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Client’s Ultimate Guide to the Software Life Cycle

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Michael Lorenzo
ByPor Michael Lorenzo

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Everything You Need to Know About the Software Life Cycle

What is the software life cycle? Do you know how software is made? When you open an app on your phone, have you ever thought about the process that got it there? If you haven’t, this article can shed some light on the process. We’ll go step-by-step through the software life cycle process that many (if not all) software development companies use to work out a product.

Your next great idea

Maybe you’re reading this because you’ve had a good idea for a mobile, web, or another kind of application for your business, or had an idea you want to invest in as an entrepreneur. A common misconception is that creating software is nothing more than putting some lines of code together. But, it’s much more than that. With half a lifetime to invest, you could learn all the various coding languages, UX/UI techniques, design skills, and another handful of disciplines to create perfect, fully-functioning, and graphically engaging software all by yourself.

The wiser choice, however, is to go with an experienced software development company. To be clear, you have choices to make. Each company (including ours) has their own process and their own business model which will affect their software life cycle. Some farshore their ideas to China or India, which means working a bizarre schedule just to get answers to simple questions. At WebCreek, we understand those limitations and work on an alternative nearshore model that operates within a client’s time zone. Distance is never a factor.

The Software Life Cycle

Once you’ve done the right thing by outsourcing the development of your new custom software solution or mobile app to enhance the reach of your business, it’s important to understand how the “software life cycle” works. Different companies usually employ modified versions of the same process to fit their model, but may use slightly different terminology. This article focuses on the terms that WebCreek uses in our process. As a company with many years of experience in development, our process, outlined below, has evolved as we’ve learned what it takes to create incredible software in time and under budget.

Discovery phase

Each project starts as it should: with a million questions. The Discovery phase is the first part of the software life cycle where we present the overall plan. Communication is the absolute bedrock of all successful projects. Therefore, we are adamant about defining a communication plan that identifies all the stakeholders in both your company and ours. In Discovery, we also present a schedule for the project timeline based on reasonable estimates.

We also go through your company’s vision and the broad characteristics that define you, including competitors, and market strategy. While this may seem redundant, it helps complete the picture of who you are, what you like, and what you don’t like. In order to realize your vision, we may identify elements to add or subtract. It’s not uncommon for inspired clients to come in with heady ideas about reinventing the entire internet.  The Discovery phase brings us all to reality and get everyone on the same page.

Envisioning phase

The envisioning phase is when we put pen to paper, so to speak. At this point, we begin to involve other professionals on our staff. This includes our Business Analysts, who do a deep dive into your business process and start determining specific requirements. This analysis can also help predict the future value of your product, or provide ideas for adding some value.

From there our Creative department starts sketching out a look and feel, preparing wireframes, mockups and any additional branding elements; and our Technical Department simultaneously starts compiling all the major technical requirements to determine the technical approach.

By the end envisioning, you should feel like your ideas have been hammered into something close to what you want. Also, a basic prototype along with the process for how to complete your vision is defined.

Analysis and Design phase

In this phase, our technical team begins working on “User Stories,” which are short, concisely written-out scenarios that analyze any possible steps users might experience at every possible turn while using the solution. The stories go over, in high-level detail, what users see when they enter a page; what their options are, and what happens if something is missing, not working, or incorrectly entered. This requires a mix of structured thought, imagination and creativity.

Meanwhile, our Creative department, made up of designers, animators, and UX/UI specialists refine their plan for the solution based on feedback received in the Envisioning phase. They create refined prototypes showing both the visual and logical flow of each page. Basically, the look and feel. They decide the right color schemes, the right fonts, and the right placement for text, etc. Depending on the project, our Content team can also get involved in finding the tone for system messages and other text located throughout the solution.

As a client, you should expect to be heavily involved in approving designs, and reviewing requirements. Certain ideas, once analyzed, may require alternative solutions, or an update to the scope. At the end of this phase, the entire plan should be worked out to the smallest detail.

Development phase

This is the phase where the geeks come out from hiding, and work their coding magic. Our Project Team takes all the requirements and works out a plan that breaks the coding work down into discrete iterations for our Development teams to start constructing. This is probably the most well known part of the software life cycle because it has tangible results.

At WebCreek, we use an Agile methodology that operates in “sprints”. Each sprint can last between one or four weeks long, and contains a deliverable at the end. This is a tangible element that the client can see with his own eyes. At the end of each sprint, the client gets to view the progress and make comments as needed to make sure that products continues to follow their vision. Seeing the completion of sprint after sprint is like watching a house built brick by brick—it gets more exciting as more sprints get completed.

Rollout

Once all sprints are complete, and we’re confident that what we’ve designed matches what we’ve delivered, we get to the Rollout phase. The client should expect to see a fully-realized product that includes all of the major elements, with exceptions made only for non-crucial superficialities. The Rollout phase includes a period of time during which the client will have full access to the solution, often via a testing platform, to test to their heart’s content.

User Acceptance Testing (UAT), could, and in fact, almost always does, encounter minor bugs. The client reports these bugs to our team to fix a.s.a.p. As a client, it should be noted that a bug, while occasionally distressing, is a fact of life, which is why we’ve defined a distinct process to address them.

It’s possible during this phase, though not always required or desired, for there to be a user manual that accompanies the software. If needed, our content team joins the fray and starts writing one out, so that your users can hit the ground running once the software goes live.

At the end of the UAT phase, the project is complete, and the client can take their product and use it in all the ways they’ve envisioned, expanding their business, connecting with new users, etc.

Support

The last step in the software life cycle is support, or maintenance to some. No code is ever safe from obsolescence. Every project starts out on the right foot with the latest technology. While we add as much flexibility for growth as required, some companies just grow too fast. In those cases, we make sure to offer as much support as possible for the program. We’ve developed relationships lasting decades with companies, essentially providing background development support that some companies count on to grow.

The more you know…

Now that you’re aware of what the software life cycle is, and what it looks like, it’s important to mention that not all projects are alike–they don’t always require the same kind of attention. Perhaps a careless developer half-built your project, or you had trouble working with them. In that case, we would pivot our work quickly, moving quickly to the Development phase after our initial conversations. Maybe you already have a software program developed years ago that needs updating, tweaking, or get some TLC. In those cases, we would take on a completely different role, adjusted to the situation.

We hope this article has given you some idea about how to create software. At WebCreek, we’re proud of the model we’ve used to create great software for all manner of companies. With our nearshoring model, we’ve made it possible to do development work more efficiently and provide expanded services and expertise.

Long story, short: Software development isn’t for everyone, and it’s important that you pick the right people for the job.