Software development in its entirety sounds like brain surgery to most, and largely, it almost is. Nobody wakes up one day and becomes a software developer without working hard for it. Software engineering is a vital field, and for a computer or mobile hardware to run, it needs software; otherwise, the hardware is nothing more than metal, silicon, and plastic. The use of tools such as UML (Unified Modeling Language) helps software and system developers in the software development process.
Luckily, you do not have to study software development, and you can outsource the process to a software development team that is well equipped to handle your project from start to finish. Most software developers use Agile, which is described as an iterative approach to project management and software development. Agile helps a software development team deliver faster by delivering the project in small increments. Everything from plans, requirements, and results are continuously evaluated to provide the software development team with a mechanism that lets them respond quickly to change.
Excellent software has to go through a plan and a process, and you can choose from one of several software development processes. This article will guide you on the basics of software development as well as cover the good and the not so good features of the top five development processes. First, we shall cover the software development cycle (SDLC) and why it is crucial to have one.
Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)
Each software goes through the process from idea to fruition, and this process is known as a software development process or SDLC, which is a several step, iterative process. Each step of the SDLC process creates a specific output, which in turn is used as an input for the following step in the process until you get to your desired goal. You can never really finish developing software, as after launch you have maintenance. The launch of your first software version is another step in your software’s cycle.
It is important to be aware of your development steps and have a clear-cut process, but that is not to mean you cannot launch your software without the process in place. Today, software development processes are much easier owing to years of iteration, testing, and development, making the creation of new tools easier on the pocket, less stressful, and more efficient.
The disadvantage of a lack of a software development plan means lower quality, failure, or longer project timeframes. The developers have no idea what they are developing without a plan, and the project managers have no idea of the project’s progress, or whether it is still on or over budget.
The SDLC has seven stages, which include:
The first step as a software developer is planning, which involves:
- Aligning the project to the client’s bigger picture, aka goals and mission
- Whether you have the resources such as tools and people to take on the project
- How the project fits with your company culture and goals
- How much the project will cost from start to finish.
Planning ensures you do not start a project on the wrong foot, and it is crucial that you include all involved departments such as the project managers, security, operations, developers, etc. When you are through with the planning, you need to have gathered enough data to put together a plan or SOW (Scope of Work) that shows exactly what you are building or the software design, and how you envision it at the end of the project
You need to gauge the technical needs of the project, do a requirement analysis, use case, and list all software, such as apps or new features that will be a solution to actual problems. Ask questions on the SOW such as:
- What problem the application development solves
- Who will use it and for what purpose
- What kind of information input and output is necessary
- Whether you need integration with any other tools such as CASE (computer-aided systems or software engineering) etc.
- How privacy and security will be taken care of
Once you have answers to the above questions, your development team can now begin scoping out their technical needs, terms of testing, and choose a technology stack. This is the point where, if you are making use of Agile processes, you can now sprint plan or break the project into more actionable and manageable steps of the application development.
3. Design and prototyping
Once everything you need is firmly decided, you can now design the software’s appearance and functionality. This phase, depending on which software development process you are using, means you might have to create a simple software design to demonstrate how software interactions will function or design fuller prototypes that will be tested with users. You can also opt for a design sprint to get feedback from users before doing the actual coding.
4. Software Development
The next step is to carry out the development of software in line with the requirements and Scope of Work (SOW). This system design stage is the most difficult and full of potential risks. Depending on whether you are building an MVP, using agile sprints, or using the more conventional waterfall method, the focus should be to follow the SOW and run an efficient software project that builds an actual product that does what it is supposed to do.
During the software development stage, you will be doing tests, tracking bugs, fixing any vulnerabilities, and refactoring. The final software product is ready, but before you release it, you need to carry out one more round of deep tests. You can do this by employing UX tools for tracking how users interact with the software or releasing the software to a tiny cluster of beta testers.
Testing could take a while, as it is crucial that you rule out bugs so that you do not release a vulnerable software and ruin your company reputation, make you lose money and waste time you would have used for features that are more worthwhile.
After your software development team has worked hard to build an excellent software product, here comes the D-day or the deployment day. The day has come for launching the software to all the users and ensuring your code goes into production. Most software developers automate this step via an ARA or Application Release Automation.
Deployment does not mean the SDLC process is over. As the name suggests, the SDLC is a continuous life cycle that goes on in post-deployment as well. Customer needs and requirements are not static, and the more users interact with your software, they will need you to add or remove features, as they encounter bug as well as refactoring, and more. The software product also needs maintenance and basic upkeep to prevent downtimes and improve user experience. The customer feedback goes into your task list as a priority and becomes part of the software’s roadmap.
The Best Software Development Processes
As mentioned earlier, the SDLC is a basic guide on how to build an efficient software architecture. As much as you might need to follow all the steps outlined above, the order of how to follow them through is up to you. Various software development processes exist which can handle more sophisticated projects, but you have to decide which one works for you.
The right software development model is determined by your project size, your goals, and various other factors. To help you decide, here are some of the best software development processes as well as their pros and cons.
a) Waterfall Model Software Development Process
The Waterfall software development process is also known as the Classic lifecycle or linear sequential model. This process is among the oldest software building models. Think of it as taking each SDLC steps outlined earlier in sequence, finishing one step, and moving on to the next. In practicality, however, the steps slightly overlap, and between them, feedback passes between them.
This method is also be referred to as plan-driven because if you need to finish a project, you must learn what has to be done, and in what sequence, hence the term Waterfall, as each phase flows into the next phase chronologically. The Waterfall software development process models work better for instances when your technology stacks, goals, and requirements are not likely to evolve during the process; for example, a short development project.
It works beautifully for development teams who have unyielding structures and strict documentation requirements. This process is suitable for large organizations such as government agencies, which are strict on sign-offs and require documentation on each requirement and SOW before a development project commences.
If you need user feedback, you are on a new product testing, or you probably want to be a little more extra in your development, the Waterfall process is not your style. It is a more straightforward process but is too rigid. You cannot create and test prototypes or MVPs, then change your mind midway. You might end up making a huge mistake and not know it till deployment day!
b) Agile Development and Scrum
As mentioned earlier, the agile software development process and its popular software development methodology Scrum use iterative development in their approach. Contrary to the Waterfall’s rigid flow, an agile model such as Extreme Programming (XP) or Rational Unified Process (RUP) is more fluid, and its teams operate in 2 weeks or two-month sprints to build and launch a usable product for the customers to give feedback on.
Agile development thrives on fast movement, regular release, and the response to the needs of the users, even if it is contrary to your original plan. This does not negate in any way the need for a requirements list and an SOW before commencing on the project. The difference is you are doing things in a particular way with the knowledge that you will have to change tactics along the course of the project.
Because of its user-specific nature, a tech company may use an agile model, as well as startups who need to test new software or who are doing updates for older products. Agile makes it possible to make small launches, gather user feedback, and allow most companies test theories and move faster on projects without having to do a risk analysis as well as a requirements analysis for fear of losing tons of money if the users hate the product. Since testing is done after every iteration, you can easily track bugs or go back to a previous version if the bugs are too much to give the team members time to fix the problem.
If you are on a tight timeline and budget, this software development process is not for you. On the other hand, since Agile is dynamic, its projects might end up going beyond the set budget or timeline, collide with the current architecture, or get mismanaged.
a) Incremental and Iterative Software Development Process
This software development process sits between the rigid structure of the Waterfall process and the more flexible nature of Agile. Both processes create small pieces of software and release them to users to get feedback, but their major difference is the product you build in every release.
In the incremental development process, there is an increment to the product during each subsequent release, either in the form of a new feature or function. It is like having a plan, creating an MVP that only has core functions, and adding to its features depending on what users suggest. This process is for large projects and for those teams who need a lot of flexibility and quick feedback for their core features, allowing them to get validation for their product and to allow customers to get early user experience and a clear picture at what the final product will look like.
The incremental software development process is not suitable for teams with a short-term technology plan. It is very tricky to add rigidity to flexible processes. In time, your goalposts may have shifted, or technologies evolved, making the iterations you were using obsolete. If you keep adding functionality, your base code may become too big. This process is not suited for small teams or projects who are looking for a product-market fit or doing tests.
a) V-shaped Software Development Process
The V-model makes up for the lack of testing in the Waterfall development method. Instead of working in a sequence through all the steps and testing at the very end of the project, the V-shaped process is the opposite. Each stage in the V-shaped software development process has at the tail end a stringent validation and verification stage where all the requirements are tested before going into the next step
The phases include:
- High-level designing user interface
- Low-level designing user interface
- Unit tests
- Integration testing
- System tests
- Acceptance tests
The V-shaped process is for those teams with small projects and a tighter scope and rigid requirements. Rather than risk following a plan, only to discover the product has issues at the last minute, this process allows you to keep testing at every next stage. Nothing is perfect, and the cons of this process are the exact opposite of its positives.
This process is not for teams who need early feedback from users or who want flexibility. As mentioned, the process is pretty rigid in its structure and testing. With no early feedback from users, you might end up building the wrong product. It is also near impossible to make a specific plan for larger projects, which is why it is suited for small projects.
b) Spiral Software Process
This process is an eclectic mix of the focus on risk assessment and testing in the V-shaped process and the incremental qualities of Iterative, Incremental as well as Agile. Once you have a plan in place for specific milestones, you need to do a serious risk analysis for the identification of bugs, errors, and areas that pose the most risk.
If, in the grand scheme of things, you formulate a feature that has not yet been validated by users. Instead of adding it to your milestone, you might get away with prototyping and test it with customers before you move into the development phase. After the completion of every milestone, the scope spirals further, and you can now start another phase of planning and assessing risks.
The spiral model is excellent for teams working on large projects who want to avoid taking risks. The main purpose of any project is to minimize risk. If you have a large project that needs you to keep a strict log of all validation and documentation, this type of process is the most stable. It is also an advantage if a client is unsure of the requirements and expects to make many changes along the way.
This process is not for everyone and mostly looks better on paper than in practice because of its cost and time. It is most suitable as an example of critical thinking when contemplating an iterative approach to quality software development.
When building quality software, the paths might seem overwhelming, but remember that every process of software development and methodology boils down to four principles:
- Understanding the software- knowing what you are building and why
- Building it- designing and development of a working product
- Testing phase- Releasing it to users to get feedback
- Evolving the software by using client feedback to improve the product.
Use the above steps to pick the right development process for your team. Study the SDLC steps, understand them, pick a process, give it a try, and get feedback from your development team. Since they are life cycle models, if it fails the first time, try to understand what went wrong, choose a different process, and start afresh.