Development Timeline as a Contract

20 Mar

Development timelines are a contract, in many ways.

Contract negotiation happens when developers sit down with management to hash out a release date for a product or feature. As with any other contract negotiation, both sides come to the table with their own demands, and there are concessions on both sides, but hopefully when the negotiation is over, both parties can be happy with the results. It is also essential that the terms of the contract are clear: if developers and management have different understandings of what feature XYZ entails, they might think they have come to an agreement when they haven’t; this will only lead to problems later, usually altered feature sets or later release dates.

It is important to keep in mind that contracts can be breached by either party, and this is certainly the case when dealing with timelines. If either side fails to hold up its end of the bargain, the timeline will slip and the contract will be broken. It’s obvious how developers can be in breach of this contract, and they are certainly usually the ones held responsible for it, but how can management be at fault? Well, it entirely depends on the negotiation process. If, for example, management assures the team that they will have a certain server in place and ready for production N days before release, and server deployment is delayed, development cannot be held accountable for the schedule slippage. Likewise if the development team asks for feature lockdown and management continues changing the specifications throughout the development cycle.

In an ideal situation, both parties of the contract are working towards the same goal: a product that will make the company more successful. What type of product that is exactly depends on the company, but goals that any team would strive for includes an intuitive interface, a useful feature set, and a bug-free user experience. With a set of shared goals, if both parties are able to hold each other accountable and enforce the terms of the contract, the end result is usually an on time release that both parties can be satisfied with.

In situations that are less ideal, where developers cannot expect management to live up to their terms of the contract, compromises will have to be made somewhere internally. A feature will silently go missing, the product will be poorly tested, or release dates will be moved back.


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