What is RUP or Rational Unified Process?

So when I went searching for a current definition on RUP, much of the writing on it was at least four years old.  Here is the definition I came up with gathering the most current sources I could.

RUP is made up of three components:

  • Key Principles for Business Driven Decisions
  • A Framework of re-usable method content and process building blocks
  • A underlying Method and Process Definition Language

I will expound on these below.

Key Principles

The following are the key principles behind RUP:

  • Adapt the Process
  • Balance Stakeholder Priorities
  • Collaborate across teams
  • Demo Value Iteratively
  • Elevate level of abstraction
  • Focus continuously on quality


The framework is made up of best practices that have been used effectively in software development over time (e.g. Use Cases) and “Method Plug-Ins”.  Based on these, organizations develop different flavors of RUP based on:

  • Organization Maturity
  • Project Complexity
  • Organization Culture
  • Regulatory Compliance & Policy Requirements
  • Type of Development (Embedded vs Web App)
  • Organization Size

Method & Process Definition Language

Finally, the actual specification of the process is done in what is called a Unified Method Architecture (UMA) Meta Model.  This included things like phases, disciplines, activities, milestones, etc.

Phases, Milestones, and Disciplines

Finally, an important part of RUP are the phases that you go through and the milestones that are hit as you go through each one.  The below graphic from Shuja and Kreb’s book shows this well:


Within each of these phases, all of the disciplines are being done, but some more than others depending on the phase.  A discipline is defined in RUP as a collection of related activities.  RUP has the following disciplines:

  • Business Modeling
  • Requirements
  • Configuration and Change Management
  • Analysis and Design
  • Implementation
  • Project Management
  • Test
  • Deployment
  • Environment

The mixture of phases and disciplines leads to the famous “hump chart”:

I will conclude by quickly describing the phases:

Inception Phase

The following activities are done in this phase:

  • Estimate Scope
  • Identify Critical Use Cases
  • Exhibit and Demo one candidate architecture
  • Estimate Cost and Schedule
  • Detailed Estimates for Elaboration Phase
  • Estimate Potential Risks
  • Prepare Support Environment

Elaboration Phase

The following activities are done in this phase:

  • Stabilize Architecture, Requirements, and Plans
  • Mitigate Risks to determine cost and schedule
  • Establish Baseline Architecture
  • Produce Evolutionary Prototype of Production Quality components
  • Optionally do throw-away prototype as needed
  • Establish Support Environment

Construction Phase = Build It!

Transition Phase

These are some of the activities that make up this phase:

  • Beta Testing or User Acceptance Testing
  • Train End Users and Maintainers
  • Fine-tune through bug-fixing and enhancements

I hope this short overview helped you to quickly get up to speed on RUP.  There is certainly much left uncovered here, so if you interested, consult the sources above.


About Leonard Woody
Software Engineer

4 Responses to What is RUP or Rational Unified Process?

  1. jagostoni says:

    So the question is: How has RUP morphed in a world full of Scrum and Kanban, etc? Is it relevant and/or used anymore or as archaic as the dreaded “waterfall”?

  2. Good question! My view, in short, is that it hasn’t morphed. The whole phase thing kinda makes it hard. Scott Ambler tried to push “Agile” RUP about 6 years ago, but it was more XP Practices mixed in with RUP. I haven’t seen a real Scrum RUP implementation….. yet anyways….

  3. Glenn says:

    I saw a lot of value in RUP but in the age of Agile and the Internet, most developers see no value in it and IBM has not attempted to adapt RUP to this changing world. I tried to keep a light weight variant of RUP alive and relevant in but it was not to be.

    • Yeah, it’s sad I think that some things are being “thrown out with the bathwater” in this new Agile revolution. There were good things invented in software development before 2001, but some software developers refuse to believe it or even hear it out…. What’s that saying about those who do not remember history?….

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