Rational Unified Process vs. Agile

Instructor: Elizabeth Wamicha

Elizabeth teaches undergraduate courses in Business and Information Technology for the last 7 years. She is currently on course to completing a Doctorate in Information Systems

This lesson examines two important approaches to software development. These approaches provide significant advantages if used well. They are known as Rational Unified Process (RUP) and Agile.

What are Software Development Approaches?

Software development methodologies are used to provide guidance to structure, plan, and control the way in which a software or an information system is developed. For example, consider John, a business owner who wants to hire software developers to develop a software that can help him calculate how much he has sold in his shop today. The software developers would use a software development approach to help him develop a high-quality software program. This lesson looks at two such approaches, Rational Unified Process and Agile.

Rational Unified Process

The Rational Unified Process methodology is used mostly in the area of web application development. It is often used for developing web applications and websites. Rational Unified Process (RUP) provides several benefits and tools that can be used throughout the software development process. These tools include templates (such as HTML or web templates) and examples from other projects that the software developer can adopt. RUP is made up of the following four phases.

  • Inception Phase: In this phase, software developers describe the scope of the development project as well as a definition of the business case. The business case will usually provide specific details about the business.
  • Elaboration Phase: In this phase, the software developers outline in detail all the features of the system. For example, John (as the customer) will be given a complete outline of all the different things that the system will be able to do.
  • Construction Phase: In this phase, the design and source code of the application are developed.
  • Transition Phase: In this phase, the software developers bring the completed software solution to the customer. In our example, this is the point at which John will receive his working system.


Agile is a methodology that seeks to provide a better option to older forms of software development. The main benefit of the Agile approach is that it helps teams to be ready for dynamic and unpredictable project development scenarios. An advantage of Agile is that it helps teams to regularly assess how well the project is going throughout the project's lifecycle. The Agile approach does not have distinct phases in its development; instead a team goes through a series of iterations that are made up of the following steps:

  • Analyzing: carrying out an examination of the user requirements in order to be able to understand them better. For example, the software development team can speak to John in order to better understand the type of system that he would like.
  • Designing: this phase involves developing a blueprint that shows how the system will look like. For example, the team can develop an entire blueprint showing John's system.
  • Developing: developing the source code for the final solution.
  • Testing: going through the system in order to ensure that it is free of errors.

The Agile methodology will usually begin with a high level planning and analysis that provides a holistic overview of the direction the project intends to take. After this, a series of iterations are carried out until the project is completed. Each iteration is usually a fixed, short period of time within which analysis, design, development and testing are carried out.

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