What is rapid application development or RAD?
Conceived in the 1970s but officially introduced by James Martin in 1991, rapid application development is a methodology focusing on developing applications rapidly through frequent iterations and approvals with continuous client feedback. By prioritising agile and rapid prototype releases, RAD emphasizes software usability, user feedback, a quick delivery over long-term planning, and a single initial set of requirements for building items like custom apps. Enabling faster, nimbler software development, RAD is becoming increasingly popular.
Key benefits of the RAD methodology are:
- Reduced development time and speed up delivery.
- Enhanced flexibility and adaptability.
- Better risk management.
- Less manual coding and shorter testing times.
- Constant, relevant, and real-time user feedback.
Agile vs. waterfall vs. RAD development methods
There are two main methodologies of software development: agile and waterfall. Waterfall, the traditional software development method, focuses on a strict linear process heavily dependent on customer signoff. Builds like these can last for months without clients seeing a final product, causing many problems for updated requirements or additional feedback that affects the project. It can become difficult to change core functions and features of your software.
Agile is one of the most widely used methodologies, created as a response to the limitations of traditionally structured management techniques. RAD, a type of agile methodology, offers real-time results, and works well when you need to quickly deliver a product and update features as necessary. While speed is emphasized, it’s not based on a specific timeframe. What makes the RAD process unique is it’s process-driven, focusing on the testing prototypes and quick changes to deliver a well-rounded product in a shorter amount of time.
While RAD and agile share similar steps, RAD focuses on prototypes while agile breaks projects into features to deliver in various sprints over the development cycle.
Steps of rapid application development
RAD has a defined set of four steps needed to complete a project. The goal of RAD is to reduce planning time and focus on the construction and build of your product. So even if some steps are repeated, this results in a product that both your team and stakeholders can be proud of.
- Define project requirements. Here everyone involved—you, developers, software users, and stakeholders—define, research, and finalise the scope and requirements of your project, such as goals, expectations, timelines, and budget. Either through a kick-off or creative brief, stakeholders will propose their vision, and your IT decision makers and developers help finalise all of those requirements. One of the benefits of the RAD method is that even though you’ve decided on your requirements, you can easily switch gears at any time in the development cycle.
- Build prototypes. Next, your team begins to build out models and prototypes. The goal is to rapidly produce a working model to present to the stakeholder. Developers and designers work together to ensure they’re meeting stakeholder goals and requirements. During the early stages of prototyping, developers have opportunities to create workarounds that produce a working product without sacrificing quality. As the team builds a working product, here’s where user experience, testing, and feedback plays a crucial role.
Consistent feedback helps your team work within a live system rather than an abstract design. By consistently working through stopgaps and bugs, you’re able to adjust to ensure requirements are met and in a functioning model. This also means that errors are found and debugged earlier in the process, helping you stay committed to your stakeholder’s timeline and ensuring your project is better structured for future design additions.
- Construction, test, and incorporate feedback. With a working prototype, it’s now time to turn it into a working model. Developers gather feedback from users and construct the product. Make sure to implement your app building software into the process to bring your idea to life. With application coding, system testing, and unit integration, the prototype and beta systems are converted into a working model. Since teams are using low-code and rapid application development tools, you’re able to quickly address any changes.
Software and applications are thoroughly tested, and stakeholders can provide changes or new ideas as problems are discovered. There shouldn’t be many errors since the benefit of RAD is that you’re able to see most errors in real time within the prototyping phase and then adjust right away. Once stakeholders are happy with your product, you can complete it.
- Finalise and implement. The final stage is to make an optimised version of your final product: Stable and easy to maintain for longevity. Features, functions, and aesthetics are finalised with the stakeholder. Once moved to production, users can do full-scale testing or training. Now, your product is ready to be presented to the stakeholder!
Should you use RAD tools for your next project?
It might seem like RAD works for all projects, but it’s not a solution for everything. To implement an efficient RAD methodology for your next project, you need to make sure certain aspects are met before startup. While RAD is agile and can enhance software development, specific business requirements must be met to deliver a working product as quick as possible.
By asking the following, you’ll determine if RAD will work for your next project:
- Will stakeholders be willing to follow the RAD approach: Hands-on and ready to give detailed feedback?
- Can this product be built within two to three months?
- Is your team of developers, coders, and designers experienced enough to deliver the product on time?
- Do you have a low technical risk?
- Do you have the tools, software, and technology available to implement RAD?
If the answer is “yes” to all five questions, then you’ll be able to successfully create a new product using the RAD methodology.