Software Development Life Cycle in 7 Steps

  • Katie Deck
  • June 25, 2019

Ah, the software development cycle. It’s the basic principle of building custom software. Unfortunately, the core definition can sometimes be lost in endless debates on methodologies and models used to execute software development. 

It’s like trying to explain what a GIF is to your aunt. All of a sudden, you and your cousins are screaming about pronouncing it “GIF” vs “JIF.” Does shouting about the soft G answer her question? No. Is your uncle mad because he can’t hear Jeopardy over your nonsense? Yes.

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So that’s why we are skipping the discussions about Agile, SCRUM, Waterfall, etc., for now and focusing on the foundation itself. We’ll define the software development life cycle and the 7 fundamental steps used to build custom software. 

What is the Software Development Life Cycle?

The software development life cycle (SDLC) is a process used for structuring the development of any software system, from initiation through to implementation. This process aims to meet the customer’s demand for fast turnaround, which means less cost, without sacrificing quality. Not following efficient software development practices leads to botched builds where the users are unhappy and time + money are wasted.

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Customer interaction at all levels along with the right methodology for implementing the software, is crucial to the success of any organization.

Why use the Software Development Life Cycle?

SDLC is considered to be the foundation for all software development methodologies, with various activities associated with each level. Activities such as budgets, requirements gathering, and documentation writing, are included in the cycle, as well as the more technical elements. SDLC usually begins with determining customer business needs, which is followed by implementation and testing. The cycle ends when all requirements have been fulfilled. The software development life cycle comprises of seven distinct phases:

  1. Planning
  2. Analysis / Requirements
  3. Design
  4. Development
  5. Testing
  6. Deployment
  7. Maintenance

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Phase 1: Planning

We start off with finding out the scope of the problem and determining solutions. Resources, costs, time, benefits, and other items should be considered here.

Project goals are determined and a high-level plan for the intended project is established. Planning is the most fundamental and critical organizational phase.

Phase 2: Analysis / Requirements

The second phase is where teams consider the functional requirements of the project or solution. It’s also where system analysis takes place – or analyzing the needs of the end users to ensure the new system can meet their expectations.

Project goals are converted into the defined system functions that the organization intends to develop. The three primary activities involved in the analysis phase are as follows:

  • Gathering business requirements
  • Creating process workflows
  • Performing a detailed analysis

Business requirement gathering is the most crucial part at this level of SDLC. Business requirements are a brief set of business functionalities that the system needs to meet in order to be successful. Using the Agile methodology, the output of this phase may produce a backlog of tasks to be performed.

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Phase 3: Design

Once requirements are understood, the design process takes place. In the design phase, we describe the desired features and operations of the system. This phase includes business rules, screen layouts, and other necessary documentation.

Outputs include: design documents that list the patterns and components selected for the project, and code produced by spikes that are used as a starting point for development. 

Phase 4: Development

Code time. In the development phase, all the documents from the previous phase are transformed into the actual system. This could be in “sprints” (Agile methodology) or in a single block effort (Waterfall). 

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The output of this phase is testable, functional software and is typically presented to the client as a demo at set intervals to provide timely feedback.

Phase 5: Testing

Perhaps the most important phase in the cycle: the testing phase. It is impossible to deliver quality custom software without testing. All the pieces of code are integrated and deployed in the testing environment. Testers then check the system for errors, bugs, and defects to verify the system’s functionalities work as expected or not, and do this often.

The output of the testing phase is functional software, ready for deployment to a production environment.

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Phase 6: Deployment

During this next phase, the system is deployed to a real-life (the client’s) environment where the actual user begins to operate the system. All data and components are then placed in the production environment. This phase is also called referred to as ‘delivery.’

Phase 7: Maintenance

Software development doesn’t just end here. There’s a reason it’s called the Software Development Life Cycle and not the Software Development Happily Ever After The End. 

Maintenance is the “end of the beginning” in that software must continually be monitored to ensure proper operations. Bugs and defects, which are inevitable because operating systems and programming languages are always updating and improving, will be discovered and they must be addressed.

Any necessary enhancements, corrections, and changes will be made during this phase to make sure the system continues to work, and stay updated to meet the business goals. It is necessary to maintain and upgrade the system from time to time so it can adapt to future needs.

Conclusion

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As with most processes, small adjustments to the software development life cycle can be made based on client and/or project needs. The key part of this cycle is that the client and development team (which includes project managers, software developers – both frontend and backend, and UX designers) are communicating effectively throughout the process to understand the users’ needs, the business goals, and see where they can pivot if needed. 

There are various methodologies to implement this process, including Agile, Waterfall, SCRUM, and so many more. But having the foundation and understanding why each step is important in building quality software is crucial for getting projects completed on time, within budget, and user friendly.

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