Guide to Rapid Application Development (Steps and Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 28, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Rapid application development (RAD) can assist developers and development teams in quickly prototyping new software applications. This process can help increase development efficiency for most software application types. Learning more about how to use RAD effectively can be a valuable addition to your skill set. In this article, we explain what the RAD process is, discuss its requirements and potential benefits, provide information about the crucial stages, and offer some tips to help you effectively execute this development process.

What is rapid application development?

Rapid application development is an agile software development method that deals with the development of software applications in a timely and efficient manner. The method, which typically relies on user feedback to inform software design and development decisions, may use the following prototype levels:

  • Low-fidelity: This level of prototype concentrates on representing the initial design concept for a software application's information flow or structure and its user controls or interaction points.

  • Mid-fidelity: This level concentrates on representing the design concept of a software application on a more advanced level, complete with interaction and navigation capabilities.

  • High-fidelity: This level concentrates on simulating the final product of a software application by including fully functional user interactions and visual elements.

This development method is distinct from the traditional waterfall model, which omits prototyping stages at each level, making it more difficult for developers to modify core functions in response to feedback from clients or consumers.

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Requirements for RAD

Requirements vary according to the nature of the project and client or consumer requirements. It may be beneficial to meet with stakeholders to determine application requirements before initiating the development process. Here's a list of questions you can ask to help you with this process:

  • What problem is the software application supposed to solve?

  • What are your concerns or inconveniences with currently available software that address the same or similar issues?

  • Which features are most of interest to users?

  • To which types of navigation are users accustomed?

These questions can provide insight into the issues you can address and how to do so most effectively. Other requirements may include the timeframe and budgets that stakeholders have established for the application's development.

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Benefits of using rapid application development

Here's a list of benefits of using RAD that you can consider:

Increases adaptability

Because you typically use prototypes with varying degrees of fidelity before designing and developing the software's final product, employing this rapid development method can significantly increase adaptability throughout the software development process. This enables software development teams to incorporate elements of user feedback easily. For instance, if a team receives user feedback on their mid- or high-fidelity level prototypes, they can easily incorporate it because they haven't written the software code. This increased adaptability may enable greater design and development flexibility throughout the software development process.

Provides assignment and task-based structure

This rapid development method can help you or your development team prioritize specific development stages and completion of goals by providing an assignment and task-based structure. A specified structure may also facilitate the creation of customized application development timelines or checklists. This may also help increase organization throughout the development process, which is beneficial for documentation purposes during final product presentations.

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Ten essential stages of RAD

Here's a list of 10 critical stages involved in the RAD process:

1. Develop a project brief that includes protocols and requirements

It's critical to start with a project brief to help ensure that you have documentation of each stage of the development process to share with stakeholders when presenting the final product. Typically, briefs begin with protocols and requirements. Protocols may detail the procedures for gathering feedback during each stage of development, whereas requirements typically detail the client or consumer needs that the software may address.

2. Start prototyping low-fidelity software applications

Once your project brief is complete, you can develop your low-fidelity prototype. The two strategies for this level of prototyping include:

  • Paper prototypes: This type of low-fidelity prototype uses pieces of paper to represent all aspects of what users may see while interacting with the software application.

  • Clickable wireframe prototype: You can create a low-fidelity prototype with prototyping design software to create a wireframe of what users may see while using the software application.

Both strategies are effective at this level of prototyping, and which one you choose may be a matter of personal preference. If you opt for a clickable wireframe prototype, you may already have a layout plan for your mid-fidelity prototype.

3. Conduct user testing and collect user feedback for low-fidelity prototypes

Once your low-fidelity prototype is complete, you can test it with users to gather critical feedback. These users may be clients or focus groups of consumers, depending on who may be using the software application once it's complete. Using a paper prototype, you can conduct user testing in person with a single user. This format lets you meet with users and control their interactions manually with the paper prototype. It's critical to avoid guiding the user through the prototype in this scenario to help ensure that the results accurately reflect the application's usability.

4. Revise and refine to create mid-fidelity software application prototypes

After reviewing the feedback from the low-fidelity software application prototype, you can revise your design to make it more user friendly. You can even create a mid-fidelity prototype from the revision. The click-through plan helps these efforts by providing users with an interactive digital prototype. These typically include active links or buttons but don't necessarily include more complex interactions or visual elements. You can help create your mid-fidelity prototype by utilizing prototyping design software.

5. Conduct user testing and collect user feedback for mid-fidelity prototypes

Once your low-fidelity prototype is complete, you can test it with users to gather critical feedback. You may choose to conduct this testing stage with existing or new users. This stage of user testing may take place in person or virtually, depending on your preference, but both may involve using a digital interactive prototype on a device.

6. Revise and refine to create high-fidelity software application prototypes

After reviewing the feedback from the mid-fidelity software application prototype, you can revise your design to make it more user friendly, although you can create a high-fidelity prototype with these modifications this time. They aim to simulate the actual software application experience and all its interactions for users. These are typically active links, buttons, complex interactions, and visual elements. Prototyping design software can help you create your high-fidelity prototype.

7. Conduct user testing and collect user feedback for high-fidelity prototypes

Once your high-fidelity prototype is complete, you can test it with users to gather critical feedback. You may choose to test with existing or new groups and individuals for this user testing stage. This stage of user testing can take place in person or virtually, depending on your preference, but both may involve using the digital replica prototype.

8. Implement final revisions and fully develop the software application

Once you've gathered user feedback on your high-fidelity prototype, you can use these final revisions to build the code for your software application. This can help ensure that the final product requires few or no revisions after launch and can prevent you or your team from making significant code changes. You can refer to your prototypes and feedback as you complete the software application.

9. Finish and complete project brief

Clients may expect you to complete your project brief before presenting the final software application product. This may require summarizing the process in its entirety. Here's a list of aspects you can consider at this stage:

  • Visual depictions of each prototype

  • Procedures for user testing

  • User feedback gathered for each prototype

  • Direct references of how the application responds to user requirements and feedback

The final project brief may be a digital document that you can refer to in the future when communicating with stakeholders.

10. Share the final product for the fully developed software application

The final step in this process is to share your completed software application with stakeholders. This presentation may include information about the various stages of the development process and examples of feedback. You can also demonstrate the application's functionality and features. This presentation may be formal or informal.

Tips for using RAD effectively

Here are some tips to assist you in utilizing the RAD process effectively and efficiently:

  • Use prototyping design software to assist you in developing your prototypes.

  • Conduct research on various prototyping design software options to ensure you select the best one for your development needs.

  • Test your prototypes with a diverse group of people of varying skill levels to ensure that the feedback you receive is objective and addresses all user needs.

  • Add to your project brief as you create prototypes and gather user feedback throughout the application development process.

  • Establish a timeline to assist you in setting goals for task completion throughout the application development process.

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