As a software engineer, one of your top goals is to develop innovative, distinct, and useful technologies. Software (and other products) that push the envelope of innovation are the ones most likely to be applicable for many different functions. However, these products also come with higher levels of risk. New technologies may not have been tested enough, and their functionality, performance, or organizational use may also be in question. This is why having a risk mitigation plan is critical for software engineering applications.
Every software development project is carried out with a certain level of uncertainty. Engineers who are able to identify and mitigate such risks are in a better position to develop successful projects. Risk mitigation during software engineering begins with analyzing the risk environment and identifying, assessing, and managing such risks.
Risk mitigation is a critical component of software engineering and should be incorporated during every step of the coding process.
Types Of Risk During Software Development
Whether you’re new to software development or you’re a veteran within this field, it can be challenging to keep up with the evolving risks that could threaten the success of your project. Some types of risk are well known and documented (such as data and performance risks), while others will change depending on your specific workflows (such as functionality, new features, and architecture).
Here are some common types of risks that you can expect to come across during your software engineering project.
1. New, unproven, or untested technologies
Software engineers develop new technologies that are designed to solve the current problem. Whether you’re coding a new mobile application to help process payments faster, or a new platform that streamlines data storage, you’ll be likely diving into the realm of unproven or untested technologies.
Even with proper testing, your project might feature innovative techniques, standards, and tools that haven’t been proven in the market. Unproven technologies come with risks that could potentially cripple your project. For example, can the technology be used in a harmful or illegal way? Are the standards safe for all applications intended? Accounting for these related risks will be critical to the success of your upcoming efforts.
2. The relationship between users and functionality
Every software should have specific user and functionality requirements. It can be challenging to synchronize the needs of software users and the required functionality of your platform. In fact, evolving user requirements (in terms of features, quality, and applications) can lead to significant changes in the functionality of your software. This is why you should account for user and functionality requirements during the entire course of your project.
Performance is another common risk that your project will face. As a software engineer, you should have pre-established benchmarks in place to closely monitor performance and mitigate associated risks.
4. Data security
In an increasingly tech-savvy world, data security continues to become a primary concern. Your software project may be susceptible to numerous data security issues, such as phishing, malware, and unauthorized access. Mitigating data security risks is a collective responsibility that includes management, employees, and other stakeholders.
5. Organizational challenges
Another significant challenge that your engineering project may encounter is organizational structure. Not all companies have the right framework to support an on-going (or upcoming) software development project. Therefore, you should account for any execution-related issues and strive for a balance between development goals and the expectations of customers and management.
Understanding Risk Mitigation During a Software Project
Being aware of the risks that your project faces is only the first step. After identifying and analyzing these risks, you also need to develop a mitigation plan. Risk mitigation is the process of determining a specific course of action that you can take to reduce the impact of a potential threat to coding and software implementation. You may decide to accept, avoid, control, transfer, or monitor a risk that you come across during your project. Any mitigation process will involve a combination of the 5 activities mentioned.
In more detail, your risk mitigation options include:
1. Accepting the risk
Risk acceptance involves an official acknowledgment that you’re likely to face a particular threat during your coding process. You would then accept this risk without any significant project changes. An example would be organizational challenges. If your company’s framework could inherently cause risk during software engineering, you may accept these risks and develop workflows that are consistent with your company structure.
2. Avoiding the risk
Another mitigation step you can take is avoiding the risk altogether. This can be done by altering your coding techniques, the scope of the project, or timelines to ensure that you don’t encounter the said risk. You might adjust your workflows to absorb and respond to the impact of these risks such that they won’t cripple progress if it were to occur.
Controlling a risk involves minimizing the potential impact of occurrence. You can also limit how intense the risk would be if it were to occur. For example, encrypting sensitive project data could minimize the impact of a data breach or hacking attempt across online channels.
You also have the option of transferring a risk that your software engineering project might face. Risk transfer involves implementing an organizational shift that will move accountability and responsibility to another stakeholder. Insurance is an excellent example of risk transfer. If you sign up for a policy that covers you from a specific type of risk, you’re basically transferring that risk to the insurer.
5. Continuous monitoring
If you’re facing a risk that will have a low impact on your coding process, you may decide to monitor the risk to determine its potential impact.
Why Is Risk Mitigation Important For Software Engineers?
Having a risk mitigation plan is beneficial in many different ways. Not only will you avoid budget and timeline complications, but you’ll also keep your data secure and meet the expectations of users and the company itself.
The good news is that you can follow specific steps (explained in the next section) to mitigate risks that you might face during software engineering. These steps include a combination of identifying, classifying and monitoring your risk environment. But to truly mitigate software risks, you ‘ll need to track threats before they escalate and prioritize your risk mitigation plan to avert the most significant concerns.
Steps To Mitigating Risks During Your Engineering Project
Risk mitigation helps you avert many different threats that could potentially paralyze your project. By following a series of specific steps, you can steer your project activities in the direction of avoiding threats and handling them as soon as they arise.
Here are six specific steps to help you mitigate software engineering risks.
1. Identify and track risks early
The most critical aspect of risk mitigation is identifying and tracking risks before they become crippling problems. You can achieve this goal by listing out your core software features and assessing the potential issues that you might encounter.
In most cases, software features can be categorized into three main factors: volatility (the probability that something will change), completeness (the known and unknown variables of the feature), and complexity (how complicated the feature is to develop and implement). You can then use these three variables to determine the potential for risk occurrence.
For example, an incomplete, highly volatile, and complicated software feature will present a high probability of risk occurrence. Such a feature should be closely monitored so that threats are identified before they become worse. On the other hand, a complete, lowly volatile, and simple feature may only need minimal risk tracking.
2. Prioritize your mitigation plan
From the previous step, you can see that not all risks are the same. Some have a high likelihood of occurrence and could also cause significant issues. Others are less likely to occur, based on the knowledge of your software features. Make sure you prioritize high likelihood and high impact risks during the mitigation process.
Focus on the impact first, as this is what may affect the success of your project. For example, a highly likely risk that causes minimal impact may not be worth dedicating resources to. You should, instead, focus on a less likely risk that has a high impact if it were to occur.
You can also use a risk assessment matrix to classify each type of risk by impact and probability of occurrence. In this way, you’ll have a strategic process in place to identify and prioritize all threats accordingly.
3. Leverage agile techniques to address software risks
A critical part of risk mitigation involves using the agile approach to software development. This approach refers to breaking down your software engineering process into manageable chunks that can be easily adjusted as necessary.
Agility is key because you can decide on how to handle each type of risk that affects your project. For example, risks that can be anticipated should be deferred to the later stages of your software development process. This allows you to work with more complete, less volatile, and less complicated features of your project before introducing riskier variables.
If you’re unable to predict any risks associated with your software development process, tackle the most uncertain components first to ensure that your coding is feasible.
4. Plan your risk mitigation process and share this information with stakeholders
Risk mitigation is a collective effort that involves multiple stakeholders. For example, transferring or avoiding a specific risk may require you to communicate with clients, departmental teams, and management. This is why you should plan your risk mitigation process and communicate all plans to the people involved.
5. Closely track the variables of your project
Sometimes you can identify if your software engineering project has encountered risk by tracking specific variables. The three most common variables that could potentially affect performance include schedule, budget, and scope. If your software project has gone over budget, is taking too long, or isn’t addressing the appropriate scope, you may have encountered a risk that needs mitigation.
6. Develop clear channels for providing feedback
Whether you’re planning to accept, avoid, transfer, or even control a specific risk, you’ll need to develop clear channels for providing timely feedback. Every member of your software engineering team should be able to share the challenges they come across and participate in solving them before the risk turns into a full problem that could derail the project.
You can encourage timely feedback by scheduling regular meetings and taking advantage of project management tools.
Risk mitigation is a critical part of your software engineering project. By identifying, assessing, and determining how you’ll handle specific threats, your project is more likely to remain on course, within budget, and delivered on schedule. Make sure you plan to ensure that your risk mitigation plan is effective for your specific applications.
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