Key Risks and Mitigation Tips

Unanticipated software development risks can lead to unexpected troubles throughout and after the software development process. Software delivery delays, data security breaches, and budget overruns are only some negative consequences of unmitigated software development risks.

Software development risk management is the practice of assessing and controlling potential project issues and mitigating their adverse effects. By integrating it into all phases of the software development life cycle (SDLC), developers can address risks more timely and efficiently.

This article specifies the most common risks at each SDLC phase and provides tips on their management.

1. Business analysis

At this initial stage, business analysts assess a company’s pain points and needs and define goals that the software development project should achieve. Since the results of business analysis lay the foundation for the entire project, integrating risk management into this early stage is necessary.

Common risk factors:

  • Poorly defined initial project scope The emergence of new software requirements or changes to existing ones during development is one of the reasons why score creep may occur. This unexpected extension of a project’s scale can lead to development budget overruns and missed deadlines.
    • Mitigation tips: Developers can minimize potential changes in requirements and thus avoid scope creep by clearly defining and documenting stakeholders’ requirements during business analysis.

When all these requirements are gathered and documented, the project’s decision-makers review the software requirement specification (SRS) document with all parties. This document also needs to be approved and signed by each stakeholder. This way, developers can build more realistic and clear expectations regarding the future solution across stakeholders and reduce the chances of new requirements emerging later.

2. Design

At this stage, technology architects and other decision-makers prepare a software design document (SDD) describing the solution’s architecture, functionality, and user interface. SDD is essential, as it helps define the optimal stack and schedule for software development down the line. Typically, this stage also includes the creation of wireframes and mock-ups required to build a solution’s prototype.

Common risk factors:

  • Misunderstood or misinterpreted software requirements Outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete documentation that does not clearly define technological and functional software specifications can lead to misinterpretations of the intended software functionality and architecture among developers. This can not only slow down the development process but also cause critical functionality issues or security vulnerabilities.
    • Mitigation tips: Tech writers should help decision-makers create easily understood, structured, and comprehensive software documentation. It should cover a product’s technical characteristics and describe its data model, features, and APIs. However, it should also include manuals on how to solve common technical issues during development, and this is where the expertise of software developers can be useful.
  • Inappropriate software architecture choice – The choice of ill-suited software architecture can cause a variety of complexities before and after the solution’s launch, ranging from poor software performance to security and scalability issues.
    • Mitigation tips: Solution architects should define a specific software architecture based on data obtained during business analysis and the requirements of a particular business case. For instance, architects can design a microservices-based architecture, which implies breaking the software into small independent components, if the scalability and flexibility of a future solution are critical. In turn, architects can consider a traditional monolithic architecture if ease of testing and maintenance is a top priority.

3. Planning

Risk management during the planning phase is also essential since this is when project managers define a particular scope of work that should be executed and lay out the project’s roadmap. In addition, this stage involves calculating the project’s budget and establishing timelines, putting together the development team, and choosing the development methodology, which are all critical for the project’s success.

Common risk factors:

  • Incorrect cost estimation – Inaccurate or inadequate project cost assessment is one of the most acute software development risks which can lead to significant development budget overruns and reduce the overall project’s ROI.
    • Mitigation tips: Project managers can use a combination of approaches, such as parametric, analogous, or bottom-up cost estimation, and consider multiple factors, including the choice of the tech stack, the project’s scope, and software engineers’ location, to calculate a project’s cost more accurately.

However, even the most accurate estimate may fail to predict all possible and hidden development costs, especially if software requirements change or the project scales up. Project managers should reserve funds for unforeseen expenses like purchasing additional software tools or expanding the developers’ team.

  • Unrealistic project schedule An unrealistic schedule can negatively impact the solution’s delivery and slow down time to market, so efficient project scheduling is also essential for a project’s success.
    • Mitigation tips: Project managers should split all the work required to complete a project into smaller sequential steps and tasks to create more realistic and practical schedules. However, detailed and precise scheduling can be challenging, especially on large-scale projects involving multiple development teams.

Here the concept of work breakdown structure (WBS) can come in handy. It enables PMs to break down their projects by deliverables that must be achieved to reach particular software development goals. PMs can also link specific tasks to these deliverables and allocate them to the appropriate developers. Then, PMs can calculate the time required for executing these activities and sum it up to determine the total time required for project completion.

By using WBS, a project manager can establish a comprehensive project diagram depicting the entire development process, which makes it easily traceable and more controllable (this is where visualization tools such as Gantt charts can also come in handy). Additionally, since WBS highlights the connections between all involved developers, it helps PMs distribute risk management responsibilities across multiple team members efficiently.

4. Development

As code security largely determines the safety of an entire solution, managing risks at this stage is particularly critical.

Common risk factors:

  • Low-quality code – By creating duplicated, overcomplicated, or hard-to-read code, developers can increase risks of security vulnerabilities, complicate future testing activities, and make the solution more challenging to maintain.
    • Mitigation tips: Developers should follow secure coding principles and ensure their code complies with recognized development regulations and frameworks, such as ISCCS or NIST SSDF, to ensure better code quality.
  • Vulnerable software components Any software components, such as files, frameworks, or libraries, are potentially vulnerable and may serve as entry points for malefactors aiming to infect a solution’s code.
    • Mitigation tips: Developers must track all software components used in the solution’s code base and regularly check them for vulnerabilities. To handle this task, developers can compile a software bill of materials (SBOM) – a detailed list of all components present in the solution’s codebase. SBOM includes information about versions and licenses of all software components, as well as highlights the dependencies between them, making components easily traceable and manageable.

5. Testing

At the testing stage, QA specialists assess the quality of the newly built solution, while eliminating bugs and security vulnerabilities. They also eliminate UX issues and ensure user expectations are met, so this stage is essential for project success.

Common risk factors:

  • Voluminous test data – In a typical software development project, testers have to handle vast amounts of test data. The inability to manage this data efficiently can decrease testing performance, leading to more vulnerable software containing errors and bugs.
    • Mitigation tips: An IT team can avoid this challenge by implementing a robust test data management tool for centralizing and visualizing test data. To maximize testing efficiency, teams can use AI-enabled solutions providing advanced data management capabilities, such as self-service data provisioning, test data visualization, and data subsetting.

6. Deployment

After quality assurance, developers should make their solution available for users by deploying it to a production environment. Release management is one of the most critical aspects of the deployment phase, as it affects software time to market directly.

Common risk factors:

  • Slow release cycles Developers unable to deploy solutions efficiently cannot timely release software updates to enhance software based on user feedback, which can negatively affect the user experience.
    • Mitigation tips: Building an automated CI/CD pipeline and monitoring its performance continuously allows developers to speed up the release of updates and accelerate code delivery to end users.

Final thoughts

Software development is a complex process fraught with a wide range of risks. These may cause various issues, ranging from software delivery delays and budget overruns to data compromises, reducing the project’s chances of success.

Development teams can implement software development risk management practices into their projects to help businesses avoid these and other issues. Integrating risk management into all stages of SDLC is also preferable for more comprehensive risk mitigation.

Decision-makers can also consider engaging IT consulting specialists early in development, as their expertise can help identify even hidden development pitfalls and risks and plan and execute a tailored risk management strategy.


Roman Davydov

Roman Davydov is a technology observer at Itransition. With more than four years of experience in the IT industry, Davydov follows and analyzes digital transformation trends to guide businesses in making informed software buying choices.

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