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What is rapid application development (RAD)?

The RAD methodology emphasizes on fast prototyping and iterative development. Here's why it's unique flexibility is increasingly preferred by developers and business users.

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An overview of rapid application development (RAD)

Rapid application development (RAD) is a model used to develop applications on a function-by-function basis through many iterations and incorporation of user feedback. RAD focuses on building and enhancing prototypes instead of adhering to strict planning.

Organizations that deploy a RAD approach do so to deliver new applications faster, lower production costs and develop higher-quality products supported by constant user feedback.

What is the goal of rapid application development?

The Waterfall model was the most common framework for building software in the 1980s. The Waterfall methodology includes breaking down a project into a series of steps that need to be completed in sequential order to reach the final phase.

However, the Waterfall method can be rigid, which makes tweaking and enhancing core functions a difficult process once development starts.

The goal of the RAD model is to release prototypes and implement improvements faster. A RAD approach is incremental in nature, so developers can modify applications at any phase of development without going back to the drawing board.

Rapid application development is not a plan-driven process, but a flexible approach based on multiple iterations and collaborative feedback. As a result, it supports the launch of higher-quality products able to match users’ needs.

What are the phases of rapid application development?

The RAD method is a flexible approach to project management and software development. Rapid application development is cyclical, and compromised of four phases that can be repeated until the end product meets all its requirements.

1. Define the requirements

Start with a broad outline of what your application or software will need to accomplish. This first phase commonly involves IT managers, developers and potential users who come together to define the initial goals and expectations of the project. The planning phase is also the time to address challenges and bottlenecks that might arise during the RAD process.

2. Prototype

Based on the scope of the project, developers can start prototyping versions and iterations of the application. There are no stringent rules to follow here, and developers will often create multiple versions with various tools and features to gauge user feedback.

3. Construction

The construction stage builds a functional working model based on previous prototyping and iterative designs. Here, developers will also address bugs and system glitches. All of this happens while implementing user feedback through rounds of coding and testing until the final application satisfies requirements.  

4. Deployment 

The deployment stage brings the finished product to a live production environment. Subsequently, developers conduct intensive testing, user training and final interface customizations before it is delivered. 

The five benefits of rapid application development for businesses

The primary benefit of a RAD platform is the accelerated delivery of new applications and features. Additional benefits include: 

Closer collaboration between IT professionals and stakeholders

With the Waterfall approach and other traditional methodologies, developers can only move forward with the next phase once previous activities are completed. This rigidity leaves little room and a very limited timeframe for ongoing, constructive user feedback. 

The RAD model keeps all stakeholders in the loop. Everyone involved in the project has visibility on expected timelines and can highlight any concerns or provide feedback before, during and after prototyping.

Organizations that utilize a low-code development platform for RAD projects can leverage user-friendly visual components (drag-and-drop interfaces, radio boxes, etc.) so citizen developers can automate business processes faster.

Quicker delivery

Application modifications are inevitable. If your project development framework lacks flexibility, implementing improvements or addressing bugs and errors means going back to the drawing board. This could set your application back by months and delay final delivery.

The RAD framework prioritizes continuous adjustments from design to deployment.

If a single version or feature is rejected, there is no need for developers to go back to the start with a new plan. IT teams can easily deliver a new, updated iteration of the product in a shorter time frame.

Lower maintenance costs 

A Waterfall methodology takes on an encompassing approach to software development. This means that it builds complex tools and functions that could be discarded from the actual, market-ready product. Unfortunately, many businesses will never be able to recover the budget, manpower and time spent on developing these features.

The RAD model incurs fewer cost overruns. Organizations can benefit from multiple prototypes, automation and an ongoing feedback loop that minimizes the chances of error and unnecessary additions to the product.

This does not just result in lower costs but a higher-quality product with more precise capabilities and tools.

Clearer progression

Using a RAD platform allows developers to make their progress visible to all relevant stakeholders. This is in contrast with traditional approaches that only give end users or clients periodic glimpses into the development of the product.

Platforms that support RAD models keep track of overall project progress, relevant documentation and user roles in a specific workflow.

IT managers and project leads can have a unified view of development progress. A RAD platform gives administrators oversight of versions and prototypes throughout the designing, defining, publishing and iterating stages, ensuring that the end product will be delivered on schedule.

How is RAD different from Agile?

The RAD process solves inherent challenges that come from the inflexibility of the Waterfall methodology. With a RAD framework, developers can make continuous improvements and collaborate closely with end users to create a high-quality product that meets expectations.

The Agile approach breaks projects down into smaller parts, known as sprints. This model systematically develops the features and tools of an application on an incremental basis to identify and correct bugs and other issues earlier on.

A significant difference between the RAD and Agile models is their emphasis on prototyping. Unlike RAD, Agile does not encourage prototyping, but rather, developing and delivering each feature or tool in stages.

The RAD process, however, creates rapid and unfinished prototypes as fast as possible. From that point onwards, developers implement necessary modifications, fix issues and tweak the code to deliver the finished product.

When to use rapid application development?

Rapid application development strategies work best for software that is not mission critical. Generally, it is not advisable to use RAD techniques for systems that are not modular, or in projects with a high technical risk.  

Organizations considering a RAD approach should ask themselves these questions:

  • Are your end users or clients okay with providing feedback? The RAD approach is built on the fundamentals of user feedback. Project managers or IT leads should ensure that the client or end user buys in from the start. This means that they must be willing to commit their time by providing feedback on prototypes and being involved in other milestone check-ins.
  • Are your teams able to release multiple iterations or prototypes quickly? Delivering functional prototypes will consume time and energy. Ensure that your developers and other employees involved in RAD project management are capable of continuously modifying the product, communicating with stakeholders and releasing frequent iterations.
  • Do you have the right platform to deploy rapid application development? The success of your RAD project depends on visibility and ease of collaboration. Consider a low-code development platform that uses intuitive visual builders such as drag-and-drop components, so line-of-business (LOB) users can configure simple updates without adding to the IT waitlist.

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