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The Systems Life Cycle methodology has six stages. It partitions the
system development process into distinct stages and develops an
information system sequentially, stage by stage. The six stages and a
detail definition of each are as follows:
Stage 1 - Project Definition
Determines whether the organization has a problem and whether that
problem can be solved by building a new information system. The
following questions are answered: Why do we need a new system project?
What do we want to accomplish? If a project is called for, the project
definition stage identifies general objectives, specifies the scope of
the project and develops a project plan that can be shown to
Stage 2 - Systems Study
This stage analyzes the problems of the existing system (manual or
automated) in detail, identifies objectives to be attained by a
solution to these problems, and describes alternative solutions. The
systems study phase examines the feasibility of each solution
alternative for review by management. The following questions are
What do the existing systems do?
What are their strengths, weaknesses, trouble spots, and problems?
What should a new or modified system do to solve these problems?
What user information requirements must be met by the solution?
What alternative solution options are feasible?
What are their costs and benefits?
Answering these questions requires extensive information gathering and
research; sifting through documents, reports, and work papers produced
by existing systems; observing how these systems work; polling users
with questionnaires; and conducting interviews. All of the information
gathered during the system study phase will be used to determine
information system requirements. The systems study stage describes in
detail the remaining life cycle activities and the tasks for each
Stage 3 - Design
This stage produces the logical and physical design specifications for
the solution. Design and documentation tools (flow diagrams, structure
charts, system flowcharts, etc.) are used to develop formal
Stage 4 - Programming
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design stage into software program code. Specifications are prepared
for each program in the system which describes what each program will
do, the type of programming language to be used, inputs, outputs,
processing logic, processing schedules, and control statements .
Customized program code is written generally using a 3rd or 4th
generation programming language.
Stage 5 - Installation
Consists of the final steps to put the new or modified system into
operation: testing, training, and conversion. The software is tested
to ensure that it performs properly from both a technical and a
functional business standpoint. A formal conversion plan provides a
detailed schedule of all the activities required to install the new
system, and the old system is converted to the new one.
Stage 6 - Post Implementation
Consists of using and evaluating the system after it is installed and
is in production. It also includes updating the system to make
improvements. A formal post-implementation audit is done to determine
how well the new system has met its original objectives and whether
any revisions or modifications are required. After the system has been
fine tuned, it will need to be maintained while it is in production to
correct errors, meet requirements, or improve processing efficiency.
Division of Labor
This methodology has a formal division of labor between end users and
information systems specialists. Technical specialists such as systems
analysts and programmers are responsible for systems analysis, design
and implementation work; End-users are limited to providing
information requirements and reviewing the work of the technical
Outputs and Signoff
A product or output is produced at each stage of the life cycle and is
the basis for sign-off agreements. The product or output for the six
stages are as follows:
STAGE (Output or Product)
1. Project Definition (Project proposal report)
2. Systems Study (System proposal report)
3. Design (Design specifications
4. Programming (Software code)
5. Installation (System performance tests)
6. Post Implementation (Post implementation audit)
Suitability and Limitations
The Systems Life Cycle methodology is usually used for building large
transaction processing systems (TPNS) and management information
systems (MIS) where requirements are highly structured and
well-defined. It also remains appropriate for complex technical
systems requiring rigorous and formal requirements analysis,
predefined specifications, and tight controls over the
systems-building process (space launches, air traffic control, and
refinery operations). This methodology has serious limitations and is
not well suited for most of the small desktop systems that dominate
during the 1990s and beyond.
This methodology is resource intensive in that a tremendous amount of
time must be spent gathering information and preparing specifications
and sign-off documents. It may take years before a system is finally
installed. If development time is too prolonged, the information
requirements may change before the system is operational. The system
that takes many years and dollars to build may be obsolete while it is
still on the drawing board.
Inflexible and Inhibits Change
This methodology does not allow for revisions to the system to ensure
that requirements are met. Whenever requirements are incorrect, or an
error is encountered, the sequence of life cycle activities can be
repeated. This may cause the generation of volumes of additional
documents and substantially increase development time and costs.
Because of the time and cost to repeat the sequence of life cycle
activities, the methodology encourages freezing of specifications
early in the development process. This means that changes cannot be
made. Once users approve specification documents, the specifications
are frozen. Because users sometimes have a problem visualizing a final
system from the specification documents, it is common for them to
sign-off on them without fully comprehending their contents. They
sometimes learn during programming and testing that the specifications
are incomplete or not what they had in mind. Proper specifications
cannot always be captured the first time around, early enough in the
life cycle when they are easy to change.
Suited to Decision-Oriented Applications
Decision making can be rather unstructured and fluid. Requirements
constantly change or decisions may have no well-defined models or
procedures. Decision makers often cannot specify their information
needs in advance. This high-level of uncertainty cannot be easily
accommodated by this methodology.