What Is Rapid Application Development?

Photo of Oskar Pietrzyk

Oskar Pietrzyk

Updated Jan 31, 2023 • 10 min read

Quickly releasing bug-free projects has always been a problem for businesses. With ever-changing market conditions and more information constantly being added to your consumer profile, you need an efficient and flexible development model that allows you to test functionality without disrupting the production pipeline.

RAD is perfect for businesses in fast-paced industries whose customer requirements are constantly shifting.

In this article, we’ll be explaining the definition of Rapid Application Development, why you should use it, and how you could apply this methodology to your next project.

Introduction to rapid application development

Rapid Application Development, or simply RAD, is a development model that looks to prioritize rapid prototyping and quick, constructive feedback in the production pipeline.

Though the first instances of the rad process was developed by Barry Boehm as the spiral model, many development teams would argue that the concept of Rapid Application Development was introduced in 1991 by James Martin.

The key facet of this process is the user design and input phase, where the end-user and business continuously interact with one another to modify and improve the working model prior to full-on application development.

By focusing on prototyping into the user design phase, businesses are able to adapt new knowledge and better align with the users and their requirements. Businesses that develop products without end-user input often operate on a set list of needs that fail to fulfill the desired outcome. Further changes in the end product often lead to redesign and redevelopment, subjecting the project and its owners to increased cost and a pushed timeline.

Where RAD developers focus on collecting feedback to improve the final application, its counterpart, the waterfall model, is better for projects with sequential steps and clear, set requirements. RAD presents itself as a solution diametrically opposed to the rigid process models as laid out by the waterfall model.

Why is rapid application development important?

One of the key features of this software development methodology is that it essentially lets the end user guide the whole process. Instead of strict planning and having to rely on your team’s stockpiled knowledge to define the specifications of a project, the rapid application development approach counts on the knowledge your team will gain during the project and improve or adapt the final product to fit these new learnings.

Over the years, the rad method would see changes that solidify the importance of the rad methodology. Here are some of its key advantages:

Risk reduction

Employing early stage prototyping through a rad approach reduces implementation risks that come with any product. Examples of this could include running over the budget or creating vulnerabilities and bugs within the code.

A thorough documentation of the solutions and their associated risks are created during the initial planning stage of rad projects, giving development teams enough time to find and implement creative solutions before release.

User involvement

Having end users provide constant feedback improves the quality of the end product. Incorporating client feedback reduces the risk of creating a feature-packed product that no one wants. For his stage, efficient inter team communication is an absolute must.

Efficient project completion

A waterfall project is often prone to setbacks due to catastrophic failures at development time. How many times have you come to a great realization that required you to rethink the entire project design 2-3 months after starting?

By focusing on the prototype and coming at the problem from different angles and perspectives, these issues could be thought of and addressed at an earlier stage. In doing so, project timelines are met and within the allotted budget.

The pros and cons of rapid application development


  • Requirements can be changed at any time
  • Encourages and prioritizes customer feedback
  • Development time is drastically reduced
  • The time between prototypes and iterations is short
  • Integration isn’t a problem, since it integrates from project inception
  • RAD approaches make it easier to deal with any budgetary drawbacks


  • Needs strong team collaboration
  • Cannot work with large teams
  • Needs user requirements throughout the life cycle of the product
  • More complex to manage when compared to other models
  • Only systems which can be modularised can be developed using Rapid application development
  • To properly utilize a RAD development approach, a project needs to fit within certain constraints as well

How rapid application development work?

The four main stages of the entire process for rapid application development model are as follows:

Step 1: Outlining requirements

In this stage, the client, business owners, project managers, and software developers sit down with one another and outline a project’s requirements. Likely referred to usually as the planning phase, this stage involves researching the current problem and defining the project requirements.

Highly skilled developers, of course, are able to identify the final requirements quicker than most – though they understand that these requirements might change in a flash and the planning stage could be revisited later on.

Step 2: User design and input

This is the stage where system testing, working prototypes, and construction begins. In this step, the business continuously collects feedback from clients to ensure that the requirements are being practically met. Each time you collect feedback, it is then implemented into the beta system and submitted once more for further feedback.

This phase operates under the assumption that requirements are easier met in theory than in practice. Your first product iteration likely won’t be the last as businesses often fail to meet many of their outlined requirements in the first version of the project.

Providing user feedback from the very beginning of the development process is a key benefit of the development cycle. It gives both the business and developer the time to experience the product and create features that might improve the overall user experience.

Step 3: Construction

The rapid construction phase takes the prototypes and existing beta systems created with the user and converts it into the final product.

The project’s implementation phase is what people usually imagine when they hear “agile project management.” In this phase, the final project begins construction based on the existing beta systems created during the User Design and Input phase. Note, however, that user feedback remains imperative to build an easily-approved product.

Step 4: Finalization

In this stage, the final working model is released. One of the key activities of this step is to test the data flow and interfaces that the end user will interact with. Finishing touches like user training, conversion and interface testing, are also done in this step.

Understanding the different phases in the systems development life cycle is key in developing efficient, cost-effective large scale projects. A successful development team should be able to constantly create incremental improvements and rollout relevant updates.

When can you use the rapid application development methodology?

The rad model is an ongoing development process that focus on providing incremental improvements through rapid prototype development and user testing. At face value, rad seems like the perfect option for most software development projects – here are some specific situations where you should definitely consider using the rad model:

When you can reliably test prototypes

The rad process works best when you have direct access to the end users. As prototypes built through the rad model depend on feedback from previous iterations, having a reliable source of feedback has proven to be an immensely valuable resource.

When you’ve got the budget

A rad project is relatively inexpensive but there is a chance that the back-and-forth between end-user and project builder and prototyping may create an endless loop of development and review. This pushes the project timeline back further if left unchecked, increasing project costs.

While the solution may appear to be hiring more talented and experienced rad developers, they come with their own costs as talented staff always deserve the appropriate compensation.

Consider, though, that the extra investment in a talented developer may be worth the cost, as an experienced development team armed with the appropriate rapid application development tools should be able to take the project from concept to release quicker than most.

When you need a project done quickly

Experienced rad teams are capable of creating quality products while meeting tight deadlines. Typically, rad models take an on-the-fly approach to improve the product as you receive user feedback, which prevents the risk of having to rebuild the model plan from scratch.

Improve your software product quickly and repeatedly

Compared to other agile development models, RAD focuses on making multiple iterations and updates while in the development process. This works best for teams working on projects under constant evolution and do not have definitive requirements since the start. This iterative process allows for RAD and other agile development models to prioritize customer satisfaction by constantly going through a revision process.

If you’re a business dealing with software and technology, where customers may redefine their desired features at a moment’s notice, then rapid application development is for you.

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