Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)

Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) also referred to as the application development life-cycle, is a term used in systems engineering, information systems and software engineering to describe a process for planning, creating, testing, and deploying an information system.

There are various software development approaches defined and designed which are used/employed during development process of software, these approaches are also referred as “Software Development Process Models” (e.g. Waterfall model, incremental model, V-model, iterative model, etc.). Each process model follows a particular life cycle in order to ensure success in process of software development. The SDLC aims to produce a high quality software that meets or exceeds customer expectations, reaches completion within times and cost estimates.

  • SDLC is the acronym of Software Development Life Cycle.
  • It is also called as Software development process.
  • The software development life cycle (SDLC) is a framework defining tasks performed at each step in the software development process.
  • ISO/IEC 12207 is an international standard for software life-cycle processes. It aims to be the standard that defines all the tasks required for developing and maintaining software.

There are following six phases in every Software development life cycle model:

  1. Requirement gathering and analysis ( Planning and Requirement Analysis)
  2. Defining Requirements
  3. Designing the product architecture
  4. Building or Developing the Product
  5. Testing the Product
  6. Maintenance  (Deployment in the Market and Maintenance)

Stage 1: Planning and Requirement Analysis

Requirement analysis is the most important and fundamental stage in SDLC. It is performed by the senior members of the team with inputs from the customer, the sales department, market surveys and domain experts in the industry. This information is then used to plan the basic project approach and to conduct product feasibility study in the economical, operational, and technical areas. Planning for the quality assurance requirements and identification of the risks associated with the project is also done in the planning stage. The outcome of the technical feasibility study is to define the various technical approaches that can be followed to implement the project successfully with minimum risks.

Stage 2: Defining Requirements

Once the requirement analysis is done the next step is to clearly define and document the product requirements and get them approved from the customer or the market analysts. This is done through .SRS. . Software Requirement Specification document which consists of all the product requirements to be designed and developed during the project life cycle.

Stage 3: Designing the product architecture

SRS is the reference for product architects to come out with the best architecture for the product to be developed. Based on the requirements specified in SRS, usually more than one design approach for the product architecture is proposed and documented in a DDS – Design Document Specification. This DDS is reviewed by all the important stakeholders and based on various parameters as risk assessment, product robustness, design modularity , budget and time constraints , the best design approach is selected for the product. A design approach clearly defines all the architectural modules of the product along with its communication and data flow representation with the external and third party modules (if any). The internal design of all the modules of the proposed architecture should be clearly defined with the minutest of the details in DDS.

Stage 4: Building or Developing the Product

In this stage of SDLC the actual development starts and the product is built. The programming code is generated as per DDS during this stage. If the design is performed in a detailed and organized manner, code generation can be accomplished without much hassle. Developers have to follow the coding guidelines defined by their organization and programming tools like compilers, interpreters, debuggers etc. are used to generate the code. Different high level programming languages such as C, C++, Pascal, Java, and PHP are used for coding. The programming language is chosen with respect to the type of software being developed.

Stage 5: Testing the Product

This stage is usually a subset of all the stages as in the modern SDLC models, the testing activities are mostly involved in all the stages of SDLC. However this stage refers to the testing only stage of the product where products defects are reported, tracked, fixed and retested, until the product reaches the quality standards defined in the SRS.

Stage 6: Deployment in the Market and Maintenance

Once the product is tested and ready to be deployed it is released formally in the appropriate market. Sometime product deployment happens in stages as per the organizations business strategy. The product may first be released in a limited segment and tested in the real business environment (UAT- User acceptance testing). Then based on the feedback, the product may be released as it is or with suggested enhancements in the targeting market segment. After the product is released in the market, its maintenance is done for the existing customer base.    


SDLC Models

There are various software development life cycle models defined and designed which are followed during software development process. These models are also referred as “Software Development Process Models”. Each process model follows a Series of steps unique to its type, in order to ensure success in process of software development.

Following are the most important and popular SDLC models followed in the industry:

  • Waterfall Model
  • Iterative Model
  • Spiral Model
  • V-Model
  • Big Bang Model

The other related methodologies are Agile Model, RAD Model, Rapid Application Development and Prototyping Models.

SDLC Waterfall Model

Following is a diagrammatic representation of different phases of waterfall model.

The sequential phases in Waterfall model are:

  • Requirement Gathering and analysis: All possible requirements of the system to be developed are captured in this phase and documented in a requirement specification doc.
  • System Design: The requirement specifications from first phase are studied in this phase and system design is prepared. System Design helps in specifying hardware and system requirements and also helps in defining overall system architecture.
  • Implementation: With inputs from system design, the system is first developed in small programs called units, which are integrated in the next phase. Each unit is developed and tested for its functionality which is referred to as Unit Testing.
  • Integration and Testing: All the units developed in the implementation phase are integrated into a system after testing of each unit. Post integration the entire system is tested for any faults and failures.
  • Deployment of system: Once the functional and non-functional testing is done, the product is deployed in the customer environment or released into the market.
  • Maintenance: There are some issues which come up in the client environment. To fix those issues patches are released. Also to enhance the product some better versions are released. Maintenance is done to deliver these changes in the customer environment.

All these phases are cascaded to each other in which progress is seen as flowing steadily downwards (like a waterfall) through the phases. The next phase is started only after the defined set of goals are achieved for previous phase and it is signed off, so the name “Waterfall Model”. In this model phases do not overlap.

SDLC Iterative Model

Following is the pictorial representation of Iterative and Incremental model:

This model is most often used in the following scenarios:

  • Requirements of the complete system are clearly defined and understood.
  • Major requirements must be defined; however, some functionalities or requested enhancements may evolve with time.
  • There is a time to the market constraint.
  • A new technology is being used and is being learnt by the development team while working on the project.
  • Resources with needed skill set are not available and are planned to be used on contract basis for specific iterations.
  • There are some high risk features and goals which may change in the future.

SDLC Spiral Model

The spiral model has four phases. A software project repeatedly passes through these phases in iterations called Spirals.

  • Identification: This phase starts with gathering the business requirements in the baseline spiral. In the subsequent spirals as the product matures, identification of system requirements, subsystem requirements and unit requirements are all done in this phase.

This also includes understanding the system requirements by continuous communication between the customer and the system analyst. At the end of the spiral the product is deployed in the identified market.

  • Design: Design phase starts with the conceptual design in the baseline spiral and involves architectural design, logical design of modules, physical product design and final design in the subsequent spirals.
  • Construct or Build: Construct phase refers to production of the actual software product at every spiral. In the baseline spiral when the product is just thought of and the design is being developed a POC (Proof of Concept) is developed in this phase to get customer feedback.

Then in the subsequent spirals with higher clarity on requirements and design details a working model of the software called build is produced with a version number. These builds are sent to customer for feedback.

  • Evaluation and Risk Analysis: Risk Analysis includes identifying, estimating, and monitoring technical feasibility and management risks, such as schedule slippage and cost overrun. After testing the build, at the end of first iteration, the customer evaluates the software and provides feedback.

Following is a diagrammatic representation of spiral model listing the activities in each phase:

V Model

The V – model is SDLC model where execution of processes happens in a sequential manner in V-shape. It is also known as Verification and Validation model.

V – Model is an extension of the waterfall model and is based on association of a testing phase for each corresponding development stage. This means that for every single phase in the development cycle there is a directly associated testing phase. This is a highly disciplined model and next phase starts only after completion of the previous phase.

The below figure illustrates the different phases in V-Model of SDLC.

SDLC Big Bang Model

The Big Bang model is SDLC model where there is no specific process followed. The development just starts with the required money and efforts as the input, and the output is the software developed which may or may not be as per customer requirement.

Big Bang Model is SDLC model where there is no formal development followed and very little planning is required. Even the customer is not sure about what exactly he wants and the requirements are implemented on the fly without much analysis.

Usually this model is followed for small projects where the development teams are very small.

Agile Model

Here is a graphical illustration of the Agile Model:

Agile thought process had started early in the software development and started becoming popular with time due to its flexibility and adaptability.

The most popular agile methods include Rational Unified Process (1994), Scrum (1995), Crystal Clear, Extreme Programming (1996), Adaptive Software Development, Feature Driven Development, and Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM) (1995). These are now collectively referred to as agile methodologies, after the Agile Manifesto was published in 2001.

Following are the Agile Manifesto principles

  • Individuals and interactions. In agile development, self-organization and motivation are important, as are interactions like co-location and pair programming.
  • Working software. Demo working software is considered the best means of communication with the customer to understand their requirement, instead of just depending on documentation.
  • Customer collaboration. As the requirements cannot be gathered completely in the beginning of the project due to various factors, continuous customer interaction is very important to get proper product requirements.
  • Responding to change. Agile development is focused on quick responses to change and continuous development.

RAD Model

Following image illustrates the RAD Model:

Following are the typical scenarios where RAD can be used:

  • RAD should be used only when a system can be modularized to be delivered in incremental manner.
  • It should be used if there’s high availability of designers for modeling.
  • It should be used only if the budget permits use of automated code generating tools.
  • RAD SDLC model should be chosen only if domain experts are available with relevant business knowledge.
  • Should be used where the requirements change during the course of the project and working prototypes are to be presented to customer in small iterations of 2-3 months.

Software Prototyping

The Software Prototyping refers to building software application prototypes which display the functionality of the product under development but may not actually hold the exact logic of the original software.

Software prototyping is becoming very popular as a software development model, as it enables to understand customer requirements at an early stage of development. It helps get valuable feedback from the customer and helps software designers and developers understand about what exactly is expected from the product under development.

Following is the stepwise approach to design a software prototype:

  • Basic Requirement Identification: This step involves understanding the very basics product requirements especially in terms of user interface. The more intricate details of the internal design and external aspects like performance and security can be ignored at this stage.
  • Developing the initial Prototype: The initial Prototype is developed in this stage, where the very basic requirements are showcased and user interfaces are provided. These features may not exactly work in the same manner internally in the actual software developed and the workarounds are used to give the same look and feel to the customer in the prototype developed.
  • Review of the Prototype: The prototype developed is then presented to the customer and the other important stakeholders in the project. The feedback is collected in an organized manner and used for further enhancements in the product under development.
  • Revise and enhance the Prototype: The feedback and the review comments are discussed during this stage and some negotiations happen with the customer based on factors like, time and budget constraints and technical feasibility of actual implementation. The changes accepted are again incorporated in the new Prototype developed and the cycle repeats until customer expectations are met.


Waterfall and V model are traditional SDLC models and are of sequential type. Sequential means that the next phase can start only after the completion of first phase. Such models are suitable for projects with very clear product requirements and where the requirements will not change dynamically during the course of project completion.

Iterative and Spiral models are more accommodative in terms of change and are suitable for projects where the requirements are not so well defined, or the market requirements change quite frequently.

Big Bang model is a random approach to Software development and is suitable for small or academic projects.

Agile is the most popular model used in the industry. Agile introduces the concept of fast delivery to customers using prototype approach. Agile divides the project into small iterations with specific deliverable features. Customer interaction is the backbone of Agile methodology, and open communication with minimum documentation are the typical features of Agile development environment.

RAD (Rapid Application Development) and Software Prototype are modern techniques to understand the requirements in a better way early in the project cycle. These techniques work on the concept of providing a working model to the customer and stockholders to give the look and feel and collect the feedback. This feedback is used in an organized manner to improve the product.



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