Rapid Application Development Public Health Style

If you work on front-ends or back-ends of health applications, you are probably already familiar with the concepts of Agile and rapid application development.

“Rapid application development”, or RAD for short, refers to an approach to designing computer applications. I had not heard the term for the first part of my career, because I was busy analyzing data from computer applications – not developing them.

But as my career proceeded, I ended up on an application development team. It was an eye-opening experience for me, because I was not used to serving on such a team. I was used to serving on public health research teams, which I describe in this blog post.

Application development teams are not run like public health research teams. In public health teams – as I explain on my blog post – you have a strict hierarchy. Actually, academia is literally full of hierarchy. This hierarchy has the advantage of building in a lot of oversight, but has the downside of dampening innovation. It’s hard to develop applications in an academic setting with public health research teams. If you are wondering what happens when that happens, read my article on LinkedIn about a webinar I attended sponsored by AHRQ.

What Does “Rapid Application Development” (RAD) Mean?

As I explain in my online course titled “Applications Basics”, there are three main philosophies that guide application development approaches. First, there is what is termed the “traditional” approach – which would not sound very traditional to people trained in public health.

In the traditional approach, there is a slight hierarchy, where there is a Sponsor at the top of the hierarchy, and that person has a Project Manager (PM) who reports to them. Then, the PM uses matrix management to manage an application development team. The course goes into detail about the different roles on the team, in terms of what they are named, and what they do.

Second, there is the Agile approach. In my opinion, the rise of Agile in the early 2000s was a backlash in response to the traditional approach. Even though the concept of Agile is outside the public health space, most healthcare data analysts and biostatisticians have at least heard of Agile. I know when I was learning about the “rapid application development” approach, Agile came up in the discussion. I realized I had heard of Agile a lot, but when asked to focus on it, I realized had no idea what it actually meant.

The traditional approach was what was used in the 1990s to develop software. As technology improved and the internet became more accessible, the traditional approach became too slow. I remember some software coming out in the early 2000s that I was waiting for – usually upgrades of applications I used a lot, like Microsoft Excel. Sometimes, the minute they came out, the seemed obsolete. Much of the software that came out in the early 2000s was incompatible with the internet. So you can imagine why something called “Agile” might be attractive!

The problem was that Agile was a little too Agile. Watch my video to learn about all the problems with Agile.

Watch Monika Wahi's data science tutorials on YouTube!

Watch my video to learn about the rapid application development, or RAD, approach to application development.

The video also provides are more detailed explanation of rapid application development (RAD). Briefly, saying you are doing RAD is basically saying you are mixing some components of the traditional approach and components of Agile to get an approach that is faster and more efficient than the traditional approach, but avoids all the pitfalls of the Agile approach.

So to be fair, the traditional approach was guided by some overarching management approaches and standards, like the same ones that guide the Plan Do Study Act (PDSA) model – which has nothing to do with public health. However, the Agile approach was not really guided by any overarching standard in any field. In fact, while the traditional approach was quite rigid, the Agile approach was so loose, everyone had to essentially develop their own version of Agile.

So that means – if you are following me – if someone is going to develop a rapid application development (RAD) approach, it’s going to be their own version, because it is a mixture of Agile and traditional. That’s exactly what I have done. I have developed a RAD approach specifically suited for the development of applications in the healthcare and public health space.

My video above gives you a short summary of my RAD approach. If you want to more details, please watch the full case study video on the Applications Basics course site – I made it free to the public under Chapter 3: Monika’s RAD in Action.


Updated June 12, 2023.

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“Rapid application development” (RAD) refers to an approach to designing and developing computer applications. In public health and healthcare, we are not taught about application development – but it’s good for us to learn about it, since we have to deal with data from health applications. My blog post talks about the RAD approach I have developed that is customized for the healthcare space.

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