Rapid application development is an approach that focuses on rapid prototyping and feedback for improved flexibility and faster time to market.
As businesses of all kinds face increased expectations in terms of application quality and delivery times, the need for speed and effectiveness in software development cycles has never been greater. But creating effective software quickly is often not enough. Development teams also need the flexibility to adapt to changing app requirements—sometimes mid project. Rapid application development (RAD) may be the answer.
RAD is an adaptive development model that forgoes the rigid structure of traditional Waterfall software development processes in favor of a more agile approach that prioritizes speed and flexibility. The result is a development methodology that allows businesses to iterate and incorporate feedback throughout the creative process and into further development.
In other words, RAD places the user firmly at the center of development, rather than only incorporating their feedback at the start or the conclusion of the process. Through ongoing course correction, rapid application development empowers organizations with the flexibility to more consistently meet user needs while maintaining fast deployment schedules.
Building an effective RAD model requires several distinct stages. Although this process may need to be further broken down to accommodate specific business needs or limitations, the standard stages of RAD include the following:
In the first phase of creating a RAD model, organizations must gather relevant business information from a variety of sources. Information flow between business functions is identified and used to create an accurate description of how that data may be applied.
With the information collected and defined in the previous phase, organizations can now analyze the data and divide it into specific data groups. The relationships between each of these groups are clearly defined.
Next, the data objects defined during the data modelling phase are converted for use in the development process. Process modelling allows for changes and optimizations to be made to the data objects.
With the necessary groundwork in place, the organization can now code the relevant information and build the system. Data models are used to create prototypes which will be tested during the final phase.
Each model created during the previous stage is individually tested to identify any problems and allow specific components to be adapted quickly to improve the final product. Because the prototypes are tested during each iteration, the total testing time is reduced.
Because rapid application development eschews costly planning and regimented linear models in favor of an approach in which changes can be made during any development stage, it is often grouped together with Agile development. But while RAD incorporates many Agile principles, it is not the same thing.
Agile focuses on breaking projects down into features built during sprints (short periods where a team works to complete a predetermined set of tasks), creating multiple iterations designed to produce feedback as each feature is completed. RAD, on the other hand, places greater focus on prototypes—usable versions of the complete product that can be shared with the user to generate more feedback relevant to the entire app. Rather than waiting for individual features to be completed before seeking user assessment, RAD delivers prototypes still in the development phase so that full functionality may be improved throughout the entire process.
To do this, RAD relies on an extensive repository of reusable code to create and release prototypes quickly, so that the development process remains focused on creating and refining usable software.
Due to its focus on building working prototypes for users to test and evaluate, rapid application development brings with it several advantages over other software development methodologies. These benefits include:
Despite its many benefits, there are some disadvantages to be aware of when considering the RAD model. These may include:
With the above disadvantages in mind, it’s clear that rapid application development is best suited for projects that have a large and responsive pool of users that are committed to testing the application and providing detailed feedback. At the same time, organizations need teams of highly skilled and motivated developers to quickly fulfill requested changes to ensure that new prototypes are being rolled out quickly. Projects or scenarios that fall outside of these requirements may be poorly suited for rapid application development.
To ensure effective RAD results, consider the following best practices:
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