RAD: Banking on quick development

Users are benefiting from RAD, a method that provides usable code before the system is finalised

Users are benefiting from RAD, a method that provides usable code before the system is finalised

What is it?

Rad stands for Rapid Application Development.

Although it doesn't have a monopoly of Rad techniques, the DSDM (Dynamic Systems Development Method) Consortium involves many leading supplier, service and user organisations. DSDM uses prototyping, and iterative and incremental development. It divides projects into short, quickly achievable phases each of which produces a deliverable, which often provides useful functionality even though the overall project may be way off completion.

DSDM was set up as an alternative to the classic sequential or "waterfall" approach, which, the consortium says, forces users to "fix their requirements in concrete early in the cycle", and does not allow for rapid iterative delivery. DSDM is independent of any particular set of tools and techniques, and can be used with object-oriented and structured analysis and design approaches.

Where did it originate?

The term Rad first appeared in the early 1990s, but was applied to a variety of incompatible tools and approaches. The 16 founding members of the DSDM Consortium first met in 1994, to develop and promote a public domain Rad method. This was backed up from the earliest days by a training and certification programme, overseen by the British Computer Society.

What's it for?

DSDM teams include both developers and users, who are able to agree on levels of functionality and usability without frequent recourse to higher management.

Traditional approaches fix requirements while allowing time and resources to vary during development. In DSDM, time is fixed for the life of a project, resources are fixed as far as possible, and requirements are allowed to change. Partial solutions can be delivered to satisfy immediate business needs. The system can then be more rigorously engineered later.

What makes it special?

You get working code more quickly. DSDM prototypes are intended to evolve into the final system, and are built to be robust enough for operational use and to meet performance and other criteria. DSDM uses the 80:20 principle - 80% of the functionality can be produced in 20% of the time required to build the system.

How difficult is it?

You can complete a DSDM practitioner course in a minimum of three days.

Where is it used?

In public and private sectors. Many UK banks and building societies are users, as are the Ministry of Defence, BT, Orange and Vodafone. Some service organisations use DSDM techniques, including Computacenter, KPMG and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. IBM Global Services claims to have more DSDM practitioners than any other organisation.

Not to be confused with

Quick fixes for leaky radiators, the Royal Army Dental Corps (RADC).

What does it run on?

It is platform-independent. Leading Rad tools include Visual Basic and Delphi, and IBM's Visual Age development environment. Oracle, Magic and Progress are all DSDM promoters.

Few people know that

Rad is a Scots dialect word meaning afraid, a condition often brought on by too-short time scales.

Long-term sufferers become raddled.

What's coming up?

DSDM is increasingly used in business process change projects as well as application development.

Rates of pay

Project managers with DSDM among their skills can look for between £40,000 and £50,000, and more in the financial sector. Many UK investment firms and banks use DSDM.


Training and certification DSDM training courses are only available from accredited training organisations. Training is available at three levels.

DSDM Aware is a one-day overview aimed at users, managers and development staff.

DSDM Practitioner is for users, developers and project managers intending to take an active role on a project team.

Managing DSDM Projects is a two-day course concentrating on the differences between traditional and DSDM project management.

Trainers include Parity, IBM, QA and FI Academy. A complete list of accredited trainers is on the DSDM Web site. UK Certification is overseen by the British Computer Society examinations board, ISEB.

Read more on IT project management