Software development techniques and management are the concepts and processes that engineers use to structure software development projects. In projects involving dozens or hundreds of developers, expansive codebases, and rapid changes to code, it’s critical to have a systematic software development technique and management methodology in place to ensure efficient operations across the project.
This article explains why adopting a software development technique and management strategy is important. It also discusses the leading software development methodologies available today, including their varying pros and cons.
How Do Software Development Techniques Work?
Software development techniques define specific strategies and processes that developers are supposed to follow in order to work efficiently alongside other developers.
The exact rules vary from one technique to another. But in general, they include guidelines that govern how code written by individual developers is integrated into a larger codebase, how and when code is compiled, when to deploy new application updates, and how to plan a new set of feature updates. Most techniques also include conceptual guidelines designed to help developers decide what is important, and what is not, when writing code or planning features.
In most cases, software development technique and management strategies center around high-level recommendations, not rigid practices. They usually don’t require developers to use particular tools, and they don’t define exactly how developers spend each hour of their day. Instead, the various techniques leave a lot of room for interpretation and adaptation to unique circumstances. But they nonetheless provide broad guidelines for keeping development projects operating smoothly.
What Are the Benefits of Software Development Techniques?
The main reason to adopt a particular software development technique or management style is to provide coordination and structure for your project. By embracing a specific development technique, teams establish operational standards and procedures that help individual developers work together efficiently.
Establishing such standards and procedures is particularly important in the context of large, complex software development projects. If you have hundreds of developers, each of whom is generating hundreds of lines of code per month, it can be quite challenging to ensure that the code written by one developer doesn’t conflict or overlap with the code written by another. It’s also hard to make sure that the work performed by individual developers adds up to meaningful feature updates that can be released according to a preset schedule.
Although software development techniques don’t guarantee that everything will run smoothly in this type of situation, they go a long way toward ensuring that all developers are on the same page. They help teams avoid situations where developers work at cross-purposes, consistently miss release deadlines, or waste time writing code that doesn’t end up being useful because it fails to translate to working feature enhancements.
A secondary benefit of an established software development technique is a better user experience, thanks to the consistency in application release and update cycles that the technique provides. When software development projects are well-organized and efficient, it’s more likely that users will receive feature updates on a regular basis and that developers will meet promises regarding application release timelines.
Very small software projects may not benefit much from a software development technique. If your code is written by just one or two programmers and your application doesn’t need to change frequently, you may be able to manage the project well enough using an ad hoc approach. But for projects that involve any significant degree of complexity, you’ll almost always want to operate according to a predefined software development technique or management strategy.
What Are the Drawbacks of Software Development Techniques?
The only real drawback of adopting a software development technique is that it reduces your project’s flexibility to a certain extent. For example, if you commit to a technique (like waterfall development) that involves relatively infrequent application update releases, you may run into trouble if you need to push out a major bug fix quickly because your development technique in that case is not designed to facilitate rapid application changes.
That said, even though every software development technique has its disadvantages, embracing a technique is almost always better than not having any kind of development management strategy in place. As explained above, projects that lack a fixed technique are likely to end up operating in ad hoc fashion, with little coordination between developers and a reduced ability to meet development targets (if the targets exist at all).
Thus, although software development techniques impose a certain degree of rigidity surrounding a project’s operations, that’s a small tradeoff in exchange for avoiding the chaos that comes with not having a technique in place.
Examples of Leading Software Development Techniques
Here’s a look at the five most common software development technique and management strategies used by developers today.
The waterfall development technique organizes development projects into linear phases. One phase must be completed before the next phase can begin. Typically, waterfall results in infrequent releases — one or two application updates per year — and it can lead to delays because unexpected problems with one phase of development bring the entire project to a halt.
That said, waterfall is one of the simplest development techniques to implement and manage, which is the main reason why it remains in use by some projects today.
The agile development technique emerged in the early 2000s as part of an effort to address the shortcomings of the waterfall methodology. The agile technique prioritizes more rapid application updates, which it seeks to enable by breaking development efforts into small, incremental sets of changes.
Agile’s major downsides include the risk that constant small changes will fail to add up to meaningful large change over time. Agile also requires closer coordination between developers. Nonetheless, most developers today see agile as a more effective technique than waterfall.
DevOps and CI/CD
DevOps uses a development technique called continuous integration/continuous delivery, or CI/CD, to enable “continuous” release of application updates. The changes are not literally continuous, but DevOps usually involves the release of new application updates on a weekly — or, in many cases, daily — basis.
There’s some debate about whether DevOps and CI/CD are a form of agile, or if they are a distinct methodology. But in general, most developers treat DevOps as an enhanced form of the agile technique, partly because DevOps addresses the entire application lifecycle instead of just the development phase.
The lean development technique is similar in many ways to agile, with the difference that lean development focuses especially on efficiency. Lean developers carefully evaluate the value of a new feature before they begin to build it, and they strive to minimize wasted effort and wasted code at all stages of the development process.
In these ways, lean helps to avoid the risk (which, as noted above, can be a problem under the agile technique) of making rapid changes that lack real value.
The extreme programming technique is another methodology derived from agile development, with the major difference being extreme programming emphasizes simplicity and quality. It encourages developers to avoid writing code unless the code is strictly necessary, and it prioritizes thorough testing of applications prior to release.
These strategies also help avoid the risks of pointless code releases or unnecessary complex codebases that can arise in an agile project.
Except for very small and simple projects, virtually all software development initiatives need a development technique and management strategy in place to ensure efficient operations. The best technique for a given project depends on factors such as how quickly software needs to change and how important quality and efficiency are to your team. But all techniques provide the core benefit of helping to prevent chaos and wasted effort within complex software development projects.