those required for rocket science. Hence, product development is indeed rocket science!