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Get the Job Done with These 7 Great Software Development Methodologies

Looking for the best software development methodology? Then here are some great suggestions.

Having the right software development framework is an essential element to the completion of any project, large or small. But with so many different types of software development methods, which, if any, should you choose?

Here we outline some of the most commonly adopted ones and highlight some of the main strengths and weaknesses between them.

What is a software development method?

As the name suggests, software development methodologies are a series of processes used to develop a piece of software. Such methods effectively break up the software development process into distinct phases, in an attempt to help improve the design, product, and project management of the entire project.

They will generally include various phases like planning, designing, developing, testing, and eventual deployment. 

Sometimes also called a software development life cycle (SDLC), such methods may also include pre-defined deliverables and artifacts that are created and completed by a project team to develop or maintain an application. The primary goal of most software development companies, and by extension their clients, is to keep software development costs low and quality as high as possible within a given timescale.

software development methods
Source: tamasrepus/Flickr

Today, there are quite a few methods commonly used, like Agile, while others include Waterfall, Prototyping, Iterative and Incremental Development, Spiral Development, Rapid Application Development, and Extreme Programming, to name but a few.

What are some of the most common methods used in software development?

As we have previously mentioned, there are plenty of different methodologies used in software development. Like anything in life, the best choice is usually relative to the requirements of a project, as well as the personal preference and knowledge of software development project managers.

There are some other considerations to take into account when choosing which methodology to choose. For example, project type and size, the skills of team members, financial resources, and preferences are also important things to consider when deciding on which methodology to use.

So, without further ado, here are some of the most common software development methodologies used today. Here we will give a brief overview of each and also discuss their perceived strengths and weaknesses. 

Please note, the following list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order. 

1. The big "A" - Agile

software development methods agile
Source: Lisamarie Babik - Ted & Ian/Wikimedia Commons

Agile is one of the most commonly used software development methodologies around. Not only that, but it has inspired, in part, many other software production methodologies.

The original agile software development method is primarily focussed on completing a project through collaborative efforts. One of its core components is the principle of iterations. 

Each iteration is a short-term development cycle that is well organized and is, in effect, a series of mini-projects that last between one and four weeks. Each iteration contains defined tasks like adding new functionalities, requirement(s) analyzing and planning, designing, coding, testing, and documenting.

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As the project progresses, and iterations also increase, the development team tends to reassess the project to prioritize any backlog that develops. Agile is great at helping to ensure that the final product is released on time and in good working order, as it is been gradually refined prior to release.

What are the benefits of the Agile software development method?

  • Agile helps deliver high-quality output, as the entire software development process is broken down into small, easy to achieve tasks and tests that drastically reduce the number of errors.
  • The methodology allows for creative improvements and modifications during the development process. Developers get to explore various modifications with the code.
  • Agile, as the name suggests, is very adaptive and does not rely on initial documentation for its completion. Applied changes tend not to result in setbacks that disrupt the project.
  • Budgets and costs tend to be well planned and managed with Agile. This is because each iteration has its own project estimation prior to the next one. 
  • Due to the focus on clarity, there are regular interactions and communication among the client, developers, and members of the production process, leading to a good working relationship (at least in theory). 

What are the disadvantages of the Agile software development method?

  • Any inconsistency in production specifications can result in a lack of initial clarity and project vision. Agile, therefore, is only as good as the team leaders.
  • Any lack of set or strict project deadlines can bog down the entire process. Like any project management system, this is not unique to Agile. 
  • Agile can suffer from unpredictable changes that will make it hard to estimate the costs and resources needed for completion. 

2. The Lean methodology is also pretty popular

software development methods lean
Source: Deagreez/iStock

Part of the Agile framework, Lean places emphasis on producing a low-cost piece of software that is as change-tolerant as reasonably possible.

Also known as the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) strategy, Lean is effectively used to deliver a bare-minimum version of a product to market. The development team will then learn from the response by the market to make improvements, or fixes, to the product in the future.

The software development method was adapted from lean manufacturing and maximizes resources by developing software with one-third of the funds, human efforts, and production time. The workflow in Lean tends to be minimal, with all forms of excesses such as meetings, documentation, etc. eliminated wherever possible. 

What are the benefits of the Lean software development method?

  • Lean is great for budget control -- especially where budgets are low or limited
  • Lean is fast. This method speeds up development significantly and projects can tend to be completed in record time.
  • This software development methodology decentralizes power to the development team. This not only motivates them to build acute decision-making skills but also helps reduce bureaucracy.

What are the disadvantages of the Lean software development method?

  • One problem with Lean is that any, and all, decisions need to be accurate and final. This is because of Lean's focus on staying in budget and meeting tight deadlines.
  • Lean can suffer from being inflexible. This is to ensure the project "stays on target".
  • Team members must have a good grasp of teamwork, discipline, and other advanced skills to ensure success.
  • The business analyst on a lean project must have an adequate set of skills and experience for proper requirements documentation.

3. Waterfall is a classic methodology for software development

The Waterfall software development methodology was developed in the 1970s and is the most "traditional" method still used today.

Waterfall relies on pre-defined project goals for each development phase and is linear by its very nature. Each new phase is reliant on the completion of its predecessor and is, therefore, pretty rigid. 

Once one stage is complete, there is little to no room for retrospective changes. This is especially problematic should new requirements crop up. 

What are the benefits of the Waterfall software development method?

  • Waterfall, by its very nature, is pretty straightforward as a software development methodology. For this reason, it is relatively easy to run with little or no experience.
  • Testing is fairly simple as it is based on use-cases defined by technical specifications.
  • Waterfall is pretty time-efficient as each stage is completed before moving on to the next one.
  • This methodology is ideal for small projects with well-defined end goals.
  • Management of any project is easier due to its rigid nature.
  • Each phase usually has a fixed deadline, enabling confidence for all stakeholders in delivering the final product.

What are the disadvantages of the Waterfall software development method?

  • Waterfall is not well suited for maintenance-type projects.
  • This method relies heavily on well-defined requirements from the start. It is, therefore, not good at adapting to change.
  • Any product is not really functional until the latter stages/phases.
  • Once a project progresses to the testing phase, no edits or changes can be made easily.
  • Waterfall is not recommended for long-term or R & D type projects, as well as, for projects that need modifications in the production process. 

4. Feature Driven Development (FDD) Methodology is a well-known choice

One popular software development methodology is Feature Driven Development (FDD). Yet another iterative methodology, like Agile, FDD also integrates object modeling.

FDD is great for large team projects, an early step in the process is reviewing the scope of the system itself. After this is complete, domain models are created in detail for each software feature before the scope is reviewed once again. 

FDD usually consists of five overall phases which are; developing the complete model, making a list of features, planning, designing, and building by feature.

What are the benefits of the FDD software development method?

  • FDD is best applied to large projects to guarantee success.
  • This method enables multiple teams to work in parallel.
  • FDD is widely considered one of the best in the industry.
  • Tends to require fewer meetings than other methods. 
  • FDD is user-centric at its core. 
  • As FDD breaks down feature sets into small chunks, tracking and fixing of bugs are made a lot smoother. 

What are the disadvantages of the FDD software development method?

  • Not great for smaller projects -- especially one-man developer projects. 
  • FDD places a lot of dependency on the chief programmer, who must coordinate, lead, and mentor newer team members at all times. The skills of the project leader must be up to the task.
  • Tends to place emphasis on individual code ownership rather than shared team ownership. So this might be considered a benefit, too.
  • Usually doesn't provide documentation to project owners. 

5. Another great software development methodology is Scrum

software development methods scrum
Source: Jacob Bøtter/Flickr

Scrum is yet another popular software development methodology in the industry. Borrowing from the Agile approach, Scrum is based on the philosophy that teams and developers need to collaborate to succeed.

Empirical by nature, Scrum can be applied to fast-changing or priority emerging requirements. Agile-type iterations are called "sprints" in Scrum, with each one planned in brief, with regular meetings to check progress, ending with a final review before closing out.

What are the disadvantages of the Scrum software development method?

  • The core of Scrum is to allow the team to make principal project decisions.
  • Daily meetings help promote individual team member productivity.
  • Scrum usually allows for problems to be discovered early and fixed.
  • Prioritizing of customer-driven features with Scrum is flexible. Business requirements documentation is not compulsory for successful development.
  • Clients can be brought into the production cycle with Scrum as there is always something to assess after every sprint.
  • Scrum's Feedback cycle is fast, helping the project to stay focused.

What are the disadvantages of the Scrum software development method?

  • Scrum is not the best method for junior or middle-skill team members.
  • Project budget and timescales tend to require very accurate estimations to ensure the project is completed successfully.
  • Scrum tends to be less effective for large project types. This is mainly due to its heavy use of meetings. 

6. Lest we forget the Extreme Programming methodology

software development methods XP
Source: Leo Prieto/Flickr

Also inspired by Agile, the main aim of Extreme Programming, XP for short, is to create fully-functional products while saving development costs for non-essential elements.

XP is great for complex projects that have fixed deadlines with unclear requirements. Testing and continuous planning tend to form core elements of XP too.

What are the benefits of the Extreme Programming (XP) software development method?

  • XP is ideal for creating software programs in an unstable environment.
  • Extreme programming usually enables developers to deliver a product at a lower cost than some other methodologies.
  • Customers are usually heavily involved in the production process.
  • XP focusses on practical planning and task scheduling. This tends to force developers to stay committed to the project.
  • XP works well for both small and large teams.
  • The chance of successful project completion is greater, thanks to XP's effective risk management elements.

What are the disadvantages of the Extreme Programming (XP) software development method?

  • XP is time-consuming and requires a lot of effort because of frequent meetings, a test-driven approach, and pair programming. 
  • It is often difficult to produce a reliable quote for the project using XP because of undetermined and changing project requirements.
  • XP can lead to frequent changes to code that will become tedious for developers over the long run.
  • Any changes to the initial requirements of the software at a later stage are usually very costly.

7. Rapid Application Development (RAD) methodology is great for quick delivery

software development methods rapid
Source: Kerkez/iStock

A great software development methodology is Rapid Application Development (RAD). As the name suggests, RAD enables speedy results with high quality when developing software.

RAD is also complemented by the participation of active users in the development process. 

What are the benefits of the Rapid Application Development (RAD) software development method?

  • Rapid enables software development to be made faster and of great quality by using focus groups to gather requirements, prototyping, user testing, reusing software components, continuous reviews, and informal communications.
  • RAD usually enables tasks for functions to be created separately before becoming integrated into the final product. This helps minimize errors during the development process.
  • RAD makes use of frequent testing to also help reduce the number of accumulated errors during development.
  • This method greatly benefits from customer feedback that helps assist in maintaining and improving product quality.
  • Clients can have constant access to the development process.

What are the disadvantages of the Rapid Application Development (RAD) software development method?

  • Rapid Application Development is not ideal for projects with tight budgets.
  • Rapid relies on a strong, highly professional team to identify, interpret, and create the client’s requirements.
  • RAD is best suited to projects with modular software project designs.

And that's a wrap. 

While we have only detailed 7 of the most popular software development methodologies here, some others to consider are as follows: 

  • DevOps
  • Dynamic Systems Development Model
  • Spiral Methodology
  • Joint Application Development Methodology
  • Rational Unified Process (RUP) Methodology

So which one should you choose? As you can see each software development methodology has its own pros and cons and tend to work best in different situations. 

When choosing one yourself you should take into consideration budget, project deadlines, and the experience of your team and proposed team leaders. You could also consider borrowing from various methods to create your own "hybrid" version?

The choice is yours. 

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