In the world of software development, insightful decision-making and efficient processes are integral to a project’s success. Guiding the ins and outs of development is the software development methodology or software development life cycle model. These methodologies provide the basic principles and processes that guide a project's trajectory. However, there’s a huge variety of development frameworks.
This guide will take you through the basics of software development methodologies, review the 10 most popular frameworks, and provide insight on choosing the best fit for your team.
What Are Software Development Methodologies?
A software development methodology is a specific process used to plan and structure the development of a new software product. This kind of methodology allows developers to better:
- Estimate the time and cost of a project
- Communicate reliably and accurately with the customer
- Clearly outline the tasks involved in completing a project
- Respond to challenges more effectively
- Allow time to respond to feedback and make adjustments
A Brief History of Software Development Methodologies
Before jumping into the different software development methodologies, the historical progression of the frameworks helps add a bit of context.
A Linear Beginning
Linear development methods appeared first, with most teams using the waterfall method. Once developers mastered this highly structured and sequential methodology, critiques of linear development pushed for a more time-efficient and flexible paradigm.
The Agile Takeover
In response, the agile method arose, popularizing a more collaborative, user-informed framework. From here, methodologies branched in all different directions, with the agile method rooting them together with a shared iterative structure and frequent code reviews. In the software development methodologies list below, many of the types fall under the agile method umbrella.
Widening Teams With DevOps
The next big shift in development frameworks came with the introduction of DevOps, which took the collaboration one step further by including non-IT staff on development teams.
Realizing the Vision With Continuous Development
Continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) is the most recent step forward in development methodologies. All agile frameworks referenced the concept of “continuous development.” However, only recently have software development tools and methodologies allowed for the constant loop of integration and product delivery that CI/CD embodies.
10 Common Methodologies in Software Development
The following overview of 10 of the most common frameworks serves as a comparison of different software development methodologies.
1. Agile Software Development or Iterative Approach
One of the most popular types of software development methodologies, the agile framework focuses on the user experience. Also called the iterative approach, the process breaks the project down into smaller chunks or iterations, each with its own time line.
These tasks are framed as development sprints that last from one to four weeks. Rather than passing along documentation that reflects the team’s progress, the agile framework ends each iteration by passing along a working piece of software for the client to test and give feedback on.
Weighing the Benefits of the Agile Method
Compared to other methods that can potentially get bogged down in documentation, agile evolved from the need for software to be developed faster and with more flexibility. Because of this, agile software development methodologies require a high degree of reactivity, drive, and collaboration among the development team.
Who Should Use the Agile Method?
Because the framework can open the door to near-constant user feedback and doesn’t require a detailed documentation process, this methodology works best for a small team of experienced developers who are comfortable working with little structure and can respond quickly to change.
2. Feature-Driven Development
Derived from the agile methodology, the feature-driven development (FDD) approach also focuses on delivering tangible and working software at each iteration. Developed in 1997, FDD provides a bit more structure than its more freeform parent.
In FDD, the project is initially divided into a list of features with input from the client. Over the course of development, the features are completed and delivered every two weeks. FDD follows five steps:
- Develop an overall model.
- Build a feature list.
- Create a plan based on each feature.
The last two steps take up the majority of time and effort.
Weighing the Benefits of FDD
The more structured iterations of each feature result in efficient and predictable work. However, it’s a bit too complex for simple projects and requires the foresight and adaptability of a highly competent lead developer.
Who Should Use FDD?
Larger teams with strong lead developers can benefit from the FDD approach. It works well for more complex projects that require tackling multiple tasks simultaneously.
3. Waterfall Development Method
One of the earliest methodologies, the waterfall method is a linear development methodology. In the waterfall method, the project is completely planned out into clearly defined stages with detailed documentation. It all flows in a single direction — the second stage can’t start until the first stage is complete. Likewise, developers only move forward. If something goes awry at the end of the project, the entire development process will be scrapped and restarted.
Weighing the Benefits of the Waterfall Method
Following a linear path with clearly defined tasks, the waterfall method is easily understandable and reduces chances for miscommunication. On the other hand, it doesn’t leave room for customer feedback until the end, when alterations can be more difficult to make.
Who Should Use the Waterfall Method?
The waterfall method requires the bulk of planning in the beginning, making it ideal for projects with a clearly defined scope and less experienced developers.
4. Scrum Development
A specific practice following the basic philosophy of the agile method, scrum involves breaking down the project into smaller iterations. Crediting its namesake on the rugby field, scrum employs a high degree of teamwork, analogous to the rugby team working as a unit to move the ball down the field. First introduced by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in 1986, scrum is founded on five core values: commitment, focus, openness, respect, and courage.
The Six Principles of Scrum
- Control over the empirical process: A very scientific approach, scrum emphasizes the requirement for hard evidence to guide the development process.
- Self-organization: While scrum as a whole relies on teamwork, this collaboration requires each team member to have flawless organization and independence in their specific role.
- Collaboration: Each intentional role contributes to the entire collaborative process.
- Value-based prioritization: The project’s tasks are organized based on their importance.
- Time-boxing: Tasks are completed in sprints, with specific lengths of time assigned to each one. The development team provides the completed software task to the client at the end of each sprint.
- Iterative development: Like other iterative methods, scrum uses frequent feedback from the client to inform adjustments to the software.
Weighing the Benefits of the Scrum Method
Short iterations and quick responses to feedback allow for a high degree of efficiency. However, scrum asks for a lot of effort and communication from team members, and projects can drag on without specific deadlines.
Who Should Use the Scrum Method?
Scrum requires a highly functioning team, with several important roles. Apart from the developers, the scrum methodology defines two main roles: the product owner and the scrum master. The product owner acts as the liaison between the client and the team, and the scrum master facilitates the team and keeps each sprint on track for success. The method works best for projects with a more vague vision that require frequent changes.
Learn More: Software Engineering vs Software Development: What Does Your Team Need
5.) Rapid Application Development
Also called RAD, the rapid application development model serves as the foundation of the iterative frameworks, with a particular prioritization on efficiency. The model emphasizes building prototypes that align with the client’s requirements, then performing user testing to get valuable feedback. RAD relies on multiple iterations of testing until the customer is satisfied with the product.
Four Steps of RAD
- Outline project requirements: Create a plan for the prototypes and testing.
- Prototyping: Prioritize building prototypes to test with the customer.
- Testing: This results in feedback that reduces product risk.
- Implementing: Feedback informs the implementation of the final product.
Weighing the Benefits of RAD
The emphasis on testing eliminates product risk and increases the chances of a successful release. This approach does rely on a responsive client, however, so good communication between the project lead and client is key. This is even more critical considering RAD lacks documented progress tracking.
Who Should Use RAD?
RAD is best for teams of experienced software developers with involved clientele.
6. DevOps Deployment Methodology
In the DevOps method, the development and operations departments function as a single team. A radical shift in the development of software, DevOps has proven to be worth its salt. In fact, this framework has become increasingly popular. The collaboration between software development, testing, and quality assurance personnel allows DevOps teams to continually innovate and improve the product.
Weighing the Benefits of DevOps
Like many of these methodologies, when properly deployed, DevOps can work wonders for a project development team. Quicker turnarounds and powerful collaboration are some of the perks of DevOps. However, without proper leadership or integration, the workflow can get clunky and security can be a risk.
Who Should Use DevOps?
DevOps assigns each team member a very specific role. Large, well-oiled teams with excellent communication and leadership work well with a DevOps framework.
7. Extreme Programming Methodology
The extreme programming (XP) methodology is a type of agile methodology. However, it sets itself apart with a primary emphasis on the technical aspects of development.
The method provides specific guidance on how the developers work. Rather than determining steps for the entire project at the beginning, XP includes a planning phase at the beginning of each weeklong development cycle. Similar to continuous development, integration and testing happen as often as possible.
Weighing the Benefits of the XP Method
Due to the periodic planning cycles, the XP method gives plenty of flexibility and works well for unstable and unpredictable projects. A criticism of the XP methodology is that it focuses more on code than design, which can potentially create marketability flaws in the software.
Who Should Use the XP Method?
XP works well for small to mid-sized teams that hope to lower costs and speed up development.
8. Dynamic Systems Development Methodology
Similar to RAD, the dynamic systems model focuses on efficiently delivering usable products. As opposed to other methodologies in the agile framework, the dynamic systems model incorporates detailed documentation.
The four phases of the model mirror those of the RAD phases. The dynamic systems method starts with a feasibility and business study, then builds a functional model (prototype) before the design and build of the final product. The process ends with implementation and client feedback.
Weighing the Benefits of the Dynamic Systems Model
Because of the demanding nature of dynamic systems development on users and developers alike, this methodology can be expensive and warrant a larger team of developers in order to be properly executed. However, the model ensures the product is delivered promptly and within budget.
Who Should Use the Dynamic Systems Model?
It’s best for large, well-trained teams that benefit from the clear structure of the iterations and streamlined communication.
9. Lean Development Methodology
A type of continuous development, the lean development methodology prioritizes efficiency and productivity. Inspired by Toyota’s manufacturing principles, developers following the lean method create easily adaptable software with minimal waste. Furthermore, team members using the lean method are encouraged to think outside the box and be open to all possibilities. This attitude of continuous learning is key to the lean method’s creative and highly efficient results.
Weighing the Benefits of the Lean Method
High efficiency and low waste reduce the time and overall cost of software projects. The lean method does rely on detailed documentation of the project, which can be a burden to some teams.
Who Should Use the Lean Method?
The lean method relies on highly experienced team members to communicate effectively, cutting down on redundancies in code, tasks, and documentation.
10. Continuous Development
The continuous development methodology allows for the constant looping of the build, test, and deployment phases. The method is often referred to simply as CI/CD for continuous integration and continuous delivery and is sometimes used as an umbrella term for similar methods.
With integrations happening consistently, the model reduces the chance that new code is being developed on top of a previous buggy version. For every integration, a script automatically tests the application, providing a near-constant stream of feedback in the CI/CD model. Hand in hand with continuous updates and integration, the new code is deployed with each test.
Weighing the Benefits of Continuous Development
CI/CD has plenty of advantages including increased efficiency and improved product quality. However, the steep learning curve and up-front investment can make this methodology challenging for a new team.
Who Should Use Continuous Development?
Highly skilled teams already employing the DevOps method will transition gracefully to the CI/CD framework.
How To Choose the Right Methodology for Your Development Process
With so many options, it might feel overwhelming to choose the right methodology at the start of your project. However, each framework has specific strengths and weaknesses. Depending on the project’s requirements and your available resources, there might be a clear best choice.
Consider Your Project Requirements
Understanding your project’s requirements can help inform which methodology is the best fit. Aspects of your project to consider include your level of flexibility, the scale and scope of the project, and the predictability of end users.
- Flexibility: Classic software development often follows predictable phases and works well with the waterfall method. On the other hand, the value of user input in web and app development pairs better with one of the iterative methods.
- Scale and scope: More intensive projects require larger teams and work well with the DevOps, FDD, or dynamic systems models. Projects with a smaller scope would work well with the XP or lean methodologies.
- End users: Depending on whether your project targets a controlled or diverse set of end users, linear or iterative methods make more sense, respectively.
Other aspects of your project to consider are your team’s location and client availability. A remote, global team benefits from more structure, while a team with a shared open office might benefit more from the methods that emphasize collaboration and communication. Additionally, consider your client’s willingness to provide input. Some of the iterative methodologies require a consistent flow of feedback between the client and the developers.
Identify Your Time Frame
Do you need to get a minimum viable product out quickly, or do you have time to workshop the details of the code, user design, and user experience? Depending on the priorities of the project, the time frame can inform which methodology is the best choice. The iterative methodologies allow for the release of a partially finished product, working better with projects that have aggressive time lines.
Consider Your Current Development Tools
The success of different methodologies also depends on the availability of the relevant tools. For example, the more contemporary methodologies stemming from the continuous model require automation tools like Jenkins, Harness, or GitLab. If your team already has training with these, then harnessing the efficiency of CI/CD makes sense.
The Impact Your Methodology Has on Your Development Team
The best software development methodology for you is the one that naturally highlights your team’s strengths and cushions its growth edges. Choosing the best method match for your project will allow your team to efficiently deliver reliable software. Software development methodologies are never one-size-fits-all. The right methodology for your project is one that reduces the work and difficulty for your team and matches your business’s goals.
However, part of meeting your organizational goals involves putting together a solid development team. Using a talent platform like Revelo can help. Round out your team with software developers who match your development methodology and will take your team to the next level. Start your search for your new team member!