Popular Software Development Methodologies and Frameworks: Full Comparison

08 FEB 2021
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Even the smallest software development project involves a dozen IT specialists, lots of meetings, plannings, discussions, and typically strict deadlines for the team to meet.

That’s why development companies apply different software development methodologies and frameworks. They help to standardize the process, making it clear what’s going on with the product for both clients and internal teams.

In this article, we’re reviewing the most popular software development methodologies—Agile, Waterfall, Lean—and review some of their famous frameworks.

Table of contents

What Are Software Development Methodologies?

Before going through the list of approaches, let’s see what the term itself stands for.

A development methodology is a process of how to build your software.

Companies that provide software development services can build products in many different ways: moving from more to less important tasks, in alphabetical order, in order of your preference, and so on. Developers may work for just two days per week, five days per week, or non-stop until they burn out.

Different software development methodologies help to structure the work—outline which part of functionality will be done, in what time frame, and when to show results to owners.

Here are the top methodologies by development companies, according to GoodFirms:

Top software development methodologies

Best software development process methodologies (Source: GoodFirms)

#1. Waterfall

Waterfall used to be a 'classic' development approach for a long time: from 70x till 00x. This methodology is quite strict and linear, and every stage has its set deliverables.

In Waterfall, the process goes only forward: a new stage starts only when the previous one is finished. For example, if you're at the coding phase, there's no way you can get back and change something in the product's design.

Waterfall-based development goes in six stages:

  1. Discovery. The team gathers a full list of requirements for the entire project.
  2. Design. Solution Architects define how to build the software and how it's going to work.
  3. Coding. Developers implement UI design according to client's requirements.
  4. Testing. QA engineers check the whole codebase for bugs or inconsistencies.
  5. Deployment. Developers integrate various pieces of the product and show its demo version to stakeholders.
  6. Maintenance. The team provides support and fixes bugs.
Waterfall app development methodology

How Waterfall, one of the popular software development methodologies, works

Waterfall offers predictability, thus, more accurate budgeting and scheduling. It's perfect for fixed-price projects or enterprise-level software that requires very detailed planning and documentation.

Benefits:

  • Simple, functional, gradual, and analytical methodology
  • Great for fixed-price projects or the ones that require detailed documentation
  • Requires less client involvement after the discovery stage
  • Easier to estimate the final budget/schedule

Drawbacks:

  • Needs exact requirements for the entire project
  • Requires a lengthy discovery phase
  • Not flexible, hard to make changes after the planning stage
  • The final product may not meet the client expectations

With the lack of flexibility, Waterfall has almost been replaced by more responsive methodologies like Agile. There’s a good reason for that: Agile success rate is more than 1.5x higher than those of Waterfall projects (42% success rate of Agile vs. 26% Waterfall).

While the Agile failure rate is almost 3x lower compared to Waterfall. That explains why more and more companies switch to Agile and even consider it to be a standard.

#2. Agile

Agile is among today’s most popular software development methodologies, accepted in all-size companies—from tech startups to Apple. Even the government software is developed with Agile (acceptance rate).

Instead of building the entire product in one Waterfall-like go, Agile splits development into a few iterations called sprints. Usually, one sprint lasts 1-4 weeks. During that time, the development team designs, codes, and tests complete features that can be released as a working product.

The sprint's goal is to deliver a working product. For example, if the team dedicates a sprint to a single sign-on, this feature must be tested and work properly by the end of the sprint.

After the first release, the team collects feedback and plans the second sprint.

Agile development

Agile development goes in short (1-4 weeks) sprints

Sprints work great on complex or lengthy projects (300+ hours) or when it's not clear what exact steps to take to get the result.

By splitting huge tasks into smaller sprints, the team can make releases more often, collect more requirements and feedback, and reduce the risks of not meeting users' expectations.

Agile benefits:

  • Frequent releases (1-2 per month)
  • Flexible, easy to make changes
  • Each sprint ends with the release of a working product
  • Client is more engaged in the development so there's a higher chance all their requirements will be met
  • Team works closely and has a clear vision of their responsibilities

Drawbacks:

  • Requires careful management
  • No end-date for the development, no final price tag
  • Requires experienced and responsible team members

Most software development companies that choose Agile have Project Managers to watch over the team and reports the process to company's clients,

Here at Cleveroad, we follow Agile methodology and apply the Scrum framework in our everyday work. You can learn more about our software development process in a separate article.

Agile Framework #1 — Scrum

The difference between software development methodologies and frameworks is that the latter is a bit more formed approach with strict rules.

As with Agile, all the work in Scrum is split into sprints. Each sprint starts with planning and ends with the delivery of a stable, working product.

Scrum methodology for app development

Scrum methodology for software development process

Essential Scrum elements that help the team remain flexible and quickly react to client's feedback:

  • Sprint planning. Before the development starts, the team gathers for a meeting with clients to prioritize features and plan the next 2-4 weeks of development.
  • Daily meetings/standups. Every morning, team members share their progress on tasks, plans for the current day, and possible blockers.
  • Demo. Project Manager reports to the clients on the work done and gathers their feedback.
  • Retrospectives. The team holds a meeting to discuss what's gone wrong during the sprint, what can be improved, and how.

All these meetings and discussions help to control the team, define blockers, and build better relationships with the client.

Scrum requires high involvement from the client's side and careful sprint planning. It's an excellent framework for quick MVP development and regular improvements.

What's an MVP and how to build it? Check our detailed guide on minimum viable product development, including its benefits.

Scrum pros:

  • Release a working product every 2-4 weeks
  • Works with incomplete requirements
  • Very flexible, easy to make changes
  • Frequent meetings with the team

Cons:

  • Doesn’t suit teams with insufficient self-discipline
  • Requires high client involvement
  • Needs contribution from every team member

Agile Framework #2 — Kanban

Kanban is even more flexible than Scrum as the team is only focused on the work which is currently in progress.

How Kanban works:

  • The project is divided into stages and tasks.
  • Tasks are marked with cards.
  • The work process is divided into columns (at least three) — To do, In progress, Done.
  • As developers work on tasks, they move cards between columns, from left to right.
Kanban methodology for app development

Kanban is one of the most flexible types of software development process

In most cases, a to-do list is organized as a Trello or Jira board. But in fact, you can even use a physical board with colorful stickers.

Kanban shares a few rituals with Scrum—daily standups, demos, retrospectives.

Still, unlike Scrum, Kanban doesn’t have any sprints or sprint planning meetings. As soon as the team completes a user story (part of functionality), the Project Manager creates a new task and places it on the board. This way, the team can make releases more often, up to 1-2 times per week.

Kanban pros:

  • Simple task management
  • Great flexibility, no sprints or sprint planning
  • Good for projects under maintenance
  • Doesn’t need re-planning when requirements change

Kanban cons:

  • No sprints which can lower developer productivity
  • Requires self-management skills from programmers
  • Hard to control the scope of work

Agile Framework #3 — Extreme Programming

Extreme programming (XP) approach rather focuses on engineering practices than on project management.

XP is a set of best development practices, namely:

  • Test-driven development. Programmers start with writing acceptance tests, not code.
  • Code review. Fellow programmers check each other's code for mistakes.
  • Refactoring. Restructuring existing computer code.
  • Pair programming. Two developers work on the same functionality in turns.
  • Continuous integration. New code pieces are constantly being built into existing ones.
  • Unit testing. Automated testing that determines if the developed feature works properly.
Scrumban app development methodology

Core practices of extreme programming framework

Only a small percentage of teams use the full range of XP practices on one project. Usually, they choose one or a couple of practices that’d work for their specific case.

Similar to Scrum, Extreme Programming starts with planning. The team analyzes requirements and estimates the time for each task. Then, they agree on time frames with the client and get to work.

But instead of writing code first and testing it second, developers start with creating acceptance tests. These tests define exactly what the code must do according to the requirements.

After writing the acceptance test, two developers sit together to write a piece of code and run it through these tests. Developers work in turns. One programmer offers a solution, the other one comments on it and corrects errors. Then they change places and start all over again.

XP advantages:

  • Clear code
  • Fast to deliver an MVP
  • Less documentation required
  • Easy to adapt to ever-changing requirements

Disadvantages:

  • High rate of client involvement
  • Pair programming takes more time
  • May not be enough documentation

#3. Lean Development Methodology

Lean is similar to Agile when it comes to flexibility, but still, these are two different software development methodologies.

Here’s the difference according to Mary and Tom Poppendieck, creators of 'lean development' term:

Lean vs. Agile comparison

AspectLeanAgile

Client

Create value for the customer; focus only on value-adding activities

Have a working product that fulfills customer's needs

Development speed

Rapid value creation, short cycle times

Continuous delivery of a working product

Lean approach is often referred to as the MVP strategy. Under Lean, a team releases a bare-minimum version of the product, learns from user feedback, then makes improvements or changes based on this feedback.

There are seven Lean practices focused on software teams and users:

  1. Eliminate Waste. In software development, wasteful activities may refer to extra features, partially done work, delays, defects, and so on.
  2. Deliver Fast. Build an MVP product in the minimum time possible, finding the things that slow down the team and eliminating them.
  3. Delay Critical Decisions. Don't make a vital decision until you have all the information in hand.
  4. Amplify Learning. Gather feedback to adjust the software to users' needs.
  5. Build Quality In. Work on software quality at the coding level.
  6. Optimize the Whole. Focus on improving the entire workflow, instead of just one part of it.
  7. Respect People. Encourage healthy and productive discussions among team members.
Lean development practices

Lean is one of the best software development methodology for startups

Lean methodology is trendy among startups that haven't yet come up with a finished product. By launching with MVP features only, they have a chance to learn more from real market metrics. They find out what works for users and what doesn't and then roll out new updates to fix or improve the software.

Lean pros:

  • Works for early-stage startups
  • Focuses on rapid development and improved efficiency
  • Shortest time-to-market

Lean cons:

  • The client needs to trust the team’s decisions
  • Need detailed documentation
  • Business Analyst must be involved to document requirements

Software Development Processes and Methodologies: Full Comparison

Which methodology or framework to follow depends on your project. There’s no universal strategy applicable to just any situation.

If you're working on a startup, it may be better to go with Agile or Lean because of their flexibility—you can change the work scope at any time.

If you're improving an enterprise-level desktop app, where managers demand strict and detailed documentation, Waterfall may seem a better choice.

Software development methodologies list and when to use them

NameWhen to applyClient involvement

Waterfall

For fixed-size projects; enterprise software with clear requirements

High during the discovery stage; lower in the next phases

Agile

For any-sized projects

Client provides requirements & feedback

Scrum

Long-term, complex projects

Client places the leading role is defining the requirements, providing feedback

Kanban

For fixing bugs, small releases and adapting to changing priorities

Owner sets tasks & provides feedback

Extreme programming

Write code within strict timeframes

Client takes part in defining the requirements, estimation and prioritization

Lean development

For MVP startups

Client provides input on sample screens and initial user stories

At Cleveroad, we follow Agile methodology and apply Scrum framework to our everyday processes. As we often deal with tech startups, Scrum helps our clients remain flexible and easily apply changes to their projects.

That’s how we’ve helped Ayoo and Occaz startups to launch—and keep helping to improve them.

How to build your software?

Tell us about your project, and we'll help you find the best approach to its delivery.

Frequently Asked Questions

In short, a development methodology is a process of how to build your software. For example, you can go from planning to release step by step (Waterfall methodology). Or release a small part of functionality every few weeks (Agile).

Development companies apply different software development methodologies and frameworks. They help to standardize the process, making it clear what’s going on with the product for both clients and internal teams.

There's no universal methodology. To choose the right approach, you should clearly define the goal of your project. When you have strict requirements for your project it'll be easier to figure out the methodology you need.

There are a lot of software development methodologies used by different programmers. Even you can create your own methodology that will boost your software development process.

However, if we're talking about the most popular approaches, here are the numbers:

  • Agile — 61.5%
  • Scrum — 23.1%
  • Waterfall — 9.6%
  • Others — 5.8%

Two most common software development methodologies are Waterfall and Agile.

Yes, and it still covers lots of projects. For today, Waterfall is the second-popular methodology after the Agile and Scrum framework.

Top methodologies according to GoodFirms:

  • Agile — 61.5%
  • Scrum — 23.1%
  • Waterfall — 9.6%
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