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The Spiral Model

The process begins at the center position. From there it moves clockwise in traversals. Each traversal of the spiral usually results in a deliverable. It is not clearly defined what this deliverable is. This changes from traversal to traversal. For example, the first traversals may result in a requirement specification. The second will result in a prototype, and the next one will result in another prototype or sample of a product, until the last traversal leads to a product which is suitable to be sold. Consequently the related activities and their documentation will also mature towards the outer traversals. E.g. a formal design and testing session would be placed into the last traversal.

There are different instances of this model and you can find them with 3 to 6 task regions. The above picture shows 4 task regions.

These regions are:

The most outstanding distinction between the spiral model and other software models is the explicit risk evaluation task. Although risk management is part of the other processes as well, it does not have an own representation in the process model. For other models the risk assessment is a sub-task e.g. of the overall planning and management. Further there are no fixed phases for requirements specification, design or testing in the spiral model. Prototyping may be used to find and define requirements. This may then be followed by "normal" phases as they can be found in other process models to handle design and testing.

The advantages of the spiral model are that it reflects the development approach in many industries much better than the other process models do. It uses a stepwise approach which e.g. goes hand in hand with the habit of maintaining a number of hardware sample phases in cases where the product to be produced is not only software for a given environment, but also contains the development of hardware. This way the developers and the customer can understand and react much better to risks in the evolutionary process. By having an iterative process which reduces formalisms and activities in the earlier phases the use of resources is optimized. Further, any risks should be detected much earlier than in other process models and measures can be taken to handle them.

The disadvantages of the spiral model are that the risk assessment is rigidly anchored in the process. First of all it demands risk-assessment expertise to perform this task and secondly in some cases the risk assessment may not be necessary in this detail. For completely new products the risk assessment makes sense. But I dare to say that the risks for programming yet another book keeping package are well known and do not need a big assessment phase. Also if you think of the multitude of carry over projects in many industries i.e. applying an already developed product to the needs of a new customer by small changes, the risks are not a subject generating big headaches. Generally speaking the spiral model is not much esteemed and not much used, although it has many advantaged and could have even more if the risk assessment phases would be tailored to the necessary amount.