Skip to Content
App Development
6 minutes read

Rapid Application Development: An Agile Approach

By Jose Gomez
By Jose Gomez
App Development
6 minutes read

Rapid application development is an alternative approach to the waterfall model of software development. The rapid application development model can be more effective than traditional methods of software development in certain projects. 

While rapid app development is a great approach, it won’t fit every development cycle. This post will explain what rapid application development is and the steps typically involved in the rapid application development methodology. 

In addition, we will also explore rapid application development advantages and disadvantages. If your organization is interested in rapid application development, this post will help you understand this development process.  

What Is Rapid Application Development? 

Rapid application development (RAD) is a type of agile development that emphasizes adaptation rather than planning. This software development approach favors rapid prototyping over planning. 

The driving philosophy behind the rapid application development model is that software development projects should be treated like clay instead of steel. The RAD methodology is well-suited for development projects driven by UI requirements. 

However, the rapid prototyping associated with the RAD methodology can be beneficial in various software development projects. 

Background on the Rapid Application Development Methodology 

The RAD methodology was developed in the 70s and 80s as a direct response to the traditional software development process that utilized the waterfall model. Barry Boehm developed the first rapid application development methodology known as the spiral model. 

Working off Boehm’s ideas, James Martin of IBM produced the RAD methodology most are familiar with today. James Martin published his method in a 1991 book titled Rapid Application Development

While there are differences between Boehm’s and Martin’s models, both RAD approaches utilize the same core software development process steps. 

The Four Key Phases of Rapid Application Development (RAD)

There are four key features of the RAD methodology that you need to understand before your project managers implement a RAD model. The main features of the RAD approach to app development are:

  • Understand requirements
  • Build prototype 
  • Gather feedback 
  • Finalize product 

Understand Requirements 

Instead of a drawn-out planning phase, rapid application development focuses on a loose set of initial project requirements. One of the key tenets of RAD projects is that requirements can change at any point in the life cycle.

Both the client and the developers agree on the requirements that satisfy the vision of the project with the understanding that requirements can change. Rapid application development is a highly iterative process that requires talented developers.

The RAD model is not great for organizations or developers with rigid ideas about what the final product should be. 

Build Prototype 

The rapid application development approach relies on rapid prototyping. Instead of the traditional user design phase, developers utilize rapid application development tools like graphical user interface builders to quickly build prototypes.

This phase of RAD development aims to show the client something they can interact with, even if the product is not a full working model or the user design is incomplete. 

By producing quick prototypes, the RAD method ensures that there will be time to finalize features and pay off the technical debt later in the life cycle. 

Gather Feedback 

The value of the rapid application development process lies in the feedback gathered. Prototypes are developed quickly so clients can provide feedback. Developers know that requirements tend to change as more user feedback is collected.

Instead of using a lengthy planning stage, the RAD process relies more heavily on client feedback to drive faster development. With a prototype, you can offer user training to see what works and doesn’t more readily.

It is easier for requirements to be honed when you can see what they look like in practice instead of on paper. Unfortunately, at this stage in rapid application development, teams typically return to step two and continue to prototype until the product is ready to finalize. 

Finalize Product 

The product is ready for final development at this point in rapid application development. In the previous phase, requirements and technical risk were addressed to the client’s satisfaction, and now it is time to build the actual product from the prototype. 

The development time of a RAD project in this phase will address the technical debt incurred by prototyping. Remember, a prototype isn’t fully functional in the way an MVP would be, so there are a lot of loose ends to address here to deliver a final product. 

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Rapid Application Development 

Now that you know how rapid application development works in more detail, it is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of this development approach so you can decide if it is the right choice for your organization.

The Advantages of RAD 

Compared to traditional development models, there are a few key advantages of rapid application development to highlight, including:

  • Cost – The RAD approach reduces costs because developers only build what customers want. For example, in traditional development, developers might spend a lot of time building features only to have them gutted or changed by clients before deployment. Even though these features might be cut or drastically reduced, they still cost money to develop. 
  • Time – RAD development often takes less time because the project is fully iterated before being finalized. As a result, projects are more likely to finish on time with little to no changes after deployment.
  • Satisfaction – Developers and clients are more satisfied with rapid application development. Developers are satisfied because they get more feedback and affirmation throughout the development process. Clients are satisfied because they get a product that meets their needs and doesn’t require many changes. 

The Disadvantages of RAD

There are disadvantages to rapid application development, too, including:

  • Commitment – In traditional development models, your organization doesn’t have to dedicate a lot of time to meeting with developers and reviewing prototypes, etc. While it is helpful to iterate, it requires more time commitment for your organization that can distract from core business competencies. 
  • Frontend focused – Since developers are busy building prototypes focused on UI elements and interactions, the backend is often a facade. In some cases, developers ignore the best practices of backend development to accelerate the development process and avoid refactoring their code. 

Final Thoughts 

Rapid application development is an effective way to build software, but it is not for every project or organization. If you want to learn more about RAD and whether it is right for your business, reach out to a skilled software development company like Koombea.

Girl With Glasses

Want to Build an App?

Request a free app consultation with one of our experts

Contact Us