Systems development life cycle

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Model of the systems development life cycle, highlighting the maintenance phase

The systems development life cycle (SDLC), also referred to as the application development life-cycle, is a term used in systems engineering, information systems and software engineering to describe a process for planning, creating, testing, and deploying an information system.[1] The systems development lifecycle concept applies to a range of hardware and software configurations, as a system can be composed of hardware only, software only, or a combination of both.[2]


A systems development life cycle is composed of a number of clearly defined and distinct work phases which are used by systems engineers and systems developers to plan for, design, build, test, and deliver information systems. Like anything that is manufactured on an assembly line, an SDLC aims to produce high-quality systems that meet or exceed customer expectations, based on customer requirements, by delivering systems which move through each clearly defined phase, within scheduled time frames and cost estimates.[3] Computer systems are complex and often (especially with the recent rise of service-oriented architecture) link multiple traditional systems potentially supplied by different software vendors. To manage this level of complexity, a number of SDLC models or methodologies have been created, such as waterfall, spiral, Agile software development, rapid prototyping, incremental, and synchronize and stabilize.[4]

SDLC can be described along a spectrum of agile to iterative to sequential methodologies. Agile methodologies, such as XP and Scrum, focus on lightweight processes which allow for rapid changes (without necessarily following the pattern of SDLC approach) along the development cycle. Iterative methodologies, such as Rational Unified Process and dynamic systems development method, focus on limited project scope and expanding or improving products by multiple iterations. Sequential or big-design-up-front (BDUF) models, such as waterfall, focus on complete and correct planning to guide large projects and risks to successful and predictable results.[citation needed] Other models, such as anamorphic development, tend to focus on a form of development that is guided by project scope and adaptive iterations of feature development.

In project management a project can be defined both with a project life cycle (PLC) and an SDLC, during which slightly different activities occur. According to Taylor (2004), "the project life cycle encompasses all the activities of the project, while the systems development life cycle focuses on realizing the product requirements".[5]

SDLC is used during the development of an IT project, it describes the different stages involved in the project from the drawing board, through the completion of the project.

The SDLC is not a methodology per se, but rather a description of the phases in the life cycle of a software application. These phases (broadly speaking) are, investigation, analysis, design, build, test, implement, and maintenance and support. All software development methodologies (such as the more commonly known waterfall and scrum methodologies) follow the SDLC phases but the method of doing that varies vastly between methodologies. In the Scrum methodology, for example, one could say a single user story goes through all the phases of the SDLC within a single two-week sprint. Contrast this to the waterfall methodology, as another example, where every business requirement (recorded in the analysis phase of the SDLC in a document called the Business Requirements Specification) is translated into feature/functional descriptions (recorded in the design phase in a document called the Functional Specification) which are then all built in one go as a collection of solution features typically over a period of three to nine months, or more. These methodologies are obviously quite different approaches yet, they both contain the SDLC phases in which a requirement is born, then travels through the life cycle phases ending in the final phase of maintenance and support, after-which (typically) the whole life cycle starts again for a subsequent version of the software application.

History and details[edit]

The product life cycle describes the process for building information systems in a very deliberate, structured and methodical way, reiterating each stage of the product's life. The systems development life cycle, according to Elliott & Strachan & Radford (2004), "originated in the 1960s, to develop large scale functional business systems in an age of large scale business conglomerates. Information systems activities revolved around heavy data processing and number crunching routines".[6]

Several systems development frameworks have been partly based on SDLC, such as the structured systems analysis and design method (SSADM) produced for the UK government Office of Government Commerce in the 1980s. Ever since, according to Elliott (2004), "the traditional life cycle approaches to systems development have been increasingly replaced with alternative approaches and frameworks, which attempted to overcome some of the inherent deficiencies of the traditional SDLC".[6]


The System Development Life Cycle (SDLC)framework provides a sequence of activities for system designers and developers to follow. It consists of a set of steps or phases in which each phase of the SDLC uses the results of the previous one.

The SDLC adheres to important phases that are essential for developers, such as planning, analysis, design, and implementation, and are explained in the section below. It includes evaluation of present system, information gathering, feasibility study and request approval. A number of SDLC models have been created: waterfall, fountain, spiral, build and fix, rapid prototyping, incremental, synchronize and stabilize. The oldest of these, and the best known, is the waterfall model: a sequence of stages in which the output of each stage becomes the input for the next. These stages can be characterized and divided up in different ways, including the following:[7]


This phase commmences upon the sponsor acting upon either a requirement within the business or a requirement of the business to change.

Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring[edit]

The objectives of this phase are to plan the approach to business analysis, conduct an analysis of the stakeholders, plan the business analysis activities, communications and requirements management process and manage the performance of business analyst activities[8].

  1. Plan the approach to business analysis: The aim of this activity is to select the best approach to performing business analysis, identifying which stakeholders need to be involved in the decision and who will be consulted and informed of the approach.
  2. Conduct an analysis of the stakeholders: The aim of this activity is to identify those stakeholders who maybe affected by a proposed initiative, those who share a common need ot the business need, those who are able to influence a stakeholder and those members of internal or external authority bodies who approve project deliverables.
  3. Plan the business analysis activities: The aim of this activity is to identify the deliverables that must be produced, define the activities that are needed to produce these deliverables, sequence these activities, estimate activity resources, estimate activity durations and identify the management tools that are required to measure the progress of those activities and deliverables.
  4. Plan the business analysis communications: The aim of this activity is to describe the communication structure and schedule and organise and record the activities for setting the expectations of business analysts activities, meetings and others.
  5. Plan the requirements management process: The aim of this activity is to approve the implementation requirements and define how changes to the scope of either the requirements or solution will be managed.

Enterprise Analysis[edit]

The objectives of this phase are to define the needs of the business, assess the gaps in capability, determine the approach to the solution and define both the scope of the solution and the business case[9].

  1. Define the needs of the business: The aim of this activity is to identify and define why organisational systems or capabilities need to change.
  2. Assess the gaps in capability: The aim of this activity is to identify what new capabilities are required by the enterprise to meet the needs of the business.
  3. Determine the approach to the solution: The aim of this activity is to determine which approach to the solution is the most viable one to meet the need of the business. This approach needs to be sufficiently detailed to be able to be used as input for definition of the solution scope and the preparation of the business case.
  4. Define the scope of the solution: The aim of this activity is to define the new capabilities that the project or iteration will deliver.
  5. Define the business case: The aim of the activity is to determine whether or not an organisation is able to justify the investment required to commission a project or iteration to deliver a proposed solution.


The objectives of this phase are to prepare for elicitation activity, conduct the eliciation activity and document and confirm the elicitation results[10].

  1. Prepare for elicitation activity: The aim of this activity is to ensure that all the resources required for conducting the elicitation activities are organised and scheduled.
  2. Conduct the elicitation activity: The aim of this activity is to meet with stakeholder(s) to elicit information regarding their needs.
  3. Document the elicitation results: The aim of this activity is to document the results of the elicitation meetings with stakeholder(s).
  4. Confirm the elicitation results: The aim of this activity is to validate that the stated stakeholder requirements are aligned to the stated needs of the business.

The objectives of this phase are to prioritise, organise, specify and model the requirements, define the assumptions and constraints and verify the quality and validity of the requirements[11].

  1. Prioritise the requirements: The aim of this activity is to grade each stakeholder requirement so that analysis and implementation effort may be guided to satisfying each requirement in a descending list of importance to the business.
  2. Organise the requirements: The aim of this activity is to organise the stakeholder requirements in such a way that the listing is complete and may be understood by all stakeholders.
  3. Specify and model the requirements: The aim of this activity is to analyse each stakeholder requirement within the context of how the organisation currently operates using a combination of statements, matrices, diagrams and models.
  4. Define the assumptions and constraints: The aim of this activity is to identify any assumptions made by stakeholders in their stating of their requirements and to identify any constraints which had a bearing on their identifying of their requirements.
  5. Verify the quality of requirements: The aim this activity is to ensure that the stakeholder requirement specification and models meet the mandated standard of quality and allows them to be used effectively as a guide in future activity.
  6. Validate the requirements: The aim of this activity is to ensure that each requirement in the listing of stakeholder requirements represents a stakeholder requirement and that there is a logical relationship between each requirement in the listing and the stated goals and objectives of the business.

Requirements Management and Communication[edit]

The objectives of this phase are to manage the solution scope and requirements, manage the traceability of requirements, maintain the requirements for re-use and prepare and commmunicate the requirements package[12].

  1. Manage the traceability of requirements: The aim of this activity is to ensure an ongoing linkage between the needs of the business, the requirements of the stakeholders and the solution requirements.
  2. Manage the solution scope and requirements: The aim of this activity is to ensure that stakeholders are kept abreast of any changes to either the needs of the business or the scope of the solution to maintain their confidence that their requirements will be fulfilled.
  3. Maintain the requirements for re-use: The aim of this activity is to manage the knowledge of the requirements following their implementation.
  4. Prepare the requirements package: The aim of this activity is to ensure that the solution requirements are structured and documented is such a way that the stakeholders are able to easily relate solution requirements to their own requirements.
  5. Communicate the requirements: The aim of this activity is to ensure that all stakeholders have a common understanding of the solution requirements.

System design[edit]

This phase describes desired features and operations in detail, including screen layouts, business rules, process diagrams, pseudocode and other documentation.

In systems design, the design functions and operations are described in detail, including screen layouts, business rules, process diagrams and other documentation. The output of this stage will describe the new system as a collection of modules or subsystems.

The design stage takes as its initial input the requirements identified in the approved requirements document. For each requirement, a set of one or more design elements will be produced as a result of interviews, workshops, and/or prototype efforts.

Design elements describe the desired system features in detail, and generally include functional hierarchy diagrams, screen layout diagrams, tables of business rules, business process diagrams, pseudo-code, and a complete entity-relationship diagram with a full data dictionary. These design elements are intended to describe the system in sufficient detail, such that skilled developers and engineers may develop and deliver the system with minimal additional input design.


The real code is written here.


Environments are controlled areas where systems developers can build, distribute, install, configure, test, and execute systems that move through the SDLC. Each environment is aligned with different areas of the SDLC and is intended to have specific purposes. Examples of such environments include the:

  • Development environment, where developers can work independently of each other before trying to merge their work with the work of others,
  • Common build environment, where merged work can be built, together, as a combined system,
  • Systems integration testing environment, where basic testing of a system's integration points to other upstream or downstream systems can be tested,
  • User acceptance testing environment, where business stakeholders can test against their original business requirements,
  • Production environment, where systems finally get deployed to, for final use by their intended end users.

Integration and testing[edit]

This brings all the pieces together into a special testing environment, then checks for errors, bugs and interoperability.

The code is tested at various levels in software testing. Unit, system and user acceptance testings are often performed. This is a grey area as many different opinions exist as to what the stages of testing are and how much, if any iteration occurs. Iteration is not generally part of the waterfall model, but the means to rectify defects and validate fixes prior to deployment is incorporated into this phase.

The following are types of testing that may be relevant, depending on the type of system under development:

Training and transition[edit]

Once a system has been stabilized through adequate testing, the SDLC ensures that proper training on the system is performed or documented before transitioning the system to its support staff and end users.

Training usually covers operational training for those people who will be responsible for supporting the system as well as training for those end users who will be using the system after its delivery to a production operating environment.

After training has been successfully completed, systems engineers and developers transition the system to its final production environment, where it is intended to be used by its end users and supported by its support and operations staff.

Acceptance, installation and deployment[edit]

This is the final stage of initial development, where the software is put into production and runs actual business.

Operations and maintenance[edit]

During the maintenance stage of the SDLC, the system is assessed to ensure it does not become obsolete. This is also where changes are made to initial software. It involves continuous evaluation of the system in terms of its performance.

The deployment of the system includes changes and enhancements before the decommissioning or sunset of the system. Maintaining the system is an important aspect of SDLC. As key personnel change positions in the organization, new changes will be implemented. There are two approaches to system development; there is the traditional approach (structured) and object oriented. Information Engineering includes the traditional system approach, which is also called the structured analysis and design technique. The object oriented approach views the information system as a collection of objects that are integrated with each other to make a full and complete information system.


The final phase of the SDLC is to measure the effectiveness of the system and evaluate potential enhancements.

Some companies do not view this as an official stage of the SDLC, while others consider it to be an extension of the maintenance stage, and may be referred to in some circles as post-implementation review. This is where the system that was developed, as well as the entire process, is evaluated. Some of the questions that need to be answered include: does the newly implemented system meet the initial business requirements and objectives? Is the system reliable and fault-tolerant? Does the system function according to the approved functional requirements? In addition to evaluating the software that was released, it is important to assess the effectiveness of the development process. If there are any aspects of the entire process, or certain stages, that management is not satisfied with, this is the time to improve. Evaluation and assessment is a difficult issue. However, the company must reflect on the process and address weaknesses.


In this phase, plans are developed for discarding system information, hardware and software in making the transition to a new system. The purpose here is to properly move, archive, discard or destroy information, hardware and software that is being replaced, in a manner that prevents any possibility of unauthorized disclosure of sensitive data. The disposal activities ensure proper migration to a new system. Particular emphasis is given to proper preservation and archival of data processed by the previous system. All of this should be done in accordance with the organization's security requirements.[13]

In the following diagram, these stages of the systems development life cycle are divided in ten steps from definition to creation and modification of IT work products:

A ten-phase version of the systems development life cycle[14]

Not every project will require that the phases be sequentially executed. However, the phases are interdependent. Depending upon the size and complexity of the project, phases may be combined or may overlap.[14]

Systems analysis and design[edit]

The systems analysis and design (SAD) is the process of developing information systems (IS) that effectively use hardware, software, data, processes, and people to support the company's businesses objectives. System analysis and design can be considered the meta-development activity, which serves to set the stage and bound the problem. SAD can be leveraged to set the correct balance among competing high-level requirements in the functional and non-functional analysis domains. System analysis and design interacts strongly with distributed enterprise architecture, enterprise I.T. Architecture, and business architecture, and relies heavily on concepts such as partitioning, interfaces, personae and roles, and deployment/operational modeling to arrive at a high-level system description. This high level description is then further broken down into the components and modules which can be analyzed, designed, and constructed separately and integrated to accomplish the business goal. SDLC and SAD are cornerstones of full life cycle product and system planning.

Object-oriented analysis[edit]

Object-oriented analysis (OOA) is the process of analyzing a task (also known as a problem domain), to develop a conceptual model that can then be used to complete the task. A typical OOA model would describe computer software that could be used to satisfy a set of customer-defined requirements. During the analysis phase of problem-solving, a programmer might consider a written requirements statement, a formal vision document, or interviews with stakeholders or other interested parties. The task to be addressed might be divided into several subtasks (or domains), each representing a different business, technological, or other areas of interest. Each subtask would be analyzed separately. Implementation constraints, (e.g., concurrency, distribution, persistence, or how the system is to be built) are not considered during the analysis phase; rather, they are addressed during object-oriented design (OOD).

The conceptual model that results from OOA will typically consist of a set of use cases, one or more UML class diagrams, and a number of interaction diagrams. It may also include some kind of user interface mock-up.

The input for object-oriented design is provided by the output of object-oriented analysis. Realize that an output artifact does not need to be completely developed to serve as input of object-oriented design; analysis and design may occur in parallel, and in practice the results of one activity can feed the other in a short feedback cycle through an iterative process. Both analysis and design can be performed incrementally, and the artifacts can be continuously grown instead of completely developed in one shot.

Some typical (but common to all types of design analysis) input artifacts for object-oriented:

  • Conceptual model: Conceptual model is the result of object-oriented analysis, it captures concepts in the problem domain. The conceptual model is explicitly chosen to be independent of implementation details, such as concurrency or data storage.
  • Use case: Use case is a description of sequences of events that, taken together, lead to a system doing something useful. Each use case provides one or more scenarios that convey how the system should interact with the users called actors to achieve a specific business goal or function. Use case actors may be end users or other systems. In many circumstances use cases are further elaborated into use case diagrams. Use case diagrams are used to identify the actor (users or other systems) and the processes they perform.
  • System Sequence Diagram: System Sequence diagram (SSD) is a picture that shows, for a particular scenario of a use case, the events that external actors generate, their order, and possible inter-system events.
  • User interface documentations (if applicable): Document that shows and describes the look and feel of the end product's user interface. It is not mandatory to have this, but it helps to visualize the end-product and therefore helps the designer.
  • Relational data model (if applicable): A data model is an abstract model that describes how data is represented and used. If an object database is not used, the relational data model should usually be created before the design, since the strategy chosen for object-relational mapping is an output of the OO design process. However, it is possible to develop the relational data model and the object-oriented design artifacts in parallel, and the growth of an artifact can stimulate the refinement of other artifacts.

Life cycle[edit]

Management and control[edit]

SPIU phases related to management controls[15]

The SDLC phases serve as a programmatic guide to project activity and provide a flexible but consistent way to conduct projects to a depth matching the scope of the project. Each of the SDLC phase objectives are described in this section with key deliverables, a description of recommended tasks, and a summary of related control objectives for effective management. It is critical for the project manager to establish and monitor control objectives during each SDLC phase while executing projects. Control objectives help to provide a clear statement of the desired result or purpose and should be used throughout the entire SDLC process. Control objectives can be grouped into major categories (domains), and relate to the SDLC phases as shown in the figure.[15]

To manage and control any SDLC initiative, each project will be required to establish some degree of a work breakdown structure (WBS) to capture and schedule the work necessary to complete the project. The WBS and all programmatic material should be kept in the "project description" section of the project notebook. The WBS format is mostly left to the project manager to establish in a way that best describes the project work.

There are some key areas that must be defined in the WBS as part of the SDLC policy. The following diagram describes three key areas that will be addressed in the WBS in a manner established by the project manager.[15] The diagram shows coverage spans numerous phases of the SDLC but the associated MCD has a subset of primary mappings to the SDLC phases. For example, Analysis and Design is primarily performed as part of the Acquisition and Implementation Domain and System Build and Prototype is primarily performed as part of delivery and support.

Work breakdown structured organization[edit]

Work breakdown structure[15]

The upper section of the work breakdown structure (WBS) should identify the major phases and milestones of the project in a summary fashion. In addition, the upper section should provide an overview of the full scope and timeline of the project and will be part of the initial project description effort leading to project approval. The middle section of the WBS is based on the seven systems development life cycle phases as a guide for WBS task development. The WBS elements should consist of milestones and "tasks" as opposed to "activities" and have a definitive period (usually two weeks or more). Each task must have a measurable output (e.x. document, decision, or analysis). A WBS task may rely on one or more activities (e.g. software engineering, systems engineering) and may require close coordination with other tasks, either internal or external to the project. Any part of the project needing support from contractors should have a statement of work (SOW) written to include the appropriate tasks from the SDLC phases. The development of a SOW does not occur during a specific phase of SDLC but is developed to include the work from the SDLC process that may be conducted by external resources such as contractors.[15]


Baselines are an important part of the systems development life cycle. These baselines are established after four of the five phases of the SDLC and are critical to the iterative nature of the model .[16] Each baseline is considered as a milestone in the SDLC.

  • functional baseline: established after the conceptual design phase.
  • allocated baseline: established after the preliminary design phase.
  • product baseline: established after the detail design and development phase.
  • updated product baseline: established after the production construction phase.

Complementary methodologies[edit]

Complementary software development methods to systems development life cycle are:

Comparison of Methodology Approaches (Post, & Anderson 2006)[17]
SDLC RAD Open source Objects JAD Prototyping End User
Control Formal MIS Weak Standards Joint User User
Time frame Long Short Medium Any Medium Short Short

Users Many Few Few Varies Few One or two One
MIS staff Many Few Hundreds Split Few One or two None
Transaction/DSS Transaction Both Both Both DSS DSS DSS
Interface Minimal Minimal Weak Windows Crucial Crucial Crucial
Documentation and training Vital Limited Internal In Objects Limited Weak None
Integrity and security Vital Vital Unknown In Objects Limited Weak Weak
Reusability Limited Some Maybe Vital Limited Weak None

Strengths and weaknesses[edit]

Few people in the modern computing world would use a strict waterfall model for their SDLC as many modern methodologies have superseded this thinking. Some will argue that the SDLC no longer applies to models like Agile computing, but it is still a term widely in use in technology circles. The SDLC practice has advantages in traditional models of systems development that lends itself more to a structured environment. The disadvantages to using the SDLC methodology is when there is need for iterative development or (i.e. web development or e-commerce) where stakeholders need to review on a regular basis the software being designed. Instead of viewing SDLC from a strength or weakness perspective, it is far more important to take the best practices from the SDLC model and apply it to whatever may be most appropriate for the software being designed.

A comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of SDLC:

Strength and Weaknesses of SDLC [17]
Strengths Weaknesses
Control Increased development time
Monitor large projects Increased development cost
Detailed steps Systems must be defined up front
Evaluate costs and completion targets Rigidity
Documentation Hard to estimate costs, project overruns
Well defined user input User input is sometimes limited
Ease of maintenance
Development and design standards
Tolerates changes in MIS staffing

An alternative to the SDLC is rapid application development, which combines prototyping, joint application development and implementation of CASE tools. The advantages of RAD are speed, reduced development cost, and active user involvement in the development process.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ SELECTING A DEVELOPMENT APPROACH. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  2. ^ Parag C. Pendharkara; James A. Rodgerb; Girish H. Subramanian (November 2008). "An empirical study of the Cobb–Douglas production function properties of software development effort". Information and Software Technology. 50 (12): 1181–1188. doi:10.1016/j.infsof.2007.10.019. 
  3. ^ "Systems Development Life Cycle from". FOLDOC. Retrieved 2013-06-14. 
  4. ^ Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC), PowerPoint – Powered by Google Docs
  5. ^ James Taylor (2004). Managing Information Technology Projects. p.39.
  6. ^ a b Geoffrey Elliott & Josh Strachan (2004) Global Business Information Technology. p.87.
  7. ^ Kay, Russell (May 14, 2002). "QuickStudy: System Development Life Cycle". ComputerWorld. 
  8. ^ "Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring", "BABOK Page", January 2015.
  9. ^ "Enterprise Analysis", "BABOK Page", January 2015.
  10. ^ "Elicitation", "BABOK Page", January 2015.
  11. ^ "Requirements Analysis", "BABOK Page", January 2015.
  12. ^ "Requirements Management and Communication", "BABOK Page", January 2015.
  13. ^ Radack, S. (n.d.). "The system development life cycle (SDLC)" (PDF). National Institute of Standards and Technology. 
  14. ^ a b US Department of Justice (2003). INFORMATION RESOURCES MANAGEMENT Chapter 1. Introduction.
  15. ^ a b c d e U.S. House of Representatives (1999). Systems Development Life-Cycle Policy. p.13.
  16. ^ Blanchard, B. S., & Fabrycky, W. J.(2006) Systems engineering and analysis (4th ed.) New Jersey: Prentice Hall. p.31
  17. ^ a b Post, G., & Anderson, D., (2006). Management information systems: Solving business problems with information technology. (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]