In the software development industry, there are two main approaches that drive the project life-cycle. Traditional software development, also known as the Waterfall method, is a linear and structured approach that relies on processes to accomplish the end results. Agile methodology is a non-linear approach to software development that adapts to changing requirements and flexible planning throughout the entire process. When choosing a vendor for custom software development, it is important to be familiar with both methods to determine which will be the best approach for your business needs.

Traditional software development practices can be broken down into four distinct phases. The initial step is to set up the requirements for the project and determine the length of time it will take to implement the various phases of development while trying to predict any problems that may arise. Once the requirements are laid out, the next step moves into the design and architectural planning phase where a technical infrastructure is produced in the form of diagrams or models. These bring to the surface potential issues that the project may face as it progresses and provide a workable road map for the developers to implement.

Once the team is satisfied with the architectural and design plan, the project moves into the development phase where code is produced until the specific goals are reached. Development is often broken down into smaller tasks that are distributed among various teams based on skill. The testing phase often overlaps the development phase to ensure issues are addressed early on. Once the project nears completion and the developers are close to meeting the project requirements, the customer will become part of the testing and feedback cycle. When the customer is satisfied, the project is delivered.

This linear approach to software development relies on structured processes and heavy documentation that guides the work done in each phase. The success of a rigid structure depends on the fact that all requirements are known before the development phase begins and that they will not change. This makes it easy to set schedules, determine project costs and allocate resources.

However, in the real world of software development, problems do arise and new specifications are discovered during the development phase. The traditional waterfall approach to software development does not provide the flexibility to address these issues without a great deal of cost and time. In complex situations, it may mean having to start completely over from the beginning.

A more flexible approach to custom software development is the Agile methodology. With this approach, the emphasis is less on the structured process of development and more on team collaboration. Instead of relying on documentation to measure the progress of a project, the goal is to produce working software in incremental phases before all requirements have been met. Customers and developers collaborate throughout the life-cycle of the entire project and are not restricted to requirement documentation and contract negotiations. Agile methodology is designed to address changing needs throughout the entire project.

With Agile software development, tasks are broken down into small increments called iterations which are short cycles that last anywhere from one to four weeks. Each iteration follows the same process as traditional software development does, such as collecting requirements, devising a plan and developing it. However, this approach involves multiple iterations to accomplish the total project requirements rather than attempting to follow a single development cycle. At the start of each iteration, the project needs are reevaluated. This allows changing requirements to be adapted even at the end of the development process. When the customer receives working versions of the software throughout the development life-cycle, this minimizes the risks of their return of investment and allows them to provide continuous feedback.

Despite the lowered risk of software development with an Agile methodology, it is not without certain disadvantages. Because of the flexibility involved with this approach, it can be difficult to determine completion schedules and calculate budgets for the project. The success of Agile also relies on the continuous collaboration with the customer. If the customer does not have time to invest in the process then this approach may not be the best method.

Understanding the development methods in place in the working environment of the company you hire for custom software development will have an impact on overall customer satisfaction. Both Agile and waterfall methods are viable solutions with proven success. If your project requirements are straightforward and unlikely to change, then choosing a vendor who uses the traditional method is a good solution. However, if your project requires a great deal of flexibility and continuous collaboration, than Agile software development solutions are the best option.

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