Software development has evolved into an incredibly complex machine, with several moving parts to keep track of. Teams get more extensive, and software systems become more complicated as time goes on. Consequently, it has become essential for organisations to structure and plan the road to a final product.
This article will cover the concept of a software development lifecycle and its typical applications in a modern environment.
A Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) is a structured business practice for engineers and developers to build large, complex software systems. Terms like Agile, Scrum, and Waterfall development are different interpretations of SDLC models that have become commonplace in the software development world.
These are essential tools for organisations to output software that meets the needs of a client or a business by providing a framework in which they can track results and progress in a standard format. With these practices in place, a team can develop faster with better project tracking and lower production costs, as SDLCs allow better project management and budgeting.
Of course, as technology evolves, so do these practices. As systems get more complex, we have seen common methodologies of SLDC evolve and shift with the industry. Where Waterfall development used to be the standard, we now see the shifts to Agile development and Scrum.
Traditionally, an SDLC can be anywhere from six to eight steps, with these six being widely agreed upon as the most essential:
The most crucial step for any project is planning. Without adequate planning, the project scope can grow unreasonable, and the project can fail before it's finished. During this step, the specifications for the software (such as target audience and the intended function) are established, so the client's needs are met and expectations are set.
This step also includes budgeting, setting milestones, establishing timelines, and risk management planning. In most cases, creating a proof of concept is also done at this stage to assure all parties that the task is feasible before committing resources.
During this step, developers and engineers will create prototypes and plan out the systems that will make up the final product. This can encompass many small decisions, such as:
Prototypes are typical in this step, furthering the idea from a proof of concept to a real piece of software. These prototypes typically serve as a basic idea of how the final product should work and rely on the client's feedback to improve the final product.
Once all the plans have been finalised, development begins. Here, the bulk of development will be completed. This includes development and testing, implementation of a secure SDLC, and assembling teams to work on specific parts or systems.
Documentation is also written at this stage, which helps both developers and end-users to use and understand the software. It can include user guides, comments, or tutorials, each with its use cases.
While this may be a separate step in the SDLC, this runs typically in tandem with development so that the SDLC can stay secure and the software gets thoroughly tested for vulnerabilities. Developers should use practices such as Application Security & Correlation or Vulnerability Assessment to keep testing accurately without halting development.
Depending on an organisation's practices, this is when the software is deployed to production after being tested thoroughly. These could be fully finished programs or a minimum viable product (MVP) that teams can put into the hands of end-users to use. If users find issues with the software, it goes to the development team to be analysed and fixed.
Once the product has been in use for a while without issues, typically, it goes into maintenance mode. This generally is the last stage of the SDLC, as teams begin to work on minor updates or fixes, all going through the same steps as before. At this stage, most of the development is done, and the cycle begins again.
Since the concept of the SDLC is a practice, it has been interpreted into several different frameworks that we see in the industry today. Here are a few popular examples:
One of the oldest methodologies, and perhaps the oldest, the waterfall model dates back to the late 50s when computers became complex enough to warrant a structured development system. This method tends to have progress flow in one direction, like a waterfall.
This method is relatively uncommon these days, as there are little to no iterations on the product. Instead, a lot of time is spent at the early stages of development, and testing is left to the end of the life cycle, where some issues become too complex to solve.
Unlike the Waterfall method, the Agile method grew over time as different engineers came together to establish a new form of development. Agile development centers around four crucial aspects of development:
In a similar vein to Agile, Scrum focuses on a “sprint” that involves daily short meetings on progress and proper documentation. Within a sprint, an entire product or system might go through the whole SDLC, making up a small portion of the final product’s SDLC. Once a sprint has ended, teams review their progress and discuss how it went to better improve the next sprint.
To begin implementing an SDLC, your organisation should meet and discuss the structure of your processes. Agile and Scrum methods are the most common practices in today's world, so you will want to pick one of the two. Once you have decided, planning becomes the most critical step as you begin the first phase of your lifecycle.
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