Software development companies may rely on diverse techniques during the development process, and specific products might sometimes require complex and intricate approaches. But the success of your project relies heavily on the ability to roll back to the basics. As a systematic process, SDLC, which stands for software development lifecycle, won’t let you go wrong with answering the most basic questions of “who, what, when, where, and how” relating to your software development project.
In this guide, you’ll find a detailed explanation of SDLC phases and tools to make your dev process go smoothly. But first, let’s take a closer look at SDLC itself.
What is the software development lifecycle?
SDLC is a framework that defines activities performed during the software development process from planning to implementation and release. As the name suggests, SDLC isn’t a linear framework. Each step, be it just an idea, a detailed plan, or a working prototype, is a base for your next step until your software is ready. You can view your released software as a starting point in growing your project.
What makes SDLC activities so important?
The software development lifecycle helps to plan every step efficiently, hence it:
- Provides visibility for the parties engaged in the dev process
- Sets clear roles and responsibilities
- Maps out clear deliverables through having DoD (definition of done) for each step
- Minimizes the risk of rework, missed deadlines, or going over budget
Just like Lego sets, you can try and build without any instructions, yet the chances are that it’ll take longer, and the outcome won’t be what you pictured.
Let’s take a closer look at the basic SDLC activities you’ll need to build software.
Software development life cycle steps
SDLC consists of seven basic steps regardless of the software development process you’ll use. Usually, they go in the following sequence:
- Brainstorming and research
- Requirements analysis and planning
- UI/UX design
- Development and coding
- Integration and testing
- Deployment and launch
- Operations and maintenance
In some cases, they may go in a different order — some steps can be combined or even run in parallel. It all depends on your project requirements, what you already have, and your team size.
Step 1. Brainstorming and research
Poor audience research was one of the main reasons well-funded startup Quibi closed less than six months after launch. Starting with brainstorming sessions and testing your ideas through meticulous target audience (TA) research can save time and money further down the line.
Brainstorming helps to explore your project concepts, generate new ideas, and reject bad ones. While a whiteboard is great for visualizing ideas and flows, a digital whiteboard tool like Miro is better for remote teams.
Your end users are the factor your success depends on. To understand their preferences and pain points, you need to carry out customer interviews and consult with domain experts. You also need to look at the industry you’re targeting to check trends and understand the competition.
The outcomes of the research phase will help fill in the gaps in your product vision.
- Brainstorming — Miro, Google Spread Sheets
- Research — Typeform Gantt, Google forms
Spending time on research helps you validate the ideas from brainstorming sessions. It’s essential to ensure that the product you build will attract users.
Step 2. Requirements analysis, feasibility study, and planning
Creating a plan is the next phase in the software development process. This involves organizing information gathered during the previous step and filling in the gaps. The outcome is a solution design reference (SDR) document, the blueprint for your future product. An SDR indicates:
- Functional and non-functional requirements
- Implementation details required by developers and testers
- Estimation of time and effort required
An SDR document, together with a development plan, is essential for you and the team to have a shared project vision.
In some cases, your project may also require a feasibility study to understand whether your idea is doable in terms of features, tech stack, or regulatory compliance. Building a minimum prototype can help expose issues with the idea or tech stack early, allowing you to make changes to your concept before moving to the design or development stage.
- Gantt chart
You get an SDR document, a development plan, and a minimum product prototype in the case of a feasibility check.
Step 3. UI/UX Design
The software design process involves translating your software development requirements into a well-thought-out project design. This phase is about more than just colors and shapes — it’s about creating intuitive workflows your end-users can quickly grasp.
In most cases, we’ll start from user experience (UX) design, which is the backbone of your future product. It’s about creating intuitive ways for users to navigate through your product.
UX wireframes can be:
- Low-fidelity. Their primary goal is to help make your concept more tangible. They can be hand-drawn sketches or black and white schematic screens showing an application flow with basic content and blocks.
- High-fidelity. These wireframes aim to show your product’s look and feel. Usually, they have refined graphics, spacing, and layout and display the structure of your app pages in detail. Unlike low-fi wireframes, high-fi can only be created using digital tools.
Both low-fi and high-fi wireframes can be a basis for user interface (UI) design, which focuses on your product’s look, feel, and interactivity. But it’s more than that. UI design is about your product’s aesthetics.
To create a consistent interface layout, designers think of your potential user, their demographics, habits, and preferences, so that the final interface elements are intuitive, easy to use, and correspond to general design guidelines (e.g., Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines, material design principles, etc.).
UI designers also:
- Create icons and buttons
- Create illustrations, animations, or custom transition elements
- Optimize interactions
- Choose typography, visuals, and color schemes
- Make responsive experiences
UI is also about building your brand identity (if you don’t have one yet).
The outcome of this stage is a design hand-off to the developers, which is transferring the design ideas to be implemented during the next stage. On top of that, before you proceed with development, you can show a well-thought-out design concept to the investors or potential users.
Step 4. Development and coding
Development is usually the longest phase in the software development cycle. The starting point is forming the team and choosing the software development methodology — Agile or Waterfall.
Waterfall methodology offers a traditional linear approach where phases flow sequentially from one to the next until project completion. In other words, each step needs to be 100% complete to proceed to the next. Any changes will alter the original plan and require a restart.
Agile methodology is an incremental approach to software development. Unlike waterfall, it’s more adaptable to changing requirements. Rather than planning the whole project, Agile presupposes small increments and completing those in iterations. Each iteration may include several software development phases performed in parallel. At the end of each iteration, you receive a product update or new version for release.
Today’s market demands quick changes, so I’d suggest going Agile to ensure a quick turnaround and response. You’ve probably heard of JIRA, as it’s used left and right to plan work and distribute tasks across a dev team. Using JIRA or a similar tool will grant you complete visibility of the team’s progress.
- JIRA or a similar tool
- Agile methodologies including Scrum, Kanban, Feature-Driven Development (FDD), and more (depends on the project scope)
The outcome of the software engineering step is a fully functioning software product.
Step 5. Integration and testing
I always say there is no need to reinvent the wheel, and this is true of application integrations. For instance, almost every company needs reporting and analytics tools to track product performance. But there’s no need to develop it — you can integrate an existing tool, like Google Analytics, using API.
Another vital part of any SDLC is testing. Bugs are an inevitable part of the software development process, even if you hire the best programmers. The only way to get rid of them is to perform regular testing and bug fixing sessions.
Ideally, testing should start as soon as possible and go hand in hand with development. It allows finding, reporting, and fixing bugs even within the same iteration and keeps the source code quality high. There are several types of testing to ensure your product’s stable performance, among which are:
- UX testing
- Functional testing
- Usability testing
- Performance testing
- Black box testing
- Regression testing
What’s more, following the test-driven development approach (TDD) is a must to keep the source code quality high.
- NewRelic or another expectation monitoring tool for tracking outages and critical exceptions
- Test automation tools to perform Happy Path testing
QA is an extensive process with different stages and involves many deliveries. But the main outcome we expect is bug-free, reliable software.
Step 6. Deployment and launch
Once the product is ready, it’s time to push it to production servers. But don’t rush it. I always suggest using beta testing before general release, so real users can use your product in a production environment and uncover hidden bugs or issues before a product is available to a bigger audience. Subsequently, your product will be ready to release into the live production environment.
In the ideal world, the deployment step should be pretty much automated and easily manageable through a deployment pipeline for software releases. In fact, as the project evolves, you might require way more effort and time to deploy software releases. To ensure everything goes as expected, you should have a deployment plan defining a set of activities and responsibilities for your software to go live.
- Google Analytics to analyze traffic
- Tools like Bamboo or TeamCity to keep abreast of upcoming code changes and issues
- MixPanel for tracking specific predefined events like clicking buttons, etc.
- HotJar for better understanding of users’ interaction with the website
Voila! Your product is finally live and ready to conquer your users’ hearts.
Step 7. Operations and maintenance
The software development cycle doesn’t end on release — that’s only the starting point for further product updates and maintenance. Despite being the last of all software development life cycle steps, maintenance is essential to keep your product operational without downtime.
IEEE/ISO/IEC 14764-2006 standard defines four types of maintenance activities to keep your software functioning flawlessly:
- Corrective software maintenance refers to actions taken to fix reported bugs.
- Preventive software maintenance involves regular checks and fixes to avoid potential bugs and glitches.
- Perfective software maintenance implies evolving your software, optimizing its performance, and adding new features to keep end-users happy and engage new ones.
- Adaptive software maintenance aims to keep your software up to date by adjusting it to any changes, be it new government regulations or third-party API updates.
So just like you need to regularly mow the grass to keep your yard neat, you need to perform updates to guarantee the best version of your product to end-users. And so you go through the SDLC steps again and again.
Continuous upkeep ensures up-to-date software that stands up to the competition.
To sum up
The software development lifecycle is your step-by-step plan to bring your product vision to life. Using the SDLC framework can help you mitigate gaps, delays, or problems in the development process, no matter how small or big the project is.
SDLC includes seven steps any software project goes through — from idea validation, planning, designing, coding, and testing to release and maintenance. Each SDL phase aims at an outcome that serves as a foundation for further steps:
- Idea validation is the first step in software development. It’s about performing brainstorming sessions and proving your assumptions through research.
- Planning comes next, putting all your requirements in order and proving they’re feasible to implement.
- UI/UX software design steps help illustrate your product. Visuals speak louder than words, so use them for promo, fundraising, or early user testing.
- Development is when we do our magic and turn those visuals into working applications. It’s usually the most time-consuming phase of SDLC.
- Testing is important to ensure your software performs as expected.
- Deployment and launch are what you, as a customer, look forward to the most. Yet, going live isn’t the final step in SDLC. Remember, it’s a cycle that never ends.
- Continuous maintenance happens when your software is up and running. You need to keep it running smoothly and to grow it. The future is only possible with product growth.
Think of the SDLC activities as a constant journey to enhance your product and make it stand up to or even beat the competition. Altigee can be your guide in this software development journey. Contact us, and we’ll be happy to lead you through every phase of SDLC.