Top 12 Software Development Methodologies

Nikolay Tsonev

Nikolay Tsonev

Product Marketing Manager

Table of Contents:

Software development methodologies define the ways of working when developing software solutions. The top software development methodologies are below.

  • Waterfall Development
  • Agile Software Development
  • DevOps Methodology
  • Lean Development
  • Feature-Driven Development (FDD)
  • Extreme Programming
  • Joint Application Development Methodology
  • Spiral Model
  • Scrum Framework
  • Dynamic System Development
  • Rapid Application Development (RAD)
  • Kanban

Waterfall Development

The waterfall development methodology originated in the manufacturing and construction industries. The model gained high popularity because of the linear nature of those industries where the final product is known from the beginning of the production cycle.

This means that little to no changes are expected alongside the process. The "waterfall" model consists of strictly defined sequential phases where a stage can't begin before the previous one has finished.

The 5 basic software development phases consist of the following.

  1. Requirements
  2. Design
  3. Implementation
  4. Verification
  5. Maintenance

One of the major benefits of the waterfall model is that it's a risk-free approach, especially in industrial manufacturing. As the "Design" phase is executed early in the process, this helps developers reduce the likelihood of changes in the "Implementation" phase.

Another benefit of waterfall development is that it's easier for project managers to plan milestones due to the clear project scope. Because of that, project costs can be more accurately estimated too.

While the waterfall methodology is the "go-to" approach in a stable environment such as manufacturing, it has become less popular in software development agreements. That's because software development produces intangible goods where the final product is unknown until the later stages of the project.

To deal with this uncertainty, the Agile software development methodology provides a solution.

Agile Software Development

Agile software development is based on an iterative model where the work is executed in repeatable cycles. It consists of a group of Agile software development methods and frameworks that focus on gathering customer requirements alongside the project's lifecycle and continuously releasing solutions to the market.

The history of Agile software development goes back to the 1990s when there was a huge delay in software delivery. Companies were frustrated because their requirements were quickly changing. This led to the creation of the Agile Manifesto in 2001 that set forward theAgile ways of working.

The different Agile methodologies aim to embrace change at all project stages. To achieve that, instead of big phases, Agile software teams break down their projects into smaller chunks. They constantly deliver them for customer inspection to gain feedback and use it to plan new features, fix defects in existing ones, or altogether remove others.

Agile software development helps Agile teams deliver faster and more frequently, improve team collaboration, adapt to changing requirements, and meet customers' expectations.


Kanban is a workflow management method that helps you optimize service delivery processes and improve continuously. While not a software development methodology, Kanban has been adopted by many development teams looking to visualize their workflows and achieve predictability in software delivery.

The method gained prominence in the late 1940s as a scheduling system for Lean manufacturing, developed in Toyota's production factories. Later, at the beginning of the 21st century, Kanban's visualization practices were successfully applied in software development. This led to the creation of the Kanban method for knowledge work in 2007.

Kanban represents a tailor-made approach that doesn't require big revolutions to existing processes. Instead, it emphasizes visualizing your current workflows on Kanban boards to unveil bottlenecks and then gradually looking to apply improvements based on your scenario. Besides visualization, some of the main practices of Kanban include limiting work in progress, managing flow, and introducing feedback loops.

The main idea is to optimize entire value streams in the company, improve the flow of feedback across all levels, and build more predictable service delivery processes that satisfy customers' needs.

DevOps Methodology

The DevOps software development methodology refers to the intersection between software development (Dev) and IT operations (Ops) in a project. It is about bringing those two functions together to promote higher transparency in code repositories and automate integration processes to release software solutions with greater efficiency.

Building on Agile software development, the DevOps movement started back in 2007/2008. The goal of the movement was to solve the huge delay that the constant switching between the two functions was causing once a problem in the code arose.

To make this possible, DevOps relies on automation practices such as continuous integration, continuous delivery, and deployment.

Some of the benefits of the DevOps software methodology include rapid software delivery, decreased downtime as well as greater code reliability.

Rapid Application Development (RAD)

The Rapid Application Development software methodology (RAD) is an iterative development process that focuses on building prototypes and involving the end-users in the design stage of a project.

The origins of RAD can be traced back to 1991 when the technology consultant James Martin introduced the methodology to answer the pressure for releasing working products faster. Even though preceding the "official" birth of Agile software development, the RAD methodology also welcomes changing requirements late in the process and emphasizes having the customer actively involved throughout the development cycle.

The main idea of RAD is to reduce the planning efforts of development teams and turn their attention to continuous prototyping. The initial "low-fidelity" models are then evaluated by the customers before the actual development work begins. This reduces the risk of rework in the development process, lowering costs and speeding up time to market.

Lean Development

The Lean software development methodology refers to the application of Lean principles in software development. The concept was introduced in the book "Lean software development" written by Mary and TomPoppendieckin 2003, and adapts various Lean manufacturing practices to knowledge work.

The main objective behind the Lean software development methodology is to remove the wasteful activities across the development cycle and maximize customer value. In software development, waste can be classified as:

  • Partially Done Work
  • Extra Processes
  • Extra Features
  • Context Switching (Multitasking)
  • Waiting
  • Work Handoffs
  • Defects

To achieve the main objective of lean development, Lean focuses on mapping value streams, building flow within processes, and establishing pull systems.

Furthermore, the Lean approach to building new software products promotes the release of an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) before the actual solution is ready. The idea is to gather user feedback in a production-like environment and, based on it, deliver the complete product version. This approach helps companies deliver superior customer value and increase ROI.

Dynamic System Development

The dynamic system development method (DSDM) can be classified as an Agile framework that aims to align projects to strategic goals and improve stakeholder engagement. You can think of it as a "scale-up" approach to other Agile methods as it focuses on business objectives in order to prioritize them for execution.

The method was created in 1994 to counter the long lead times created by the waterfall model but also the lack of control in the RAD methodology. While features were being delivered more quickly with RAD, there was no view of the bigger picture.

That's why the main objective of DSDM is to bring the best of both worlds. This happens by ensuring businesses better understand the scope of projects but still retain the flexibility to embrace new customer requirements as they emerge throughout the production cycle.

Feature Driven Development

Feature Driven Development (FDD) is an adaptive software development methodology that organizes the development work around features. It focuses on breaking down large software projects into separate features and then planning them. FDD is an iterative approach that aims to make the project batch size small enough to continuously release working features within 2-10 days (2 weeks max) to the market.

The first mention of the Feature Driven Development methodology is in a book called "Java Modelling in Color with UVM" in 1999. The idea of the methodology was inspired by the experience of industry experts who worked on a large software development project in Singapore in 1997. To manage the complexities of the project, they approached its development in five steps:

  1. Develop overall model
  2. Plan by feature
  3. Build by feature
  4. Design by feature
  5. Build feature list

Nowadays, those activities constitute the FDD project lifecycle.

Scrum Framework

Scrum is the most popular Agile framework, which focuses on 2-4 week sprints to deliver working software iteratively. The Scrum framework was coined and first used by Jeff Sutherland on a project in 1993.

The process of software development under Scrum methodology works through a product backlog where a product owner (PO) collects customer requirements in the form of Agile epics, user stories, or features. Once the PO prioritizes them, the development team starts planning what work they can deliver in a single iteration. The chosen user stories enter a sprint backlog, and developers need to define a sprint goal. Then, depending on the sprint's length, those stories should be released for customer inspection within 2-4 weeks.

The idea is to iteratively release working software, gather customer feedback, and adapt to changing requirements. The framework helps teams decrease time to market, increase ROI, meet customers' expectations, etc.

Extreme Programming (XP)

The extreme programming methodology in software development is another popular Agile approach that emphasizes teamwork and aims to deliver high-quality software while retaining flexibility for changing customer requirements.

The iterative methodology was first introduced in 1996 by Kent Beck and is built around the values of communicationsimplicityfeedbackcourage, and respect.

XP has given birth to main Agile software practices, including pair programming, continuous integration, test-first development, refactoring, etc. The main benefits of XP are improved team collaboration and decreased risk of rework due to mistakes.

Spiral Model

The spiral model in software engineering combines iterative and sequential development. Just like waterfall development, the spiral model has strictly defined phases. The difference is that the batch size of a project is reduced so the project phases are iterated until the final product is completed.

This happens because each phase of the spiral starts with designing some form of a solution and finishes with the customer reviewing it. In the earlier stages of a software project, that might mean releasing a basic wireframe or another prototype form.

The phases that every cycle in the spiral is divided into are the following.

  1. Setting Objectives
  2. Development & Validation
  3. Project Review & Planning Next Iteration
  4. Risk Identification & Mitigation

The most important benefit of the spiral model is the ability to significantly reduce risks due to the iterative risk analysis stage.

Joint Application Development Methodology

Joint application development methodology in software engineering centers around involving end-users in designing and development processes. It emphasizes collaborative workshop (JAD) sessions to gather clearer specifications and improve user involvement in the project's lifecycle.

The model was developed by Chris Morris and Tony Crawford in the late 70s with the goal of boosting development times and customer satisfaction.

What Is Software Development Methodology?

In a nutshell, a software development methodology is a systematic approach to building software. Choosing a given methodology, method, or framework is important because it creates a standard for managing software projects and aligns teams on certain delivery policies. Furthermore, it helps you create a shared project purpose and a better understanding of requirements so you can deliver stable systems and keep customers happy.

You should know that there isn't a single best approach you can choose. One team can use Kanban, while another Scrum. It's all about assessing your needs to make the right choice.



Nikolay Tsonev

Nikolay Tsonev

Product Marketing Manager

Nick is a strategic thinker, passionate about marketing, sales enablement, project management and productivity. An avid sports and Star Wars fan, he spends most of his free time in the gym or the playing field.