The Black Line process of developing software is important to the success of a software development project because it means expectations are properly defined and set. The four main steps in the Black Line Software Development Process are the Sales Handoff, Internal planning, Client Kickoff, Build, and Quality Control.
Step 1: Sales Handoff
The first step in the Black Line Software Development Process is the sales handoff. It’s a meeting that occurs between the sales and the operations teams. The expectations, goals, and requirements of the project and the client are communicated through this meeting.
You can think of the sales handoff the same as an architect transferring information to the builder of a house. The homeowners may have given the architect details about what has inspired them to want to design features a certain way.
For example, they may have traveled to Europe for their honeymoon and were inspired by buildings that had an old world feel to them. If the architect gave the builder the blueprint without any explanation, they might miss those important nuances of the homeowners’ inspiration.
The same can be applied to custom software development and that’s why the transfer of knowledge and expectations from sales to our operations team is so important. We make sure that no detail gets left out, no matter how small.
Step 2: Internal Planning
Once the sales team transfers all of the details about the project to the operations team, they will start the construction plan. The construction plan lays out the steps in which the project will be executed. This includes planning who will be doing what and when, and the timeline for when milestones will be completed.
It is important that we first map out everything that needs to be done, rather than just jumping into it hoping for the best. We will give you the target dates for milestones, which is much better than “we’re going to start it up, I’ll let you know when it’s done”.
We know how important it is for businesses to know when projects will be ready because most likely this will be something vital to the business operating efficiently. You need to plan your transition accordingly, and we need to have a plan to keep ourselves organized and accountable.
One of the most frustrating things that can happen from the client’s perspective is having to re-educate the operations team about their project. We make sure that we do our due diligence and have the sales team properly educate the operations team in the handoff, so that when they present the construction plan to the client, it is accurate and thorough.
Step 3: Client Kickoff
After the construction plan is approved internally, the next step is to have a kick-off meeting between the Project Manager (Operations Manager) and the Client. The Project Manager will review the construction plan and target dates for milestones to be completed with the client.
This step is necessary before we start building to make sure the operations team accurately captured the requirements and goals of the project from the sales team, and so the client can begin developing a relationship with the team that will be building their software.
Step 4: Build
Now that the construction plan is complete, and the client along with the whole Black Line team are on the same page, we start development.
We follow the Agile approach to software development. This means that there is adequate planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continuous improvement.
Basically that means we plan everything. There is no “we’ll figure it out as we go. Software gets built in smaller pieces that can be tested and used, then we add and build off of that.
We develop a piece of the project, test it, then deploy it, so that it can be used by the client in a real life situation, and then build off of that.
This approach to building software gives us flexibility to adapt the software as we go, instead of deploying everything at the end and realizing it doesn’t work for the client as originally intended. We can test it in a real life scenario, and adapt it to function at the highest possible level.
This reduces risk and puts a real working piece of software in the hands of the client faster, which makes the transition smoother, because your company can learn the system as it evolves.
Once we develop, test, and deploy the first phase of a project, we repeat that process until all phases of the project are complete.
Step 5: Quality Control
Even though we label this as step 5, quality control is part of all steps. Within each part of the Black Line Software Development process, we have various quality control steps in place.
Our operations team has the majority of the quality control pieces. If you are talking to a Software Company that does not incorporate version control and staging for software deployment into their process, you should run as fast as you can the other way. I’ll explain why in the next two sections.
Version Control: There are so many different moving parts involved in software development and a normal part of it is when you change something, there’s a possibility that it’s going to break other parts that were working before. Version control makes it possible to go back to a previous version that was working to troubleshoot any problems.
If you make changes in version 2.6, then something goes wrong and you can’t tell what change did this, you can go back to version 2.5 to see what was working then, and what new changes are causing the problem. If you just keep editing code on top of code, you can get to this place where you have no idea where the problem came up and then you start changing and deleting parts that don’t need to change, and eventually you need to start over because it’s a big mess.
Staging Vs Production: The other part of the operations team quality control is how they deploy code. Software should first be deployed in a staging environment, which is a test environment that uses simulated scenarios and mock data to make sure everything is working properly to try and uncover bugs and problems before it is officially released.
A lot of small companies and independent developers will completely skip this step and deploy straight to production, which is the actual business environment that the software will be used in. If the company or person you were getting your software developed by skipped the staging step to test, and deployed your system straight to your operating environment, you could run into HUGE problems.
Our sales team does more than just “selling”. They act as consultants for our clients to make sure their needs are properly taken care of, and the expectations that were set in the beginning of the process stay consistent.
We bring the sales team back in at various points in the project to see how the project is going. They get to see how the project looks and how it is progressing. This gives an outside perspective from someone who is not fully encompassed in the build. This makes sure that all of the details that were passed on earlier in the process are still being captured properly.
This is the part of quality control that many people don’t think about, usually until something goes wrong. Our clients already have enough going on in this process, so the last thing we want them to worry about is getting billed wrong.
Our accounting team communicates with the operations, sales team, and client on a consistent basis to make sure that there are absolutely no miscommunications in billing.
At the heart of our project management philosophy is transparency in communication. The more transparent we are, the more trust we build. The emphasis on communication builds trust, and it reduces the typical project anxiety that comes with reengineering a business process that may have been established in company for a long time.
There's going to be anxiety around that naturally, so our team spends the time to communicate these types of challenges, and what's happening in our software development process at regular intervals to reduce project anxiety.
The process of how a company is going to develop the software that is essential to how your business is going to operate and grow shouldn’t be a secret.
If you’re curious about any parts of our process or how it could apply to your project, we’d be happy to schedule a free consultation with you. All you have to do is fill out this easy form here or give us a call at (630) 388-1700.