There are several different approaches to software development, much like the various views of political parties toward governing a country. Some take a more structured, engineering-based approach to developing business solutions, whereas others may take a more incremental approach, where software evolves as it is developed piece-by-piece. Most methodologies share some combination of the following stages of software development:
- Analyzing the problem
- Market research
- Gathering requirements for the proposed business solution
- Devising a plan or design for the software-based solution
- Implementation (coding) of the software
- Testing the software
- Maintenance and bug fixing
These stages are often referred to collectively as the software development lifecycle, or SDLC. Different approaches to software development may carry out these stages in different orders, or devote more or less time to different stages. The level of detail of the documentation produced at each stage of software development may also vary. These stages may also be carried out in turn (a “waterfall” based approach), or they may be repeated over various cycles or iterations (a more "extreme" approach). The more extreme approach usually involves less time spent on planning and documentation, and more time spent on coding and development of automated tests. More “extreme” approaches also promote continuous testing throughout the development lifecycle, as well as having a working (or bug-free) product at all times. More structured or “waterfall” based approaches attempt to assess the majority of risks and develop a detailed plan for the software before implementation (coding) begins, and avoid significant design changes and re-coding in later stages of the software development life cycle planning.
There are significant advantages and disadvantages to the various methodologies, and the best approach to solving a problem using software will often depend on the type of problem. If the problem is well understood and a solution can be effectively planned out ahead of time, the more "waterfall" based approach may work the best. If, on the other hand, the problem is unique (at least to the development team) and the structure of the software solution cannot be easily envisioned, then a more "extreme" incremental approach may work best.