Software Product Development Methodologies: Pros and Cons

Successful software development relies on three key things:  talent, tools, and management. Each one is equally important, and for sure, your project definitely won’t succeed without the last one. What’s more, the management course of a project is strongly influenced by the product development methodology it implements. This methodology lays the foundation for how engineers, testers, managers, and other stakeholders interact throughout the software development lifecycle. 

According to PMI’s 2020 Pulse of the Profession Survey, on average, 11.4% of a project investment is lost due to poor performance. Understanding what a product development methodology is and its value is the first step towards better management. 

Next comes knowing the differences. The most popular linear (Waterfall) and iterative (Agile) methodologies both have advantages and shortcomings. If you want to improve your productivity and success rate, you need to know when and how to use them. And finally, you need to know how to implement DevOps practices, including all trending and needed Ops, like DevSecOps,SysOps,AIOps, ITOps and DataOps, etc., practices into your process.

Keep reading to dive deeper into linear and iterative development models and some key advantages of different software development methodologies and their impact on business.

But first, back to basics.

What is the software product development process?

The product development process is a set of workflows and tools for streamlining software manufacturing. The different steps of product development cover the product’s lifecycle and act as a backbone for its direction and collaboration between teams.

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A product development methodology determines how the steps of the production process flow into each other. For example, the Agile methodology approach is about finishing a project in iterations with continuously changing requirements, while Waterfall development is about moving through a series of linear steps.

Product development steps

The software development phases are standard for the industry, while their order and priority vary based on the product development methodology being used.

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The basic steps in the product development lifecycle are as follows:

  1. Research. The company develops a clear concept for a product and collects the development requirements. The team will define the Scope of Work, which includes goals, a budget, deadlines, and the teams involved, as well as software and security tools to be used throughout the project.
  2. Design. The team builds the project’s layout according to the defined system’s requirements. The end result of this stage is a set of specifications for the product’s high-level design (including data about module functionality, dependencies, and architecture diagrams) and low-level design (information about the interface, dependencies, and functional logic between units).
  3. Coding. At the coding stage, engineers assemble the system modules according to the approved requirements and design documents. This is by far the lengthiest stage of the software development process. Coding is often carried out hand-in-hand with the testing phase.
  4. Testing. This stage includes searching for bugs and errors in front-end and back-end systems. To ensure that the end product is stable, most software product development companies implement two types of testing: unit testing (when teams examine isolated units throughout development) and integration testing (when testers verify how all the components interact in the working prototype).
  5. Deployment. The team releases the finished product or sends it to the client for a review. Furthermore, products require maintenance after release, including continuous bug fixes and software upgrades.

Why should you stick to a product development methodology?

Every product development strategy framework has a clear purpose—to help you use resources effectively in order to deliver a high-quality outcome as fast as possible.

Companies shouldn’t rely solely on a team’s skills and technology. It’s crucial to create strong project management to leverage these resources. According to PMI’s 2019 The Future of Work survey, poor performance caused by mismanagement accounts for about 12% of wasted investments. Another PMI report suggests that a software product development company with a refined project management methodology uses 28% fewer resources for development. 

To sum it all up, the right methodology can bring several benefits to your software projects:

  • It brings clarity by defining the goals, objectives, and architectural roadmap.
  • It shortens time-to-market by automating low-value tasks.
  • It maximizes productivity by leveraging computer-assisted tools.
  • It reduces costs during the design, coding, and testing phases.
  • It helps to improve the established development process in your organization.

But what defines the right product development process? It depends on your business goals and the project requirements.

Types of product development methodology

Now it’s time to look at different software development methodologies. We’ll walk you through the main methods, describe their differences, and talk about their advantages and shortcomings. 

1. Waterfall (linear) methodology

Pros:

  • Clear project documentation with fixed goals
  • Understandable and easily adaptable for teams
  • Predictable outcomes for projects with fixed timelines and budget
  • Works for recurring similar projects when problems can be easily predicted

Cons:

  • Strong emphasis on documentation
  • No room for the client’s assessment during development
  • Doesn’t support a return to previous stages
  • Design and requirement updates are costly
  • Results are only seen in later stages of the project’s lifecycle

Waterfall development is a sequential method of software development. In this model, the product development process steps flow downward in a linear direction. Every phase has a distinct goal that must be 100% complete before the next one begins; for example, the coding phase will start only after the design is set in stone. 

Waterfall development is the traditional management model, meaning that for many managers it’s the easiest to implement. Nevertheless, it has a significant downside—the lack of flexibility. The design constraints are fixed and the framework doesn’t allow for customer feedback into the product design development process. 

With the Waterfall methodology, returning to previous stages is extremely expensive and time-consuming. Consequently, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to modify a Waterfall project’s direction even if your team identifies critical design flaws during testing.

2. Agile (iterative) methodologies

Pros:

  • Stakeholder feedback is implemented throughout the project’s lifecycle
  • Easy to apply changes during development
  • Offers improved coordination between developers, managers, and stakeholders
  • Allows for continuous testing and improvement, which usually results in a better end-product
  • Works for complex projects with changing requirements

Cons:

  • Difficult to adapt without experienced managers
  • Lacks in-depth design documentation
  • Requires focused planning and strong coordination

Agile is a group of iterative methodologies which emphasize self-organization and cross-functionality. In contrast to the Waterfall model, the phases don’t flow into one another. Instead, the development happens in smaller cycles or iterations. 

An iteration consists of several stages of development. After the requirements gathering plus architecture design and coding, the testing team evaluates the outcomes. This allows developers to modify the product in new iterations using data from the previous cycle. 

Agile practices are commonly linked to higher developer productivity. Indeed, 58% of respondents to the 14th Annual State of Agile Report cited increased team productivity as one of the tangible benefits of the Agile approach.

Implementing Agile requires dedication and excellent communication skills. Inexperienced managers can find Agile a significant challenge and it’s very easy to do it wrong. Moreover, since product requirements are continually shifting, there are no clear design documents to guide the team.

The Agile approach has many different branches. The most popular ones are:

  • Scrum. Development happens in iterations called sprints that last from one to several weeks. The teams present the outcomes for stakeholders to review before starting a new sprint. Scrum teams have to adhere to pre-set roles and responsibilities and the model relies on regular cooperation. For example, it’s common to conduct daily meetings to discuss relevant issues and objectives.
  • Kanban. This model focuses on visualizing the team’s workflow using a board that divides the tasks into different categories. A project’s Kanban board reflects the development progress. Kanban has two primary objectives. The first is to prevent burnout by limiting the workload that can be placed on a team at any given time. The second is to optimize the product development process by eliminating workflow bottlenecks.
  • Bimodal. This approach refers to managing two separate work modes at the same time to create more value. For example, one team works in traditional developmental cycles, while another focuses on delivering innovative solutions with an iterative approach.
  • Lean. This is a unique approach that aims to maximize customer value by reducing software engineering waste. In the context of the Lean development methodology, waste refers to processes that don’t add enough value (or bring no value at all) and cause a workflow bottleneck (such as when too many stakeholders are required to approve outcomes). This model allows software companies to utilize the Minimal Viable Product (MVP) strategy to analyze customer feedback at the early stages of a product’s lifecycle.
  • SAFe®. A Scaled Agile Framework® combines the Agile methodology, the Lean approach, and DevOps practices. Planning, measurement, and coordination are at the core of this approach. The goal is to align developers, testers, and managers to the customer’s needs using synchronization tools. 

The 14th Annual State of Agile Report reflects that Scrum is the most widely used Agile framework, while SAFe® continues to be one of the best scalable frameworks for just over a third of IT companies.

3. Hybrid methodology

Pros:

  • Flexible development with continuous improvement through new iterations
  • Detailed documentation for teams
  • Adjustable to changes in requirements
  • Works for both long-term and short-term projects of varying complexity

Cons:

  • Relies on detailed planning and documentation
  • Requires compromises and trial-and-error to implement

Hybrid is a relatively new product development process that combines the best of Waterfall methodology and Agile methodology. A Hybrid project consists of linear phases that are broken into sprints. These sprints are longer than those in Scrum and can last from one to several months.

As in Agile, the outcome of a sprint directs the next iteration of development. The Hybrid methodology also allows teams to work on different phases simultaneously. 

Implementing Hybrid requires thorough planning and some compromise. You have to find the right balance between linear and iterative approaches, and that’s impossible without sacrificing some of Agile’s advantages. Nonetheless, with enough experimenting, the increase in productivity can be impressive.

How DevOps impacts the product development process

DevOps is a set of practices that improve collaboration between development and operation teams. It centers around manual process automation and continuous feedback at all stages of a project’s lifecycle.

The benefits of DevOps are substantial. According to a 2018 report on the state of DevOps, 59% of IT companies felt that DevOps led to significant productivity improvements, while 69% stated that the practice accelerated product deployment.

DevOps can help with data management, which is a potential obstacle to development. Companies that want to help their teams process data flows can do this with DataOps; a subset of DevOps for optimizing the data processing of a continuous development pipeline.

And, let’s not forget that this data must be protected. Cybersecurity isn’t just essential in an operating environment as it also needs to be part of the software development process. 

This is where DevSecOps comes in. The rationale for incorporating security at the development stage is simple: sooner or later, hackers will discover a vulnerability in your system and exploit it. However, addressing security aspects from the start allows you to react to breaches faster, thus minimizing the damage. 

Conclusion

In a nutshell, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all development methodology because no two companies or business models are identical. When choosing the framework for a project, you should consider:

  • Your customer’s needs
  • Your team’s size
  • The scope and complexity of your project
  • The probability that development requirements will change

If you’re considering using a new methodology for software development, you can experiment with linear and iterative approaches to pinpoint what adds the most value to your workflow. Or even better—you can ask experts to help you.

Avenga is an IT outsourcing partner committed to helping visionary companies thrive in the digital era with practical outcomes. Our professionals can help you implement DevOps practices, find an optimum product development methodology, or take care of your entire project lifecycle.

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