When googling stages of the software development lifecycle (SDLC), you’ll find that different sources give a different number of stages. While the particular SDLC stages may vary a bit from one company to another, their main goal is to ensure a consistent software development process.
In this article, we answer the question “What are the stages of software development?” We’ll go through each stage and briefly describe its essence so you have a clear understanding of what to expect from software development.
But before we start discussing the stages of SDLC in detail, let’s see why following these stages is important.
The thing is that they ensure a transparent software development process where every team member understands their roles and responsibilities. This allows for clear communication between the team and stakeholders. As a result, the risk of misunderstanding, reworks, and missed deadlines eliminates.
So the six main stages of the software development lifecycle are planning, requirements elicitation, application design, development and testing, deployment, and maintenance.
Let’s consider each stage in detail.
Software product development lifecycle has to start with proper planning. While some business owners believe they can rely on their promising idea combined with the experience of software engineers to build a superb product, it doesn’t really work that way. There are several reasons why you should pay close attention to planning as the first stage of the software product development lifecycle.
It gives you a clear vision of your goal. In planning your product development, you research the niche you want to fill, your target audience, your competitors, monetization options, etc. You should also decide on the budget you’re ready to spend on product development and maintenance. By doing all this, you define your business needs that are then used by your development team to bring your project to life.
It increases the chance of creating a successful product. You can come up with an idea for a brilliant app that in your opinion should make a breakthrough on the market. But the truth is there are a lot of apps and a single idea isn’t enough to build a new market leader. You should validate your idea before you even start looking for a software development partner. Only when you get enough proof that your idea can compete can you move to the following stage of the software development lifecycle.
It saves you time. If you don’t carry out a bunch of research, you won’t know what product to build, and that will complicate the software development process. You won’t be able to clearly explain to your developers what you want to get as a result of development, and this will lead to misunderstandings and rework. As a result, you’ll spend more time on development and increase the time to market.
It saves you money. Time is money, so the clearer you define your expectations from software development at the very beginning, the less time you’ll spend on it. Taking into account that you pay your development team for the time they spend developing and fixing your product, you can dramatically cut down development costs.
When planning to create your software product, you should organize your thoughts in the form of an app development business plan, a business model canvas, or a project brief.
As a rule, planning happens on the stakeholder’s side. But even if you only have an idea, you can still start working with a software development provider. They will be able if not to write a full business plan then at least to carry out research in your domain and share insights that will help you create a business plan on your own.
2. Requirements elicitation
At this stage, you have a more or less clear understanding of what app you want to build and it’s time to communicate your idea to your development team. This involves meeting with a software development company’s business analyst (BA) and sharing your expectations during a process called software requirements elicitation. During this process, the BA works on creating an app requirements document, also known as a software requirements specification (SRS).
An SRS contains functional and non-functional requirements. Functional requirements describe what functionality should be available for the app’s end users, while non-functional requirements are a description of the software product’s structure, dependencies, and other technical specifications. In addition, there are sections that describe other important aspects of software development such as the objectives of your project, types of users, and the scope of work to be completed.
One more thing you should know about requirements elicitation is that it’s performed during the discovery phase. The discovery phase happens at the beginning of the software development project and allows you to set the direction for the whole development process. During this phase, you’ll also decide on the software development team structure. Depending on the services you need, the number of specialists will vary. Usually, if you outsource web development services, your development company offers you the number of specialists necessary to build your software within your allocated budget and time frame.
3. Application design
Before starting to build your application, it’s necessary to have a layout you’ll follow. You should understand how your software will work from a technical standpoint and how it will look. At this stage of the product development lifecycle, your software development team will provide you with app architecture and a user experience design.
The software architecture defines the structure of your software. It includes all components and describes how they work together.
A UI/UX design is created before the actual development starts so that software engineers develop your software in accordance with the approved design.
4. Development and testing
At this stage, the actual software development starts (both backend and frontend). Another crucial part of the process is testing, during which QA engineers make sure that a product functions as planned. This is one of the most time-consuming stages of the SDLC, as it requires a lot of work. Development and testing can be carried out differently depending on the approach to software development: Waterfall or Agile.
Waterfall is a rigid approach to software development. With the Waterfall approach, development goes according to the initial plan, stage by stage, and no changes are made during the process. Testing starts only when all functionality is ready.
With Waterfall, a client doesn’t actively participate in the development process ‒ they communicate their requirements and then usually meet their development team once again when the product is ready. The Waterfall model is a good choice for projects that have strict requirements, such as those in the healthcare or government domain.
Agile is the opposite of Waterfall. This model is flexible and allows for changes throughout the software development process, and it suits projects with varying requirements.
The Agile development process looks as follows. First, the development team works on the code that brings your software to life. The software development process is iterative, which means it’s divided into small parts and your software’s functionality is developed in small batches.
To ensure effective Agile development, the whole development process is divided into sprints. A sprint is a set time frame during which a certain workload is planned. At the end of each sprint, the development team should have new working functionality. Once a sprint is finished, the development team analyzes the results and plans the next sprint, taking into account possible improvements.
Agile is a winning approach for startup owners, as it allows them to alter project requirements as frequently as they need. Plus, with iterative development, it’s easy to test new ideas, quickly adapt to a competitive market, and change feature priorities.
Deployment can be considered one of the final stages of software development, as it contains all the processes that make the ready product available for users. The result of deployment is an app or update that people can download and use. Software deployment consists of three steps:
- Preparation. This is when DevOps collects the parts of code to be deployed. At this stage, it’s important to check what functionality should be deployed during a particular release.
- Testing. No piece of functionality can be deployed without proper testing. That’s why testing is a must before making new functionality or updates available to real users.
- Deployment. This is the process of merging new parts of code to the production environment, after which new functionality becomes available for users.
Deployment is one of the final stages of SDLC, but the development doesn’t really stop when the product goes live. You should first develop a minimum viable product (MVP) and then work on improving it. You can consider maintenance as a new round of the SDLC. Once you release your app, you continue working on it: gather user feedback, analyze it, reconsider the app’s design, implement new functionality, release updates, and repeat.
The six main stages of the software development lifecycle are planning, requirements elicitation, application design, development and testing, deployment, and maintenance. These stages can go one by one or overlap depending on the development approach you use.
The two most common approaches to software development are Waterfall and Agile. Both can be used effectively, but it’s important to choose a suitable approach for your project. While Waterfall is a good choice for projects with rigid requirements, Agile is used more frequently nowadays. It allows you to be flexible during development and quickly adapt to a fast-changing market.