Software Development Methodologies: 4 Core Options 

Delivering software is a complex multi-step process. This means you can exercise different approaches for planning and execution, reflected in an array of methods, frameworks, and project management styles. But more isn’t always the merrier when it comes to making complex decisions. Yet knowing which methods better fit the project at hand can drastically reduce operational mishaps. 

What is a Software Development Methodology?

Think of a software development methodology (SDM) as a rulebook of guidelines and principles for managing software development and delivering. Generally, SDMs describe different ways of organizing the software development life cycle (SDLC): from requirements gathering and analysis to release. 

A software development methodology helps ensure that all team members are aligned on the following questions: 

  1. In the current version, what features are planned?
  2. How is software development handled? Who is responsible for what?
  3. What is the release date for the software?
  4. What type of testing should be done and when?

A well-implemented SDM helps your team make better estimates, commit to deadlines, identify potential problems beforehand, minimize reworks, and ultimately release high-performing software.

The 4 Main Types of Software Development Methodologies

There are two classic software development methodologies: Agile and Waterfall. 

The two also serve as a springboard for an array of sub-methods, which we’ll briefly cover in this post.

Waterfall Methodology

Waterfall methodology assumes a linear, sequential approach to software development. There is no overlap between the stages since the next one begins only after the previous one is complete. The deliverables of each stage are also different. This is how the Waterfall SDLC process looks from a structural perspective:

waterfall software development methodology

Benefits of the Waterfall model:

  • Easy adaptation: Even people who are unfamiliar with the principle of Waterfall will easily grasp the basics due to its linear phase structure. 
  • Process consistency: The team completes one phase at a time, without overlap. Thus, project managers can perform tracking, evaluation, and reporting without much hassle.
  • Clean vision: A Waterfall model emphasizes the importance of advanced planning, which helps envision the outcome. 
  • Decreased dependency on stakeholders: Product owners are mostly involved in requirements gathering and planning and less during other stages. 

Shortcomings of the Waterfall model:

  • Lack of flexibility: The Waterfall model leaves little room to address unexpected issues and changes, so the team cannot respond fast to shifts in priorities.
  • Later delivery of working code: It takes more preparation to begin the coding process. 
  • Reliance on early requirements: For large projects, it can be difficult to define all requirements in the beginning, so some of these will have to be based on assumptions.
  • Lack of client feedback: The reduction in stakeholder input could result in unmet expectations and vague requirements. 

Agile Methodology

Agile is a software development methodology based on an iterative approach. The core idea of Agile is to establish cross-functional teams that tackle the larger project in small increments (Sprints). Such an approach allows teams to continuously evaluate requirements, plans, and results during each iteration. As a result, they can respond to changes faster. 

Here is how an Agile development life cycle looks: 

agile software development methodology

What Does It Mean to Be Agile?

Agile is more than a methodology, it’s a mindset shift. Agile companies adhere to the following principles: 

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Additionally, according to McKinsey’s report, Agile businesses follow the same mindset in managing their strategy, structure, process, people, and technology. 

  • Agile strategy manifests itself in establishing company-wide shared goals and vision and a focus on value creation for a wide scope of stakeholders (employees, investors, outsourcing partners).
  • Agile structure facilitates the creation of empowered teams, which show better results when given clarity in terms of their responsibilities, authority, and goals. 
  • Agile processes ensure rapid decisions and learning cycles, allowing the teams to embrace uncertainty and adapt to changing conditions. 
  • Agile people are self-driven individuals, taking full ownership for every decision and driving the team, company, and client on the way to meeting expectations. 
  • Agile technologies will change the game by evolving into next-generation enabling technologies, delivery practices, tools, and systems.

As you can see, Agile extends beyond software development methodology. It’s a shift in operational strategy that helps realign people, processes, and technology around the key goal — driving value for end-users. In fact, McKinsey’s research also showed that Agile enterprise could improve employee engagement scores by 20–30 points.

Here are more reasons why in 95% of companies at least one team is using Agile.

Benefits of the Agile model:

  • Increased customer satisfaction: 62% of companies saw improvements in customer satisfaction after switching to Agile. 
  • Better product quality: Agile practices such as sprint retrospectives, having a clear definition of done, and using automation tools, contribute to high-quality software development. 
  • More relevant metrics: In comparison to traditional teams, Agile teams typically use more accurate and relevant metrics to estimate time and cost, evaluate performance, and make decisions.
  • Financial efficiency: Per HBR & Atlassian study, Agile reduces costs by 7-29%.
  • Faster time-to-market: The same study also indicates that Agile companies improve software delivery speed by 15-20%.
  • Better operational performance: As per McKinsey research, companies adopting Agile saw 30%-50% improvements in operational performance.

Shortcomings of the Agile model:

  • Operational maturity. Agile requires investment in new processes and supporting tools, as well as cultural shifts. This may be hard to achieve for teams with a low development culture. 
  • Dependency on user feedback: Agile requires constant collaboration and frequent communication between developers and users (or Product Owners as representatives of the latter).
  • Some cultural reluctance: Many companies still prefer more traditional methodologies over Agile, so they adopt it slowly or don’t adopt at all. 
  • Failure to fully commit to Agile. Some companies cherry-pick a few Agile practices, introduce them into their project management, and because of this limited commitment fail. 

Why Transition to Agile from Waterfall

As per the 2020 State of Agile Report, 6% of businesses consider adopting Agile, 54% are still maturing in their Agile practices, and 20% experiment with this methodology in some aspects. 

The following are the primary reasons companies try to adopt Agile or strive to attain higher maturity levels: 

reasons for adopting Agile

Source: State of Agile Report

Agile often goes hand in hand with outsourcing. Why? It improves the onboarding of external partners, whether we talk about several people or an entire managed team

From the above chart, you can see that 21% of companies adopt this methodology to improve the management of distributed teams. This is what makes Agile so applicable to outsourcing: you can incorporate a cross-functional team as your Agile squad! Due to Agile’s flexibility, it is easier to scale up teams in the middle of the project (which is not possible with Waterfall). 

Extreme Programming Methodology (XP) 

The extreme programming (XP) approach is a variation of Agile that involves frequent updates and short development cycles, allowing developers to respond quickly to changing requirements.

 As the name implies, XP takes development practices to “extreme” levels, aiming to produce high-quality software very quickly. One of the distinguishing features of XP is its strict rules that extreme programmers follow when planning, managing, designing, coding, and testing. 

Rapid feedback is one of the values of Extreme Programming. Here is XPs feedback cycle:

feedback loops in extreme programming

Extreme programming makes the most sense for projects with dynamically changing requirements and constant utilization of unit and functional tests. To work effectively, XP must be supported by a small, co-located development team. The presence of customers who can identify and validate user needs is also crucial for success.

Benefits of extreme programming

  • Rapid feedback: Developers are always aware of when something is amiss or right, and react accordingly. No bug is left unresolved if noticed. 
  • Well-placed priorities: The team is focused on the most important tasks at hand. 
  • Strong communication: Extreme programmers constantly communicate with customers, other developers, and stakeholders. 
  • Flexibility under tight deadlines: The XP programmers launch projects as soon as possible and make the changes that the customer requests. 

Shortcomings of extreme programming:

  • Code over strategy: Emphasizing code more than design distorts business strategy. 
  • Too strict rules: Some XP rules are not easy to follow (e.g. the customer may not always be available, programmers may not be able to conduct production code in pairs, etc). 
  • Remote unfriendliness: XP is most appropriate for in-house teams, and its effectiveness diminishes when working from home or outsourcing. 
  • Dependency on self-discipline: XP is mainly dependent on the programmers’ sense of responsibility when they follow all the rules (daily stand-ups, rapid integration, etc.).

Rapid Application Development (RAD) Model

Rapid application development (RAD) is another variation of Agile that emphasizes rapid prototyping over planning. By creating the functional modules in parallel and meshing them together into prototypes, RAD ensures a quicker delivery of a minimal viable product (MVP).

Lack of a pre-planned backlog makes it easier to incorporate changes into the development process. With RAD, you arrive at a final product through an interaction of prototypes. 

RAD software development

It’s possible to do RAD when a system can be modularized and delivered incrementally. Other main requirements for implementing this methodology are the high availability of designers for prototyping, the usage of automated code generating tools, and significant input from domain experts with relevant business knowledge.

Benefits of rapid application development 

  • Reduced delivery time: RAD provides quick planning, testing, and prototyping, allowing for faster time-to-market.
  • Users’ feedback: Customers constantly interact with evolving prototypes so the application can gradually fit the needs of the target audience.
  • Time-efficiency: Using automated tools for development and testing is the main requirement of RAD. 
  • Risk mitigation: The prototyping methodology emphasizes the early identification of the risks.

Shortcomings of Rapid Application Development 

  • The strong need for experts: The success of RAD depends on employing highly qualified professionals. 
  • Dependency on users: RAD relies on user feedback. If there are no customers or if they do not know what they want, there is a great chance of failure. 
  • Lack of scalability: RAD tends to work better with small to medium-sized projects. 
  • Poor design: Prototyping structure may encourage developers to ignore the system architecture issue in favor of trying to update individual components.

To Conclude 

Each software methodology has its own advantages depending on the project type. Short-term projects can use Waterfall or Rapid Application Development, while Agile may fit every size project, but its real value is in ongoing product development. 

Agile is sometimes regarded as a buzzword, especially among people who didn’t really use it. Yet, it is not only a powerful project management tool but also a strong mindset of growth. When done right, Agile gives your business the ability to move faster and react to dynamic customer needs. Speed and relevance: isn’t that what we need in the 2020s? 

You are interested in moving to Agile, but not sure where to start? Contact us to schedule a workshop! 

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