Rapid Application Development (RAD): Changing How Developers Work


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When you’re building a skyscraper, you can’t switch up the design halfway through. You need to follow the original path from start to finish.

But when you are building software, that isn’t the case. You can change the design, add functionality, remove things you don’t want, all without harming the end product.

That’s a major reason why software needs good development models to be efficient from design to launch. Rapid application development was conceived for this purpose–to develop prototypes rapidly for testing functions and features, without having to worry about how the end product will be affected.

But how did rapid application development come to be? What are the advantages of adopting a rapid application development model? How do you work on a rapid application development software? And how did it become the standard way to develop software?

What is Rapid Application Development (RAD)?

RAD meaning: Rapid Application Development (RAD) is a development model prioritizes rapid prototyping and quick feedback over long drawn out development and testing cycles. With rapid application development, developers can make multiple iterations and updates to a software rapidly without needing to start a development schedule from scratch each time.

RAD is a development model that came into existence once developers realized the traditional waterfall model of development[1]
wasn’t very effective.

A major flaw in the waterfall model is that once the program is in the testing phase, it becomes difficult to change the core functions and features of the software. This essentially leaves you with software that may or may not fit your evolving requirement.

Rapid Application Development (RAD)

Rapid Application Development (RAD) was conceived in the 1980s, so it’s definitely not something new. But unlike the waterfall model, it’s not singular. It’s a continuous evolution of development philosophies according to the requirement at that particular time.

Initially, Barry Boehm, James Martin, and a number of others saw that software was not limited to traditional methods of engineering. It wasn’t a singular resource that required a fixed structure. It was malleable to suit the needs of the user.

Initially, rapid application development took the shape of the Spiral model [2]
, where one or more development models were used to work on a particular project.

Over time, rapid application development changed. It molded itself to fit the requirements of the time while retaining some core development guidelines.

The waterfall model doesn’t cut it anymore! See why developers are being forced to look at a RAD Model

Steps in Rapid Application Development

Although RAD has changed over the years, these four basic steps provide some continuity over the years.

  1. Define the requirements
  2. Prototype
  3. Receive Feedback
  4. Finalize Software

1. Define the Requirements

At the very beginning, rapid application development sets itself apart from traditional software development models. It doesn’t require you to sit with end users and get a detailed list of specifications; instead, it asks for a broad requirement. The broad nature of the requirements helps you give specific requirements at different points of the development cycle.

2. Prototype

This is where the actual development takes place. Instead of following a strict set of requirements, developers create prototypes with different features and functions as fast as they can. These prototypes are then shown to the clients who decide what they like and what they don’t.

More often than not, these prototypes are quickly made to work, just to show off certain features, without proper polish. This is normal, and the final product is only created during the finalization stage where the client and developer can both agree on the final product.

3. Receive Feedback

In this stage, feedback on what’s good, what’s not, what works, and what doesn’t is shared. Feedback isn’t limited to just pure functionality, but also visuals and interfaces.

With this feedback in mind, prototyping continues. These two steps are repeated until a final product can be realized that fits both the developers’ and client’s requirements.

4. Finalize Software

Here, features, functions, aesthetics, and interface of the software are finalized with the client. Stability, usability, and maintainability are of paramount importance before delivering to the client.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Rapid Application Development (RAD)

With these steps, it can seem like application development’s a great idea for all projects, but that’s a stretch. RAD software is great for small teams and quick projects. But it’s not a solution to everything. Here are a few advantages and disadvantages to using rapid application development.

Advantages of RAD Disadvantages of RAD
Requirements can be changed at any time Needs strong team collaboration
Encourages and priorities customer feedback Cannot work with large teams
Reviews are quick Needs highly skilled developers
Development time is drastically reduced Needs user requirement throughout the life cycle of the product
More productivity with fewer people Only suitable for projects which have a small development time
Time between prototypes and iterations is short More complex to manage when compared to other models
Integration isn’t a problem, since it integrates from project inception Only systems which can be modularised can be developed using Rapid application development.

Rapid Application Development vs Other Development Models

When compared to other software development models, rapid application development varies by a considerable amount. Obviously, the major difference is how rapid application development focuses on speed, when compared to other models which usually focus on bringing a working product to the customer.

Another thing to note here is that rapid application development prefers having a single team without too many members. This allows for fast communication with quick meetings for quick information transfer. Other development models such as the waterfall model prefer having larger teams divided into different specializations.

Since RAD framework is focused on speed, the development time here is less than that of other models. But the difference is usually small, since rapid application development prefers to churn out a lot of prototypes before the finalized product.

Rapid application development is also heavily focused on keeping the end user involved throughout the entire stage of the development process. Other models usually only have user input at the beginning and the end of the development cycle.

So, When can You Use Rapid Application Development?

When You can Reliably Test Your Prototypes

If you’ve got a pool of users who can give consistent and reliable feedback on the prototypes you make, then rapid application development is a great model to follow. Prototypes built through the rapid application development model depend on the feedback from previous iterations, so reliable feedback from dependable sources can be immensely helpful.

When You’ve Got the Budget

Compared to other development models, rapid application development is relatively inexpensive, but there are some instances where RAD can be expensive. Hiring talented staff means you’ll need to give them appropriate salaries. The bright side is, if you’ve got the staff, you can get the idea from concept to end product a lot quicker than other models.

When You Need a Project Done Quickly

If you’ve got a tight deadline, rapid application development is a best bet. If you’re under pressure to deliver something that works, then opting for a RAD platform can be the best choice. If you don’t have the time to go through a long requirement planning and design phase, then rapid application development software is your best bet. Rapid application development takes an on-the-fly approach, which makes sense for quick development which can change direction on a dime.

A Case Study for Rapid Application Development: Centric Consulting

Rapid application development is particularly useful for small businesses that need software done quickly, whilst having a lot of input during the development process.

Centric Consulting, a developer familiar with rapid application development and agile development methodologies, had a client[3]
come to them with a requirement for a software that would interface with their customers, one of which had over 35,000 employees, for procurement, invoicing, and payment.

Centric Consulting was able to use agile and rapid application development methodologies to quickly understand what the client needed, speed up the development process using Ruby on Rails, and keep costs low using open source infrastructure.

Throughout the development process, the customer was able to provide input as to what functionalities were required. All those functionalities were rapidly added as and when they were demanded, and ultimately, the product was delivered to the client.

In the end, Centric Consulting not only met the demands of their client, but was also able to meet their needs and grow their business.

How Kissflow Can Take Your Development to Light Speed

There isn’t a doubt that using rapid application development tools is the best way to develop software. While it still remains the champion, a lot has changed in 20 years.

Kissflow is an example of the next generation of rapid application development. It is a no-code platform that lets anyone develop their own automated process in a matter of minutes instead of days or weeks. Kissflow can be used by a single person to work on developing an application.

This is rapid application development taken to a new level–making applications as quickly as possible that are ready-to-use instantly by the entire company.

With visual interface tools to create models quickly and easily, pre-built modules where you don’t have to do the heavy lifting, and drag-and-drop coding to provide a means of customization to those that don’t have the proper coding knowledge, Kissflow is designed keeping in mind that companies want tools that make their lives easier.

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