What Is the Software Development Life Cycle? SDLC Explained

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn how the seven stages of SDLC help developers bring new software products to life.

[Featured Image]:  Software Developer working through the steps of the software development life cycle.

Software development life cycle (SDLC) is a term used in the software industry to describe a series of steps a software developer goes through when creating a new software product. Software developers learn the life cycle skills involved with software development in their software developer qualifications, certifications, and experience.

What does software development life cycle (SDLC) mean?

The software development life cycle (SDLC) is the process of planning, writing, and modifying software. It encompasses a set of procedures, methods, and techniques used in software development. Developers use the approach as they design and write modern software for computers, cloud deployment, mobile phones, video games, and more.

In IT, the term "life cycle" was first used in the 1950s and 1960s to describe the stages involved in developing a new computer system, but it is now commonly used to refer to all stages in the production of any piece of software [1]. 

Why is using an SDLC important?

The SDLC is important because it helps ensure that the right people are involved in the right activities at the right times. A well-defined SDLC also allows you to measure your progress relative to your goals and gives you a way to ensure everything is on track. Using a structured approach to developing software helps ensure that your project will be successful by allowing you to:

  • Understand your requirements and how you want your software to work

  • Identify risks at an early stage

  • Plan how you will deliver your solution in stages, such as building prototypes or writing functional specifications

  • Be sure that each stage of development fits with what has gone before and what comes next.

Understanding the different SDLC stages and best practices

The process of the software development life cycle encompasses all aspects of the software-making process. It begins with scoping the requirements you need for your program and ends with you delivering it and managing maintenance protocols. Each stage in the SDLC has its own set of activities that need to be performed by the team members involved in the development project. The cycle can vary from company to company and from project to project, but it generally includes these stages:

Step 1. Brainstorm, set goals, and identify risks

The first step in the software development life cycle is brainstorming. It's when you gather everyone together and start throwing ideas around. At this stage, you come up with your business goals, requirements, specifications, and any high-level risks that might hinder the project's success.

Step 2. Analyze requirements, complete a feasibility study, and create a plan

Once you've gathered your ideas, it's time to organize them into a cohesive plan and design. This requires a lot of research and planning to ensure that your final product meets your expectations (and those of your customers). The big step is creating a detailed project plan document and work breakdown structure that outline everything from user experience goals to database structure requirements.

Step 3. Design the mockups

Once you've got your design plans in front of you, it's time for wireframing and mockups so that everyone involved knows exactly how their part will fit into the larger design picture. You have many tools available that make this process much easier than ever before. This step builds upon the planning stage, building out the tasks you need to do in the work breakdown schedule.

Step 4. Write the code

The development phase is where coding begins to take place and is one of the most time-consuming phases in the software lifecycle. This phase often requires extensive programming skills and knowledge of databases and your team will build functionality for your product or service. This includes creating an interface that users interact with and building the database so users can store information in your system.

Step 5. Test the product

Before releasing it into production, you'll need to test it to ensure it is free of bugs and errors. If you find problems, you need to fix them before moving forward with deployment. You'll also need to manage how the system will integrate into existing systems, software, and processes.

Step 6. Launch the product

Once you've completed all testing phases, it's time to deploy your new application so customers can use it. After deployment, the launch may involve marketing your new product or service so people know about its existence. If the software is in-house, it may mean implementing the change management process to ensure user training and acceptance.

Step 7. Set up maintenance and operations

The final stage of the software development life cycle is maintenance and operations. This is one of the most critical stages because it's when your hard work gets put to the test.

Maintenance is the updating an existing software product to fix bugs and ensure reliability. It can also include adding new features or functionality to a current product. Operations refer to the day-to-day running of a software product or service, such as performing backups and other administrative tasks.

Software development process approaches

You can choose from many software development approach models available in the market. Each of them has its advantages and disadvantages. Each is suited to different types of projects, too. Some of the approaches you might like to learn about are listed below:

Waterfall model

The Waterfall model remains one of software development's most popular process models. The approach has stood the test of time and has been used since the 1970s. The Waterfall model is a sequential design process that moves in a straight line from one phase to the next. 

Developers use this approach when the requirements for a product are well-defined and resources are available. However, this model performs inconsistently when requirements change frequently.

Agile model

The Agile software development process aims to deliver high-quality software early, often, and at a low cost. Agile methods prioritize working software over comprehensive pre-planning and documentation, which can slow the creative process. It is a modern approach with short phases that works well when software requirements are likely to emerge as the development process begins. 

The Agile model offers more flexibility than the Waterfall model, but it is not always suitable for large-scale projects with complex requirements because it lacks initial documentation.

Iterative model

The Iterative model is an approach to software development that organizes the development process into small cycles instead of a strictly linear progression. This allows developers to make changes incrementally and frequently so they learn from mistakes before they become expensive.

Developers get feedback from users throughout the process, which allows them to continually improve your product and go back to previous versions without starting over from the beginning if an idea doesn't work as planned. The Iterative model works well for large projects with a strong leadership team.

V-shaped model

Also called the Verification and Validation model, the V-Shaped model allows for simultaneous development and testing. Like Waterfall, this model follows a linear progression, but you only move on to the next stage once the team finishes the previous one, which can extend the amount of time it takes to complete the project.

The V-shaped model focuses on documentation and planning so that you can use it for large-scale projects with long schedules. However, the rigidity built into the system only allows for infrequent changes.

Big Bang model

Compared to other software development models, Big Bang has less structure. With this model, developers start working with little more than an understanding of the project requirements. They must figure out things as they go along, as they put most of the resources into the software development stage. 

Since design and coding happen simultaneously, developers can start using parts of their system as soon as possible. As such, it focuses on getting something working quickly. This approach works well with small projects, where one or two developers can work together to determine requirements and solutions as they code. However, it can be expensive and time-consuming for large projects!

Spiral model

The Spiral model combines elements of other models, namely Waterfall and Iterative. Developers work in shorter cycles, and the work within the cycles follows a linear progression. After each cycle (iteration), the software gets better and better through a gradual progression. 

The key advantage of this model is that it helps manage risk very effectively by focusing on small portions of risk at a time and using different approaches based on the risk profile at that stage. This allows developers to make adjustments without compromising the project's outcome. This approach works well in highly complex, large, expensive projects.

New to software development?

If you haven’t yet started your journey as a software developer, you might ask yourself, “Is software development for me?” Here are some signs that this career path might be one that you will enjoy.

  • You love problem-solving and logical reasoning.

  • You feel at home in the world of technology and hardware.

  • You enjoy working with computers and programming languages like C++, Java, or Python.

  • You dream of being able to create software that will impact millions of people around the world.

As you take your first steps into a software development career, consider potential employers and particular areas. The IT sector is broad and varied, so it's worth considering the companies that might hire you. You should specialize in one area (like cloud computing or mobile app development) or develop your software development life cycle skills across more than one area. If you're interested in working for large corporations, look at the competencies they require in their job advertisements.

Choose a Language to Learn

It may also be helpful to choose your first software language to learn.

Languages like C# and Java are still in demand by employers, but many new languages are emerging, too. Before choosing a language, you need to know what you want to code, but simple front-end development languages like JavaScript, HTML, and CSS are good places to start.


How to become a software engineer/developer?

The field of software engineering and development can be exciting and lucrative. A career as a software engineer can enable you to work on cutting-edge technologies, from artificial intelligence to blockchain.

For many, the best part about being a software engineer is the learning options, whether it's about new languages, frameworks, or platforms. You can find many options for training, both online and offline.  Here is an outline of steps you can take as you begin your career:

  • Earn an IT-related BS degree. While some employers accept skilled candidates with an associate degree (or no degree), many employers require a four-year bachelor's degree in computer science for entry-level software development jobs. 

  • Complement your education with relevant certifications. Certifications demonstrate your knowledge and experience working with specific software. Earning these certifications can make you more employable.

  • Study code produced by expert developers. Open-source software is an excellent way to learn from peers and see how professionals approach and solve problems using effective techniques and tools. Working with and studying code projects is a great way to learn about software development.

  • Join a community of software experts to learn from. Online forums are great places to ask questions and get answers from experienced software developers willing to share their knowledge and experiences with you. Getting active in a community can help you find solutions to problems; you might even find a mentor.

  • Build your own projects and practice often. You need to practice coding and get feedback on your code from others. When you start learning how to code, you should first create a project of your own so that you can practice writing code in various ways and experiment with the various features of whatever language or library you use.

  • Master your software language and then learn more to build your toolbox. Once you have experience with one language (and maybe one framework), it’s time to expand your knowledge base by learning new languages and frameworks. The key is to learn new languages and know when they are helpful for different types of projects. With a suite of programming languages at your disposal, you’ll be able to pick the right tool for each project.

Read more: What Does a Software Engineer Do?

How much do software developers make?

Software developer salaries vary based on their level of expertise and experience. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for software developers is $109,0200 [2]. Here are some popular software developer salary examples for different roles:

  • Lead software developer: $124,984 per year [3]

  • Cloud software developer: $112,150 per year [4]

  • Mobile app developer: $107,776 per year [5]

  • Full-stack software developer: $105,444 per year [6]

  • UX software developer: $118,566 per year [7]

  • AI software developer: $118,543 per year [8]

  • Python software developer: $115,544 per year [9]

  • Java software developer: $108,615 per year [10]

  • PHP software developer: $108,693 per year [11]

Training and courses to help you learn more about SDLC

Software development lifecycle training and courses can help you understand the different phases of the SDLC, including planning and testing. You can gain experience with the SDLC framework to get the most out of your software projects, whether you're a business analyst, project manager, or IT manager. Here are some courses you might want to consider to expand your knowledge and software development toolkit:

Begin with an IT foundation course 

IT foundation courses are short-term programs ideal for those who need flexibility and want to investigate a career in software before committing to a more extended program. They're also excellent for those who have already earned a degree in another field and want to switch to tech.

Consider beginning learning a programming language in a course such as Java Programming and Software Engineering Fundamentals Specialization, offered by Duke University, or the Modern Application Development with Python on AWS Specialization, offered by AWS.

If you want to give your career a boost, then the IBM Full Stack Software Developer Professional Certificate might be what you want. It allows you to learn about different programming languages and modern software development approaches and technologies. You can find this and more on Coursera.


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Article sources


Techopedia. “What Does Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) Mean?, https://www.techopedia.com/definition/22193/software-development-life-cycle-sdlc" Accessed November 28, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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