Digital Platform Development Lifecycle
Updated: Jul 9, 2019
Usman Wajid, James Tryand (ICE)
The development of a Digital platform has been a popular discussion topic in information technology in recent times. A digital platform not only facilitates exchanges between multiple groups of users, it also serves or enables other digital tools and services. The development of a digital platform involves several phases, with multiple activities taking place in each phase to support the transition from idea conception to platform realisation.
The figure (above) highlights some of the key phases in the platform development lifecycle. This is primarily drawn from our experience of working on multiple platform development prsojects funded by the European Commission’s Framework Programmes. These EC projects are typically large-scale collaborative initiatives where multiple teams from research and industry work in tandem to design, develop, validate and deliver innovative solutions that address emerging user needs. The direct involvement of target users, direct involvement of stakeholders in the development activities, fixed budget and time constraints differentiate EC projects from industrial platform development initiatives where the development phases and activities evolve over time based on changes in user behaviours or market factors.
In our view, the platform development lifecycle shown above provides ideas, guidelines and reference information for both industrial as well as innovation projects. Of course, each project is bounded by its requirements, methodology, plan etc. and there can be much debate about the merits of individual phases and activities shown in the figure. One thing, however, is certain that having clear ideas and reference information helps in planning and improving the development activities.
Our platform development lifecycle is complemented by the maturity levels from the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI). CMMI is a process improvement tool that helps organisations streamline process improvement and encourage productive, efficient behaviours that decrease risks in software, product and service development.
A brief overview of the different platform development phases and associated CMMI maturity levels is provided below. In particular, as each step is made up of different combination of activities and practices. It is important to note that the following overview is not prescriptive as it can and should be adjusted when digital platform development projects are designed and developed.
Purpose: All projects start at the initial stage or Maturity Level where disparate resources (partners, technologies, components etc) are brought together to create a new development process. New activities need to be documented, allowing partners to reliably design new processes and discuss the plans for the later phases
Inputs: Identification of a need for a new platform and associated business ecosystem
Outputs: Concept definition and value chain proposition for a new platform and ecosystem. Analysis of state of the art in existing systems and processes and identification of gaps
Purpose: The collaboration of the engaged partners or development teams to consider not only the guiding principles but also the context, factors and dimensions concerning the ecosystem and platform’s value proposition
Inputs: The original value proposition for the ecosystem and platform; prospective partners that are to be engaged during the building of the platform and ecosystem
Outputs: Onboarding and consensus of the partners and/or development teams involved in the platform development, the definition of teams and clarity on objectives; ecosystem and value chain definitions
Purpose: This is the agreement upon roles and cooperation between partners for the different aspects of the platform, including project plan
Inputs: The partner teams that are to be involved, a direction (as detailed project plan) and the specification of the components (as tasks) that are believed to be necessary for the implementation of the platform
Outputs: Vision consensus and agreement to collaborate towards building the platform based on the agreed direction that provides value not just for the partners but all stakeholders. This does not necessarily mean full consensus, merely the agreement for collaboration.
Purpose: This phase effectively kick starts the development activities in a project where different processes are planned, measured and their control mechanisms are well defined and implemented. The focus is on the management of requirements, processes, perceived products and services. One aim is to identify stakeholders and give them ownership of specific tasks
Inputs: Consensus on project direction along with clarity on partners, their roles and the vision of the value proposition that the platform will address
Outputs: Epics, user and technical stories with acceptance criteria and direction for each of the partners involvement in the development activities and processes
Purpose: This phase is reached when the development process is well characterised, understood and described in the standards, procedures, tools and methods. The processes should be documented and continually improved to some extent over time. This phase brings more organisation and standardisation to the development activities by making them more reliable and efficient
Inputs: Clear understanding of user stories and measures to realise those. Allocation of partners to specific stories and associated technical tasks to be able to deliver the platform
Outputs: CI/CD pipeline established, identification of risks, costs, definitions as well as measures and metrics for the associated components of the value chain recorded as technical issues
Purpose: This phase is the core activity of the development cycle, and in addition to functionality, the aim is to be able to prioritise the development of the pieces of value for the platform. This phase will be run in parallel with the later stages of the project
Inputs: Demands of features, functionality for the platform along with the different partner teams within the project
Outputs: Prioritised releases of artefacts that provide value for the platform and the ecosystem
Purpose: This phase ensures that the different aspects of the projects can work together and provides value at a higher level than the individual component. This should demonstrate full capability in vertical slices that grow as the maturity of the Platform and ecosystem increase
Inputs: End to end metrics along with relevant partner inputs e.g. components, services etc
Outputs: Slices of end to end functionality and value e.g. for users in terms of fulfilment of certain requirements
Purpose: This phase is reached when development processes can be measured using defined metrics or demonstrated to be beneficial against the user or market needs. The development activities, already established through Scrum, are tested, refined and adapted through active user involvement. The market analysis, ecosystem and business modelling activities are established and adopted by now based on the involvement of relevant stakeholders
Inputs: The users, value proposition and value chain, along with the associated risks, costs, tasks and metrics
Outputs: Greater user engagement, refinements in technical activities through updates in measures and metrics
Purpose: This phase links developments with operations in order to shorten overall systems development lifecycle while being able to deliver value quickly and in close alignment with business objectives. This phase is differentiated from the integrations, as that is covering the syntheses of the individual components, while this takes it further to the build, release and operations for producing valid capabilities in short release cycles
Inputs: Discrete slices (covering development, deployment and testing) that are focused on releasing value for the platform and ecosystem
Outputs: Repeatable delivery of vertical slices of the value chain
Purpose: This phase opens up the platform for actual utilisation and open-innovation where possible through the mobilisation of the ecosystem. The value propositions will now be tested and the strategic alignment of platform value with organisational or business values is carried out
Inputs: Operational platform with initial interactions with user communities and ecosystem elements
Outputs: Operational platform with user interactions and ecosystem engagement. Functional and non-functional metrics that can form the basis for further refinements and optimisations
Purpose: At the final phase of the platform development lifecycle, the operations are continually monitored and improved based on user interactions. Throughout the previous phases the processes and technology implementations should be flexible to accommodate changes and further innovation. Development processes aren’t meant to be static and in this phase in the digital platform development lifecycle isn’t an end-point
Inputs: Operational platform with metrics for various level of internal and value chain activities
Outputs: Improvements and optimisations upon what has come before in the above phases
As mentioned above, the above lifecycle is not meant to be prescriptive as it can and should be adjusted when digital platform development projects are designed and developed. This is however agnostic to industry or sector as the platform development phases are not too much influenced by industry verticals.