What Is RAD Software Development

by Anna Khrupa on Mar 9, 2022

Rapid application development, or RAD, is one of the first development methodologies challenging the traditional waterfall approach in software development. The core principle behind the rapid application development (RAD) model is the reduction of planning in favor of iterative design and construction — accomplishing more in less time. The main characteristic of RAD is extensive planning replaced by prototypes and fast, visible results.

RAD has appeared as a response to waterfall practices, which performed comprehensive planning and required months of preparation and development to be completed. The issue was that old methods approached designing and building things the same way they approached designing and building constructions and bridges.

The first so-called RAD technique was offered by Barry Boehm. It was known as the spiral model. Boehm gave special importance to developing prototypes instead of concentrating on and dealing with design specifications. In the 1980s, the technique evolved even more. James Martin extended the work and presented a new development cycle, divided into four separate parts – requirements planning, user design, construction, and cutover. Contrary to traditional methods, James Martin’s approach made the process compressed.

Rapid Application Development Definition

Rapid application development is a software development methodology with the least possible planning, rapid prototyping (creating smaller-scale working models), and fast product delivery. The rapid application development definition derives from the emphasis on building applications within a short development cycle – from 60 to 90 days.

RAD believes in fast prototyping over high-priced extensive planning. The concept is based on the idea that a product can be delivered sooner even with a small team and a relatively small amount of money available. It has replaced a slow development process with management, people, and the latest technologies as the key fundamentals. Other characteristics of RAD include the lack of pre-planning, quickly written software, and easily changeable requirements.

The purpose of rapid application development methodology is to decrease product creation period and costs, incorporating users in each stage of the process. RAD projects can deal with problems in a budget and still be finished on time.

Steps of Rapid Application Development Methodology

The main phases of RAD model management are:

  • Planning (project’s scope);
  • Project modeling (business, data, and process modeling);
  • Construction (product creation);
  • Deployment (integration, delivery, data conversion, and feedback).

Firstly, communication between a client, a user, and a team, represented by managers and developers, happens. They agree upon project scope, requirements, and specifications. Then, an approved working prototype is produced. The team involves automated tools to build graphical user interfaces. At the deployment phase, the finished product is brought. 

In RAD, users are actively involved all the time. They constantly participate by suggesting potential improvements and changes, playing their full part in a project.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Rapid Application Development (RAD)

A rapid application technique can help if a company has problems with a team not being able to complete an increased number of projects within less time given to them or if the budget is going to be cut. Though they always should be aware of possible risks and failures that accompany a rapid development life cycle.

Here is a detailed look at both the advantages and disadvantages of rapid application development (RAD) in software.

Advantages of RAD

  • Dramatic time saving, quick development, faster delivery;
  • Improved quality;
  • Reduction in rework and expenses;
  • Risk minimization;
  • Small teams;
  • Focus on essential system elements;
  • Flexibility and alignment with business changes;
  • Increased productivity.

In RAD, there is more attention paid to implementation and time rather than planning and analysis to get a product out to market faster (up to four times faster than usual). With other models, it can take up to a few months to have a prototype ready. In RAD, a prototype can be presented within days. Since the development phase is decreased, the costs and the budget are decreased as well. Improved quality is provided by a low number of errors in code because of reusable components in the development process. Testing requires less time, which is offset by focusing on the key elements and factors only. But the reduction in testing time is not a problem because every prototype is thoroughly tested during each iteration.

RAD breaks the project down into manageable tasks, improving efficiency and productivity in a team, leaving very little room for error. Highly skilled and experienced developers are required to make it work properly. But that is not something unachievable. 

A project in the RAD methodology is more adaptable and dynamic than a project in the Waterfall methodology. The team introduces changes and adjustments continuously, thereby providing frequent releases of prototypes and facilitating the development process. Since the user is an active participant from the very beginning, there is no risk of not achieving business needs or customer satisfaction.

Disadvantages of RAD

Due to the decreased development time and higher requirements for a team, there are some pitfalls and drawbacks too.

  • There is still a possibility of producing a low-quality product.
  • The model is not suitable for projects with high technical risk.
  • A proficient, competent team is required.

Even though a rapid application development framework decreases key risks of failure, there is still a possibility of launching low-quality products if a team is not skilled enough. Or if the team is required to learn and adjust to new tools and methods. More flexibility and adaptability offered by RAD means less control and vice versa. If control is more important than flexibility, RAD is not applicable. That is why it is hard to manage ambitious large-scale business projects and complex systems, which cannot be modularized in rapid development. They require detailing of what needs to be done as well as sufficient human resources.

Why and When to Use Rapid Application Development Framework

What types of businesses are best suited for RAD?

A good example of rapid application development project would be a B2C (business to consumer) application or a customer portal. This is where a client will not struggle to collect customer feedback without waiting for a final version of a product to be launched on the market. With the RAD model, developers and designers can create interactive designs much sooner.

RAD is suitable if a client wants the software to be done quickly (3-4 months). If a team faces tight deadlines or there is no extra time for lengthy requirement analysis, or if you have a small team, aim for rapid development. It is inexpensive, thus suitable for startups or small businesses with a lower budget and the need to build fast. The reason is that the team immediately dives into the work instead of experiencing a laborious period of preparation, researching, and designing. Despite that, the budget should be high enough to allow working with experienced designers and developers and getting professional automated tools to improve the process.

RAD is for software that does not make it necessary to plan in detail or software that can be delivered little by little with no dependency on the team.


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