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From idea to reality: the essential steps of software development

By Victoria Shashkina, Innovation Analyst
Published on

Every good piece of software starts with a plan and a clear software development process.

This process, spanning everything from ideation to launch, is commonly referred to as the software development life cycle (SDLC). An SDLC includes several steps that may unfold sequentially or overlap. Each step in the software engineering process produces an output, be it an idea, a document, or a design, that serves as an input for the following stages — until you release the product.

In this article, we share our experience delivering custom enterprise software solutions, delve into the seven crucial software development stages, explore popular software project management methodologies, and show how they shape the software development life cycle.

7 steps of a software development process

We have singled out seven essential steps of software development. These steps are pretty much the same across project management methodologies. But, as we highlight later, the duration of each step and the number of iterations these steps are carried through may change depending on your needs, goals, team size, and other factors. Now let’s look at them in more detail.

1. Planning and ideation

The software development process starts with meticulous planning and creative ideation. Stakeholders and development teams come together to define the project’s scope, goals, and target audience. The planning phase involves understanding business needs, outlining project requirements, estimating the needed efforts, and assessing the potential benefit-cost ratio.

The key deliverable of this stage is a comprehensive project plan that outlines the vision and direction of the software product.

2. Requirements elicitation

During the requirements elicitation phase, the focus shifts towards crafting a detailed software requirements specification (SRS). Business analysts collaborate with stakeholders to capture functional requirements for the future solution.

The deliverable obtained at the end of this phase is a detailed requirements document that serves as a blueprint for the subsequent software development stages and ensures the product meets the set expectations.

3. Design

Once the requirements document is prepared, the design phase starts. During it, software architects and UI/UX designers create the product’s architecture and user experience. The team may introduce adjustments to the requirements and hone the technical solution as the design process unfolds, too.

This step yields design documents, wireframes, and prototypes that set the structural and visual foundation for the future product.

4. Engineering

With the product architecture on hand, a development team dives into the engineering phase. Software engineers write code, implement standalone features, and integrate various components of the software. Frequent code reviews and collaborative testing ensure code quality. The engineering phase yields a functional application.

5. Testing

Quality assurance plays a pivotal role in the software development process. The aim of the testing phase is to assess the product and identify and fix defects. Testing objectives and expected results are summarized in QA documentation, which can vary in its level of detail. Test engineers execute on the prepared documentation and perform various types of tests, including functional and non-functional tests, to deliver defect-free software.

6. Integration and deployment

Once the software passes rigorous testing, it’s ready for integration and deployment. The integration phase involves merging different modules and components of the software into a cohesive product. Deployment, in turn, involves releasing the product to users. This step requires coordination between development and operations teams to ensure a smooth deployment.

7. Support and maintenance

The software development process doesn’t end with deployment. Continuous support and maintenance are essential to address issues, implement updates, and enhance the product’s functionality. Regular monitoring and getting feedback from users help identify areas of improvement, enabling the development team to provide ongoing support for outstanding user experience.

Popular project management methodologies and how they shape the SDLC

There are two popular frameworks for managing software development projects: Waterfall and Agile. Your software development process will differ depending on the one you choose.


Waterfall, also known as a linear sequential model, follows a linear path, where each phase is completed before moving on to the next. The steps of software development in Waterfall projects typically include requirements gathering, design, implementation, testing, deployment, and maintenance. One software development life cycle encompasses one iteration of these phases.

The rigid structure makes it ideal for projects with well-defined and stable requirements. However, this very characteristic becomes the weak spot when changes are inevitable.



Waterfall is a good fit for projects with clear, unchanging objectives, where a detailed plan can be crafted from the outset, aligning with the structured nature of Waterfall’s software development process. It excels in projects where the entire scope can be mapped out before development begins.


  • Clearly defined milestones and deliverables, facilitating software project management

  • Project timelines and costs that are easy to estimate due to the detailed planning upfront


  • Limited flexibility to accommodate changing requirements

  • Difficulties in handling long-term projects with evolving demands


The Agile framework, an integral part of the modern software development process, is a dynamic and adaptive family of management methodologies. The key idea behind Agile boils down to delivering small, functional increments of a product. It encourages customer collaboration, continuous feedback, and adaptability to changes. The Agile family spans such methodologies as SCRUM, Kanban, PRINCE2, SAFe, and others.


In its essence, Scrum challenges the conventionality of Waterfall by introducing a more fluid approach to organizing the steps of software development. It embraces flexibility and iterative cycles, where development unfolds in shorter bursts known as sprints. This enables development teams to respond to changing requirements, market dynamics, and user feedback. Scrum also advocates a well-defined role distribution, including product owners, a scrum master, and the development team to ensure efficient project management.

The Scrum software development process usually spans the following phases that largely coincide with those of Waterfall:

  • Planning and ideation that focuses on establishing the project’s vision and goals, defining the product backlog, and prioritizing features

  • Iteration planning that includes selecting items from the product backlog for the upcoming sprint and creating a sprint backlog with tasks

  • Execution, during which a development team creates and delivers potentially shippable product increments by completing tasks from the sprint backlog

  • Review and demo, during which the team showcases the completed features to stakeholders, gathers feedback, and ensures alignment with the set expectations

  • Retrospective designed for the team to reflect on the sprint, identify improvements, and adjust processes for the next iteration

  • Adaptation focused on adjusting the product backlog based on feedback and changes, influencing the next iteration’s planning.



Scrum is ideal for projects with a well-defined product vision but evolving requirements, offering a framework that accommodates change while maintaining control over the development progress.


  • High flexibility to accommodate evolving requirements throughout the development cycle

  • Customer-centric approach, ensuring frequent customer feedback and early delivery of tangible artifacts each iteration

  • Fast in, fast out, meaning that the team is able to detect, assess, and process the feasibility of ideas, features, and implementation approaches


  • Requires active collaboration and involvement from stakeholders, which is not always feasible

  • The constant need for customer involvement may lead to scope creep and timeline extensions

  • Requires a very mature and self-organized development team


Kanban is a visual approach to project management that emphasizes continuous delivery and workflow optimization. It relies on Kanban boards to visualize the software development process and represent work items and their progress, making it easier for teams to manage tasks in a flexible manner.

The essential characteristics of Kanban span:

  • Visualization: Kanban visualizes the workload and workflow in columns representing different stages of development (think: “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done”). Each work item is represented as a card, allowing teams to gain a real-time view of the project’s progress.

  • Limiting Work-in-Progress (WIP): Kanban focuses on maintaining a balanced workflow by setting limits on the number of items allowed in each column. This prevents overloading the team and ensures that work is completed before new tasks are started.

  • Pull-based system: Kanban operates in a pull-based manner, where new work is pulled into the pipeline only when the team’s capacity allows. This sets Kanban apart from Scrum’s time-boxed sprints.

  • Continuous delivery: Kanban encourages continuous delivery of work items as they are completed, without waiting for specific time frames.

  • Continuous improvement: Kanban places a strong emphasis on continuous improvement. Regular meetings and reviews are held to analyze the workflow, identify bottlenecks, and introduce adjustments.



Kanban is rarely the choice for projects focused on developing new software. Instead, it excels in projects dedicated to supporting and enhancing existing software solutions.


  • Provides real-time visibility into the project progress and bottlenecks

  • Facilitates smooth and continuous delivery of items


  • May lack the predefined structure of other methodologies, making it less suitable for projects with well-defined requirements

  • Kanban relies heavily on team self-discipline. Without strong team commitment, work might become disorganized and lead to lower efficiency.


PRINCE2, an acronym for projects in controlled environments, provides a structured framework that guides teams through all steps of software development, spanning project initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closure. It emphasizes effective project governance, risk management, and clear communication.

PRINCE2 divides its processes across four distinct management levels, each with specific roles and responsibilities.


Let’s explore these processes to gain a clearer understanding of the approach:

  1. Corporate or programme management

    The first level in the PRINCE2 software development process is where the project kicks off. At the corporate or programme management level, the project mandate is created, giving the project a green light.

  2. Direction

    The direction level is where the project board operates, keeping an eye on the project’s progress and health. During the project, the project board sends out three important notifications: (1) launches the project, (2) raises a flag if things are going off track, and (3) signals the project’s successful completion.

  3. Management

    The management level forms the core of project management activities. It encompasses a range of processes that guide the project from initiation to closure, including initiating the project, controlling a stage, managing a stage boundary, and closing a project.

  4. Delivery

    At this level, the development team crafts the expected deliverables.


It’s apt for large, complex, and high-risk software projects where comprehensive planning and stakeholder engagement are crucial.


  • Promotes a structured approach to managing the software development process with clear roles and responsibilities

  • Extensive documentation ensures project clarity and accountability

  • Can be scaled up and down to suit projects of different sizes (still being a better fit for large to enterprise-grade projects)


  • May require substantial organizational changes to fully adopt lean principles

  • The emphasis on continuous improvement may lead to continuous process adjustments, which could impact stability in the early project stages.


Specifically designed for large-scale projects, SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) extends Agile principles to the enterprise level, which sets it apart from Scrum, Kanban, and other team-level Agile methodologies.

The SAFe approach to managing the software development process features the following levels:

  • Team level that is composed of multiple project teams following standard Agile practices for software development, including sprint planning, daily stand-ups, and sprint reviews.

  • Program level, where multiple teams working together on a common mission come together and form so-called Agile Release Trains (ARTs). ARTs follow program increments, typically lasting 8 to 12 weeks, with planning, execution, and inspect-and-adapt cycles.

  • Large solution level, where multiple ARTs converge to create a Large Solution, which facilitates coordination among several value streams. This level involves Solution Trains along with additional ceremonies.

  • Portfolio level, where the organization’s strategy is synchronized with execution through prioritization and funding of value streams.



SAFe is a good fit for large enterprises with complex software development initiatives that require coordination among multiple teams and business units. It’s particularly suitable for organizations aiming to scale Agile practices across the enterprise.


  • SAFe provides a structured approach to scaling Agile practices, enabling large organizations to coordinate and align multiple Agile teams.

  • It ensures alignment between software development and business goals through its portfolio management and governance practices.


  • SAFe can be complex to implement, particularly for organizations new to Agile. The extensive roles, ceremonies, and artifacts can be overwhelming.

  • Implementing SAFe often requires dedicated Agile coaches, training, and significant organizational change, which can be resource-intensive. It may also encounter resistance from employees and stakeholders, making adoption challenging.

  • SAFe may be less suitable for small to medium-sized organizations or projects that don’t require the extensive structure and governance provided by the framework. It may also not be the best choice for organizations that are not ready or willing to undergo significant organizational change.

To sum it up

The software development process usually comprises seven essential steps, each contributing indispensably to the creation of a successful product. Choosing between the structured course of Waterfall or the adaptable nature of Agile, including all of its subsets, distinctly influences your project’s trajectory. With our extensive experience in project management, we understand the challenges of structuring the software development process for success.

If you are starting a software development project and looking for a trusted software engineering services provider, we’re here to provide guidance and expertise. Contact us to embark on your journey, and we’ll help you navigate your software development project, fueled by the methodology that best suits your vision.

7 steps of a software development process1. Planning and ideation2. Requirements elicitation3. Design4. Engineering5. Testing6. Integration and deployment7. Support and maintenancePopular project management methodologies and how they shape the SDLCWaterfallAgilePRINCE2To sum it up
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