Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Work on roadmaps, sw engineering, technical debt

Project Dune is developing a new roadmap for the last half of 2008 and to kick off 2009. Being open-source, you can always read the latest developments on the project wiki.

Part of the roadmap now became strategy, which will probably be moved out to the start page close to the mission, thereby making the roadmap a practical guide of where something is going and why, without necessarily focusing too much on the actual activity.

Another part of the roadmap of Dune is the initiation of a set of processes, practices and tools / checklists / material to support the process of software engineering.

A particularly interesting term that was coined by Ward Cunningham is the term technical debt. As a quote from the wikipedia site:
The analogy to financial debt is that the poorly-written code requires "interest payments" of maintenance effort, which would be smaller or non-existent had the code been developed more carefully and with better long-term planning. Rearchitecting and rewriting the code to be more maintainable is analogous to paying off the debt principal.
Other sites:

http://www.agileadvice.com/archives/2006/12/technical_debt.html


http://forums.construx.com/blogs/stevemcc/archive/2007/11/01/technical-debt-2.aspx

The graphs here are very good examples of the consequences:
http://kanemar.com/2006/07/23/technical-debt-and-the-death-of-design-part-1/

As part of Project Dune, I'll need to think about how to come up with practical guidelines for software quality and explain these terms in more detail, probably with extensive use of links. The idea is to become the main site where people look for quality information. That should include links and understanding about software engineering, development, language choices, etc... Ideally documented in such a way that it goes from a high-level overview to a detailed overview.

The first objectives are to come up with a generic process / vision of software engineering itself. This is no easy feat! It's difficult enough to align people on the same vision within a single team as there are always people that have different opinions or people that have the thorough conviction that things are done better in a different method.

Thus, the idea is not to suggest "Agile Development" or any other more specific method for software engineering. It should go one level above all this and just state the following:
  • Objectives of the activity
  • The activity's function
These two sound exactly the same, but are somewhat different. The objective is basically what you're trying to achieve. The function is what you're trying to prevent/discard during that process or what you should pay specific attention to.

I'm wondering whether project managers in SW projects nowadays have sufficient knowledge of project analysis and the terms used for sw engineering to be able to steer back to a winning situation. If you look at the term "technical debt" for example, its actual scope is quite large. Besides technical debt though, there are other reasons why projects fail, which are more on the area of communication and social interaction (the requirements need to be correct).

A good initiative for the Dune project would be to try to come up with 2 or 3 main areas and coined terms that contribute to project failure. Then subdivide the areas and identify the causes.

The idea being that the identification of root and main causes for project failure (and supporting cases?) would clarify the need and use of certain activities in a project. I'm not using the term process, as I'm not too fond of that term how it's interpreted in general. Activity means something that a tester/developer carries out as part of his job or task and which is easily part of a process. The process is thus basically a sequence of activities done with a number of available tools and materials, nothing more. Understanding the process thus doesn't mean how to comply with some corporate or industrial standard. It means that you understand what you're doing and how that fits in the big picture.

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