Application Development: Definition & Types

Instructor: Sally Cornett

Sally has a BS in computer science and over 10 years of engineering and business experience.

This lesson will explain what application development is and will provide a brief summary of the most popular types of application development methodologies.

What Is Application Development?

How many times have you heard it? There's an app for that. The helpful suggestion offered by a friend who has just heard you complain about some mundane task you'd rather not have to spend your precious free time on in order to get it off of your to-do list.

An app is the common slang term for a software application or software program that can be run on a computer device to accomplish a task easier and more efficiently than we could do it ourselves as mere mortals. If you have a smartphone or computer tablet, you probably have used some game apps, news apps or even map apps to help you find the local coffee shop. Application development is the name of the profession that employs people who design, develop and deploy these computer applications.

Application developers have a computer programming background. As you might imagine, the reason it's called application development instead of just computer programming is because there are many more steps involved before and after the actual writing of the computer program. All of those steps are very typical and are collectively called a systems development lifecycle.

Systems Development Lifecycle (SDLC)

The steps included in a systems lifecycle for developing a computer application are:

  • Planning: Identifying a need, consideration of solution options, and possibly considering the features of competing applications.
  • Analysis: Documenting the functional requirements for the app and anticipating potential problems that may be encountered.
  • Design: Defining how the app will work and what features and components it will have.
  • Construction: This is where the actual programming occurs using the requirements and design as a guideline.
  • Testing: Try out the app looking for errors and confirming that documented requirements are met.
  • Implementation: Making the app available for people to use.
  • Support: Monitor user experience. Sometimes recommendations for revisions arise. If those recommendations are pursued, they will go through the lifecycle also.

Although the steps that should be taken in application design are always the same, the methods used to execute them can be different. The three most common types of application development methodologies are: waterfall development, agile development and Rapid Application Development (RAD).

Waterfall Application Development

In a typical waterfall style project, each SDLC project phase is completed sequentially in its entirety before the next phase is started. Once one phase is completed, typically the team does not go back to it. This method relies heavily on the availability of project requirements and a clear vision of the end result. The project team works through each SDLC phase together and then moves on when specific milestones for each phase have been completed.

A waterfall project is not the best choice for a situation where the project scope is expected to change mid-stream. Nor is it an appropriate alternative for a project intending to develop parts of the app along the way with the intention of potentially going back and modifying them after feedback has been received.

Agile Application Development

Agile development is a methodology that uses an iterative development approach. It is useful in situations that are expected to experience requirement or scope change. Each development iteration is called a sprint and will last a specific period of time. For example, a project may be comprised of many six-week sprints. Each sprint will go through all of the SDLC phases, however, because an agile sprint is much shorter than a typical waterfall project; each phase is completed much faster and sometimes multiple SDLC phases might be completed concurrently.

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