When it comes to application development, there’s one methodology that many use alongside the SDLC (software development life cycle). RAD, which is short for rapid application development, is a methodology that uses rapid prototyping and iterative delivery. When working on an app, the several stages of its life cycle can be influenced by this type of application development method. The global app economy is expected to reach $6.3 trillion by 2021; it’s no surprise that more companies and individuals want a piece of the action.
Every app goes through a software development life cycle that can be broken into stages: planning, design, building, testing. RAD, which we’ll look at in more detail, pours jet fuel on the software development lifecycle, resulting in quicker releases and more iterations.
Related: What is Rapid Prototyping
The Basics Of RAD
Rapid application development is quite the opposite of the traditional waterfall development method. The waterfall method relies on planning and design, and it doesn’t leave much room for changes and flexibility. RAD, on the other hand, offers more opportunities to tweak the process, more features to test, and more ‘shots on goal’ when it comes to finding product market fit.
Software becomes adaptable with plenty of experimentation happening throughout the product life cycle.
Let's break down the basic steps of rapid application development to get a better understanding of how it works.
In Waterfall, the planning and design stage is front loaded, then pauses once the building starts. This doesn’t give you an opportunity to make adjustments as new information becomes available. With RAD, you plan and design throughout the entire process, usually alongside two-week development sprints.
In the planning stage, you’ll have designers, developers, and users come together to get a rough idea and understanding of what’s being created. Usually, the customer or client will also have an insight into each of these stages and play a more collaborative role. Features are estimated used t-shirt sizing (small, medium, large, extra large), and a rough three month plan is put together. From here, stories are put into a backlog where they can be estimated and prioritized. Work moves from backlog into two-week sprints once the designs for those features are finalized. At the end of each sprint, new features are deployed and the backlog is groomed and re-prioritized.
In most cases, the high level design concepts are agreed to before development starts. However, features are designed and adjusted throughout the entire development life cycle. RAD focused on deploying features and gathering feedback about how users engage with the application. Designers and developers work together through sprints to observe and react to this feedback, gradually improving the user experience and moving users through the UX funnel.
At SF AppWorks, we focus on developing mobile apps and websites, but we have designers involved throughout the process. They also support marketing efforts after product launch through multimedia design.
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Once high level features are designed and a rough roadmap is agreed to, the building phase can begin. This is where the magic happens - coding, testing, and integration takes place. This phase is broken into two-week sprints and repeated. This cycle is what makes RAD such a flexible app development methodology.
Before features are deployed, they are thoroughly tested by a dedicated quality assurance team. These teams get involved at the outset of the project and are responsible for writing test cases, checking compatibility across platforms, scale testing, visual QA.
One of the biggest benefits that come from using RAD as opposed to any other form is that it’s easy to get feedback from users and continuously improve the user experience through the development and prototyping stages. The constant iteration that takes place, and the freedom to adapt to changing business requirements, is the best strategy for building the perfect app.
Another huge benefit with of this method is you can create a lot more prototypes, and thus test a lot more features. Product development is a numbers game - you want to get as many shots on goal as you can so you increase your chances of scoring the next great digital product. The use of prototypes gives the team the ability to provide feedback to a live system. It’s an opportunity to work on problems as they arise, rather than trying to make assumptions about what might happen during the design phase of the waterfall method.
Let's revisit the pros of using RAD as a chosen application development methodology would be the following:
- Easier Monitoring - With the increasing frequency of prototypes being created, the progress of the project can be easily monitored and evaluated to help maintain schedule and budget.
- More Flexibility - There’s undoubtedly more flexibility offered when it comes to the development life cycle. It creates a system of simple adaptability. There will always be changes as new information is discovered throughout the process, and that’s what can hinder success when using the waterfall method.
What About The Downsides of Using RAD?
All methodologies have pros and cons. Waterfall requires intense planning and preparation, which leads to very long development cycles. But it also gives a team ample time to prepare assets and plan development sprints. With RAD, sometimes teams will rush into development without taking the time to research and talk to customers, thinking that they can do that throughout the process. While it’s true that teams can and should talk to users throughout the entire lifecycle of software development, upfront thought and investment can save a lot of needless development down the road.
RAD also relies on highly-skilled developers and designers familiar with the vast array of technology options, and that might not be a possibility for teams with small budgets or limited resources.
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So What Should I Choose?
SF AppWorks specializes in Rapid Application Development and Rapid Prototyping, so you know we’re big fans of the methodology and will almost always choose this approach. That said, you should think carefully about various software development approaches, talk with as many builders and makers as you can, and do what fits best with your team, your resources, and your personality. Feel free to reach out with any questions or thoughts, or just to give us some feedback on what you liked or didn’t like about this piece.