Disadvantages of Rapid Application Development

Octavia Drexler
Octavia Drexler
Published: 19.09.2022

Rapid Application Development (RAD) is one of the first software development approaches that came as a response to the traditional waterfall model. Although James Martin (IBM) developed it in the late 1980s, most industry leaders agree that RAD is still a very useful model for software development. It's not without flaws, though – so if you're developing a product, you should be aware of both the advantages and the disadvantages of Rapid Application Development.

What is RAD, why is it popular, and, very importantly, what are the less beneficial aspects of RAD that you should consider?

We'll tackle it all in this article. Read on and find out more.

What Is Rapid Application Development?

In short, rapid application development (also known as "rapid application building") is a software development methodology (or framework) that focuses on speed and quick turnaround times, rather than planning. The aim is to deliver working software as quickly as possible, with the understanding that more features will be added later on.

RAD came as a response to the waterfall model, which was (and still is) the standard for most software development projects. The issue with waterfall project management is that it tends to be very inflexible. In this paradigm, you can’t make changes easily, and the process of going from one stage to another is often very slow.

RAD seeks to address these issues by being more flexible and agile. It's a less formal approach that allows for changes to be made quickly and easily, without compromising on quality.

The RAD Stages

Although rapid application development doesn't focus on actual planning, it still tends to follow a relatively standardized approach to each project. More commonly, RAD projects will include the following stages:

Business/ Requirements

At this stage, the client and development team will sit down and discuss the product that's going to be developed. This is where the client's vision for the project is outlined, and the team comes up with a general idea of how it can be executed. To ensure project success, both product and development teams must work together to clearly communicate expectations on both ends.

Data Modeling

This is where the team will start to put together a database for the project. The data modeling stage is important, as it helps to establish how information will be stored and accessed throughout the project.

Process Modeling

The process modeling stage is all about figuring out how the project will work. This includes defining the different processes that need to be completed, as well as the order in which they need to be done.

Application Development

Once the project has been properly planned out, the actual development can begin. This is where the team will start to build the product, using the different models that were created in the earlier stages. Very often, automated tools will be used for building the actual application.

Testing and Delivery

Naturally, once the product has been developed, it will need to be thoroughly tested before it can be delivered to the client. This is to ensure that there are no bugs or errors and that the product meets the client's needs.

RAD vs Agile

Agile is one of the most popular project management methodologies used in software development. Because it also goes against the waterfall trend, it's also often mistaken for rapid application development.

The two have plenty in common, that's certain. For instance, both RAD and Agile:

  • Are based on the principle of delivering working software as quickly as possible
  • Focus on customer satisfaction
  • Encourage collaboration between clients and development teams
  • Allow for changes to be made easily, without compromising on quality

However, some key differences set them apart:

  • Agile is more formalized than RAD
  • In Agile, every aspect of the project is planned out in detail before any work is done
  • RAD teams are usually smaller than Agile teams
  • RAD relies heavily on automated tools, while Agile does not
  • Agile projects are typically divided into sprints, while RAD projects are not.

RAD and Low-Code Development

A lot of times, rapid application development and low-code development go hand-in-hand. However, they are not the same. Low-code development is a type of development that relies heavily on graphical user interfaces and drag-and-drop features, as opposed to traditional coding. Rapid application building, on the other hand, is a development approach that may or may not rely on low-code development.

Advantages of Rapid Application Building

Rapid application development wouldn't be as popular as it is if it didn't have any benefits. Some of the most commonly touted advantages of rapid application building include:

Frequent Stakeholder Communication

Because stakeholders are involved in the project from the very beginning, there's a lot of opportunity for communication and feedback. This helps to ensure that the final product meets the needs of those who are going to be using it.

Easier Resource Management

RAD projects typically have smaller teams, which makes resource management a lot easier. There's less need to worry about things like vacation days and sick days. Even more, there's less need to worry about going over the budget, as RAD projects usually tend to have a more limited scope.

Reduced Time to Market

Because RAD projects have a shorter development cycle, they also tend to have a shorter time to market. This is obviously a very appealing advantage, particularly if you're a startup looking for investors.

Focus on User Feedback

Since users are so involved in the development process, their feedback is always front-and-center. This helps to ensure that the final product is user-friendly, instead of being something merely functional.

Disadvantages of Rapid Application Development

Nothing is ever perfect. RAD makes no exception from this rule, right? Here are some of the disadvantages of rapid application development:

The Need for a Cohesive, Senior, and Agile Team

RAD can only work if you have a team that's cohesive, senior, and agile. This is not always easy to find, especially for brand new businesses where team members don't have much experience working with each other. Ideally, your web development or software development team should have been already recruited (and they should have experience in working together) before a RAD project is started.


Team of female and male software developers at square table, working together

Increased Technical Debt Risk

RAD projects tend to have a lot of code changes, which can lead to increased technical debt. This is something that can be very difficult to manage, particularly for larger projects – and can very easily get quite expensive too.

Stakeholder Commitment Is Crucial

If project stakeholders aren't fully committed to the project, the project will likely fail. Everyone needs to be on board and dedicated to making the project a reality.

The Need to Use the Right App-Building Tool

If you're going to use RAD, you need to make sure that you're using the right app-building tool for your project. More specifically, you want a tool that is both low-code-oriented and provides you with the right amount of no-code features too.

Reduced Feature Complexity

Because everything in RAD happens at a very fast pace, features might not always be as complex or advanced as they could be.

Not Suitable for All Project Sizes

RAD works best for small to medium-sized development projects. If your project is too large, it might be better to consider another development approach.

Reduced Scalability

RAD projects often have reduced scalability, as they're not always built with the future in mind. This can be quite limiting for businesses that are planning on growing in the future.

No Documentation

RAD projects often have very little documentation, which can make things quite difficult if you ever need to make changes to the code or track the progress of the entire project.


female developer working at two monitors

So, Is RAD for You?

Rapid application development is not for everyone. As a general rule, it can be a great choice for startups building their pre-seed MVP, internal teams trying to get C-suite buy-in on certain projects, and hackathon prototyping.

If you don't find yourself in these situations (or anything similar that requires speed of execution), you might want to take a step back and think things through: do you want to do things very quickly and continuously improve on your prototype — or would you much rather take a slower, but better-planned approach?

There's no right or wrong answer: there's only what works for your specific business and story. The future of web development is built now, so make decisions based on who you are now and what your goals are for the future.

FAQs:

Q1. What is the major disadvantage of the rapid application development model?

The major disadvantage of the rapid application development model is that it can lead to increased technical debt. This is because RAD projects tend to have a lot of code changes, which can make it difficult to manage the project over time.

Q2. What are the drawbacks of the rapid application development model?

The disadvantages of RAD vary depending on the specific project, but they usually center on the need to work with a senior, agile team, increased technical debt risk, reduced scalability, reduced documentation, and getting stakeholder commitment. Some disadvantages of RAD are also debated. For instance, some say the reduced feature complexity associated with RAD projects isn't a drawback, but an opportunity. It all depends on what angle you choose to take when you look at this matter.

Q3. What are the advantages of RAD?

Some of the essential advantages of RAD include the fact that RAD can help you to get a product to market quickly, that you don’t need a huge budget (if you work with an experienced team), and that you can make quick changes as the project progresses. Furthermore, RAD can also help you reduce risks associated with traditional development processes and focus on customer feedback from the very beginning.


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