The need for technology support
The technology used to visualize what the developers are thinking and to gain feed-back from that visualization is the basis of much of agile development. However, it is not the total answer. The technology support for a controlled process does not lie solely in the easy generation of analysis and design models, screens, and code. If the process is to be controlled, then strong emphasis should also be placed on automated support for the necessary controls. Controls are an overhead on productive work, albeit a necessary one. Saving in effort can be made by automating the control of the status of, and access to, work products and in ensuring that they have been created correctly.
Agile developers would much rather spend their time creating the solution than controlling it. So it is the control activities that are likely to be squeezed out of their schedules when they are under pressure to deliver. Another area that does not enthrall developers is configuration management. However, configuration management is of the elements of an agile support environment where more things are being produced and changed at a faster rate than in traditional method. The need for support in this area is obviously fundamental. It should be easy for the developers to place their works under configuration management as soon as possible and as often as they should, without causing them to slow down in their development activities. Testing also looms large as something which developers see as a necessary evil, but which would be a much more productive activity with tool support. The list goes on.
DSDM Support Environments
DSDM has defined an agile tool ‘nirvana’. It is an environment which will support the whole process from feasibility to implementation (including aspects such as reverse engineering for legacy code) with all the necessary controls as automated as possible. It does not exist and it is unlikely that any one tool vendor will offer the fully integrated set. Indeed it is yet another cry for an IPSE (integrated project support environment), but one which is designed for SDSM projects. Such an environment requires integration at a number of levels:
- presentation to provide a common ‘look and feel’ across all tools;
- data so that all tools share the same repository;
- control so that one tool can notify and/or initiate actions in other tools;
- platform, in order to port the toolset from one platform to another
May be such an environment will exist in the future, but in the meantime we have to be more realistic and look for tools that will make savings in time and effort without being too costly. If we focus in the money side, several low-cost tools have been found to have a beneficial impact on effort. Low-cost tools for code and schema generation are available, as are tools for prototype generation. Both of these speed up development markedly compared with coding by hand. Another area where inexpensive tools can help is in the perennial headache of documentation. Automated support for creating documentation is readily available. Fortunately, many tools are self-documenting.
One of the components of the DSDM support environment is testing tools. There are many varieties of testing tool available on the market and DSDM strongly advocates the use of tools in this area. Producing a tested system in a very short time can only be made easier with effective tools.
A very useful class of tools is capture and replay tools. These can lessen the need for documented test scripts. The quickest way to document tests is to record them as they are performed. A great deal of developer time can be saved through this route. Not only does this eliminate the need for producing ‘paper’ scripts before testing takes place, but the tests can be achieved as evidence of what tests have taken place. Capture and replay tools are also extremely beneficial in building up regression test suites which can be left to run overnight while the developers have a well-earned rest.
Static code analyzers can relieve the effort in code inspection and lessen the need for third-party verification that the code is to the required standard.
If the testing toolset is to be really complete, then dynamic analysis tools will perform tests in the background while demonstrations of a part of the software are taking place. Dynamic analysis includes checking array bounds and detecting memory leakage, etc.; things that should be tested, but which may be difficult to fit into the tight schedule of a project.
Configuration Management Tools
DSDM asks a lot of configuration management. Everything that is produced (analysis models, designs, data, software, tests, test result, etc.) should all be kept in step within another, so that is relatively easy to move back to a known ‘build’ state whenever the development has gone down a blind alley. This requirement means that automated support is essential and that the automated support should allow for many versions used, but this rarely the case. Anyway, given the diversity of products that are under development at any one time, it is probably asking too much to expect all the relevant tools being used in projects to be sufficiently integrated to have every product in step. This means that a specialist configuration management tool should definitely be on the shopping list of an organization that is planning to take DSDM seriously. The ability to baseline everything on a daily basis is the ideal. So the tool should not incur too much of an overhead is its use. There are several excellent configuration management tools available which will do the job perfectly satisfactorily if the procedures governing their use are firmly in place.
Effective Tool Usage
Although there are excellent tools in the market, any tool is inly good as its users. They should not be relied upon as the whole answer. The developers should be confident that they know how to use them properly and that the tools are an asset rather than otherwise. The purchase of a tool environment for agile development should think carefully before buying. It is possible in early DSDM projects to live with what you already have. Indeed it is probably preferable not to introduce too many new things at the same time. Once the developers are used to the process, they will soon see where tool support would be particularly beneficial in their working environment. If tool support is to be bought, the purchaser should read the chapter in the online manual that gives very strong guidance on the characteristics of tools for DSDM. Not least of these is usability. For some reason, software tools are often less usable than their counterparts in the business environment – maybe we just like to make thing hard for ourselves.
- DSDM Consortium edited by Jennifer Staplenton , 2003.DSDM. In Paul Bocij, Jennifer Staplenton. DSDM Business Focused Development. 2nd ed. The DSDM Consortium. .ISBN 0-321-11224-5