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App Development
7 minutes read

The Spiral Model Explained

By Jose Gomez
Spiral model
By Jose Gomez
App Development
7 minutes read

The Spiral model offers a modern approach to the software development process that emphasizes risk analysis. In the fast-paced world of software development, where change is constant and requirements evolve rapidly, traditional linear development models often fall short.

This is where the Spiral development model steps in as a dynamic and flexible approach to managing complexity and risk in a software project. While the Spiral model of software development is well-suited to modern software engineering, many people are still unfamiliar with it. 

In this post, we will explore the Spiral development model, exploring its origins, principles, benefits, and how it compares to other popular software development methodologies, such as the waterfall method.

The Origins of the Spiral Development Model 

The Spiral development model, also known as the Spiral model, was first introduced by Barry Boehm in 1986. Boehm, a renowned computer scientist, recognized the shortcomings of traditional software development models, such as the Waterfall model, in addressing the challenges of developing complex and large-scale software systems.

The Spiral model was conceived as a response to these challenges, with its fundamental goal being to offer effective risk management while accommodating the rapid changes and uncertainties inherent in software development.

Since its introduction, the Spiral model has evolved and gained widespread adoption, especially in high-risk projects where flexibility and adaptability are of critical importance. While the Spiral model continues to lack the name recognition of Agile or Waterfall, this software development process model has become popular with skilled developers. 

A Closer Look at the Spiral Model Phases

At its core, the Spiral development model is an iterative and incremental approach to software development. It combines elements of both the Waterfall model and iterative development to create a cycle of intermediate phases that spiral outward.

The spiral model consists of four key phases, each of which is executed in a continuous cycle:

  • Planning
  • Risk analysis
  • Engineering 
  • Evaluation 


This initial phase involves defining project objectives, risks, and constraints. The planning phase aims to establish a clear understanding of what the software should achieve and the potential challenges that may arise.

Thorough planning is a hallmark of the Spiral model. Even when significant changes to the final design occur, the Spiral model is able to help developers adapt from the first iteration to the last without putting the success of the project in jeopardy. 

Risk Analysis

In this phase, the development team assesses and mitigates project risks. Risk analysis is a crucial aspect of the Spiral model, as it helps identify potential problems early in the development process.

In large and small projects, risk evaluation is the cornerstone of the Spiral model. Every project comes with a significant amount of risk. The Spiral model cannot eliminate all risks from a project, but through risk analysis, it can help teams mitigate the majority of risks before they wreak havoc. 


The engineering phase focuses on designing, developing, and testing the software. It includes the creation of prototypes and incremental builds, allowing for early user feedback and continuous improvement.

Customer feedback is an important part of the engineering phase of the Spiral software development process model. Whether it’s architectural design, physical product design, system requirements, or other aspects of the project, customer feedback is valuable to the ultimate success of the project. 


The evaluation phase involves reviewing the progress made so far. It includes a formal assessment of the software’s current state, its adherence to project goals, and the identification of any necessary changes or refinements.

The defining feature of the Spiral model is its iterative nature. After completing one cycle through these four phases, the development team revisits them, incorporating customer feedback, making necessary adjustments, and moving forward with the next iteration. 

Each iteration can be seen as a mini-project, building on the previous one and adding new features and improvements.

The Key Principles of the Spiral Development Model

To fully grasp the Spiral model, it’s essential to understand its key principles. When your organization understands the underlying philosophy of the Spiral model, it can utilize it to great effect. The core principles of the Spiral model include:

  • Risk management
  • Flexibility 
  • Incremental development
  • Customer collaboration 
  • Verification and validation

Risk Management

The Spiral model places a strong emphasis on identifying and managing risks. By addressing potential issues early in the development process, the Spiral Model reduces the likelihood of costly surprises later on.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Unlike rigid, linear models like Waterfall, the Spiral model is highly adaptable. It can accommodate changes in project requirements, technology, or user needs without derailing the entire development process.

Incremental Development

The Spiral model promotes incremental development, allowing for the delivery of working software at the end of each iteration. This facilitates early user feedback and ensures that project stakeholders have a tangible product to evaluate.

Client Collaboration

Continuous communication and collaboration with clients and end-users are encouraged throughout the Spiral model development process. This iterative feedback loop helps ensure that the software aligns with user expectations.

Verification and Validation

Regular verification and validation activities are integrated into each iteration to maintain software quality. This ensures that the software meets both functional and non-functional requirements.

Spiral Model Vs. Other Software Development Methodologies

To better understand where the Spiral model fits into the landscape of software development methodologies, let’s compare it to two other well-known approaches: the Waterfall model and Agile methodologies.

Spiral Model Vs. Waterfall Model

The most significant difference between the Spiral model and the Waterfall model lies in their approach to change and risk management. 

While the Waterfall model assumes that project requirements will remain stable throughout, the Spiral model acknowledges that change is inevitable and provides a framework for addressing it.

  • Waterfall Model: Follows a linear, sequential approach where each phase must be completed before moving to the next. This can lead to difficulties in accommodating changes once a phase is complete.
  • Spiral Model: Embraces change and uncertainty by iterating through phases, allowing for ongoing risk assessment and adaptation. This makes it better suited for projects with evolving requirements.

Spiral Model Vs. Agile Methodologies

The Spiral model shares some similarities with Agile methodologies as they both emphasize iterative development and client collaboration. However, there are notable differences:

  • Agile Methodologies: Agile methodologies are often associated with shorter development cycles called sprints, typically lasting 2-4 weeks. These shorter iterations aim to deliver small, incremental features and improvements quickly.
  • Spiral Model: Iterations in the Spiral Model may have longer timeframes, and the focus is not solely on delivering features but also on addressing risks and uncertainties. It provides a more structured approach to risk management.
  • Client Collaboration: Both Agile and the Spiral model prioritize client and user involvement, but Agile places a heavier emphasis on frequent customer collaboration and responding to changing requirements.
  • Risk Management: The Spiral model is particularly strong in risk management due to its dedicated risk analysis phase, which is not a standard component of Agile methodologies.

Final Thoughts 

The Spiral development model has established itself as a powerful approach to software development, offering a structured yet adaptable framework for managing complexity and uncertainty. 

By embracing change and focusing on risk management, it addresses many of the shortcomings of traditional linear methodologies like Waterfall. When considering the use of the Spiral model, it’s essential to evaluate the project’s complexity, budget, timeline, and the degree of client involvement required. 

While it may not be the best fit for every project, it remains a valuable tool in the software development toolbox, especially when dealing with complex, dynamic, and evolving requirements. If you want to learn more about the Spiral model, contact an experienced development partner like Koombea.

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