System Development Life Cycle
What is the Systems Development Life Cycle?
The system development life cycle is a long-term embedded concept in software engineering and in the world of Information Technology. In previous articles, we've covered the importance of having a structure and a set of regulatory guidelines that delimit a process to make it effective, efficient, and successful. This rings true for this article's subject of interest: the system development life cycle...but what is the system development life cycle?
In this article, we reflect on the concept’s definition, characteristics, key traits, and more, to fully comprehend its scope and reach, especially in today's ever-changing atmosphere.
First up, let’s bring clarity to the definition of a system. A system is an information technology component (hardware, software, or a combination of the two). In software development, a component integrates with other software components to create a full-fledged system.
Now, let's dive into the definition first: the system development life cycle (SDLC), also commonly known as the application development lifecycle, is a multistep, iterative, and structured process that encompasses the activities of planning, analysis, designing, building, testing, deploying, and maintaining an information system. The term has been around since the 1960s back when teams were more centralized, but now that information technology has evolved, the SDLC has been transformed to meet ever-changing needs in a complex atmosphere and under unique circumstances. When talking about an information system, we must recognize that it includes both hardware and software configurations, which is why the SDLC encompasses these two components and usually covers these 7 phases: planning, analysis, design, development, testing and integration, implementation, and maintenance. Additionally, it covers activities such as documentation and evaluation.
The essence of the system development life cycle is to deliver high-quality information systems that meet and/or exceed client expectations as they flow through pre-defined phases, within given timeframes and budget.
The system development life cycle is oftentimes confused with the software development lifecycle, but while they share remarkable similarities, the development of information systems is relatively more complex and robust in its overall architecture.
Given the complexity of the method, there are numerous methodologies out there that help manage and control the system development process. Among these methodologies, we can find Waterfall, Agile, rapid prototyping, incremental, and more. In this article, we will explore these methodologies within the framework of developing information systems.
Why is it important to have a system development life cycle in place?
The system development life cycle helps alleviate the complexity of developing a system information system from scratch, within a framework of structured phases that help shape the project and manage it easily.
It's important to have a system development life cycle in place because it helps transform an idea project into a functional and fully operational system. The SDLC, apart from covering the technical aspects of an information system’s development,also encompasses activities such as process and procedure development, change in management, user experience, policy development, impact, and conformity to security regulations.
Another important reason for leveraging a system development life cycle is to plan ahead of time and analyze the structured phases and goals of a specific software system project. Goal-oriented processes don’t follow a one-size-fits-all methodology; instead, they adapt and are responsive to user needs, which is why it is important to have a well-defined plan to determine costs and staffing decisions, provide goals and deliverables, measure performance, and apply validation points at each phase of the life cycle to improve quality.
Next, we are going to cover the main phases involved in the System Development Life Cycle to review what each one entails.
Main System Development Life Cycle Phases
As we covered before, the SDLC is used as a conceptual model that includes the procedures and policies necessary to develop or alter a system throughout a life cycle. The end result should be a high-quality system that meets or exceeds customer expectations and is within time and budget constraints. Within this framework, these are the main system development life cycle phases:
- Planning: Initial phase of the SDLC process that sets out to discover, identify, and define the scope of the project to decide the course of action and specifically address the issues that are going to be solved by the new system solution. This crucial phase sets the tone for the overall success of the project, which is why it is during this phase that thorough research is performed to determine resources, budget, personnel, technical aspects, and more.
- Analysis: The purpose of this phase is to understand the business and processing needs of the information system project. Here, the development team considers the functional requirements of the system to assess how the solution will meet the end user’s expectations. The end user requirements are determined and documented and a feasibility study is typically performed to determine if the project is feasible from a financial, organizational, social, and technological standpoint.
- Design: After a comprehensive analysis phase, the design phase surfaces. In this third phase, the elements, components, security levels, modules, architecture, interfaces and data of the system are defined and designed to evaluate how the finished system will work and what it will look like. The system design is produced in detail to ensure the system will include the necessary features to meet all functional and operational aspects of the project.
- Development: An approved design phase is the catalyst for the next and fourth phase: the development of the information system. In this phase, the development team is hard at work writing code and constructing and fine-tuning the technical and physical configurations necessary to build the overall information system. This is considered by many as the most robust phase in the life cycle as all the labor-intensive efforts are made here, signifying the real start of software production and installation of hardware as necessary.
- Testing and integration: This phase involves the Quality Assurance (QA) team who is in charge of performing the overall system testing to determine if the system solution meets the set of business goals and if it performs as expected. Additionally, in this phase, all the different components and subsystems of the solution are brought together to bring the whole integrated system alive. As we’ve discussed in previous articles, testing is becoming increasingly important as it helps ensure customer satisfaction by establishing that the system is fault-free.
- Implementation: After the system is given a green light from the QA team, it is brought into a production environment. In essence, during this phase, the project is released to be used and/or installed by end users.
- Maintenance: In this final phase, end users can fine-tune the system as necessary to increase performance, add new features and capabilities, or meet new requirements brought to the table by the client. This phase ensures the system remains relevant and usable by replacing old hardware, improving the software, evaluating performance, and applying new updates to make sure it meets all necessary standards and includes the latest technologies to face cybersecurity threats.
System Development Methodology
There are numerous SDLC methodologies available and the real beauty in this sea of options lies in selecting the best System Development methodology for a unique project. Each system development methodology carries its characteristic set of pros and cons that must be weighed to assertively decide which one will yield the best results for an information system development project.
According to Techopedia, “various SDLC models have been created and can be implemented, including Waterfall, Rapid Prototyping, Incremental, Spiral, Fountain, Build and Fix, Synchronize and Stabilize, and Rapid Application Development (RAD)”. Next, we are going to list some of the most prominent SDLC methodologies available.
- Waterfall: Known by many as the traditional methodology, Waterfall is a sequential and linear flow used to develop a system software application. In Waterfall, the process is outlined by a series of finite stages and each one must be fully completed before moving on to the next one. The Waterfall approach follows this order: requirements, design, execution, testing, and release.
- Rapid application development (RAD): It is an adaptive approach that puts less emphasis on planning and more emphasis on an adaptive process. Oftentimes, prototypes are used in RAD to substitute design specifications. RAD is considered one of the most popular SDLC models for software that is driven by user interface requirements. From its origin, RAD was created as a response to the plan-driven Waterfall methodology that designs and builds things almost as structured as done with a building. RAD is all about fast prototyping and iterative delivery that falls into the parental category of Agile.
- Prototyping: This methodology creates prototypes of the software application to simulate the functioning aspects of a desired final product. Prototyping is mainly used to visualize components of the software solution to ensure the final product meets customer requirements. There are several variants of prototyping but they are mainly categorized into throwaway and evolutionary. Throwaway prototyping creates a model that will eventually be discarded and evolutionary prototyping refers to a robust prototype that will be constantly refined to reach its final version.
- Spiral: The spiral methodology can be thought of as a combination of the Waterfall methodology and the prototyping methodology. It is typically the methodology of choice for large and complex projects because it uses the same stages as the Waterfall methodology but it separates them into planning, risk assessment, and prototype building.
- Agile: The iterative and incremental methodology recognized for excellence, Agile is a framework that evolves through collaboration between teams. It is a dynamic and interactive methodology that works in sprints with a defined duration to produce lightweight deliverables that help reduce the time in which software is released. It advocates for adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, continuous improvement, and rapid and flexible responsiveness to changes.
- Iterative and incremental: The iterative and incremental methodology is designed to overcome any fault or shortcoming of the Waterfall methodology. The iterative and incremental methodology begins with initial planning and ends with the deployment of the solution, with cyclic interaction in between. In essence, it develops a software application via iterative and repeated cycles that are performed incrementally so developers can learn from the development of previous portions of the software.
- V model: This methodology is considered an extension of the Waterfall methodology, but instead of flowing down in a linear way, the steps are designed upward to form a V shape. In this methodology, the relationships between each phase of the development life cycle are associated with a testing phase. The horizontal and vertical axes display the time or project completeness (left to right) and abstraction level (coarsest-grain abstraction).
These methodologies can be combined to build a hybrid solution that better meets a specific project’s requirements. Usually, organizations rely on the expertise provided by System Analysts to decide and select the best methodology or combination of methodologies to use for a specific project. In the following section, we are going to explore the System Analyst role and how their valuable skill set has become a key component in the success of effective System Development Life Cycle projects.
Who is the System Analyst?
The System Analyst is an individual who is knowledgeable about analysis and design techniques to solve business problems using information technology. Frequently, system analysts identify gaps or areas of opportunity that can be tackled to generate organizational improvements as well as the required systems to accomplish goals. Overall, the System Analyst is a professional who should possess interpersonal skills, technical skills, analytical skills, and management skills.
The System Analyst is an IT professional who works on the high-level system review to assess is systems, infrastructures, and computer systems function effectively and efficiently. System analysts research problems, discover solutions, recommend a course of action, coordinate with stakeholders, select resources, and design action plans to reach a goal and meet pre-defined requirements. They are experts at studying a system, process, or procedure to come up with the best solutions.
Ideally, System Analysts are highly skilled and knowledgeable in multiple operating systems, hardware configurations, programming languages, and software and hardware platforms. They are usually involved from the beginning stages of a project and up until the post-evaluation review of the solution. In essence, System Analysts are known as the professionals who can help transform requirements into technical design specifications and their main responsibility is to understand and determine how to solve a problem via multiple platforms, protocols, software, hardware, and communication outlets.
Every time a new project or a new phase of a software project is released, it is important to follow the System Development Life Cycle, By doing so, teams establish a systematic fashion to go about creating new solutions to existing problems in a controlled and standardized manner. Before embarking on a new project, it’s important to identify how the SDLC will cover and satisfy the overall requirements to deliver the best results. Next, you can select the best SDLC methodology or a combination of methodologies to help you address the best approach to execute the SDLC.
At Svitla Systems, we have expert teams of specialists who are knowledgeable in all the major SDLC methodologies and in the latest and most successful methods to help you build a powerful information system.
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