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Overview of Hardware and Software Development Life Cycle Stages

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.


What is a hardware development lifecycle? What is a software development lifecycle? And what are the differences between hardware and software lifecycle development states?

Product Lifecycles

A product life cycle is the normal process of ideas becoming reality until the product is obsolete and destroyed. The general product life cycle is:

  1. Idea
  2. Requirements Management
  3. Development
  4. Production
  5. Operation and Maintenance
  6. Disposal

The idea phase of the product life cycle is the step in which someone has the idea for a product. This is the first general concept of the product.

Requirements management is when the particulars of the design are determined. For example, the idea of a new vehicle becomes a set of technical specifications at this stage.

Development is the creation of a prototype and working models. The development phase is when you build a prototype and improve its manufacturability.

Production occurs when the product is mass-produced. Operation and maintenance is when the product is being used. Operations are literally performed by operators or users of the product.

Maintenance may be done by the manufacturer or customers themselves. For example, operations may be the installation and repairs of air conditioners while customers perform maintenance like changing its air filters.

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Disposal is the final phase. Ideally, products are recycled or re-manufactured. However, disposal in a landfill or incinerator is typical.

Development is when you reconcile the initial design with the defined requirements.

Development is when you reconcile the initial design with the defined requirements.

Hardware and Software Lifecycles

Hardware and software follow the general product lifecycle. Software development and hardware development differ from each other and other types of products at the development phase.

The software development life cycle or SDLC is broken down into five steps. They are:

  1. Detailed requirements
  2. Design
  3. Implementation
  4. Integration and Test
  5. Release

Hardware development is broken down into six steps. The six steps for hardware development are:

  1. Detailed Requirements
  2. Conceptual Development
  3. System-level Design
  4. Detailed Design
  5. Testing and Refinement
  6. Production Ramp Up or Pre-Production Runs

Differences between Hardware and Software Lifecycles

Because hardware is physical, additional steps are required to determine the design of each individual part and then test and refine it. In short, the primary difference between hardware and software development life cycles is the testing of not only individual components but the final assembly as well.

Since software code is easily altered and recompiled during testing, most of the software changes will take place in the integration and test phase. All of the testing for the program is done for the software product as a whole, though you can test software modules separately from the whole program.

Many changes will occur during testing and refinement for hardware, but the design will only change in the production ramp-up stage if necessary for the product to work or be manufactured at a reasonable cost.

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