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Requirements Management

With one-client, one-developer projects, it is easy to scribble the requirements onto the back of an envelope, or mark up a set of paper forms and create a system to duplicate them. However, once development of larger scale systems begins, with requirements coming from different portions of an organization, and development being performed by different developers, there is a strong need to ensure that all parties understand and agree on what must be done. More formal control of design documents is essential.

One of the more difficult parts of requirements is writing them in such a way that they are concrete, measurable and achievable. An example of a poor requirement might be:

"The system will provide flexibility for later expansion and have all data available for reporting."

A much better requirement might read:

"The system will be capable of printing daily invoices (up to 500 per day) on pre-printed forms (see Appendix) within one half-hour."

The reality of the software business is that the requirements are very likely to change over the course of development. Developers should be thinking about systems and protocols to handle the fact that requirements are going to change. Change management software and requirements tracking systems, are appropriate for larger-scale systems. One interesting product is Requisite from PVCS, which creates an interface between requirements documents, maintained in MS Word, and a repository of requirements used for testing and evaluation. The impact across the system of a change to a requirement can be evaluated and appropriate documentation and testing procedures generated automatically.

Project Management

Tools such as MS Project are useful for creating time and material estimates, estimating time to completion, identifying dependencies. For more information on estimating, check out Whil Hentzen’s evening session, Managing the Applications Development Process.

In addition to MS Project, another tool worth looking at is Microsoft Team Manager. This intriguing tool combines some of the capabilities of Project and MS Exchange and works with both of these tools. Team Manager is available as a stand-alone product and is also bundled with Office 97 Professional and Visual Studio 97.

For smaller project, the task management capabilities of Outlook or Excel may be sufficient for the task. But automating the time tracking, no matter how it is done, can simplify reporting, encourage reuse from project to project, and begin to accumulate metrics.

Resources

You’ve got to have the developers to develop the project. In addition, if the project is large enough, support staff for documentation, testing, project management will not only be helpful, but have the potential of bring more skillful completion to those tasks. Lister and DeMarco in "Peopleware" and Weinberg in "Psychology" cover a number of items important to developing and maintaining a good environment for programming work. Steve McConnell, in "Rapid Development," maintains that the primary product of software development is not so much a diskette than it is a piece of intellectual property, the developers of this property must be given proper respect and an environment in which to nurture and develop this material.

Microsoft certification may be helpful; like a college degree, not as an indication of development success, but rather as "learner’s permit" of basic mastery. I have also found that developers do benefit from small group study projects. A group I worked in reviewed "Code Complete" and learned a great deal from it. Another group I know of worked their way through "Personal Software Process. SM" , a textbook becoming popular in college software engineering courses.

Design and Analysis

Larger scale systems require a smaller and smaller proportion of time spent performing the actual coding, and larger time developing the design. Consider design tools like xCase, Visual Modeler/Rational Rose, CRC tools, Flow chart and general graphics tools like Visio. In addition to providing better documentation of system design, these tools can be a great aid in analyzing the impact of changes to the system mid-course. These design tools are not primarily tools to generate documentation, piles of dead paper which sit around ignored, but rather are tools to be used interactively and often during the design cycle to help modify, simply, review and communicate a design.

Communications

The amount of communication needed by a group increases rapidly as the size of the group increases. While all of the developers need to be alerted when a new version of the database is produced, they should not all need to discuss the proper naming of each new field in an invoice table. Limiting communication to prevent overwhelming each developer while at the same time ensuring that developers are apprised of changes which affect them is one of the challenges of managing team projects. One technique to do this is to establish a series of mailing lists within your e-mail product. The Developers list gets the notice on all changes to major components, the General Ledger list on accounting issues, Management on project timelines, Testing on changes to testing protocols. Our team has used Exchange & Outlook with a great deal of success. We hope to evaluate Team Manager on an upcoming project.

Coding and Review

A standing policy for one other programmer to review all before it goes into production reduced our error rate significantly. Whether programmers were more careful when they knew they had to show their code to a co-worker, or whether the reviewers were good on catching simple logic errors doesn’t really matter.

There are many levels of code reviews and inspections. Formal inspection systems with many people poring over code, a scribe to record the review process, and a formalized set of protocols to prepare, submit, review and re-review code is appropriate in situations where failure is proportionally undesirable, like life-support systems or nuclear weapons. A less stringent system is far more realistic for smaller development efforts.

In addition to its primary purpose of reducing errors in shipping code, a second form of code review can be used as a group educational project. A small group of programmers get together and reviews a particular module, algorithm or UDF. Discussion on the "right" ways to do things often lead to the staff adding a new trick to their repertoire, or discovering a flaw in well-known technique.

The other effect we see I've nicknamed the "CompuServe Effect," as it usually occurs to me while composing a message to post on CompuServe. Once a developer has tried everything they can think of and cannot get a piece of code to work, trying to explain the problem to a colleague often allows the teller to explain the answer to him- or herself. Many times I get halfway through composing a message on CompuServe, only to discard it because the answer is right in front of me. For this reason, we strongly encourage our developers to have some time that can be spent together reviewing problems or brainstorming, to take advantage of that synergistic effect.

About the Author

Ted Roche is the director of development at Blackstone Incorporated, a Microsoft Solution Provider based in Arlington, Massachusetts specializing in database development and network infrastructure using Microsoft BackOffice and Visual Tools. He is co-author, with Tamar Granor, of the critically acclaimed „Hacker’s Guide to Visual FoxPro 3.0“ from Addison-Wesley. Ted is a Contributing Editor for FoxPro Advisor magazine and co-authors the "Ask Advisor" column. He is a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer, a Microsoft Support Most Valuable Professional and a CompuServe Support Partner. Email: tedroche@compuserve.com, phone: (617) 641-0400.

Bibliography

Brentnall, Savannah, Object Orientation in Visual FoxPro, 1996, Addison-Wesley, 0-201-47943-5
Brooks, Frederick P., Jr., The Mythical Man Month, 1975, Addison-Wesley, 0-201-00650-2
Constantine, Larry L., Constantine on Peopleware, 1995, Prentice Hall/Yourdon Press
Cooper, Alan, About Face, IDG Books, 1995, 1-568843-22-4
DeMarco, Tom and Lister, Tim, Peopleware, Dorset House, 0-932633-14-5
Gamma, Erich, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson, John Vlissides, Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable
Object-Oriented Software, Addison-Wesley, 1995, 0-201-63361-2 (NOTE: a CD version was due from Addison-Wesley in June 1997, but was not available for review in time for these notes.)
Hentzen, Whil, The 1997 Developer's Guide, Hentzenwerke Corporation, 1996, 0-9655093-1-1
Humphrey, Watts S., Managing the Software Process, Addison-Wesley, 1996, 0-201-18095-2
Humphrey, Watts S., A Discipline for Software Engineering, Addison-Wesley, 1995, 0-201-54610-8
Humphrey, Watts S., Introduction to the Personal Software ProcessSM, Addison-Wesley, 1997, 0-201-54809-7
James, Geoffrey, The Tao of Programming, InfoBooks, 1987, 0-931137-07-1
Jones, Capers, Applied Software Measurement, McGraw-Hill, 0-07-032613-7
Maguire, Steve, Debugging the Development Process, Microsoft Press, 1994, 1-55615-650-2
Maguire, Steve, Writing Solid Code, Microsoft Press, 1993, 1-55615-551-4
McCarthy, Jim, Dynamics of Software Development, 1995, Microsoft Press, 1-55615-823-8
McConnell, Steve, Code Complete, Microsoft Press, 1993, 1-55615-484-4
McConnell, Steve, Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules, Microsoft Press, 1996,1-55615-900-5
Plauger, P.J., Programming on Purpose, Prentice Hall, 1993, 0-13-721374-3
Taylor, David A., Object-Oriented Technology: A Manager’s Guide, Addison-Wesley, 1990, 0-201-56358-4
Weinberg, Gerald M., Understanding the Professional Programmer, Dorset House, 1988, 0-932633-09-9
Yourdon, Edward, Decline and Fall of the American Programmer, Prentice Hall, 1993, 0-13-191958-X
Yourdon, Edward, Death March, Prentice Hall, Prentice Hall, 1997, 0-13-748310-4

Articles

Hosier, John, "Source Control in Visual FoxPro," FoxPro Advisor, October 1997
Wilden, Mark, "Safeguard Your Source Code," FoxPro Advisor, October 1997
"A Few Words with Niklaus Wirth, " Software Development magazine, June 1997, pp. 52-60
"Using Visual SourceSafe with Visual FoxPro 3.0" whitepaper from Microsoft Technet
"How to Set Up Source Code Control with SourceSafe," Microsoft KnowledgeBase Article Q157636, available at http://www.microsoft.com/kb/articles/q157/6/36.htm or on Microsoft TechNet or Developer Library.
"The Capability Maturity Model for Software, " M.C. Paulk, B. Curtis, M.B. Chrissis, C.V. Weber, Software Engineering Institute (available from the SEI web site, above, in PostScript and Adobe Acrobat format)
Visual FoxPro Online Developer's Guide, Developing in Teams chapter, "Managing Visual FoxPro Projects Under Source Control"
Microsoft white paper, " Using Visual SourceSafe 5.0 with Visual FoxPro 3.0"
Microsoft KnowledgeBase Article Q163407: "HOWTO: Use OLE Automation with Visual SourceSafe"
Microsoft KnowledgeBase Article Q151004: "FIX: "PRG" File Type Missing in FoxPro File Group"
Microsoft KnowledgeBase Article Q172096: "FIX: Forms Under Source Control Open Slowly"

Web sites of Interest

http://www.acm.prg/ – the Association for Computing Machinery, a 50 year old organization
http://www.around.com/ariane.html - James Gleick's account of the destruction of Ariane 5.
http://www.atlsysguild.com/ – Atlantic Systems Guild is the home of Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister
http://www.clark.net/pub/jimv/qvcsman.htm – check out a $25 shareware version control system!
http://www.sei.cmu.edu/ – The Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, with lots of information and numerous papers available for download.
http://www.elsitech.com/ – Developers of Visual Intercept, a defect tracking system with tight integration to Visual SourceSafe, from the original developers of SourceSafe
http://www.iccp.org/ – the organization for the CDP and CCP certifications.
http://www.icca.org/ – Independent Computer Consultants Association
http://www.microsoft.com/vfoxpro – Microsoft’s home page for Visual FoxPro.
http://www.microsoft.com/ssafe– Microsoft’s home page for Visual SourceSafe.
http://www.microsoft.com/teammanager - – Microsoft’s home page for Team Manager.
http://www.pvcs.com/ – manufacturers of PVCS software configuration management, source code control and change management software, including RequisitePro , Tracker and Version Manager
http://www.rational.com - Rational, Inc., manufacturers of Microsoft’s Visual Modeler, and their own Rational Rose. Source of good information on UML, the Universal Modeling Language.
http://www.soffront.com/ – manufacturers of Soffront Track, bug and issue tracking system.
http://www.spr.com/ – location of Software Productivity Research, home of Capers Jones
http://www.starbase.com/ – source code management software, including Versions version control, sophisticate threaded conversation database, groupware, Internet support, more.
http://www.visio.com/ - Visio is one of the best of the technical drawing packages.
http://www.yourdan.com/ - home of one of the leading authorities in software development issues.

Newsgroups

On Microsoft's NNTP server, check out:
Team Manager: news://microsoft.public.teammanager
SourceSafe: news://microsoft.public.teammanager and news://microsoft.public.visualsourcesafe
FoxPro: twenty-one different groups, most active are news://microsoft.public.teammanager/, news://microsoft.public.teammanager, news://microsoft.public.teammanager/

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