The 5 Stages of Software Development

cartoon of computer in construction zone

Undergoing a custom software build can be daunting for almost any organization – and even more so if you don’t have a technical background. You don’t necessarily need to sit down and learn how to develop software just because you’ve started a software development project. (That’s what you hire experts for!) However, you should have an idea of the process. This way, you can manage expectations (including your own) and spot red flags immediately.

We approach every custom software project at RTS Labs as a partnership between our team and our client. While every project is unique, the development process is always the same. Get familiar with these five stages of software development, and you’ll feel less intimidated about taking on that custom software project you know you need.

Stage One: Analysis

A common misconception among business owners is that the most important part of development are the design and the code. Yes, good design and solid code are both extremely important. However, they do zero good if the software doesn’t suit your business needs.

In our minds, the analysis stage is the most crucial step in software development, and the RTS Labs teams focus on this stage a lot, so we can get it right the first time. Beyond building something that is beautifully designed, user friendly, and bug free, you need a tool that will actually produce a return on your investment.

As an example of what should be happening during this crucial stage, we spend time learning your business processes, pain points, challenges, technical ecosystem, and goals. Once that information is gathered, we validate goals and present you with a scope of work.

Red flags:

  • Not much is done to understand your business or its processes (or as we say, the discovery process is non-existent).
  • There is no validation stage to ensure that what you want to build actually solves a problem.
  • Your developer doesn’t present you with a scope of work.

Stage Two: Design

Once you’ve validated the need for custom software, set goals and outcomes, and agreed upon the scope of work, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty. In the design phase, we determine what your software needs, how it will look, and what the timeline is going to be. We’ll get our workflows down, determine what database(s) will be used, and create a data model.

Red flags:

  • Promising too much in too little time.
  • Not engaging your team or the project champion on design decisions.
  • No communication plan in place.

Stage Three: Coding

Once you have all your requirements and designs documented and mapped out, it’s time to start writing code. Notice that coding is the third step in this process, not the first. There’s a lot of planning involved before the first line of code is written. During this phase, development tasks will be broken down so that the project can be built in pieces. Going piece by piece allows for time to review and hold feedback sessions to make sure that development is on the right track.

The way the process works at RTS Labs is we start small and build iteratively. As our founder Jyot likes to say, “We start with a small ship, make sure it floats, and then build a bigger ship from that.” While your ship is being built (or coded, as it were), there should be constant communication about your project’s progress. Our communication channels are in the form of progress meetings, tracking tools, and phone calls.

Red flags:

  • There are no tracking tools in place for you to check on progress.
  • There is little or no communication throughout the development process.

Stage Four: Testing

We learned in the early days of RTS Labs that software development goes better and you get a stronger product when we test and develop iteratively with our team, so that problems are found as we build. Then, there’s also a final testing phase before the software is implemented. In this stage, we bring in a group of users to test the product and give us feedback. User testing is important, because it helps uncover issues that may not be obvious to our developers.

Red flags:

  • Your team is not involved in testing and/or there is no testing phase.
  • Testing is an afterthought and is not done until the very end.

Stage Five: Implementation

Finally, it’s time to release your shiny new custom software to the world! This is not done with the push of a button. It’s done step-by-step with an implementation plan. First, we need to teach your employees how to use it. Then, we open it up to all users (internal users, customers, partners, whomever your users may be).

Once the software has been implemented, we make our team available to you in the event that something isn’t working the way you were expecting it to or you need additional support. We don’t build and run. We make sure you are successful using the custom software we built you.

Red flags:

  • There’s nothing in your scope of work document to cover support after implementation.
  • There’s no training once the software is built.

As a client, you should be involved in the entire process. In no scenario should you have a couple of initial meetings and then never speak to your developer again. Building custom software is a process that requires partnership and planning. These are the steps that get you from idea phase to completed product.

Want to know more about custom software? Wondering if building is the right decision? Check out our in-depth blog post on what it takes and who should consider a custom software solution: To Code Or Not To Code: Is Custom Software Development the Right Answer?