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4 Best Software Development Methodologies: Which Is Right for Your Project?

Keith Shields January 29, 2021

For a software development project to be successful, it needs to be effectively managed using the best software development methodology for its particulars. But how do you know the right methodology to use? There are a lot of options, each with strengths and weaknesses. And while some get a lot of buzz at times, they may not be the right fit for your project’s needs. In this article, we’ll break down four of the most popular software development methodologies to help you decide what to use for your next project.

1. Waterfall Development Method

Waterfall development methodology, also called the Waterfall Method, is one of the older software methodologies.  It’s often considered to be the most traditional method of development. 

Waterfall Development Methodololgy

What Is Waterfall Methodology?

Waterfall uses a rigid linear model with sequential phases for development: requirements, design, development, testing, release, maintenance. Each phase must be complete in its entirety before progressing to the next step. 

When Is It Best To Use the Waterfall Method?

Waterfall works most effectively when projects have clear objectives and stable, well-understood requirements. It’s also helpful to use when the project team and project manager are less experienced or frequently change composition. Given the linear nature of Waterfall, it’s much easier for people to understand the current state and progress and to jump in where needed than it is with some of the other development methodologies. Waterfall also works best with shorter-duration projects.

Waterfall Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Functional and easy to understand
  • Easy to manage given the model’s rigid phases
  • Can save time when used for the right projects
  • Analysis and testing are more straightforward

Cons

  • Less effective for maintenance projects or long-duration projects
  • Unable to get an early view of the outcome, as development completes all at one time and not in increments
  • Challenging to modify the project direction or scope given the tight controls and rigid structure

2. Agile Methodology

Agile development methodology has gotten a lot of buzz in recent years, and many companies have pushed to use it. The intent of Agile is to release smaller units of functionality often, as opposed to the “big bang” of Waterfall. A number of other popular software development methodologies have been established using an Agile framework.

Agile Development Methodology

What Is Agile Development Methodology?

The Agile methodology uses shorter cycles of requirements and development which evolve through the cross-functional team’s collaboration. This leads to releasing products faster and a more efficient development process that integrates learning and facilitates change.

When Is It Best To Use Agile Development?

Agile is most effective in smaller organizations where there is a dedicated team. It’s useful when a project is considered higher-risk due to less up-front clarity and project definition. Agile is also helpful for longer-duration projects that can be broken into smaller units of work.

Agile Pros and Cons

Pros 

  • Small, frequent releases improve efficiency, allowing teams to align expectations early
  • Users see frequent, incremental improvements to the software
  • Minimizes risks to add new functionality, and offers better quality by finding and fixing defects quickly
  • Responds to change quickly and easily
  • Improved transparency through direct, frequent communication

Cons

  • Project startup and getting new teams onboarded may be challenging given the focus on development over documentation
  • Significant time commitment from the team due to the need to complete development and secure approval within each time unit, or sprint
  • Outcomes aren’t always well-defined or clear, increasing the chances of getting off-track
  • Lack of predictability makes long-term planning difficult for generating roadmaps for senior leadership
  • Challenging to scale and manage multiple teams with a coordinated approach
  • Difficult to create teams that integrate diverse skill sets so they are able to deliver 

3. Lean Methodology

Lean Software Development is an Agile framework designed to optimize development time and resources and to eliminate waste. The goal is to deliver only the minimum product requirements that meet the user’s core pain point(s). It’s often referred to as the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) strategy.

Lean Development Methodology

What Is Lean Software Development?

With Lean development, a team works to release an app to the market that meets users’ minimum requirements. Once the app is in the hands of the users, the team learns directly from users what they like and don’t like, and what features need to be added to make the product even more useful. Development is iterative based on user feedback.

When Is It Best To Use Lean Development?

Lean development is especially effective on a limited budget when a product or app is new to a market and more robust user feedback is desired.

Lean Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Streamlined approach enables a quick product release to the market 
  • Eliminating unnecessary activities may reduce the cost of development
  • Team is empowered to make decisions, which can boost morale

Cons

  • Heavy dependence on the team makes this approach difficult to scale
  • Strong documentation is essential to avoid development errors
  • The success of the development process is heavily dependent on the team’s effectiveness

4. Scrum Methodology

Scrum is another popular software engineering methodology that uses an Agile framework. In fact, it’s sometimes considered the most widely-preferred Agile approach. 

Scrum Development Methodology

What Is Scrum Development Methodology?

Scrum is an Agile framework used for developing, delivering, and sustaining complex projects. It establishes a set of prescribed team roles and meetings the team will hold on a regular cadence during boxes of time, or sprints. 

When Is It Best To Use Scrum?

Scrum is very nimble, so it’s quite effective when requirements are not clear or change frequently. It does require a dedicated team with some specific roles (including a Product Owner, Scrum Master, and team members), so it’s important for there to be buy-in for this approach in the organization.

Scrum Pros and Cons

Pros 

  • Helps teams complete project deliverables efficiently and quickly
  • Effectively uses budget and time 
  • The team has clear visibility of the project work
  • Individual effort of each team member is highly visible

Cons

  • Heavily reliant on the commitment and self-management of the project team members for success
  • Scope creep may be an issue due to the lack of a defined end-date
  • Quality control can be challenging to implement and maintain
  • Project startup or bringing in new team members can be challenging 

Working with a Partner

When you choose a partner, you’ll want to be sure they have the technical chops to build your app, as well as the knowledge and expertise to run the project effectively. They should understand the different software development methodologies and be able to clearly articulate what they use and why. Both technical ability and effective software development methodologies are necessary for a successful and efficiently-run project.

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