Software Life Cycle Model

Basics of Software Life Cycle and Waterfall Model

Life cycle model

A software life cycle model (also called process model) is a descriptive and diagrammatic representation of the software life cycle. A life cycle model represents all the activities required to make a software product transit through its life cycle phases. It also captures the order in which these activities are to be undertaken. In other words, a life cycle model maps the different activities performed on a software product from its inception to retirement. Different life cycle models may map the basic development activities to phases in different ways. Thus, no matter which life cycle model is followed, the basic activities are included in all life cycle models though the activities may be carried out in different orders in different life cycle models. During any life cycle phase, more than one activity may also be carried out. For example, the design phase might consist of the structured analysis activity followed by the structured design activity.

The need for a software life cycle model

The development team must identify a suitable life cycle model for the particular project and then adhere to it. Without using of a particular life cycle model the development of a software product would not be in a systematic and disciplined manner. When a software product is being developed by a team there must be a clear understanding among team members about when and what to do. Otherwise it would lead to chaos and project failure. This problem can be illustrated by using an example. Suppose a software development problem is divided into several parts and the parts are assigned to the team members. From then on, suppose the team members are allowed the freedom to develop the parts assigned to them in whatever way they like. It is possible that one member might start writing the code for his part, another might decide to prepare the test documents first, and some other engineer might begin with the design phase of the parts assigned to him. This would be one of the perfect recipes for project failure.

A software life cycle model defines entry and exit criteria for every phase. A phase can start only if its phase-entry criteria have been satisfied. So without software life cycle model the entry and exit criteria for a phase cannot be recognized. Without software life cycle models (such as classical waterfall model, iterative waterfall model, prototyping model, evolutionary model, spiral model etc.) it becomes difficult for software project managers to monitor the progress of the project.

Different software life cycle models

Many life cycle models have been proposed so far. Each of them has some advantages as well as some disadvantages. A few important and commonly used life cycle models are as follows:

•        Classical Waterfall Model

•        Iterative Waterfall Model

•        Prototyping Model

•        Evolutionary Model

•        Spiral Model

Different phases of the classical waterfall model

The classical waterfall model is intuitively the most obvious way to develop software. Though the classical waterfall model is elegant and intuitively obvious, it is not a practical model in the sense that it cannot be used in actual software development projects. Thus, this model can be a theoretical way of developing software. But all other life cycle models are essentially derived from the classical waterfall model. So, in order to be able to appreciate other life cycle models it is necessary to learn the classical waterfall model.

Classical waterfall model divides the life cycle into the following phases

•        Feasibility Study

•        Requirements Analysis and Specification

•        Design

•        Coding and Unit Testing

•        Integration and System Testing

•        Maintenance

Classical Waterfall Model

Activities in each phase of the life cycle

Activities undertaken during feasibility study

The main aim of feasibility study is to determine whether it would be financially and technically feasible to develop the product.

•        At first project managers or team leaders try to have a rough understanding of what is required to be done by visiting the client side. They study different input data to the system and output data to be produced by the system. They study what kind of processing is needed to be done on these data and they look at the various constraints on the behavior of the system.

•        After they have an overall understanding of the problem they investigate the different solutions that are possible. Then they examine each of the solutions in terms of what kind of resources required, what would be the cost of development and what would be the development time for each solution.

•        Based on this analysis they pick the best solution and determine whether the solution is feasible financially and technically. They check whether the customer budget would meet the cost of the product and whether they have sufficient technical expertise in the area of development. 

The following is an example of a feasibility study undertaken by an organization. It is intended to give you a feel of the activities and issues involved in the feasibility study phase of a typical software project.

Case Study

A mining company named Galaxy Mining Company Ltd. (GMC) has mines located at various places in India. It has about fifty different mine sites spread across eight states. The company employs a large number of mines at each mine site. Mining being a risky profession, the company intends to operate a special provident fund, which would exist in addition to the standard provident fund that the miners already enjoy. The main objective of having the special provident fund (SPF) would be quickly distribute some compensation before the standard provident amount is paid. According to this scheme, each mine site would deduct SPF installments from each miner every month and deposit the same with the CSPFC (Central Special Provident Fund Commissioner). The CSPFC will maintain all details regarding the SPF installments collected from the miners. GMC employed a reputed software vendor Adventure Software Inc. to undertake the task of developing the software for automating the maintenance of SPF records of all employees. GMC realized that besides saving manpower on bookkeeping work, the software would help in speedy settlement of claim cases. GMC indicated that the amount it can afford for this software to be developed and installed is Rs. 1 million.

Adventure Software Inc. deputed their project manager to carry out the feasibility study. The project manager discussed the matter with the top managers of GMC to get an overview of the project. He also discussed the issues involved with the several field PF officers at various mine sites to determine the exact details of the project. The project manager identified two broad approaches to solve the problem. One was to have a central database which could be accessed and updated via a satellite connection to various mine sites. The other approach was to have local databases at each mine site and to update the central database periodically through a dial-up connection. These periodic updates could be done on a daily or hourly basis depending on the delay acceptable to GMC in invoking various functions of the software. The project manager found that the second approach was very affordable and more fault-tolerant as the local mine sites could still operate even when the communication link to the central database temporarily failed. The project manager quickly analyzed the database functionalities required, the user-interface issues, and the software

handling communication with the mine sites. He arrived at a cost to develop from the analysis. He found that the solution involving maintenance of local databases at the mine sites and periodic updating of a central database was financially and technically feasible. The project manager discussed his solution with the GMC management and found that the solution was acceptable to them as well.

Activities undertaken during requirements analysis and specification

The aim of the requirements analysis and specification phase is to understand the exact requirements of the customer and to document them properly. This phase consists of two distinct activities, namely

•        Requirements gathering and analysis, and

•        Requirements specification

The goal of the requirements gathering activity is to collect all relevant information from the customer regarding the product to be developed. This is done to clearly understand the customer requirements so that incompleteness and inconsistencies are removed.

The requirements analysis activity is begun by collecting all relevant data regarding the product to be developed from the users of the product and from the customer through interviews and discussions. For example, to perform the requirements analysis of a business accounting software required by an organization, the analyst might interview all the accountants of the organization to ascertain their requirements. The data collected from such a group of users usually contain several contradictions and ambiguities, since each user typically has only a partial and incomplete view of the system. Therefore it is necessary to identify all ambiguities and contradictions in the requirements and resolve them through further discussions with the customer. After all ambiguities, inconsistencies, and incompleteness have been resolved and all the requirements properly understood, the requirements specification activity can start. During this activity, the user requirements are systematically organized into a Software Requirements Specification (SRS) document.

The customer requirements identified during the requirements gathering and analysis activity are organized into a SRS document. The important components of this document are functional requirements, the nonfunctional requirements, and the goals of implementation.

Activities undertaken during design

The goal of the design phase is to transform the requirements specified in the SRS document into a structure that is suitable for implementation in some programming language. In technical terms, during the design phase the software architecture is derived from the SRS document. Two distinctly different approaches are available: the traditional design approach and the object-oriented design approach.

•        Traditional design approach

Traditional design consists of two different activities; first a structured analysis of the requirements specification is carried out where the detailed structure of the problem is examined. This is followed by a structured design activity. During structured design, the results of structured analysis are transformed into the software design.

•        Object-oriented design approach

In this technique, various objects that occur in the problem domain and the solution domain are first identified, and the different relationships that exist among these objects are identified. The object structure is further refined to obtain the detailed design.

Activities undertaken during coding and unit testing

The purpose of the coding and unit testing phase (sometimes called the implementation phase) of software development is to translate the software design into source code. Each component of the design is implemented as a program module. The end-product of this phase is a set of program modules that have been individually tested.

During this phase, each module is unit tested to determine the correct working of all the individual modules. It involves testing each module in isolation as this is the most efficient way to debug the errors identified at this stage.

Activities undertaken during integration and system testing

Integration of different modules is undertaken once they have been coded and unit tested. During the integration and system testing phase, the modules are integrated in a planned manner. The different modules making up a software product are almost never integrated in one shot. Integration is normally carried out incrementally over a number of steps. During each integration step, the partially integrated system is tested and a set of previously planned modules are added to it. Finally, when all the modules have been successfully integrated and tested, system testing is carried out. The goal of system testing is to ensure that the developed system conforms to its requirements laid out in the SRS document. System testing usually consists of three different kinds of testing activities:

•        α – testing: It is the system testing performed by the development team. 

•        β – testing: It is the system testing performed by a friendly set of customers.

•        acceptance testing: It is the system testing performed by the customer himself after the product delivery to determine whether to accept or reject the delivered product.

α – testing: It is the system testing performed by the development team. ƒ β – testing: It is the system testing performed by a friendly set of customers. ƒ acceptance testing: It is the system testing performed by the customer himself after the product delivery to determine whether to accept or reject the delivered product.

Activities undertaken during maintenance

Maintenance of a typical software product requires much more than the effort necessary to develop the product itself. Many studies carried out in the past confirm this and indicate that the relative effort of development of a typical software product to its maintenance effort is roughly in the 40:60 ratio. Maintenance involves performing any one or more of the following three kinds of activities

•        Correcting errors that were not discovered during the product development phase. This is called corrective maintenance.

•        Improving the implementation of the system, and enhancing the functionalities of the system according to the customer’s requirements. This is called perfective maintenance.

•        Porting the software to work in a new environment. For example, porting may be required to get the software to work on a new computer platform or with a new operating system. This is called adaptive maintenance.

Shortcomings of the classical waterfall model

The classical waterfall model is an idealistic one since it assumes that no development error is ever committed by the engineers during any of the life cycle phases. However, in practical development environments, the engineers do commit a large number of errors in almost every phase of the life cycle. The source of the defects can be many: oversight, wrong assumptions, use of inappropriate technology, communication gap among the project engineers, etc. These defects usually get detected much later in the life cycle. For example, a design defect might go unnoticed till we reach the coding or testing phase. Once a defect is detected, the engineers need to go back to the phase where the defect had occurred and redo some of the work done during that phase and the subsequent phases to correct the defect and its effect on the later phases. Therefore, in any practical software development work, it is not possible to strictly follow the classical waterfall mode

Phase-entry and phase-exit criteria of each phase

At the starting of the feasibility study, project managers or team leaders try to understand what the actual problem is by visiting the client side. At the end of that phase they pick the best solution and determine whether the solution is feasible financially and technically.

 At the starting of requirements analysis and specification phase the required data is collected. After that requirement specification is carried out. Finally, SRS document is produced.

 At the starting of design phase, context diagram and different levels of DFDs are produced according to the SRS document. At the end of this phase module structure (structure chart) is produced.

 During the coding phase each module (independently compilation unit) of the design is coded. Then each module is tested independently as a stand-alone unit and debugged separately.

 After this each module is documented individually. The end product of the implementation phase is a set of program modules that have been tested individually but not tested together.

 After the implementation phase, different modules which have been tested individually are integrated in a planned manner. After all the modules have been successfully integrated and tested, system testing is carried out.

 Software maintenance denotes any changes made to a software product after it has been delivered to the customer. Maintenance is inevitable for almost any kind of product. However, most products need maintenance due to the wear and tear caused by use.

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