Technology has come a long way in the last 50 years. The technical capabilities of computer devices are growing, and with them, so has the demand for software. This has led to the evolution of approaches to the software development lifecycle (SDLC). Today SDLC methodologies are an integral part of software development, guiding every step of the way.
Software development can be challenging, but having the appropriate SDLC methodology in place improves efficiency and productivity. It can have a huge impact on how development teams function.
What are SDLC methodologies?
SDLC methodologies are structured approaches to the software development process. Methodologies typically combine production and design philosophies with a realistic understanding of development processes and practices. They focus on systematically improving human activities to create better product outcomes.
Most methodologies cover the entire software development process, from gathering client requirements up to deployment and maintenance. Key areas they aim to improve include:
- Knowledge Sharing
Why are SDLC methodologies important for businesses?
Having the right methodology can mean the difference between streamlined, high-performing projects and chaotic, inefficient ones. While the choice of SDLC methodology may not seem like a common business concern, customer success is.
With the right approach in place, product releases experience fewer delays and critical defects, leading to happier customers and better ROI.
Development methodologies can also impact talent retention. Ineffective methodologies tend to create inefficient development processes, which lead to frustration and burnout in engineers and devs. In fact, 81% of developers currently report experiencing burnout. Of that number, 31% say that inefficient processes are to blame. Adhering to the right SDLC methodology is, therefore, an important factor affecting retention efforts.
What is the most popular SDLC Methodology?
Today, Agile is the most popular family of SDLC methodologies. Agile on its own isn’t an incredibly difficult methodology to follow. It consists of an expansive set of practices and philosophies governing best practices for managing production. Its core focus is on the people who make up project teams and how they work together.
Agile development is a catch-all term for several frameworks and processes that are in turn based on the Agile Manifesto and its 12 Principles. Derivatives of Agile have become standard for most software development teams.
What is Agile Development?
Agile software development is the SDLC methodology most used by software development teams today. Consequently, Agile development is also commonly taught in universities and at programming bootcamps.
Like its namesake, this framework is rooted in the Agile Manifesto’s 12 Principles, with a particular focus on:
- Satisfying customer needs through early and continuous delivery
- Increasing collaboration between business and technical teams
- Creating environments to support skilled and motivated individuals
- Improving and streamlining communication
- Reviewing team performance by adjusting and improving iteratively
In Agile software development, teams work to empower individual engineer effectiveness and foster better collaboration. Self-organization may seem chaotic, but in practice, Agile offers teams greater cross-functionality and freedom in problem-solving. It does so by allowing teams to define the tools and skills they need to complete a given project and, then, supporting them.
8 characteristics of Agile development that lead to successful projects are as follows:
- Customer success is the top priority.
- Each sprint delivers working software.
- Sprint durations are fixed.
- Planning is ongoing and occurs at multiple levels.
- Functional teams are kept small.
- The product is continuously assessed and improved.
- Development is incremental and iterative.
- Testing is “shifted left” and continues throughout development.
What are the most popular Agile Frameworks?
Older models of development tended to view human actors as part of the process. Agile’s humanistic approach centers on how individuals impact development and how interactions between people can be used to make it better.
Agile philosophy emphasizes collaboration between team members and self-organization. This has led to the following popular Agile frameworks in use today.
The Scrum framework is derived from the lean production models used at Toyota and other top-performing manufacturing companies in the mid-20th century. It was adapted for use as an Agile framework in the 1990s by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber.
Under Sutherland and Schwaber’s definition, Scrum prioritizes empirical and lean thinking to create streamlined and efficient processes. To that effect, Scrum maintains a focus on its key artifacts: product backlog, sprint backlog, and increments. The 3 pillars of Scrum theory that focus on these artifacts are:
The process and work being done must be transparent and visible to stakeholders involved in the process and its outcomes. Decisions regarding the process are based on being able to see and clearly understand the state of Scrum artifacts.
Inspection is dependent on Transparency and is an integral aspect of development. Artifacts and progress towards goals must be inspected and appraised frequently and thoroughly to identify unhealthy issues or potential problems. These issues drive adaptation and incremental progress toward better processes.
Where any aspects of a process or product in development show deviation away from acceptable standards, they need to be adjusted. Adaptation depends on a team’s ability to self-organize and course-correct as needed.
One feature of this approach is the use of Scrum Events to represent milestones in the development process. Each predefined event is aimed at promoting regularity of communication and reducing the need for unproductive meetings. This allows devs to spend more time focusing on development. The prescribed Scrum events are:
- Sprint Planning
- Daily Scrum
- Sprint Review
- Sprint Retrospective
As an Agile framework, Scrum is focused on utilizing the core goals of Agile philosophy. At the team level, it aims to ensure:
- cross-functionality in teams
- team self-organization and autonomy
- continuous improvement
Another popular framework, Kanban uses organized boards to provide transparency in team workloads. Kanban aims to optimize the movement of value-generating products through the development process. Underlying the Kanban approach are the following practices:
- Defining and visualizing the workflow
- Actively managing items in the workflow
- Reviewing and improving the workflow
The core of the Kanban framework is the Kanban board. These boards can either be physical whiteboards shared in the office or, digital boards hosted online, and shared by teams. They show work items as they progress toward completion. Kanban boards can be divided into 5 key components:
- Visual Signals
Kanban teams typically note each of their work items or commitments as individual stickers, notes, or cards. These are placed in the appropriate column to denote where that work item is in development.
Columns organize work items into workflows. They show the progress of work towards completion. The most basic Kanban boards have three core columns representing work items that are “To do”, “In progress” and “Done”. However, columns can be further expanded as needed to represent specific stages of development like “Testing” or “Review”.
- Work-in-Progress Limits
These are the maximum number of work item cards that can be held in a column at one time. When the column is full (no more cards can be added), it signifies a need for a team effort to push work items forward. These limitations help to expose bottlenecks in development and concentrate effort to improve the steady and continuous flow of work.
- Commitment Points
Commitment Points refer to the point at which some idea or request for work on a project is picked up by the team and work starts on it. Often, there might be a backlog of such items or requests on the board. Commitment Points are where these items go. Team members are then free to pick up new work items as capacity becomes available.
- Delivery Points
Delivery points are generally the end of a workflow. They represent the point at which the product or service is delivered to the customer. If the Commitment Point is the starting block, the Delivery Point is the finish line. When reviewing performance in Kanban teams, the duration of time between these points (measured as the Lead Time) is a good indicator of team capacity and work efficiency.
Kanban can be more flexible than Scrum and often allows teams to customize how they work. It can be applied on top of existing workflows to gradually improve performance. It helps develop better communication habits with the Kanban board at the center.
DevOps vs. Agile
DevOps has taken the software world by storm as a new approach to software development. It has its roots in Agile and Continuous Integration/Continuous Development approaches to high-speed development and release cycles. Proponents of DevOps often argue that it isn’t an SDLC methodology per se, rather it’s a framework of ideas, values, and principles that can be used to guide development.
That said, the principles of DevOps have found more formal use as a set of practices for software development, leading to the growth of DevOps-based roles and teams. DevOps shares many of Agile’s core values, namely:
- Focusing on customer success
- Encouraging collaboration between teams
- Supporting team self-organization
- Promoting cross-functionality
- Making testing frequent and continuous
DevOps provides an approach to streamlining and optimizing performance throughout the development pipeline. A big part of this is the use of automation to facilitate fast and continuous software releases. DevOps teams often have strong automation infrastructures to support projects from development and testing to configuration and deployment.
Where DevOps really shines is with its impact on collaboration in the SDLC. DevOps practitioners work to break down the walls between Development and IT Operations teams to enable closer cooperation and smoother development. This includes making testing part of development, improving communication collaboration between departments and ensuring that team priorities are aligned toward client success.
While this may be DevOps’ greatest benefit as an approach to software development, it’s also one of the biggest barriers to adoption. The cultural shift necessary to achieve true process transformation can be difficult to enact. This is especially true in organizations with a history of poor collaboration.
What other SDLC methodologies are out there?
In the past, there have been several software development methodologies. However, many of these older methodologies are now obsolete thanks to the Agile family of frameworks. One of the more well-known methodologies is the Waterfall model, which rose to popularity in the 1970s and was in use up to the turn of the century.
Other popular methodologies that have since fallen out of mainstream use include:
What factors should you consider when choosing an SDLC Methodology or Framework?
To select the appropriate SDLC methodology or framework for your software development teams, 5 key questions you should ask are:
- Will this methodology and/or framework help address client and stakeholder needs?
- Do we have the technical capabilities to implement this methodology/framework?
- Is it suitable for our team based on their size and relative experience?
- Is it suitable for our teams based on location? (in-office, distributed, etc.)
- Does this methodology/framework work for the type of projects our team does?
While the SDLC options discussed may seem similar, how you use them depends a great deal on your development needs and context.
Remember, the SDLC methodology and underlying framework you choose won’t be a magic bullet to productivity woes. Changing your SDLC might bring certain benefits, but to support ongoing improvements, continuous monitoring and adjustments are necessary. Although monitoring can be challenging, having the right KPIs can help. Check out the top KPIs for tracking development productivity here.