The 3 Main Types of Application Development Methodologies

As of July, 2020, there are 3.5 billion smartphone users in the world. If your digital properties aren’t designed and built for smartphones, then you’re missing out on the preferred platform of close to half of the world population. SF AppWorks can help bring your web and mobile apps to life, whether through native development, progressive web apps, or mobile-optimized websites. But understanding HOW to bring those apps to life is an entirely different topic, and the focus of this blog post. Let’s dive into a few of the popular application development methodologies so we can understand and apply the best framework to our software development projects.  

Related: Things to Avoid to Ensure Successful App Development

The Software Development Life Cycle

The Software Development Life Cycle (“SLDC”) is made up of five key stages. There is the value and productivity analysis, the market analysis to understand the competition and the key features needed, the software planning stage, the design and development phase, and finally the Launch and Learn (testing) phase. The software planning and development phases typically operate under one of three application development methodologies.

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The waterfall application development method is aptly named so because once you go down, you can’t go back up. The keywords for this application development are planning and sequencing. That means that everything is planned and mapped out in the planning and analysis stages of the life cycle. The waterfall method works on the basis that the project requirements are clear and that there’s a collective vision that’s unified when it comes to the result that they want from the app itself. The team in place for this application development will work to build exactly what has been outlined as the requirements. After the design stage has been completed, the development of the app begins. Once it’s built, it’s then tested and shown to the customer, then launched.

Like all methods, there are advantages and disadvantages to Waterfall. It’s more suitable for well defined projects where the requirements are unambiguous and the value proposition is proven. It’s also suitable for projects that have a high risk to human safety, since the agile notions of testing and tweaking don’t translate well when lives are on the line. Where Waterfall falls short, however, is in understanding that changes do happen within the process of development. Opinions change and requirements change as new information is learned. In Waterfall, if a customer wants to make changes during the course of the project, it can derail timelines and estimates. 

If you don’t expect much change, then Waterfall is worth considering, but it’s the riskiest type of software development when working with products that have yet to find product market fit. 

Unsure which applications development methodology is best for you? Ask the experts at SF AppWorks. 


A newer method called Rapid Application Development (“RAD”) was introduced in the 1970s as a sort of counter to the Waterfall method. The goal is to produce working prototypes of the product as soon as possible, and to continuously tweak and improve. In RAD, the development team and the customer work closely together to continuously evaluate and refine the product requirements based on incoming information. This is in contrast to the Waterfall method, which can operate with very little interaction between developer and customer. 

The RAD method usually involves smaller teams of experienced developers who are skilled in various disciplines. If changes are needed, they are discussed and incorporated throughout the development process. RAD is all about minimizing development time and refining through prototypes. It’s particularly advantageous for new products that don’t yet have product market fit, or to explore development on top of unfamiliar platforms. RAD can work as a precursor to Waterfall or Agile, making it an appealing first step in any software development project. 

Watch: What could happen if you DON’T do rapid prototyping. 


Agile application development is very similar to RAD, except instead of focusing on prototypes, it focuses on breaking up complex software projects into short, manageable chunks. That makes it more suitable for larger projects, whereas RAD is used more frequently on smaller ones

Agile focuses on systematically building and testing one feature at a time. The customer can be as involved in the process as they desire, through daily standups, backlog grooming sessions, feature estimations, or retrospectives. Agile usually works in short development cycles, often two-weeks or less, called sprints. In each sprint, features are built, tested, and deployed. Those sprints incorporate the entire life cycle into a condensed timeframe.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About The Agile Software Development Life Cycle

So which methodology works best?

All three of these methodologies have their pros and cons, so picking the right application development methodology depends on the team composition, business goals, and product market fit. For example, Waterfall is best for big projects where the product-market fit is well established and new information will not be incorporated during the development process. RAD, on the other hand, focuses on learning through doing and tweaking. Agile is best for breaking complex projects into smaller, bite-sized pieces and making measured, steady progress. 

Before picking which method works for you, it’s best to factor in all your needs and requirements, and to have a clear understanding about the development process so you can make the right decision for your team.

Related: Ready to Hire a Mobile App Developer Heres What to Expect