The success of a software project directly depends on its development methodology. That’s why it’s very important to choose wisely and follow the method that plays to the strengths of your team. But how do you decide on the right methodology?
With the growing demand for digital transformation, software developers are all wrapped up in work — the global software products market is expected to reach $2,157 billion in 2026.
As software development is a step by step process that involves many different aspects, all stages of development should be carefully planned. A team needs to follow the determined workflow to be able to present a fully-functioning solution on time. To achieve this you need to decide on a development methodology that best meets your requirements.
In this article we will discuss the most popular software development methodologies, learn about their peculiarities and find out what projects leverage them.
What is a software development methodology and why is it important?
Software development methodology is a set of structured processes and a discipline aimed to make software development clear and concise. In simple words, this is the way a team will function and communicate while working on a project.
There are a great variety of different development methodologies — yet there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each methodology works best in specific circumstances.
Developers that neglect to adopt a software development methodology run a high risk of miscommunication, both with the client and within the team, and are prone to frequent mistakes. All this inevitably leads to broken deadlines and flawed products.
In its turn, adhering to a development approach makes the team more organized, with each member having a clear roadmap and pool of responsibilities.
“It’s harder than you might think to squander millions of dollars, but a flawed software development process is a tool well suited to the job.” ― Alan Cooper, aka the “Father of Visual Basic”, software designer and programmer.
Deep dive into top software development methodologies
There are many software development methodologies, each with its pros and cons. We will focus on the top 5 approaches: Agile, Waterfall, DevOps, Prototype, and Rapid Application Development.
Agile is the most popular software development methodology — 71% of companies use this approach. The main feature of Agile is that it prioritizes people — clients and the development team — over tools and processes.
Teams that follow Agile principles value software performance higher than correct documentation. It is a non-linear approach, making it possible to respond to errors as they occur and make changes straight off.
Agile teams break tasks into sprints lasting 1 to 4 weeks. At the end of each week they participate in a sprint review where they share their results and set goals for the next sprint.
This workflow helps effectively track progress and make amendments in good time. Developers also collect and process customer feedback to make sure everything works as it should and no missing parts spoil the client experience.
These features and rules result in a number of plus points for the Agile development methodology:
- minimum errors and bugs
- well-established and clear communication between the team members and clients
- easy to make changes due to Agile’s adaptability
- no place for shots in the dark as there is always direct communication with the client
However, nothing can be 100% perfect and the Agile approach has its downsides as well:
- underdeveloped documentation may become a problem in the future
- never-ceasing communication can become tiresome and distract the team
- as it is a non-structured approach, Agile can be efficiently leveraged only by experienced developers able to work independently
Therefore, Agile software development methodology is best suited for projects that are unique to the market, may face changing requirements, and are highly complex.
Agile software development methodology has several frameworks: Scrum, Kanban, Extreme programming, Feature driven software development, Behavior driven development, Crystal, and Dynamic Systems Delivery. Among this variety of frameworks, Scrum and Kanban are the most widely-used. What are their distinctive features?
Scrum software development is focused on delivering the result fast. Scrum sprints are usually short (〜2 weeks) and the team presents the client with parts of the product at the end of each sprint. Teams working with this framework have specific roles such as Scrum Master and Product Owner.
A Scrum Master is a Team Leader, who knows Scrum practices in detail and can effectively guide the team through all the development stages. The Product Owner, for their part, is accountable for the success of the product. They maintain communication both with the client and the team and need to clearly pass on all information so that each party understands the next steps.
Meanwhile, the Kanban framework aims to improve the project management processes by visualizing the workflow with a tool called a Kanban board. This board can be physical or virtual and consists of columns that depict a specific stage in the development process. The core columns are Backlog, In progress, Testing and Done. As the project progresses, the tasks move from column to column until they are completed.
The key difference between Kanban and other Agile methodologies lies in the fact that the number of In progress tasks is limited. This means that new tasks cannot begin until others have been completed. In addition, Kanban methodology is not as strict on fixed timelines as other Agile approaches and allows for a continuous workflow.
Some teams use a combination of these two frameworks called Scrumban. This hybrid approach leverages the productivity and flexibility of Scrum with the visualization of Kanban.
Waterfall is the most traditional methodology in software development. It follows a linear workflow with tasks being executed one after another. This methodology is quite rigid as no changes can be made once a particular part is finished.
The Waterfall approach heavily emphasizes the importance of solid documentation with all the aspects of development written out in detail. Based on pre-development research, teams working with the Waterfall development methodology can estimate the time required to complete each of the phases quite accurately and come up with a predicted release date.
A Waterfall team includes four roles: developer, tester, business analyst, and project manager. Customers or their representatives are not included. In Waterfall there is not much communication, and team members usually work independently and don’t provide status reports as often as with Agile.
All in all, the Waterfall development methodology can boast some tangible benefits:
- logical structure and fixed schedule
- detailed documentation
- no sudden amendments and additions
- the total cost is clearly estimated
Yet there are some disadvantages that spoil the picture:
- development time is usually long
- the approach is very inflexible, meaning that changes are not at all welcomed
- no client participation
- delays on one task cause delay to the entire project
In light of this, the Waterfall approach proves to be of great use on software projects that have a fixed scope of work, a strict budget, and well-defined requirements.
The DevOps software development methodology is rapidly growing in popularity with its market projected to reach $57,90 billion by 2030 at a 24,2% CAGR. DevOps is a mix of the words “development” and “operation” — two processes that are interlinked in its approach.
DevOps teams consist of software and QA engineers who work together to achieve simultaneousness in development, quality assurance, and security operations. This eliminates communication gaps between development and IT operations departments during planning, testing, and delivery.
One of the key principles of the DevOps approach is automation. This helps to reduce human error and increase team productivity. Aspects where automation can be applied include security checks and anomaly recognition.
In addition, solutions developed with DevOps are continuously monitored to track software performance and collect user feedback and then make the necessary changes and improvements.
So, the major advantages of DevOps development are:
- fast software delivery
- active communication within the team and with customers
Nevertheless, the DevOps development methodology may bring a few difficulties, such as:
- clashes between development and operation teams in terms of tools and working standards
- the fast pace of development can affect security measures
However, DevOps has a highly security-oriented fork development methodology called DevSecOps. With this approach safety measures are defined at the very beginning of the development process, rather than the end of the pipeline.
Usually, the DevOps development approach is chosen by teams working with projects that combine high complexity and tight deadlines.
Prototype product development enables developers to create a very raw version of the final product — anything from a simple sketch to an interactive wireframe with basic functionality. The prototype is then shown to the clients and the team makes all the necessary amendments and modifications according to the feedback. This iteration happens again and again until the client is fully satisfied with the result.
There are three types of prototype:
- low-fidelity — shows initial design concept and interaction points
- mid-fidelity — a more sophisticated version, showing interaction and navigation possibilities
- high-fidelity — a full-fledged mockup of visuals and functionality
The main advantages of the prototype development approach are:
- risk reduction due to constant revision of the work done
- close communication with the client
Yet prototype methodology also has its drawbacks, such as:
- slow development pace if the client is not satisfied with the prototype
- no clearly defined requirements
- prototyping is usually done at the cost of the developer
Summing everything up, we can say that building a prototype is a good strategy in case the software is complex and intensive, as it helps to evaluate an idea’s viability and determine the necessary tech stack. Also, a prototype is useful on projects with changing requirements and can serve as a great way of fundraising and attracting investors.
Rapid Application Development (RAD)
Rapid application development methodology ensures very quick and high-quality software development. This explains the growing popularity of this approach — the RAD market is estimated to reach $46,2 billion by 2023.
RAD teams do not follow a strict plan or specific time frames. Instead, they focus on collecting user feedback and implementing new features as quickly as possible. With this methodology, the main emphasis lies on functionality and user satisfaction, while design comes second.
The rapid application development approach includes prototyping stages at each level. This way, clients and customers have a clear visualization of their requirements and can make amendments.
RAD wins developers’ favor with its many considerable benefits:
- fast development
- client and customer involvement
- risk reduction due to frequent testing
Nevertheless, everything has its downsides. Rapid application development is:
- highly dependent on the customer’s dedication
- abundant with alterations and suggestions
- lacking in documentation
- hard to manage properly
This being said, RAD methodology will be a good choice for projects with big budgets, constantly changing requirements, and deeply-involved clients.
What software development methodology should you use?
It is very easy to get confused with all the variety of software development methodologies.To be 100% sure you have chosen the right approach, you need to do your research on several aspects:
Client and user needs
Have a thorough conversation with the client to understand their requirements. If the design and functionality vision is clearly defined, you can choose a more traditional, linear approach, such as Waterfall.
However, if the client does not have clear requirements or is likely to suggest alterations and new features, an iterative methodology — Agile or Prototype — may be perfect. Or you could choose collaborative development, like RAD, if a lot of feedback and interaction with users is expected.
The Waterfall approach is most suitable for teams that tend to work independently, following a clear, linear workflow. But if the team likes close communication and progress sharing, Agile or RAD will be a great choice. When you need client or user feedback, you can turn to highly collaborative methods like RAD or Prototype. Want to experiment and spice up the conventional flow? Take a look at the DevOps approach.
If the requirements, timeframes, and budget are strict and clearly defined, you can choose traditional development with the Waterfall approach. However, if budget is not a problem and you are free to make alterations — why not choose Agile or RAD?
If the niche you want to enter is stable, you can decide on a traditional Waterfall approach. However, if you are going to launch something experimental, try to build a prototype first.
Once you have identified all the elements of your project and have a clear understanding of all processes and patterns, it will be easier to navigate through the available software development methodologies and choose the one that will help you achieve the best results.
On some projects you may realize that a pure development approach meets the requirements perfectly, while another project will be best executed by mixing parts of different software methodologies. Each case is unique and it is perfectly fine to adapt the existing methods to your specific needs.
How do we choose development methodologies at PixelPlex?
What we find most effective for our projects is a combination of best practices from different methodologies. Usually we follow Waterfall principles and add some valuable features from more “energetic” approaches like Agile or DevOps. This allows us to be consistent and very attentive to detail while being quick in handling tasks and receptive to necessary changes.
When building Savage — an NFT marketplace for high-resolution videos — we used the most effective Agile frameworks, such as Kanban. This way the project manager could effectively track progress and distribute tasks appropriately. All team members participated in daily meetings to share their achievements and discuss the next steps. In addition, the client was sent weekly progress reports so that they could supervise the development process and share their feedback. As a result, we managed to release a fully-functioning MVP in 12 weeks.
Another project of ours, the eCommerce platform for Green Hypermarket, had strict deadlines and continuously changing requests. To deal with such a challenge, we leveraged Agile and RAD approaches and successfully launched a full-fledged product in just 8 weeks.
At PixelPlex we constantly seek innovation and new ways of doing things better and faster than before. That’s why we take the best parts of software development methodologies and create a unique combination of patterns that work best for each particular project.
The right software development methodology is a key tool for dealing with complex tasks in an efficient and well-coordinated way. There is a great variety of development approaches tailored for specific characteristics and requirements. That’s why it is important for the success of a project to follow a suitable software development methodology that boosts productivity of the team.
Are you in two minds about what development methodology to adopt for your project? Our team has successfully executed numerous projects over 15 years in the software development field and has gained solid experience of multiple development approaches. Get in touch with us and let us help you define what software development methodology will make your project thrive.