The pros and cons of different software development methodologies: A comprehensive guide

The size, scope and necessity of a software development project all dictate what kind of plan you’ll need to have in place.


developer-working-at-desk

 

Whether it’s something comparatively straightforward that only involves a few tasks or a large, complex procedure with a significant workforce behind it; there’s a strategy with its own methodology that fits the project and ensures everything goes as smoothly as possible.

The right model of development is essential for delivering results that are within time frames and budget, so it’s important that you and your team choose a methodology that’s suited to the project. This means that every time you start a project, the steps can be mapped out beforehand, making the process a much smoother, more streamlined affair. Conversely, the incorrect model (or no model at all) can result in prolonged timeframes, lacklustre quality or, at worst, failure of the project.

The right model of development is essential for delivering results that are within time frames and budget, so it’s important that you and your team choose a methodology that’s suited to the project. This means that every time you start a project, the steps can be mapped out beforehand, making the process a much smoother, more streamlined affair. Conversely, the incorrect model (or no model at all) can result in prolonged timeframes, lacklustre quality or, at worst, failure of the project.

In this extensive guide, we’ll look at the varying software development methodologies available, and weigh up their pros and cons to help you identify which one is the right model for any upcoming projects you have planned.

The project lifecycle at a glance

Broadly speaking, the software development lifecycle follows a similar framework of activities for those involved in a project to adhere to. Although not every project is executed collaboratively, their phases may be interdependent.

Requirements

software development methodologies guide

What does the software need to achieve, and what features and functionality must it have to carry out its duties? The answers will influence the workflow, highlighting terms and complications of the project that will be dealt with as things progress.

Prototype design

software development methodologies guide

Next, work begins on the design and interactions used in the application. Certain tools allow for the creation of clickable prototypes, helping teams to visualise the experience and offer feedback as well as highlighting issues that can then be solved before moving on.

Development

software development methodologies guide

The most arduous part of the process involves implementing the features discussed at the requirements stage. Front-end, back-end, server interactions, compliance and security; these must be developed properly so software runs smoothly.

Testing

software development methodologies guide

Beta testing helps to check software completeness and performance, to see how it deals with heavy workloads along with detecting issues that might have been missed.

Implementation

software development methodologies guide

The software is implemented into a production environment, where the desired audience begins to use it. Here, an increased amount of use cases present further needs for fixes.

Ongoing Maintenance

software development methodologies guide

The aforementioned fixes are dealt with and the system is continually evaluated to ensure it does not become obsolete.

The various different software development models

Waterfall

The oldest and most straightforward of the software development methodologies; the Waterfall model tackles stages one at a time, with each stage only being completed in a linear manner after the previous one has been completed.

 

waterfall development

software development methodologies guide

Pros

  • Comparatively simple and functional project structure.
  • A fast process suitable for small-to-midsize projects.
  • Easy to test and analyse features.
software development methodologies guide

Cons

  • Requirements need precision, as they can’t be amended mid-process.
  • Product functionality cannot be tested and fixed mid-development.
  • Not a good fit for projects requiring lots of maintenance.

Agile

Hot on the heels of Waterfall, Agile is fast becoming the framework of choice. Unsurprisingly, Agile puts the focus on adaptability, an approach that allows for greater collaboration and an increase in productivity as a result.

 

agile development

software development methodologies guide

Pros

  • Highly adaptable approach that responds well to change.
  • Allows for more direct communication, thus maintaining transparency.
  • Quick fixes improve quality and identify mismatches in expectations.
software development methodologies guide

Cons

  • Very hands on, which can put some managers off.
  • Lacks documentation efficiency and clarity since requirements are frequently changed.
  • Chances of falling behind are high, as the outcomes aren’t always clear-cut.

Lean

The Lean methodology places a premium on producing results with lots of value without wasted effort or money. Things like tight budgets are a driving force in the decision to go lean, with an emphasis on processes that help to streamline workflows, like standardisation and work breakdown structure.

 

developers collaborating

software development methodologies guide

Pros

  • Delivers quality work in the absence of resources, high budgets and the requisite time.
  • The team is motivated to make every product feature perfect, as opposed to merely accomplish tasks.
software development methodologies guide

Cons

  • Precision needed for documentation to ensure understanding of project requirements.
  • Only suitable for highly-skilled and knowledgeable developers. Difficult to learn on-the-go.
  • Flexible decision-making is needed to monitor and review processes at all times.

Kanban

The Kanban approach can actually be used on top of any of the previous software development methodologies, though its roots lie in the Lean model.

It is based on three principles: visualising the current workflow, limiting the amount of work in progress and enhancing flow, so that when something is finished, the next highest priority item is pulled into the project from a backlog.

 

kanban development project

software development methodologies guide

Pros

  • Minimises change and speeds up the development process.
  • Very low investment in tools or additional training required.
  • Can be visualised using something as simple as post-it notes and a whiteboard.
software development methodologies guide

Cons

  • The post-it note method cannot predict timeframes, so lengthy projects do not tend to benefit
  • Weak for planning, so can be usurped by other models.
  • As each task is viewed as equally, so work can’t be prioritised.

Joint Application

As the name suggests, Joint Application development involves the client in the design and development of an application, through a series of collaborative workshops known as JAD sessions.

 

developers working on problem

software development methodologies guide

Pros

  • Allows for a faster development process due to close communication, minimising errors at the same time.
  • Improves final product quality by focusing on the up-front portion of the development lifecycle, reducing the likelihood of expensive errors later on.
software development methodologies guide

Cons

  • Differing opinions within the team make it difficult to align goals and stay focused.
  • Depending on the size of the project, JAD may need significant time to commit to.

Rational Unified Process (RUP)

Created by a division of IBM called Rational, RUP divides the life cycle into four phases: inception, elaboration, construction and transition, which are each divided into nine disciplines. The project team decide what phases and disciplines they need and discards the rest.

 

software developer on laptop

software development methodologies guide

Pros

  • Similar pros to Waterfall, but allows for more ad-hoc changes and updates.
  • Emphasises need and implementation of accurate documentation.
  • Rectifies integration problems by forcing integration to occur throughout development.
software development methodologies guide

Cons

  • Like Waterfall, RUP is also process-heavy, and can rely too much on stakeholder feedback.
  • Despite its iterative nature, it can be too slow for certain types of projects.
  • Integration can also slow down the development process as it can get in the way of other more fundamental activities.

Event Chain Methodology

Rather than focusing on tasks, Event Chain Methodology focuses on planning for potential risks. Project managers often feel pressured by stakeholders to create optimistic targets for delivery, but these are often unrealistic and can create tension within the team. Event Chain Methodology acknowledges the risks and plans for situations where external events impact the project.

 

designers- brainstorming

software development methodologies guide

Pros

  • Enables managers to examine the relationship between tasks and external pressures, creating more realistic projects in the process.
software development methodologies guide

Cons

  • The focus on identifying external threats can mean project managers forget that external events can actually be beneficial and present opportunities to the team.

Of course, sometimes selecting the correct methodology for your own software development activity can be a process in itself – requiring testing and in-house refining.

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