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10 Best Software Development Methodologies

Various software development methodologies have been introduced throughout the decades. The intention? To help you create better software development projects. However, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all methodology for every development team

In this article, we will delve into the topic of software development methodologies, explore the 10 best software development methodologies, and explain how we at Uptech choose which software methodology works best for our client’s projects.

My name is Aliona Nikolaieva, I'm a Production Lead at Uptech. have been working in the software development industry for over 5 years. I have extensive experience in project management and have witnessed firsthand the benefits and challenges associated with various software development methodologies.

By the end of this article, you will get:

  • valuable insights about 10 key software development methodologies;
  • the pre and cons of each methodology;
  • how to make informed decisions when it comes to selecting the methodology that works best for your team and project.

If you are a first-time founder or want to expand your knowledge in the field, understanding these software development methodologies will undoubtedly contribute to the success of your business.

Read on and find out which software development methodology works best for you.

What is Software Development Methodology?

Let's start from the beginning and give a definition to "software development methodology" term.

Software development methodology refers to structured processes involved when working on a project. It is a blend of design philosophies and pragmatic realism that stretches back to the early days of computing.

The purpose of the software development methodologies.

The goal is to provide a systematic approach to software development.

Software development methodology provides a platform for developers to work together more efficiently as a team. It formalizes communication and determines how information is shared within the team.

The challenge with the software development methodologies.

Today, many IT companies agree that employing a software development methodology is crucial for their team. However, the subject of which method is the best remains in question. That’s because there isn’t one. Each methodology has its pros and cons.

Getting the best out of one depends on the team structure, requirements, and goals. It’s also possible to use different software development methodologies for different projects.

software development

Why Adhere to Software Development Methodology? 

It needs to be stressed that it’s crucial to choose a software development methodology and apply it with discipline throughout the project. There are numerous risks when you’re taking software development methodology for granted.

Without structured guidance, the product development team can suffer from:

  • customers’ ever-changing requests;
  • miscommunications;
  • unmet expectations.
  • low productivity;
  • budget issues;
  • poor project management.  

This leads to frequent revision in the software without considering the overall implications of the project.

The result?

Wastage in time, money, and effort with the risk of producing a subpar application that doesn’t bring much to the table.

Software development methodologies are developed to benefit both the development team and customers. Choosing the right one ensures that discussions are conducted on proper channels and decisions are made after evaluating all factors.

Using a software development methodology allows the team to:

  • cut down on inefficiency;
  • provide a more accurate delivery timeline;
  • be more organized and structured when dealing with spontaneous changes.

We provide full-cycle software product development services. We leverage our experience and expertise to help early-stage startups and established companies level up their business capability.

Learn more about software product development services we offer!

10 Main Software Development Methodologies

Developers are spoilt for choices from the various software development methodologies available. Most of the methodologies fall can be categorized as either a waterfall, iterative or continuous model.

  • A Waterfall methodology follows a fixed sequence in implementation. Stages of development are defined in a rigid, sequential manner. This model was highly popular during the early days of programming due to the certainty in project scope. However, the rigidity of its structure also contributes to a high failure rate for many projects.
  • The Iterative model offers an alternative for software development that’s less focused on rigid documentation but provides room for constant revisions. It uses multiple sprints to quickly build and test ideas to ensure they are relevant to users. As such, problems get fixed early on, and the team stays within the project’s goals. Agile and Scrum are two of the most popular iterative software development methodologies.
  • The Continuous model is inspired by the Toyota Production System. It is about minimizing interruption or ensuring the flow between different phases of development. The goal of the continuous software development approach is to avoid wastage and improve the efficiency of the various phases.

Here are 10 of the most popular software development methodologies favored by modern developers.

1. Agile Development Methodology

Overview

Agile is arguably one of the most popular software development methodologies in recent days. It takes a different approach from the conventional, linear method. Agile focuses on how to satisfy the users instead of emphasizing documentation and rigid procedures.

With Agile, tasks are broken into short sprints that take about 1 to 4 weeks to complete. It’s an iterative model that involves multiple tests as the development progresses. Developers continuously seek feedback from customers and make changes to the software.

Communication is the priority in Agile, particularly between developers, customers, and users.

Pros:

  • The software has minimal defects due to the iterative effort in testing and fine-tuning.
  • Clear communication among team members, fostered by frequent and transparent development processes.
  • Easy to incorporate changes in project requirements with minimal impact on the project timeline.
  • The quality of deliverables has generally improved.

Cons:

  • The team can lose focus when overwhelmed with change requests.
  • Documentation often receives less attention, which can cause issues later on.
  • Discussions and feedback, while crucial, can consume a lot of time.
  • Agile’s unstructured approach requires developers with significant experience who can operate independently.
software development methodologies

Suitable For

The Agile software development methodology is ideal for projects with fast-changing requirements. If you’re building software in a new niche, you’ll want to use Agile. It works best to implement the additional ideas as you learn more about the market needs. Of course, this assumes that your team of developers is highly-independent and comfortable working in a fast-paced, non-structured environment. 

Learn more about the benefits of Agile software development and how we at Uptech use it step-by-step in our guide.

2. Waterfall Development Methodology

Overview

Despite decades since it was first used, the Waterfall methodology is still relevant in some projects today. It is a simple, linear method where development stages are arranged into sequential, cascading processes. 

The Waterfall development methodology is easily understood, which makes it popular for teams with lesser design experience. Each stage must be completed before moving on to the next. For example, all the requirements must be established before design can commence. 

Just like how a Waterfall flows in one direction, there’s no going back in this approach. This makes waterfall a non-flexible method and to be avoided for projects with rapidly-changing requirements.

Pros:

  • The Waterfall model’s linearity enhances simplicity and clarity, making it particularly accessible for new developers.
  • Specifications and deliverables are clearly defined upfront, so the expectations are clear before development begins.
  • Communication is very precise, as every detail is explicitly outlined at each stage.

Cons:

  • Customer feedback isn't included in the early phases, which increases the risk of the project veering off target.
  • Testing is only performed at the end of the development process, making it harder to fix problems later on.
  • The Waterfall model's rigidity doesn't allow for mid-project adjustments, which makes it unsuitable for complex or evolving projects.
  • Too much emphasis on documentation can detract from the primary goal of delivering effective solutions.
software development methodologies

Suitable For

Use waterfall only when you have a project with a clearly-defined scope. This software development methodology is not suitable for development that involves many unknowns. Waterfall is ideal for projects with predictable outcomes and when you have a team of inexperienced developers. 

3. Lean Development Methodology

Overview

Lean development is born out of the lean manufacturing principles by Toyota. It focuses on minimizing wastage and increasing productivity. With the guiding principles, developers avoid non-productive activities while delivering quality in their tasks.

The Toyota-inspired methodology also emphasizes continuous learning and deferment of decision. It empowers teams to keep an open mind during the course of development and consider all factors before finalizing a decision. 

With the Lean methodology, developers are tasked to identify bottlenecks that could hamper the process. The goal is to establish an efficient system that works flawlessly. The methodology also emphasizes human respect, which means communication is key to enhancing team collaboration.

software development

Pros:

  • Cuts down on wastage in the project, including redundant code, unnecessary documentation, and repetitive tasks.
  • The application of lean principles reduces the overall cost of development.
  • Lean development promotes efficiency, shortening the time-to-market for the software.
  • Increases motivation among team members by empowering them with more decision-making authority.

Cons:

  • Lean development requires a team of highly skilled developers, which can be challenging to assemble.
  • Less-skilled developers may feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities, potentially losing focus on the project.
  • Despite Lean's aim to reduce waste, detailed documentation is still necessary, placing a significant burden on the business analyst.
software development methodologies

Suitable For

With the Lean software development methodology, developers are tasked to identify bottlenecks that could hamper the process. Its principles of minimizing wastage and increasing efficiency mean you’ll be leveraging a small team to achieve tremendous results. Lean development becomes less practical for larger projects, as you’ll need a larger team to take on the tasks. 

4. Scrum Development Methodology

Overview

Scrum is arguably one of the most flexible software development methodologies available. It is based on the Agile philosophy and is favored for its incremental and iterative approaches. The Scrum methodology involves the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and the Development Team.

The product owner takes input from the client and ensures that the team is on track in fulfilling the client’s requirements. Meanwhile, the Scrum Master acts as a facilitator and ensures that team members are familiar with the Scrum process. The team takes charge of executing the development.

What makes Scrum an ideal software development methodology in a fast-paced environment is how tasks are executed in sprints. Each sprint takes up to 4 weeks. The speedy execution allows teams to identify issues, introduce solutions, test, and gather feedback in a short period. It makes tackling fast-paced projects much easier.

Pros:

  • Short iterations allow for quick resolutions to emerging problems.
  • Highly responsive to changes, incorporating regular feedback into the development process.
  • Scrum is economical and proves to be an effective methodology.
  • Regular meetings ensure that all team members are aligned and informed.
  • Contributions of individual team members are noticed and appreciated through Scrum meetings.

Cons:

  • All team members must be equally skilled and committed for Scrum to be effective.
  • Daily Scrum meetings can be draining and may lead to burnout among team members.
  • May increase time-to-market if there is no strict control over deadlines.
  • Not suitable for very large projects due to its focus on close collaboration and frequent communication.
software development methodologies

Suitable For

Scum is the go-to methodology if you have a project with vague requirements but need to adapt to frequent changes. For example, you need to get an MVP built quickly and test it out amongst users. Remember that Scrum is only effective if you have a fully-committed and experienced team.

5. Prototype Development Methodology

Overview

Instead of developing full-fledged software, the prototype model allows developers to work on the prototype version of the final product. The prototype is then made available for customer testing, evaluation, and feedback.

Based on the gathered feedback, the prototype goes through several iterations of refinement until it’s deemed satisfactory by the customer. The appeal of the prototype approach is its rigorous evaluation that uncovers possible issues before actual development begins.

This approach’s success lies not only in the development team but also in how well they communicate with the customers in carrying out the test. It’s also worth mentioning that the developers often bear the cost of building the prototype.

software development

Pros:

  • Good at ironing out potential issues in the early development stage, which greatly reduces the risk of product failure.
  • Ability to ensure the customer is satisfied with the prototype before real development work starts.
  • Builds rapport with the customer early on through discussions, benefiting the entire project.
  • Gathers detailed information with the prototype, which is utilized in building the final version.

Cons:

  • Excessive iterations in testing the prototype with the customer can delay the development timeline.
  • The customer’s expectations of the actual product may not align with the prototype.
  • There's a risk of cost overrun as the works on the prototype are often paid for by the developer.
software development methodologies

Suitable For

The prototype software development methodology is ideal when you’re building software with many unknowns. For example, an online platform with intense user interaction. With the prototype methodology, you can find out what works best with users and reduce the risk of developing the actual product.

6. Rapid Application Development Methodology

Overview

The Rapid Application Development (RAD) model was introduced in 1991 and served as the foundation of modern iterative frameworks. It focuses on getting products built in a much shorter time frame without compromising the quality.

RAD is a 4-step framework, which is defending:

  • project requirements;
  • prototyping;
  • testing;
  • implementation.

Unlike linear models, RAD emphasizes building prototypes with the given requirements and testing them out with the customer. This is done through multiple iterations until the customer is happy with the results.

Rigorous testing of the prototype results in valuable feedback, which helps to eliminate much of the product risk. Using RAD leads to high chances of successful product release within the stipulated timeline. RAD often uses development tools that could automate and simplify the development process.

Pros:

  • Regular customer feedback helps reduce risks throughout the development process.
  • Constant engagement and iterative improvements lead to increased customer satisfaction.
  • Works well for small and medium-sized applications.
  • Streamlining development processes reduces the time-to-market.

Cons:

  • Highly dependent on having a responsive customer for continual feedback.
  • Not suitable for projects with tight budget constraints due to potential high costs.
  • Lacks sufficient documentation for effective progress tracking, which can impact project management.
software development methodologies

Suitable For

You’ll get the best results from Rapid Application Development if you have a team of experienced developers and customers who are equally involved in the project. Communication is key to realizing projects with the RAD method. You’ll also need to invest in RAD tools like low-code/no-code applications to speed up the development. 

7. Dynamic Systems Methodology

Overview

The Dynamic System Model inherits much of its principles from the Rapid Application Development framework. This refined software development methodology is aimed at the prompt delivery and aligning project goals to business needs. It features four iterative phases of feasibility & business study, functional model, design & build, and implementation.

Throughout the process, end users are greatly involved in providing feedback. This reduces the risk of straying from the project goals and requirements. The Dynamic Systems Model also features detailed documentation, which is lacking in most Agile frameworks.

Pros:

  • The iterative approach ensures that basic software functionalities are delivered promptly.
  • Developers have better control over the development timeline and budget.
  • Necessary documentation is created throughout the development process.
  • Establishes communication between end-users and developers, keeping the team on the right track.

Cons:

  • Execution can be quite expensive due to the heavy involvement of users and developers, including considerable training expenses.
  • Smaller teams may struggle to implement this methodology effectively.
  • The concept and implementation of the model are quite complex, which can pose challenges in adoption and execution.
software development methodologies

Suitable For

Using the Dynamic Systems Model for small organizations is out of the question. Instead, it is a better fit for large organizations saddled by red-tapes, bottlenecks, and redundancies. It breaks down rigid processes into smaller iterative parts and streamlines communication between different teams. 

8. Feature Driven Development Methodology

Overview

Feature Driven Development, or FDD is a software development methodology based on Agile. Its goal is simple, to prevent confusion that leads to costly rework. FDD is sometimes mistaken as focusing on each of the software features. It is not. 

What Feature Driven Development does is break down development activities into a feature list on the overall model. For each of the features, developers go through an iteration of planning, designing, and building. Typically a feature should take no longer than two weeks to accomplish. 

The outcome of FDD is quick, impactful results for each of the activities listed as features. This approach is meant for large teams, and information is communicated through detailed documentation. Pros:

software development methodologies

Pros:

  • Breaks down complicated tasks into smaller activities, enhancing efficiency.
  • Enables large teams to work on multiple tasks simultaneously, boosting productivity.
  • Relies on predefined standards and best practices, leading to predictable outcomes.

Cons:

  • Not suitable for smaller projects where its structured approach may be overly complex.
  • Highly dependent on the lead developer for task coordination, which can create bottlenecks.
  • May sometimes focus more on activities than on delivering user value, as the model is heavily driven by activities rather than end-user benefits.
software development methodologies

Suitable For

Feature Driven Development works best for larger teams working on complex projects. It offers the best of an iterative framework but with a more structured approach. Ideally, you’ll want to have a competent lead developer taking charge of FDD. 

9. Rational Unified Process (RUP) Methodology

Overview

The Rational Unified Process (RUP) is a software development methodology designed to adapt to the complexities and varied requirements of any software project.

Unlike the more flexible Agile methods, RUP is highly structured, dividing the development process into 4 distinct phases:

  1. Inception;
  2. Elaboration,;
  3. Construction;
  4. Transition.

RUP methodology name speaks for itself. It’s a very structured approach that ensures thorough documentation and rigorous development processes. If you have complex software development projects that involve multiple stakeholders, require a high degree of oversight and systematic progression, RUP methodology can be particularly advantageous.

Pros:

  • Early identification and mitigation of risks are achieved through the iterative approach with well-defined phases.
  • Emphasizes robust architectural design, leading to higher software quality and maintainability.
  • Clear milestones and well-defined stages make the process predictable. Predictability in turn, is good for budgeting and timelines.
  • Detailed documentation and formal reviews ensure thorough tracking and control over the development process.

Cons:

  • Requires significant resources and can be costly, particularly for smaller teams or startups with limited budgets.
  • The detailed and structured nature of RUP can be overwhelming for smaller projects or teams new to rigorous methodologies.
  • RUP offers limited flexibility and can be slow to accommodate significant changes, leading to delays.

Suitable For:

RUP is ideal for large-scale projects with high complexity, where predictability, comprehensive documentation, and rigorous processes are required. It suits startups that are working on enterprise-level solutions, where failure to address complex functional and technical challenges systematically can lead to significant setbacks.

10. Adaptive Software Development (ASD) Methodology

Overview

Adaptive Software Development (ASD) software development methodology is all about flexibility and learning through an iterative cycle of speculation, collaboration, and learning.

These three are the pillars of this methodology and make it thrive in environments of uncertainty and rapid change. That’s why ASD methodology is a suitable choice for startups aiming to innovate quickly. Unlike traditional methodologies that rely heavily on strict planning and control, ASD is all about adapting to evolving requirements in real-time.

Pros:

  • Rapid iterations and a focus on continuous adaptation allow for quicker releases, helping startups respond swiftly to market demands.
  • Encourages experimentation and learning, making it ideal for startups looking to innovate and test new ideas.
  • Continuous feedback loops with stakeholders ensure the product evolves in line with real user needs and preferences.

Cons:

  • As projects grow, the informal processes typical of ASD can make scaling up more challenging.
  • Requires a highly skilled and collaborative team that can handle autonomy and make quick decisions without constant oversight.
  • The focus on adaptation and change can result in insufficient documentation, potentially complicating future scaling or maintenance.

Suitable For:

As we mentioned above, ASD is the best option for startups working in dynamic industries where requirements are expected to change frequently, such as tech innovators or companies operating in rapidly evolving sectors.

Summary

Software development methodologies provide a guided approach to building software and apps. Since the early days of programming, they have been in use and remain pivotal for modern developers.

While new methodologies are introduced throughout the decades, there isn’t one that triumphed over others. Choosing the right software development methodology depends on your team structure, experience, project requirements, goals, budget, and other underlying factors.

We hope you have a better idea of which methodology fits your team best with the detailed descriptions. Otherwise, feel free to get in touch with us for more assistance.

FAQs

Are 'software design techniques' the same thing as 'software development methodologies'?

No, 'software design techniques' and 'software development methodologies' are not the same thing.

  • Software design techniques are the specific approaches and strategies used during the design phase of software development to structure and organize the system components.
  • Software development methodologies are more comprehensive frameworks that guide the entire software development process from initial planning through design, development, testing, and maintenance. Examples include Agile, Waterfall, and Scrum.

What is design methodology in software engineering?

In software engineering, a design methodology is a systematic approach used to plan, structure, and control the process of developing an information system.

The goal of a design methodology is to improve the quality and efficiency of the software development process by providing a structured framework for achieving the project goals.

Which software development approach will suit the best for a startup?

For startups, Agile methodologies like Scrum or Lean are the best software development approaches. These approaches allow startups to adapt quickly to changes and prototype, test, and build their products even when the resources are limited.

Are there any additional types that are not presented in our software development methodologies list?

Yes, there are several other methodologies that might not have been included in the general list but can be handy. For example:

  • Behavior-driven development (BDD) focuses on the business and customer interests through the use of simple, domain-specific scripting language.
  • Test-Driven Development (TDD) emphasizes creating and running automated tests before the actual development of the application.
  • Spiral Model which combines elements of both design and prototyping in development stages to combine advantages of top-down and bottom-up concepts.

Which development methods are considered to be most cost-effective?

Software development methodologies like Lean and Kanban are often considered the most cost-effective because they focus on minimizing waste (time, resources, effort) and maximizing productivity and value.

Agile can also be cost-effective as it reduces the costs associated with late-stage changes and error correction through early and continuous testing and feedback.

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