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The Basics of SDLC

So, you’re new to technology delivery. You’re a healthcare leader who was tasked with implementing a new software such as an Electronic Health Record (EHR) system, telemedicine, or even a custom tool that your practice can use in a clinical setting.  How do you talk tech and lead change throughout your hospital or group? The first step is to learn the basics of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). Once you learn these six simple phases, you will be able to start your tech talks and understand the work that lies ahead just as your developers do.

What is the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)?

Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) is a framework to describe tasks performed to build and/or implement any type of technology.  Traditional SDLC methodologies consist of 6 phases to ensure a successful and smooth process.  The phases may vary in name, but they encompass the same ideas. The phases include Plan, Analyze, Design, Build, Test, and Deploy. 

Any good project must begin with a deep understanding of where the project needs to end and how much it will take to get there.

Before we dive into the weeds, let’s start with some basic concepts. Any good project must begin with a deep understanding of where the project needs to end and how much it will take to get there.  The SDLC framework is set up with this concept in mind, requiring you, as a leader, to work closely with the individuals using the technology, developing the software, and managing the processes to think about how the technology should work.  The needs you identify are turned into “requirements”.  As you work closely with these individuals, you will define what you need immediately and which items may be “nice to have” if your team is able to wait.  With your vision in mind for what the future looks like, you define the “scope” of your project. SDLC walks you through the planning of this work all the way to the point where your future is reality, but it is flexible in that the framework itself does not have a specific timeline or method of how your goal is reached.  

The Phases of SDLC

Now that we have an idea of what the SDLC is and how it is used, let’s take a closer look at what each phase entails to get a better understanding of why this framework is useful.

Plan.  The Plan phase is essential as it incorporates inputs from all relevant groups such as patients, clinical users, development, organizational leadership, etc.  The goals of the technology are defined, and decisions made about what is essential are outlined. From there, the basic project approach and timeline are planned and scoped.  The success of a project often begins with the creation of a Project Charter that marks the formal launch of the project.

Analyze.  Defining and documenting the project requirements, in coordination with end users, is next.  These requirements tell the story of how technology should work when used by specific users or even when interacting with other technologies.  During this phase timelines, budgets, and teaming are refined.

Design.  Using the outputs of the Analyze phase, the Design phase engages both the technology team and the end users to come up with the best product.  The design is proposed to relevant stakeholders and feedback is taken to adjust how the technology will work.  The frequency and format of design vary by different SDLC methodologies, but each has the goal of gaining agreement on what the technology team should build before development starts.  

Build.  This is when the technology team is hard at work creating code, configuring software, developing interfaces, or even installing hardware based on the design that was agreed to in the previous phase.  While the description of this phase may be simple, the work behind it is not.  This is often where most of the time in your technology life cycle will be spent, regardless of which methodology your team leverages.

Test.  As your technology team finishes building, they will be sharing their work with stakeholders to review and test. The Test phase is where you’re able to make sure that the technology is working as designed. The goal of this phase is that all errors are reported, tracked, fixed, and retested until your technology is ready to use by the target end users.

Deploy.  The Deploy phase is when the product is finally released to the entire organization, patient base, or team.  Deployment can be done in small cycles by releasing a few features at a time, or all at once with a new product launch. Once released, continued maintenance is performed.

With the basics of SDLC under your belt, now is a great time to think about which SDLC methodology is right for your organization or project.  See this post “Choosing SDLC Methodology” to understand the differences.

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