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5 rapid application development phases

With a relatively small team closely collaborating, your business can build apps in just two or three months using the rapid application development (RAD) model.

That’s because the rapid application development model prioritizes fast prototyping over up-front planning—to help you jump right in and create agile apps through continuous iteration and quick feedback.

As technology evolves, business objectives change, and organizational goals shift, the RAD model helps teams quickly create powerful solutions that are low code, cost-efficient, and nimble.

The RAD process starts with aligning your stakeholders, developers, and users around key requirements for the project—timeline, business outcomes, user expectations, and budget—before quickly building out prototypes to get a working version in front of stakeholders for feedback. With your prototypes in hand, you’ll then build a working model of your solution for users to react to, before integrating their feedback into the final, optimized version of your app.

Why use the RAD model?

Software development requires a lot of knowledge—about how your business works, what your customers want, and how it all comes together. The RAD model is no exception. But rather than relying on your internal team’s ability to capture all that knowledge first and plan around it, rapid application development counts on the knowledge your team will gain during the project—information that will improve or adapt the solution to requirements you might not have thought of otherwise.

The clearer your requirements are, the stronger your prototypes (and final product) will be, so consider focus groups and workshops to establish your requirements and early testing to refine them. An experienced team of developers can take those requirements and create a working prototype for your users to vet and help improve with every version. With thoughtful feedback and continuous collaboration, the knowledge you learn during the process builds back on itself to help you construct a viable product shaped by customer needs.

The RAD model in 5 phases

If you’d rather focus your limited time on building instead of planning, rapid app development may be a good fit. Traditional methods for developing software rely on rigid requirements and precise specs to be decided up front—spending valuable time locking in as many details as possible first. The downside? You may be forced to start from scratch every time a client wants to make a change.

The rapid application development process is different. Instead of lots of detailed planning, you break the project into five phases: business modeling, data modeling, process modeling, application generation, and testing and turnover. When you’re pressed for time or it’d be better to get a version of your solution in front of a customer as quickly as possible, RAD helps deliver apps for them to see, react to, and help you improve in real time.

Phase 1: Business modeling

First, you need to find out how information flows across your business. This starts with a broad analysis of your business by your internal team to uncover how vital information and data is obtained, how it’s processed, where it’s distributed, when all that happens, and what can slow it down. The more your team can understand what kind of information is driving your processes, how it’s generated, who touches it, and why—the better your analysis in the next phase will turn out.

Phase 2: Data modeling

Now that you’ve pulled your information together, it’s time for your team to start analyzing it. To do that, you’ll need to identify and refine key data sets across your business, define them clearly, then group them in ways that might be useful to you later. It’s important for your team to look things over closely and accurately describe each group’s attributes—this will help you more easily sort out relationships between them, the effects of those relationships, and how they might be relevant to your business going forward.

Phase 3: Process modeling

Time to take what you’ve learned and see where it all fits. That means beginning to understand the flow of information around key objectives and how that data supports specific business functions. It’s not too late for the team to further tighten data sets here—so feel free to make required changes and adjust if needed. You’ll also outline your processes to change, add, delete, or retrieve a data object.

Phase 4: Application generation

This is when your concept starts to become a reality and your developer team begins to actually construct your software. With process and data models in hand, they’ll begin creating components and full prototypes to be tested in the next phase. To get there, developers will build out your system and code automation tools to transform your process models into actual, working code.

Phase 5: Testing and turnover

Now it’s time to see what your users and clients think. Here, prototypes are tested separately, so clients and users can scrutinize each new component and examine carefully to identify issues. It’s key to thoroughly test the data flow and interfaces between all your components, so you can identify what’s effective and root out any major issues early. You’ll also be able to save some time as you further iterate, since many of the programming components you’re using will have been tested previously.

Pros and cons of the RAD process

Rapid application development is a nimble way to build apps, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Before you start Phase 1 of the RAD process, it’s important to know not only the benefits of RAD, but also potential drawbacks or pitfalls you might encounter along the way.

Here are some upsides to following the rapid application development model:

  • Quicker development and faster delivery of a viable product.
  • More flexible functionality shaped by relevant user feedback.
  • Reduced risk of major failures or overhauls.
  • Constant input by users helps sidestep and solve issues in real-time.
  • Less manual coding with code generators and re-usable code.
  • Minimal to no planning up front.
  • More visibility for end users and customers.
  • Adapts to changing requirements and user requests.
  • Encourages regular, less formal communication.
  • Allows for smaller teams of specialists.

Here are some potential downsides to deploying the rapid application development model:

  • Not ideal for smaller projects or when your technical risk is high.
  • System must be modular and able to be broken into components.
  • Requires highly skilled designers, developers, and coders.
  • Need buy-in and involvement from everyone on project team.
  • Everyone on the project—yes, everyone—must meet deadlines.
  • Requires technical and business expertise to help root out requirements.
  • Could put limits on some features’ functionality and scalability.
  • Increased project expense with modeling and code generation.
  • Multiple iterations, constant communication, and feed could be harder to track.
  • Minimal up-front planning doesn’t leave much to track progress against.

Getting the most out of rapid application development

Like most other successful models, knowing the phases is just the start: The right team, tools, and insights make a big difference along the way. To ensure you’re maximizing your people, technology, and knowledge during each phase of the rapid application development process, follow these best four best practices:

  1. Stack your team with developers, domain experts, customer representatives, and IT pros with a knack for meeting deadlines—while there’s not much planning up front, the rapid application development model thrives when schedule is prioritized.
  2. Make sure your stakeholders aren’t just knowledgeable about your business—they’re also willing to share that knowledge, early and often, with candid feedback.
  3. Secure enough budget for an experienced developer team that’s comfortable with receiving feedback from multiple sources and quickly turning around changes throughout the process.
  4. Match your developer team’s skillset with the right rapid application development tools, including automated code generators that construct software and convert your models into workable prototypes.

Build your next app with Microsoft Power Apps

The rapid application development process is a great way for small teams with quick turnarounds to create adaptable apps. There are plenty of app builders out there, but Microsoft Power Apps is a low-code tool that helps you keep pace with customer demands, ease collaboration, connect developers with teammates, and take on your toughest business challenges. Plus, Microsoft Power Apps pricing is flexible—you can choose from multiple subscription plans, or pay as you go.

Frequently asked questions

What is the rapid application development life cycle?

The RAD life cycle starts with aligning stakeholders, developers, and users around key requirements—timeline, desired outcomes, expectations, and budget—before quickly building out prototypes to get a working version in front of stakeholders for feedback. You’ll then build a working model for users to react to, then integrate their feedback into an optimized final version of your app.

What are the 5 phases of the RAD model?

The 5 phases of rapid application development are business modeling, data modeling, process modeling, application generation, and testing and turnover.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the RAD model?

Advantages of the rapid application development model include faster development and delivery, a more flexible end-product, and reduced risk. Some disadvantages are that it’s not ideal for smaller, technically risky projects, your system must be modular, and it requires a highly skilled team that’s willing to stay engaged throughout the project.

When would you use the rapid application development model?

Use the RAD model when you need to build an app in just two to three months, have the budget to afford highly skilled-talent and the technology they need, and are aligned on key business and user requirements.