The success of a software development project is often defined by the chosen strategy and configuration management, even more so than by talented coders or extensive budgets. The traditional waterfall concept with consequent stages of research, design, and implementation has several drawbacks that prompted IT specialists to explore other approaches. A methodology that was among the first to challenge the waterfall model, Rapid Application Development (RAD) represents its high-speed adaptation that focuses on the early delivery of modularized software components. In this guide, we will dig deeper into the philosophy behind RAD and consider its pros and cons, along with the potential applications.
Rapid Application Development Definition
The RAD model is a software development methodology that favors rapid prototyping over strict planning. A prototype, in this case, is a fully functioning self-sufficient component of the final product, developed by several teams working in parallel. Later on, all of the elements are collectively assembled and integrated into a single application. A key feature of RAD is extensive customer involvement during the iterative development cycles, with developer teams rapidly reconciling each build based on client feedback.
Since there is no detailed pre-planning, any changes can be easily incorporated into the development process. RAD treats software projects like clay that can be molded and shaped during its sculpting. The methodology follows cascading incremental phases and requires small teams of developers, customer representatives, and IT experts working progressively on their assigned components. Each element is reusable, and since they are all tested independently, the risk of facing major issues at the end of the road is significantly reduced.
Rapid Application Development Methodology
As mentioned above, the RAD model is based on prototyping and iterative development with no specific planning involved. This method features continuous cycles of early testing and refinement. There are four essential stages of this development model are defining requirements, prototyping, feedback gathering, and cutover.
During the first stage of application creation, an agency or a project manager has to assemble development teams with suitable experience and programming language knowledge. The initial goal is to create a loose roadmap for the builders to follow and figure out how the final product can be broken down into independent components to be developed in parallel. The necessary functionalities on the to-do list are defined through workshops, focus groups, or meetings that feature the customer.
Prototyping implies creating a finished version of a certain feature, library, tool, functionality, etc. Both back-end and front-end coding will be performed in order to build a ready-to-use module that the client can review and test. Stages two and three are interconnected, meaning there can be several iterations of prototype development and customer revisions until each party is satisfied with the end result.
Going hand-in-hand with the previous step, the continuous check-ins with the previously outlined requirements and the current customer vision is essentially what defines the RAD model. This includes the client’s opinions on the software interface and functionality. In some cases, beta-tests are distributed to the end-users in order to assess and improve the user experience.
Finalize The Product
The chosen model allows for the rapid construction of self-sufficient prototypes and a high level of adaptability to customer demands. Once all teams finish creating components and the client signs off on them, the developers can perform unit integration and optimize the implementations to improve the stability and maintainability of the resulting application.
Rapid Application Development Advantages and Disadvantages
Among the advantages of the rapid application development model are:
- Close cooperation with the client and quick initial feedback,
- Lower risks of unachieved expectations and failed business goals,
- Shorter development lifecycles for early delivery of functioning components due to teams working in parallel,
- The ability to utilize and reuse existing libraries and elements developed by the other teams,
- Lower development costs,
- The possibility to accommodate workflow changes even in the late stages of development,
- Clearly measurable progress.
The model also has several shortcomings:
- Multiple development teams require sufficient human resources at the same time,
- The possibility of having less design consistency due to miscommunication between teams – especially given the frequent changes,
- The potential drop in quality with unexpected crashes or bugs that were missed due to the rushed development schedule,
- Higher management complexity to get everyone on the same page,
- Not suitable for systems with overlapping components,
- Requires a lot of commitment from the client,
- The customer might only judge the interface and usability, being unable to give educated feedback on the back-end infrastructure of the software,
- Higher technical risks.
Rapid Application Development vs Other Development Models
One of the differentiating concepts that the RAD methodology has over other models is the prioritization of flexibility over internal control. Rapid application development is highly dependent on the customer and their willingness and ability to give relevant feedback. What’s also interesting to note here is the fact that the RAD approach does not exclude the traditional waterfall, agile, or DevOps concepts – all of them can be incorporated within the individual teams that work on delivering their assigned components.
RAD vs. Waterfall
The waterfall model implies a linear progression of consequent development stages by a single team, whereas the RAD system has several units working on different components in parallel. Rapid application development, hence the name, is all about delivering a working build in a reduced amount of time, while the traditional approach cannot offer that luxury. RAD enables clients to implement changes and does not require extensive pre-planning for concepts that the client might not fully grasp.
RAD vs. Agile
While these two models are often distinguished as separate methodologies, which prompts the comparison between them, they are, in fact, not that different in terms of underlying principles. Agile is more of a philosophy – a set of practices that favor adaptive planning, in-progress changes, customer involvement, and sustainable development, as per the agile manifesto. A couple of differences where RAD does not reflect the agile values is not offering any opinions on ways to enhance teamwork and adjust internal development.
RAD vs. DevOps
DevOps is an organizational collaboration approach that suggests the best practices for creating a unified front across all the involved development teams and heavily using automation tools in order to increase the time-to-market. Rapid delivery is, therefore, what the two models have in common. In RAD, though, teams working on separate components are not necessarily in sync.
Rapid Application Development Programming Languages and Frameworks
Since RAD favors code reusability, automation, and rapid prototype delivery, some of the best programming language choices are Ruby, Python, and Dart. Depending on the type of software, different IDEs and frameworks that allow for developing in these three languages can be suitable for implementation.
Ruby is an open-source object-oriented programming language that is supported within the Eclipse IDE. Its web framework, Ruby on Rails, is applicable for RAD as it enables easy-to-implement code changes and can be combined with third-party libraries for rapid feature development. However, Ruby is not exactly beginner-friendly, and should only be considered by teams with relevant experience since RAD is all about rapid application assembly.
Python is a high-level programming language that is easy to comprehend even for inexperienced coders. Python’s IDE, Django, is open-source and features a lightweight syntax and predictable behavior. Among the disadvantages that can delay prototype releases are slower code execution and processing power – which might hamper the desired “rapid” aspect of application creation.
Dart is a programming language operating within Flutter, a cross-platform framework backed up by Google. The cross-platform approach is all about reusing as many code samples as possible and leveraging pre-configurated features and tools, which coincides with the RAD model’s main concepts. Flutter and Dart would work especially well for creating mobile apps.
Rapid application development tools
The tools listed in this category can be utilized for the design and prototyping of features and components to achieve faster build delivery, an interactive interface, and consistent user feedback and testing.
Low-code development platforms
Low-code platforms offer a mix of visual interfaces with drag-and-drop features and traditional hand-coding for the modeling phase. These services can make it easier for development teams to incorporate client feedback and customize the design elements of the offered features, although only to a certain degree. Some of the examples suitable for RAD are Alpha Software, Appian, Mendix, and OutSystems.
No-code development platforms
No-code development might seem inapplicable at first since it is all about assigning different development teams to create the back-end and front-end parts of desired functionalities. However, for low-budget projects, simple mobile applications, or extremely short development timelines, these services might be the only suitable choice. You can look up Salesforce AppCloud, Airtable, and AppSheet.
Workplace innovation platforms
Since a major focus of RAD is on constant customer-contractor communication, workplace innovation platforms can help keep track of feedback-based changes, manage schedules, and better convey what the client wants with the help of visual design tools. As an example, consider Salesforce and AppSheet, as well as Airtable.
A Case Study for Rapid Application Development
The RAD approach combined with the values of the agile philosophy can save companies a lot of time in development. In a case study published by Serengeti, an international company that deals in the logistics industry, Epilog, was able to cut two years from their development cycle. Their goal was to optimize the internal management and tracking software, and it was achieved faster by creating and scaling prototypes and approving each of them with the client.
Is the RAD model right for your team?
To decide whether the RAD model is a right fit for your project, consider the following questions:
- Do I have access to end-user and client feedback? One of the main drivers of the speed and efficiency behind rapid application development is the continuous flow of feedback from the client or the end-users. Unless that is something that your customer can commit to and has enough experience to provide educated feedback, the RAD method won’t work.
- Can I divide my deliverable? Rapid application development is only suitable for component-based and scalable systems. The development teams will not be able to work in parallel if the software components are interconnected.
- Can my team implement changes quickly? RAD welcomes change – even thrives on it, as the constant feedback and modification of each self-sufficient component are what allows contractors to deliver applications that coincide with the client’s vision. When choosing rapid application development, make sure your teams of coders are able to adapt and keep up the communication between them without losing speed or quality.