What Is a Software Development Methodology? (With 11 Types)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 21 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

For those who work in computer science, understanding how to develop new software is an important skill. There are several types of software development methodologies that professionals in this industry use to invent, plan, produce and test new software applications. Learning about some common methods of software development can help you decide which process is likely to be the most effective for your project. In this article, we define what a software development methodology is, describe 11 common methods in software development and provide tips for choosing the right process for your next project.

What is a software development methodology?

A software development methodology is a process by which developers design, implement and test new computer programs. Following a methodology benefits developers because these processes lay out a structured sequence of steps that guide professionals through each stage of development. Additionally, development methodologies often follow a design philosophy, which can help developers align their process and the product's features with its functional goals. For example, the developer may define what the software product does and what problems it solves for users as part of their design philosophy.

Related: What Is Software Development: Definition, Processes and Types

11 common software development methodologies

Here are 11 methods for software development to consider for your next project:

1. Agile

Agile is a type of project management methodology. It emphasises a fast and flexible approach by allowing the development team to divide larger projects into smaller tasks. The team can complete these tasks in shorter iterations while gaining feedback on these smaller portions for more consistent communication with clients and test users. This methodology is useful for reducing risks, expediting development, improving customer satisfaction and reducing redundancies. Since developers gain client feedback throughout the development and testing cycle, this can be a great method to use for projects that require significant collaboration.

2. DevOps

Similar to the agile method, DevOps is another great methodology to use for developers working in collaboration with clients. DevOps refers to a development strategy that combines development and operations. This means that this process integrates continuous testing and delivery of applications. For example, when the development team completes a portion of a project, the operations team then tests the new addition for functionality. The operations team can deliver feedback to the development team to further optimise the feature so there's a continuous stream of feedback and improvement between departments.

Related: How to Become a DevOps Engineer: Role Definition and Salary

3. Waterfall

The waterfall method involves breaking a task down into a sequence of stages. With this process, developers need to complete each stage in its entirety before moving to the next step. Although this process may be less efficient than those where developers work on several stages of a project concurrently, the waterfall method is effective for ensuring thoroughness at every level of project development. This method also minimises redundancies because it prevents overlap between tasks at different stages.

Related: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

4. Spiral

The spiral method has four parts. Developers pass through these phases in a spiral, which allows for continuous development. With each pass, the development team builds, tests and refines the product for improvement across iterations. Here are the phases of the spiral method:

  1. Planning: During the planning phase of the spiral process, developers define the goals for the development stage. This means determining what feature the team works on and the steps for completing the phase.

  2. Risk analysis: In addition to planning what to accomplish in the previous stage of development, it's important for developers to consider any risk factors in their plan. For example, they may identify risks related to time management, resources or client communication.

  3. Engineering: In the next phase of the development process, the engineers create the product. This is the stage in which they use tools to create a prototype of a product or a product feature for testing.

  4. Evaluation: After creating the prototype, the next stage of development is testing and evaluation. The developers assess the product or feature, identify areas for improvement and refine the product.

5. Rapid application

This development methodology focuses on rapidly producing and releasing new prototypes. It places greater emphasis on designing products quickly rather than developing a rigid plan. The benefits of this include increased flexibility and faster development. For example, a development team works with a client to understand their goals for new software. Instead of drafting a multi-phase plan for developing the software, they may create a general plan and develop the product with the primary goal as the focus. After developing the product prototype, the testing phase may happen more holistically rather than in stages.

6. Dynamic systems and development method

The dynamic systems development method (DSDM) functions similarly to the rapid application method. It focuses on collaboration and relies on an iterative process. Additionally, this method works incrementally, meaning that developers create the base version of a product and deliver it to the client for feedback before adding the remaining features to complete the prototype. The four phases of this development method are feasibility and business study, functional model and prototype iteration, design and build iteration and implementation.

7. Prototype

With the prototype methodology, developers build a complete prototype and then test it for refinement. Rather than developing different features or functions of a completed product and testing each of them before combining them into the final product, this method focuses on creating a whole product before testing it and getting client feedback. This development model can work well for simple software, software upgrades or products that rely on relatively few features to operate. The six phases of the prototype method are goal setting and analysis, quick design, prototype building, user evaluation, refinement, implementation and maintenance.

8. Extreme programming

Extreme programming is a development method that emphasises the release of multiple updated versions of a software within a short time frame. This allows developers to add new features by releasing updated versions of the software throughout its development. For example, the developers can work with the client to understand the base features of a new product and then plan additional features to add over time. The development team then creates the base product, tests it, refines it and releases it with the intent of adding more features in subsequent versions of the product.

9. Feature-driven development

Based on agile principles of development, the feature-driven method works by organising development tasks around a product's primary features. This method also relies on good project management methods like the agile process, but it differs in that it centralises the core function of the product. While the agile method considers all product features equally, the feature-driven method emphasises a particular feature and develops its planning methodology based on the product's core function. When using this method, developers engage in five steps. These steps are developing, building, planning by feature, designing by feature and building by feature.

Related: The 8 Main Types of Engineering Industries (With Roles)

10. Joint application development

The joint application development model highlights the relationship between developers, clients and users. It's the most collaborative of all the development methodologies. It's used most often when clients or end-users require specialised software for their needs. For example, a client may hire a software developer to design a program that allows them to more efficiently a specific task in their industry. Since the client has specialised needs, they work closely with the development team to clarify what features benefit them the most in achieving their goals.

11. Rational unified process

The rational unified process is another agile-based development methodology. It uses four phases:

  1. Inception: In this stage, developers determine the feasibility of a project, and they establish what resources they need to complete the project.

  2. Elaboration: Developers use this stage of the development process to anticipate costs, set budgets and identify the uses for the product.

  3. Construction: The construction phase involves the designing, building and testing of the product.

  4. Transition: Developers transition the product into its operational phase, at which point end-users apply the product to their needs and provide feedback for refinement.

Tips for choosing a software development methodology

When choosing the right software development methodology for your project, consider using these tips:

Prioritise the needs of clients or users

Knowing what the client or user expects and whether their needs may change can be a solid foundation for deciding on a methodology. If your target audience has fixed or fairly consistent needs, a non-iterative approach is likely suitable. If your audience is diverse and has varied needs, you can expect a sizable amount of feedback and might consider a more collaborative methodology.

Related: What Does a Software Engineer Do? (Plus How to Become One)

Consider project characteristics

Characteristics such as project size and time frame can also help determine which methodology to use. Smaller projects usually require fewer people, resources and adjustments, in which case a linear model such as the waterfall method might be suitable. In contrast, a large project with a relatively tight deadline might benefit from an agile framework.

Determine your flexibility

Flexibility refers to your ability to adapt to new requirements. If your team can manage shifting client expectations throughout the development process, an adaptive methodology, such as extreme programming, may be suitable for you. If your team requires predictability to produce a high-quality product, a stable process, such as the waterfall methodology, may be ideal.

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