Software Development Standards – Are They Still Relevant?

Discover How the Standards for Software Development Helps Businesses Improve

We have all heard the term “software development standards” thrown about at least once in our lives. However, the terms itself is an anomaly. In today’s hyper-competitive tech world, it’s the little coding quirks and practices that set your product apart from the competition.

However, there are certain niches and industries, which require that software solutions designed for them adhere to a certain set of practices and frameworks. These industries, such as information security or finance have very low tolerances of failure, which trickle down into their software systems as well. For example, the ISO 20022 is a standard accepted internationally, which deals with local and international payments providers.

Today, strategies like agile methodology, which disparages the use of extensive documentation and adherence to strict guidelines, have bought into question the relevancy of these software standards. And as more small and enterprise software development services adopt agile, there is a growing discontent among developers.

So the questions arises, are standards for software development still relevant? And if so, then why? Let’s find out together.

Why do We Need Software Development Standards?

Software developers working together

In software development or software engineering, standards refer to any protocols, practices, or documentation that outlines how software products and solutions are developed. Most large or well-established software firms have this type of documentation on hand, and are usually only followed when developing something internal for the company.

Nowadays, nearly everything around us is run by software. From everyday devices like phones and televisions, the advent of IoT and smart devices means that passive devices like doorbells, lighting fixtures, appliances, a software now runs even your house thermostat!

With so many devices in a home now run by a software, it’s a high possibility that the average house has devices from a number of different manufacturers. And unless there are some software standards related to compatibility, chances are that the devices would have a hard time connecting with each to form a smart home network. And that is the entire purpose of these smart devices in the first place.

In the world of engineering, the engineers follow a comprehensive design-build-release methodology, which allows them to create robust devices that are easy to connect with each other. However, the limitations caused by the software aspect of those devices prevent that interconnectability in many cases. And the reason is because the majority of software development industry follows a build-break-fix model.

By adopting this engineering model and moving from a software development mindset to a software engineering mindset would help the industry produce robust, secure, and compatible products consistently.

What Does Compliance Mean and Why Do We Need It?

Team lead teaching junior best practices

Compliance in software development means to comply with the standards of software development. This process requires that there is extensive documentation in order to process compliance. However, that often runs into problems with many software teams, especially those that conform to the agile methodology.

There is a common belief that agile prioritizes openness to change and work over comprehensive and binding documentation. However, the actual situation is a little different. The truth is that agile isn’t actually against creating documentation. Agile is just against creating documentation, or anything, that doesn’t add value to the overall project.

However, in the case of software compliance, it does add value to the project. Using it, developers can easily create high quality software products consistently. And as software development today is all about providing value to the consumer, it means that even agile can and does use some form of documentation to help it adopt software development standards.

The world of software engineering is a vast one, and software quality assurance is part of that. Therefore, its understandable that a methodology as adaptive as agile would be able to accommodate the inclusion of software documentation into it, in order to judge compliance.

What Does Poor Quality Cost?

Developers discussing QA feedback

The impact of quality in the absence of failure is quite apparent when seen. It usually presents with a lack of consistency in quality, as well as production. Most people assume that poor quality products cost a business less to produce.

And while this may be true for industrial production, the opposite is true for software development. In software development, a poor quality product is what ends up costing more. From dealing with its problems in the first place, to spending more time and resources in fixing them, software products with little to no quality adherence can end up overrunning the project budget quite quickly.

Now, its often seen that many of the bugs or issues found in software that can result in major to near-catastrophic failures are because of developers cutting corners, and creating subpar codebases. And the reason for that is that there is a lack of standards compliance in those teams. If those developers are audited according to the software development standards set right from the start, chances are that the issues could be greatly reduced in number.

According to famous Dutch computer engineer Edsger Dijkstra in an interview, the hallmark of a reliable and effective programmer is to spend the least amount of time debugging their code, by ensuring that they do not introduce them in the first place.

Similarly, according to a market researcher who has been studying the software development industry for decades, there is a visible trend in software development cost based on standards compliance. According to the researcher, the cost for a project rises significantly from phase to phase, starting from the requirements gathering and then moving on up. However, based on their quality control and compliance, the change tapers off in later stages if software development standards are followed, and rises steeply if not.

We can say that based on how well you adhere to the quality standards, your costs rising can be healthy, or pathological.

The Need for Adopting and Following Software Development Standards

Team of QA and developers

We know that software development standards have a great impact on the quality of product being delivered, as well as its overall cost and ease of maintainability. Therefore, we need to adopt and comply with those standards, even when you are outsourcing QA.

The question however, is what would be the best time to apply them? Should compliance be checked for at the end of the project, or is it better to start early and continue it throughout the project?

Let’s find out.

Its understandable that when there is something wrong in the software code that needs fixing, it will require more money and time from the project. And the further down the development line that the issue is found, the higher the cost will be. But why does that happen?

The reason for it is quite simple. The earlier you catch the issue that needs to be resolved, the quicker can developers fix it without affecting any code that comes after that issue. However, if caught later, then there will need to be a lot of fixes made, depending on the functionality and impact of the code surrounding that issue.

This is why experts say that that implementing development standards and ensuring their compliance is essential throughout the project, and not at the end of it. Currently, the vast majority of software development teams do not incorporate nor check for compliance a set of software standards. And that results in issues that are detrimental in the long run.

  • As there are no specific software guidelines, software development approaches are widely different even among developers from the same team. That means that if we give the same task to three different developers on the team, its highly likely that the result would be highly different solutions from all three.
  • With no set standards, development teams have no best practices to follow or adhere to. These best practices aren’t just suggestions. In fact, they are rules and guidelines that dictate what developers can and cannot do. And while it may be a hassle for developers to follow what they believe to be arbitrary rules, they are in fact devised from a collection of knowledge and experience. Think of it like electrical or construction safety standards, that help engineers build safe products.
  • Finally, as unlike engineers in other domains, many software developers comes from diverse backgrounds. That means that unlike those other engineers, they may not be aware of any specific standards or development rules before starting work on the project. However, if they are given a specific set of standards to follow, they might be more consistent in the quality they deliver.  

ISO Standards You Need To Follow For Your Next Software Project

Floor full of software developers

After discussing about the impacts of not following the specified software development standards, we now know why these set of rules and guidelines are important for efficient software development. We now know that these standards provide value by improving the overall safety and reliability of your codebase, which are easy to maintain and scale.

However, many of the testing tools today are focused more highly upon finding defects or prominent issues in the code, and ignore underlying problems like unsustainable code snippets or weak structure. And while finding bugs is important to building a secure and robust product, developing a safe and sustainable software product needs a lot more than just bug fixing.

Let’s take a look at some software standards set by ISO, or the International Organization for Standardization, and discover what areas of development they touch upon.

  • ISO/IEC 12207

This ISO standard is one of the most important software standards devices by the ISO, and is interchangeable with ISO/IEC 15288. Both of these ISO standards deal with software development, specifically the different software development processes.

It includes all processes in the primary lifecycle and any supporting processes, and devices specific actions for each process and sub process defined.

These standards work by establishing a proper framework for the software processes throughout the entire lifecycle.

  • ISO/IEC 15939

This ISO standard deals with the software measurement process. It iterates the specific activities and processes that are needed to develop, implement, and improve the software development KPI measurement process for your software. However, it doesn’t offer a list of these said software metrics, nor does it give us any tools that could help us measure the quality of our software project or process.

  • ISO/IEC 29119

This ISO standard for software development specifically deals with the software testing aspect of the project. It outlines the best practices for all aspects of custom software development, including architecture engineering and software testing.

This standard is not bound to any specific software development model, and its core tenet is to reduce the impact of risk in a project by mitigating it, or avoiding it if mitigation is not possible. As such, it focuses organizations to focus on their most critical operations, by prioritizing their risk management over everything else.


To sum up the entire topic, we can say that software development standards help businesses reap massive benefits in terms of data security, improved reliability, clarity in operating procedures, and an overall improvement of your software cycle.

If you incorporate a proper ISO system in your organization’s software development team, you will see increased benefits from improved identification of any present or future risks. This in turn will help you reduce the impact of potential issues in the future, helping you save costs over time.


1- Which ISO standard is most suitable for software development?
ISO 5055 is an ISO standard for measuring the internal structure of a software product on four business-critical factors: Security, Reliability, Performance Efficiency, and Maintainability. This makes it the best option for software development.
2- What are IEEE software standards?
ISO/IEC/IEEE International Standards are all quality standards. IEEE, or Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, is an international standards association.  This International Standard establishes a common framework for application lifecycle management processes, with well-defined terminology, that can be referenced by the software industry.
3- Why are software development standards important for developers?
Software development standards check and enforce code readability and maintenance. By going for consistency, it allows developers in the project to maintain the software and add new functionality easily.
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