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Understanding Rapid Application Development (RAD), Methodology & Tools

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In today’s fast-paced world, you don’t always have months to plan and create mobile applications. Sometimes you need it done quickly within days or less. But projects done in a hurry can result in mistakes and ultimately lower quality work.

That’s where rapid application development (RAD) comes in. It’s a process that ensures high efficiency and fast turnaround time all while ensuring that the app’s quality is not compromised. RAD has become a buzzword in the software development industry. It feels like we hear it all the time now – in development meetings, as a skill listed in web developers’ portfolios and online forums discussing app development.

Although the name is pretty self-explanatory, there is a lot more beneath the surface. In this article, we’ll talk all about RAD, compare it to the previous development approaches and discuss the tools and methodology.

What Is Rapid Application Development?

Rapid Application Development or RAD is exactly what the name suggests. It’s a process of creating mobile and web applications rapidly. The main focus points of RAD are prototyping and flexible scheduling to accommodate changes while developing.

The RAD approach relies on user feedback during the development process. So instead of adhering to a detailed application plan you can start with an outline and make changes as you go. Here, you shift the focus from planning to development, although planning is still considered important.

This software development approach accommodates evolving requirements quite well, and that is one of the reasons for its popularity.

A Bit of History

App development has come a long way since the waterfall approach. If you don’t know what that is, then here’s a quick rundown.

Waterfall used to be the primary method of managing application development projects. It follows a linear structure – meaning that once you start you only move forward. This is a very simplistic way of explaining what waterfall is – but you get the point.

The obvious drawback of the waterfall approach is that it doesn’t accommodate changes and modifications too well. If something has to be changed mid-way then you have to go back to start and begin development again.

Then came the agile approach which gives developers more flexibility. Here, you can make small changes to the original plan and the project layout. Although there might be more risk involved because the schedule can change, it still offers a better user experience and a much-improved end product.

RAD is Not Agile

Now after reading about RAD and agile, the two might seem like they are the same. But there are a few subtle differences that set them apart. The RAD is an agile approach, but it focuses on rapid prototyping by using existing code, efficient frameworks and other tools that can ensure fast delivery and high quality.

The end goals of agile are the same but it doesn’t necessarily use the same tools and existing code. Agile’s primary purpose is to be adaptable, not necessarily fast.

One approach to application development is not necessarily superior to the other. It all depends on what your end goals are, how capable your team is and what will get you the best application possible.

Rapid Application Development Methodology

RAD is a software development methodology that combats the conventional rigid model of development to generate better outcomes. This concept is closely linked to agile, but as we’ve covered above, it’s slightly different. The rapid application development methodology is divided into the following steps.

Although there are four main steps in RAD, you can break them down into multiple smaller steps to better understand the concept:

1. Plan out Project Requirements

The rapid application development process begins with outlining the app requirements. Outline being the operative word here. Basically, the clients describe their vision of the app and correlate it with what the audience wants.

The timeline, budget, resources and scope of the project are also decided on in this step. Remember that these set requirements can change at any time, which is a key principle of RAD. But that doesn’t make this step any less valuable.

This step covers the project in detail. And you move on to the next phase after the entire team – developers and key stakeholders – approves the requirements.

2. Prototypes and Testing

The second stage begins with the mobile app development team starting work on the prototype based on the outlined requirements. This is one of the most important steps of RAD and the key component that distinguishes it from other methodologies.

Here, the developers work closely with the clients to ensure that the prototype develops according to their vision. You could also create more than one prototype according to the client’s needs. Once the prototype is ready and approved by stakeholders, users are brought in to test the app.

Your development team then gathers the feedback and integrates it to make the relevant changes, after discussing it with the client.  You test the newer versions of the prototype repeatedly until all the kinks are worked out and the key stakeholders are happy with the beta versions.

3. Development

After sufficient testing and the go-ahead from the stakeholders begins the final development stage. This phase is completed quickly since all the details are already sorted. Often, development is merged with the testing stage.

At the end of the process, the web app designers, developers and other team members work closely to finalize the system. Here, you test the code and run simulations to check the final structure of the app.

4. Finalization and Launch

You launch the app once you’re satisfied with the code and durability of the app. For some time after the launch, the developers and clients closely monitor the app and the user’s interactions or reviews to look for any bugs or errors.

Rapid Application Development Tools

As we mentioned above, RAD developers use existing code to create the apps. They also use different frameworks, software and applications to speed up the development process. All these are known as rapid application development tools.

There are certain features that each of these tools must have. Such as:

  1. Reusable components.
  2. Should help you keep track of all your modifications and prototype versions.
  3. Affordable cost according to the project’s budget.
  4. Must be suitable for all platforms – web, iOS development, Android app development.
  5. Be convenient enough to be used even by novice or citizen developers.  

Since app development involves many stages, the tools can be divided into a few categories such as design tools, user testing and development tools. But the best ones are those that can cover most of the development steps. Here are the top three rapid application development tools that you should know about:

1 – Kissflow

Kissflow RAD tools

Kissflow is one of the best RAD tools. It has a small learning curve which makes it convenient for people with no tech experience. You can automate repetitive tasks to save time and reduce error. It’s user-friendly and affordable as compared to some of the other options. 

The best feature is that it provides insights into what your software needs to perform better. This feature comes in handy when you aren’t too familiar with the app development process. You can choose to ignore the automated Kissflow suggestions or use them to optimize your app.

The downside of this tool is that customer support is lacking and people often report bugs in the system.

2 – SetApp

SetApp RAD tool

This app is great because it offers a range of tools all in one platform. So you have the Flinto app to conveniently design the app beta version, DevUtils app to format the different prototypes and RapidWeaver to develop the website simplistically.

It has some more tools like these to help with the integration of user feedback and testing of the final app. The best feature of SetApp is that it is designed for non-tech personnel because you don’t need to know programming and coding to operate it. Expert developers can also benefit from it because it makes the development much faster.

The downside of this tool is that there is a set price for the membership plans and it doesn’t change if you use fewer features. So it can get expensive if your project is simple and you don’t necessarily need all the different apps they offer. Also, SetApp is only for Mac systems.

3 – Quixy

Quixy super-effective RAD tool

This is a super-effective RAD tool that has multiple other tools inside of it. Quixy is also for non-tech people who need to develop an app quickly.  It has tools for flow management, designing, testing and a rule engine. It also has ready to use templates to further speed up the RAD process.

The best feature is that it supports cross-platform app development. The downside of this tool is that you can’t add collaborators in Quixy so it can be difficult if your teams are spread apart.

Some other tools that offer great features include Buddy, Oracle Application Express, OutSystems, Salesforce Lightning and Alpha Software.

RAD Advantages and Disadvantages

RAD methodology can work only when there is supreme coordination between the entire team. This includes your client, project stakeholders and developers.

Advantages of Rapid Application Development

Here are some of the key advantages of RAD:

1.      Fast Turnaround Time

Since the rapid application development approach is based on reusing the code, it saves development time. That means you can have the deliverables ready in a much shorter time than in the traditional development process, which is one of the significant benefits of web applications.

2.      Identify Key Problems Early

Due to prototype testing, you can determine the potential challenges and problems early on in the development phase. And then fix them before the final launch.

That also decreases the product risk while improving the value of the app for its users.  With rapid application development, you can quickly see proof that your app works and satisfies all the set goals. 

3.      Improved User Experience

The quality of the app developed by RAD is usually much higher than other approaches. That’s because the constant collaboration between the development team, the stakeholders and most importantly the users allows you to create an app that is appreciated by the intended audience.

Also, extensive prototype testing and integrating user feedback doesn’t set you back. And you can still deliver the app on time since that’s the design of the rapid application development approach.

4.      RAD Is Cost-Effective

Since the app you create by following the RAD methodology is exactly how the client and the users want it to be, there won’t be many revisions involved after project completion. Thus saving you the money needed for revisions.

Disadvantages of Rapid Application Development

Rapid application development is not for everyone. Along with the many benefits, it has some drawbacks as well. Have a look at some of the disadvantages of RAD:

1.      Not the Best For Large Projects

Large scale enterprise-level applications with layers and layers of functionalities require too much planning, more than what RAD can handle. These projects have a lot of important components and large teams so making small changes in the software, as we do in RAD, may upset the overall design and result in poor-performing code.

2.      It Needs Smaller Teams

Managing a rapid application development project with a large team can get complicated. Because the flexibility and adaptability that comes with this approach also result in less control over the project, meaning more room for errors when more people are involved.

With larger teams, tracking the changes and the deviation from the original plan and requirements can be difficult. In such cases, it’s best to stick with an agile approach and not compromise the project for the sake of speed.

3.      The Success of RAD Depends On Users

A key component of rapid application development is integrating user feedback. RAD approach depends on it for moving forward with the development. If for some reason you can’t test your app on users, then following the RAD approach may not be the best idea. Otherwise, you could get stuck in the prototype testing phase and compromise the output.

4.      Level of Involvement

Sometimes the reason why clients outsource app development is to free up their time for other business functions. The RAD methodology requires constant approvals on prototypes and regular input, which may be more commitment than you’re looking for.

Rapid Application Development - In Summary

RAD is a highly useful methodology for app development. Businesses can gain a competitive advantage by following this approach because they can create remarkable apps in record time and budget. The tools available for this make the process even more convenient for everyone, so you don’t have to be a seasoned developer to follow the RAD process.

But rapid application development is not for every project. Just like any other approach, it has its limitations. And so before you begin development, check to see if your project is a good fit for the RAD methodology.

You can also contact us for our professional rapid application development services if you need to create a remarkable app. Our expert developers can leverage various tools to create a high-quality app within the set time duration.

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