Software Development Life-Cycle

Software Development Life-Cycle

Forget Scrum, SAFe or any of their ilk. Agile vs. waterfall is a false dichotomy promulgated by consultants in the business of “selling agile by the pound” 1.

Here is how enterprise-scale software is and always has been created and maintained:

graph TB start(( )) inception[Inception] execution[Execution] verification[Verification] operation[Operation] start-- request feature -->inception inception-- reject -->start inception-- analyze -->inception inception-- approve -->execution execution-- design / implement -->execution execution-- request change -->inception execution-- release -->verification verification-- report bug -->execution verification-- test -->verification verification-- request change -->inception verification-- accept -->operation operation-- monitor -->operation operation-- report bug -->execution operation-- request change -->inception operation-- anayltics -->inception

I.e. in the real world there is never a single, linear “waterfall” of phases leading from inception to delivery nor is there a simple loop of stand-alone “iterations” each of which comprises all of the activities necessary to the software development life-cycle compressed into a short, fixed-length “sprint.” As with so much of life, reality is far more complex, requiring one to think more deeply than simple slogans or sports analogies.

For software development, this reality is a fairly dense web of distinct yet interdependent activities. Each such activity proceeds iteratively but at no fixed “cadence” and more or less asynchronously from any of the others. Whatever you say about your preferred “methodology,” the preceding diagram depicts what you are actually doing if you have achieved any degree of long-term success in developing, deploying and maintaining big, complex software systems. Despite what fadists and hucksters might claim, this has not changed substantially since the 1980’s when the author began his career in the software engineering industry.

Most importantly, each transition / dependency in the preceding graph must be accompanied by appropriate artifacts. Obviously, what gets delivered as part of a release includes the “working software” that is the focus of the second statement in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development but it had better also include release notes, installation and configuration guides, user manuals etc. or the software won’t actually ever get working or stay working in production for long. Prior to that, when a new or changed feature is approved, that approval is useless unless it is accompanied by sufficient documentation describing the intended new behavior and its impacts on other new or existing features that may also have to change as a result. Similarly, the teams responsible for operating long-lived software systems are doing themselves and the organizations to which they belong no favors by relying on “tribal knowledge” rather than carefully crafted and maintained run-books and the like. Ditto for test procedures carried out during software verification and acceptance.


  1. Dave Thomas, co-author and signatory of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development ↩︎