The software development process is complex; just like any other project inside a company, it needs to be carefully planned and managed. Companies deploy project management strategies in almost any aspect of their business. Why shouldn’t we have strategies to plan and manage something as complex as software development?
A development team that jumps into a development process without planning the work ahead is more likely to face delays, over-budgeting, and failure. For this reason, software development life cycle strategies are highly important in the software development sector. In this article, we’re going to discuss a software development life cycle, breaking down all the phases that are part of the software development process.
What is the software development life cycle?
A software development life cycle is a breakdown of all the phases involved in the software development process. Every company or development team can create its own custom software development life cycle that they replicate for all the development projects they work on. However, there are some basic principles common to all software development life cycle strategies that are, therefore, worth knowing. For example, every software development life cycle model is a variation of the following path:
- Requirement analysis
- Planning phase
- Product design phase
- Coding phase
- Testing phase
- Validation phase
- Deployment phase
- Maintenance phase
When a business has created its repeatable system development life cycle, it can deploy it for any software project they are involved in. Having such a foundation allows a development team to work with more speed and consistency, be more aware of the timeline and costs, avoid mistakes, and prevent issues in the short term; the software development life cycle optimizes the software development process making it more efficient, quicker, and cost-effective.
How does the software development life cycle work?
The software project life cycle breaks down the whole software development project into phases. Even though the developers know that each phase is connected to all the others, they can manage each of them separately. Every software development lifecycle step has goals, tasks, budget, documentation, assigned team, and deadline.
Each phase, furthermore, should have an output, a tangible result. For example, the output of the planning phase should be documentation related to the planning process and the plan that has been outlined, the output of the coding phase is code.
As we’ve mentioned, there is no assigned number of steps, but each company or team can create its own SDLC based on its resources, skills, habits, and expectations. However, some stages should be part of every SDLC. The order can change, but the phases we’re breaking down in the following paragraph shouldn’t be missing from your system development life cycle.
The Phases of the SDLC
As every project manager can teach us, the first step of every project, including a software project, should be a phase in which the team understands the requirements of their project. At this stage, you should define the following:
- benefits for the business
- needed resources (human resources, budget, software tools)
This stage does not only involve developers: it can also require some help from business analytics, for example, that can highlight aspects that developers may underestimate, like cost benefits analysis and value for the company.
This is also when the development team decides what kind of development approach they will adopt: will they code every single line? What programming languages are they going to use? Will they use no-code tools such as AppMaster? And if they use tools like AppMaster, will they edit the automatically generated code?
These questions need to be answered at this very early stage.
The output of the requirement analysis phase is the software requirement specification document that needs to include all the specifications (software, hardware, network, and security) of the upcoming project, other than, of course, the project schedule, cost estimation, and every detail discussed and devised during the requirement analysis phase.
Before moving on to design, code, and develop software, it’s important that the project manager, together with the assigned team, should outline the major aspects of the development process. During this phase, the development teams break down:
- The software architecture: databases, operating system, programming languages, APIs, frameworks
- User Interface design
- Infrastructure requirements
- Security (SSL encryption and certificate, password protection, and more)
Just like the output for the requirements analysis phase is a document called a Software requirements specification document, the output of the planning phase is documentation that is just as important. It is often called the Design Document Specification or DDS. It must include all the information developers need to create the software product.
Before jumping into coding (or alternative methodologies), the developer or team of developers must design their software product carefully. This is important to optimize the following phase. During the design phase, you’ll need to pinpoint the following:
- UI: how the user will interact with the platform;
- Programming: what approach will you adopt (code or visual programming, which programming language, which no-code tool)
- Communication: how the software will interact with other assets
- Platforms: what platforms are going to host the software
- Security: what measures you’re going to deploy to secure your software?
The coding phase is where software developers actually begin creating software. If they’ve chosen the most traditional approach, this is where they began writing code. If they have chosen a different approach, like low-code or no-code, this is where they start utilizing the no-code platform of choice, for example, AppMaster, and they start assembling the pre-built software blocks to design their software product.
You can easily understand how the coding phase can be optimized if the team has gone through all the previous phases. The coding work, or the use of the no-code platform, is now more straightforward: every team member knows what to do, what the limits are, and what the goals are. The coding phase isn’t completed until it has provided the required output that is testable and fully functional software.
The software provided in the previous development stage needs now to be tested in the testing phase. The tests can be run by the same team that worked on the software or a separate testing team. When is it preferable to separate a testing team from the main developing team? Whenever you deploy the traditional manual coding approach, the testing phase is more complex and longer, and it usually requires fresh eyes: in this case, it is preferable to a separate testing team.
If you, instead, choose the no-code approach, the software testing phase is quicker and easier. This is because the developer doesn’t write code manually and, therefore:
- On the one hand, the code is automatically generated and less subject to errors. Hence, the software testing phase is quicker;
- On the other hand, the developer hasn’t written the code so they have fresh eyes to undergo the software testing phase without the help of an additional testing team or person.
In this development stage, after all the system testing is completed, the software can be finalized. The validation phase is extremely important because what is finalized here is what will be soon realized to the public or deployed within the company.
The deployment phase is when the software is implemented on the selected platforms. For example, if you develop software for your company’s internal processes, this is when you provide your software project to your coworkers and they can start using it. If you develop a mobile app, you launch it on the select app stores in the deployment phase.
The development process doesn’t end when the software is released or deployed. As you may already know, all software requires maintenance. This is a fact that lasts for as long as your software keeps being used: you need to constantly update it, fix any possible issues that can occur, and maintain it at the top of its possibilities.
We’ve described the software development life cycle as a funnel-like path: each development stage comes after another and the following developing stage can’t start until the previous one is completed. However, we must clarify that the project life cycle doesn’t have to be strictly linear. On the contrary, you’ll often find yourself going back to previous stages during the development process to make improvements and optimize the project. The more you work and create software using the life cycle approach, the less you’ll need to go back to fixing your previous steps.
SDLC models & methodologies explained
While the development stages remain the same, their order or importance can differ. The approach to them can also be different. When we speak about the different ways of interpreting the software development life cycle, we speak about project life cycle models. This paragraph will discuss the most common software engineering life cycle models.
The waterfall model is the simplest model you can use in SDLC. It’s also known as the linear model and it requires that you can’t move to the next development stage until the one you’re working on is completed and has provided the required output. The order of the stages is the one described in the previous paragraph and rarely changes.
Iterative incremental model
With this model, the big software engineering project is broken down into smaller chunks. For example, each feature can be dealt with separately. When the different parts of the project are identified, every single one goes through all the different stages of the SDLC.
One of the most utilized models these days is the Agile model. The Agile methodology can be considered as a variation of the iterative incremental model: the Agile model breaks down a big software engineering project into smaller blocks, and each block is developed after the previous one is completed.
However, the project with the Agile methodology is constantly reviewed by the customer or anyone requiring the developing software service. The work is divided into chunks called sprints. At the end of each sprint, the work is reviewed and, while you can move on to the following sprint, you can also receive feedback on the previous one and fix or improve possible aspects when required. In the Agile model, there is a continuous interaction between development and testing. It is more flexible than any other model and that’s why it is widely used in the software development industry.
Benefits of SDLC
Just like it happens with any other type of project, planning and providing yourself and your team with a given footpath to follow during the process always enhances efficiency and productivity. The work is more efficient because you don’t have to decide on the following move at each stage; everyone involved shares the same workflow and knows what to do. Communication with the team and customers is also made easy, improving efficiency.
Because communication is improved, a collaboration between different teams or team members is also enhanced. When, for example, the requirement analysis team and the developing team are different and separated, the communication between the two, and the passage from one phase to another is made simple because the team that comes second is provided with a detailed document concerning the previous stage.
Higher success rate
With a clear path to follow, the work is optimized and enhanced. It consequently increases the chances of success of your development projects.
Because the early stages require detailed cost-benefit analysis, each stage is given a budget, and because mistakes are reduced (and therefore also times are reduced) the costs of the development process are inevitably lower when you deploy an SDLC.