The SDLC Process Explained: Key Phases and Methodologies

What is success? In most cases, it’s the result of taking smart, consecutive steps towards a clear goal. In software development, you have a ‘shortcut’ for achieving success — the SDLC process.

What is Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)?

Software development life cycle (SDLC) is a method for organizing all the phases of the software development process (using various methodologies and tools) to improve the efficiency of production.

With the help of a SDLC infrastructure — a set of tools and services, supporting the SDLC’s key phases — you can strengthen the quality of your software development process, pertaining to architecture, design, and programming. 

In essence, the SDLC process acts as the backbone for setting the right project direction, ensuring a steady pace of execution, and maintaining tight collaboration during all key stages of the development. 

Why Having a Strong SDLC Process is Essential for Project Success

Software development is a complex process. According to the PMI survey, more than 36% of projects failed and suffered budget losses, and over 33% experienced scope creep. Moreover, only 52% of projects were completed on time. Adopting a strong SDLC methodology can help you mitigate those risks.

In particular, here are the benefits of an SDLC: 

benefits-of-strong-sdlc

Better Overview of Development

A strong SDLC process helps define and understand the project’s goals and milestones. As a result, C-level management will have a detailed strategic roadmap with deadlines, available resources (budget, in-house dev team, outsourcing partner) and tools (technology platforms, cloud service, software).

Shorter Time-to-Market (TTM)

Planning activities at early SDLC phases allow organizations to pinpoint processes that don’t add enough value to the process. Automation of the most time-consuming steps leads to a significant TTM reduction without compromising on end-product quality.

Maximized Productivity

Effective SDLC helps companies leverage computer-aided software engineering (CASE) tools, like automatic report generation, performance analysis, and syntactic correctness check-ups. Development teams use these tools to automate recurring tasks during all development stages, thus minimizing non-productive activities.

Strategic Product Management

Bugs found late at the late stages of the app development lifecycle are more expensive to fix. You can avoid such scenarios by using an Agile SDLC methodology that encourages incremental development and cross-functional team collaboration.

Enhanced Security

Implementing security solutions at the earliest development stages can help mitigate vulnerabilities in the onset instead of patching them after product deployment.

Realistic Estimates

With SDLC methodologies such as Agile, you can create more accurate budget and timeline estimates. The same applies to IT outsourcing. A company with a strong in-house SDLC can provide accurate project timelines and ensure a steady pace of progress. 

To sum up, a strong SDLC improves productivity, shortens TTM, and allows companies to significantly reduce costs without compromising quality.

Key Phases of the Agile Software Development Life Cycle 

An SDLC is structured as a series of phases. It gives your team a predictable framework to follow. Each SDLC phase outlines clear steps to take, specifies tangible deliverables, and generated feedback for subsequent stages. 

That said, SDLC phases and process steps will differ based on the selected software development methodology — Agile, Waterfall, Iterative, and so on. 

For starters, we’ll go through the most standard SDLC, which includes 6 key phases: analysis, design, implementation, testing, release, and maintenance.

SDLC stages illustration

1. Requirements Gathering (Definition)

Requirements gathering is the pre-planning phase of the SDLC. Your goal here is to create a comprehensive list of Software Requirements Specifications (SRS) that reflects all functional and non-functional requirements for the end product.

Communication with all stakeholders and market research are at the core sub-steps of the requirements gathering SDLC phase. During this stage, you help all team members develop a clear understanding of the planned software’s core functions, user needs, and your business context.

If you are planning to outsource software development (using managed project service model), then this stage will include the following steps: 

  • The team at your end needs to define and formalize the core project requirements and share them with the outsourcing partner. 
  • Your development partner will then analyze the requirements’ feasibility, provide feedback, and suggest a preliminary timeline.
  • Together, you’ll decide on the optimal technological portfolio for the project and discuss any budget constraints. 

If you are managing the development in-house or use a managed team service model, all of the aforementioned discussions will be among the key stakeholders only. 

How can you improve the Requirements Gathering phase in the SDLC process?

  • Find the optimal IT outsourcing model with an outsourcing readiness assessment. Strategic assessment can help you examine the company’s structure to pinpoint areas where outsourcing creates the most value. In addition to that, you’ll determine what outsourcing service model (managed project, managed team, or staff augmentation) is the best fit for your organizational structure.
  • Identify all relevant stakeholders: To gather all relevant functional and non-functional requirements, you will need to communicate with people both within and outside the company (as in department heads, in-house/outsourced teams, business leaders, investors, contractors, users, and organizations you partner with)
  • Apply requirements gathering techniques: One-on-one and group interviews will help you get complete information about the project’s requirements. Surveys can help you collect data from multiple stakeholders to fasten up the requirement-gathering process.
  • Make sure that SRS reflects all arrangements. Ensure that SRS includes agreements between in-house departments, outsourcing companies, clients, and other stakeholders.

Pro tip: Prior to requirements gathering, you can ask your outsourcing partner to conduct an optional SDLC phase called discovery. Discovery helps refine your vision, clarify the product roadmap, and outline the project scope, resulting in more efficient requirements gathering.

2. Design

Architecture Design

At the Architecture Design stage, the product’s architects will create a Design Document Specification (DDS), where they’ll specify architecture design based on the collected data.

Here’s how you can optimize the Architecture Design stage: 

  • Formalize alternative architectures in the DDS. Include alternative architectures based on your project’s requirements. Multiple viable options for development will give engineers more flexibility and help stakeholders to make informed decisions.
  • Make sure that DDS brings value. The documentation should be explicit to help understand key system functions, security capabilities, UIs, platform characteristics, and app logic. Ideally, DDS should be comprehensible enough for developers, testers, and key stakeholders to understand.
  • Gather stakeholders’ input continuously. You many need to secure other stakeholders’ approvals for certain tasks (e.g. proposed architecture design or task priorities). 
  • Define roles and responsibilities in a RACI matrix. RACI (which stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed) helps define departments and people accountable for tasks and milestones. Furthermore, it allows C-managers to assess everyone’s workload and distribute assignments evenly across teams.

UX/UI Design in SDLC

User experience (UX) is a strong market differentiator. On average, organizations that have invested in design outperform their competitors by 5% annually in reinvestment growth. So you may want to place more emphasis on user interface design (UI) and user experience design (UX):

  • UI design deals with the visual layout of your application (buttons, icons, photos, colors, textures, transitions, animations, etc.).
  • UX design defines how users will interact with your application (for example, where buttons should be to encourage action, how content should be structured to improve readability, etc).

To translate your user needs into a responsive, accessible, and visually appealing interface prototype, UI/UX specialists perform the following steps: 

  • User research
  • Technical feasibility evaluation
  • Definition of information structure
  • Interaction and visual design

During later stages, UI/UX specialists can assist with interface layout creation and usability testing.

3. Coding (Implementation)

Implementation phase is the core of the software development process. At this stage, engineers work through the set list of tasks to transform the pre-approved architecture into a functional system. This SDLC phase marks the beginning of the production. It includes code writing, testing, and technology fine-tuning.

How do successful companies streamline the coding process? Some of the ways to achieve cost-efficient implementation are:

  • Implement DevOps practices. Companies that opt for the DevOps approach (like automation of systems configuration and provisioning, container orchestration solutions, and database load balancers) experience a considerable efficiency improvement. According to Global Upskilling IT 2022 report, 47% of respondents consider DevOps to be the top “must-have” operating model to have in the future.
  • Set up a unified CI/CD pipeline. CI/CD introduces automation into app development, increasing the production rate and delivery of software apps. A recent Google research indicates that CI/CD systems are the most commonly used production release practice for 63% of respondents.
  • Adopt container development. Containers are lightweight virtual machines that contain minimal required resources (files, libraries, and software) to run an operating system. You can use them to deploy and test apps across different environments to fasten software development. According to Statista, 16% of respondents say containerization was an important part of their business strategy in 2022.

4. Testing

Testing is a continuous process in the SDLC process. It consists of Unit Testing and Integration Testing. Unit Testing is an ongoing process throughout development, whereas Integration Testing involves verifying all software components at the final stage of the production.

Some best practices you can incorporate during this agile SDLC phase include:

  • Streamline Unit Testing. The unit testing includes isolating software by units and components to verify code correctness before wrapping up with the Inter-Module testing. Separating the code can help reveal such problems as security bugs, data spaces, and unnecessary code dependencies early on.
  • Appoint QA implementation and integration managers. These specialists can help developers with the test results analysis and revision plans.
  • Define Exit Criteria. If you’re using a RACI matrix, you should appoint an appropriate stakeholder for the Accountable role to ensure that all critical requirements are met before the project’s deployment.

5. Deployment and Delivery

The client can choose from several software deployment mechanisms in outsourcing. For example, an outsourcing vendor can deploy the product and even maintain it after release. Alternatively, the customer can accept the product and entrust its delivery to another company. Lastly, the in-house development team can handle software deployment.

Here are some effective practices to make sure that the product satisfies the end-customer:

  • Establish Entry Criteria. Implement a sequential release procedure. For example, the release manager will verify that the product meets all predefined criteria. Once stakeholders agree that the project meets all technical and business requirements, the manager can release the product and deliver documentation to the maintenance team.
  • Prepare documentation for the post-deployment stage. The outsourcing vendor or your in-house team should prepare solution documentation and manuals to help the maintenance team support the product after its launch.

Software development lifecycle models are plenty. Each software methodology assumes a somewhat different SDLC structure. For instance, Agile makes each phase iterative while Waterfall follows a strict step-by-step framework. 

Here are examples of popular (or modern) SDLC methodologies:

Agile SDLC

Agile is an iterative approach to management and development that allows teams to work in smaller increments, as per Atlassian

Agile promotes collaborative, cross-functional software development. We’ve already described the key Agile SDLC phases above in great detail. 

This methodology is common among software companies that strive for flexibility and cost-effectiveness of the development. For example, the Federal US government manages over 80% of its major software projects using Agile SDLC, according to the 2017 Deloitte analysis

Example of SDLC in Agile Methodology:

SDLC Agile

Waterfall

Waterfall is a sequential, linear approach, where each new SDLC phase begins upon completion of the previous one.

Due to its highly structural backbone, this methodology lacks the flexibility of Agile. For example, it’s much harder to go back to prior stages in the product’s life cycle to change requirements during Implementation. That’s why Waterfall SDLC is gradually losing popularity. 

Example of SDLC in Agile Methodology:

waterfall sdlc

Iterative

Iterative SDLC starts with a smaller set of software requirements. Engineers examine and evaluate them to identify new standards. Afterward, the process goes through repetition with continuous improvement on each iteration.

This model is similar to Agile in many aspects, but the two have some fundamental differences. For example, in Iterative, teams review software at the end of each iteration, and development heavily relies on a baseline plan. In Agile, results are examined after sprints in retrospection meetings, while the plan evolves throughout the product’s life cycle.

Example of Iterative SDLC:

Iterative SDLC

Spiral

Spiral SDLC is a combination of Waterfall and Iterative models.

Each project goes through several SDLC phases that repeat in “spirals” until the end-product meets all the technical requirements. Spiral works excellent for large and complex projects because it provides accurate estimates and assesses risks at the end of each “loop.” Nonetheless, this model requires skilled risk management specialists and a much larger resource pool to be truly effective.

Example of Spiral SDLC:

spiral sdlc

DevOps

DevOps is more of a movement rather than a model. Its goal is to accelerate the deployment of software products via tight collaboration between development and operations teams. Continuous feedback and implementation throughout software development is a distinctive feature of DevOps. Furthermore, companies that prefer this approach strive to automate manual processes to maximize resource management.

Example of DevOps Lifecycle:

DevOps

SDLC in Outsourcing Projects: Who’s Responsible for Selection and Setup?

In IT outsourcing, a solid SDLC provides you with more than just a baseline direction for your team. An agile SDLC also enabled proactive outsourcing risk management, faster product development, and better delivery monitoring.

But who is responsible for implementing your software development life cycle: you or the outsourcing vendor? The answer depends on the service model you select.

  • Staff Augmentation: Edvantis provides you with specialists recruited according to your project needs. You manage these people and integrate them into your existing team. All management will be on you, meaning you will need to set up SDLC or align new people with your existing model.
  • Managed Team: Edvantis provides you with a whole team of experts with relevant skill sets to meet the needs of your project. We can either manage this team ourselves or share this responsibility with you, meaning we can also take part in setting up the SDLC or replicating your existing model.
  • Managed Project: Edvantis takes over the entire end-to-end development process of your solution: from initiation to final release and maintenance. We are fully responsible for the end product, meaning we will pick and implement the SDLC model that is most appropriate for the project. 

Conclusion

A polished SDLC adds predictability to your software development process and helps ensure that your team is moving at the right direction, at the optimal pace. Remember: issues that escalate from the early stages become costlier to fix with each later stage. By strategically systemizing your approach to managing requirements gathering, design, coding, testing, and subsequent deployments, you reduce the chances of failure at every stage. 

Edvantis has a strong SDLC, honed on 400+ successfully delivered client projects. We use it as part of our Managed Project and Managed Team service models. Contact us to learn more about our approach to software development! 

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