Starting a new software project can be overwhelming. It can be helpful to break the process into smaller, more manageable steps. Traditionally, software development has been broken into six steps. Using this process can make a large project less intimidating.
What Is Software Development?
Before we dive into the process, it will be helpful to define software development. It can be tempting to think that a small project doesn’t really qualify as “software development”. However, no matter how big or small your project is, if you are designing a program, you are engaging in software development.
Simply put, software development is the process of creating and coding software to meet some need. It could be the needs of customers, or a personal need, such as automating a task. The program could be large or small. But, all projects benefit by breaking the project down into a series of steps.
Software Development Steps
1. Needs Assessment
As mentioned, software development solves a need. Thus, the first step of any project is clearly identifying the need that you are trying to solve. On large projects, this could involve market research and meeting with stakeholders. A smaller project might just require making a list of must-have features.
This is the most important step in the process. Without a clear understanding of what is required to solve your problem, it will be difficult to design an adequate solution. Having a clear vision of a product can also help to keep your project on track. As you begin to design your project it might be tempting to add features that are not needed but are wanted. This is called scope creep and it can derail a project.
If you love to program, it can be tempting to jump into the code as soon as you have a good idea. But your project will run much smoother if you take the time to design your software first. This step is analogous to writing an outline before you begin to write a paper. It serves to organize your thoughts. Most of your problem solving should be complete in this step so that when you start coding, there should be few complications.
In this step, there are several things you will want to consider. If your software project requires an interface, develop a prototype that outlines the look and functionality of the interface. If the project uses a database, design the tables, and map out the relationships between them.
All software development will require writing algorithms. Create flow charts that outline the program flow and describe any complex algorithms, like functions or methods.
This is arguably the most straightforward and fun step.
In this step, you write the code to create the software. After the needs of the project have been clearly defined, and the design outlined, this step should be straightforward—in theory at least. Realistically, issues may arise in this stage, but the more planning completed before programming, the smoother it goes.
After you write the code, it must be tested. You need to validate that the code works as expected and meets the needs it was designed to meet. In smaller projects, this step can be fairly straightforward and primarily involve debugging the software. In larger projects, this could involve testing the software with focus groups to refining the design and requirements of the software.
The order of this step can vary. For example, Test Driven Development creates a script to test the software first. Coding is considered complete when it passes the test. Conversely, if you use an iterative design method, testing will be integrated into several design stages.
Once the software passes testing, it is ready to be deployed. At this stage, the software should be fully functional and can be released, and/or used. Large projects may be released in stages, which is called a staggered release.
When the software is placed into the hands of users, they often find issues and bugs that were not discovered during testing. A staggered release makes responding to these issues manageable.
The maintenance step is another crucial phase. Once the software is used, it might not quite meet the need it was designed for, new features might be released, or new bugs may be discovered. All of this requires monitoring and revising the software.
Although the above steps make software development seem linear, it doesn’t have to be. There are many different ways to approach software development. The two most well-known methods are waterfall and agile software development.
Waterfall development was the traditional way to manage a project. It involves completing software development steps in sequential order. Each step would be completely finished before the team would move on to the next step.
This method is easy to manage and can work well for small software projects. Because the process is straightforward and each step has clear goals, it is easy to manage. It is suitable for projects that have a clear goal and easily understandable requirements.
The waterfall method does not work well when a project is complex, or if the requirements are not clear. It can be difficult to change the design of the software using this method. Because the steps are followed sequentially, it is difficult to go back a step, which makes it difficult to respond to issues that arise or pivot the design.
Agile was designed to address many of the shortcomings of the waterfall approach. Instead of moving from one step to the next until you are done, the process is cyclical. The project is incrementally created in a series of development cycles. Testing is central to the process. Each cycle incorporates the lessons learned from testing. This cyclical approach builds re-design into the process of software development.
The benefit of agile is that it allows the project to evolve to address issues discovered during testing. This is a great approach for user-focused design. Despite the development process being more complex, it can also be more cost-effective for large projects. Problems can be addressed quickly as they arise and it is easier to change the design in response to issues that arise.
There are many considerations when beginning a new software project. The purpose and scope of the project will dictate the best software development method. However, all approaches are based on the same steps. If you are new to programming, it will always be tempting to jump straight into coding. But taking the time to plan your project is time well spent.
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