Thursday, January 13, 2011

Software Developments Best Kept Secret

A few people have asked what I meant in my previous entry when a said we should be "killing off the endless debates of agile versus waterfall." Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of doing development in as efficient a way as possible, after all why would you want to be doing things in a 'non-agile' way! However I think that the agile versus waterfall debate really does miss the point. If you have ever worked on anything but the most trivial of software development projects you will quickly realise that there is no such thing as a 'one size fits all' software delivery lifecycle (SDLC) process. Each project is different and each brings its own challenges in terms of the best way to specify, develop, deliver and run it. Which brings me to the topic of this entry, the snappily titled Software and Systems Process Engineering Metamodel or 'SPEM' (but not SSPEM). 

SPEM is a standard owned by the Object Management Group (OMG), the body that also owns the Unified Modeling Language (UML), the Systems Modeling Language (SysML) and a number of other open standards. Essentially SPEM gives you the language (the metamodel) for defining software and system processes in a consistent and repeatable way. SPEM also allows vendors to build tools that automate the way processes are defined and delivered. Just like vendors have built system and software modeling tools based around UML so too can vendors build delivery process modeling tools built around SPEM.

So what exactly does SPEM define and why should you be interested in it? For me there are two reasons why you should look at adopting SPEM on your next project.
  1. SPEM separates out what you create (i.e. the content) from how you create it (i.e. the process) whilst at the same time providing instructions for how to do these two things (i.e. guidance).
  2. SPEM (or at least tools that implement SPEM) allows you to create a customised process by varying what you create and when you create it.
Here's a diagram to explain the first of these.

SPEM Method Framework
The SPEM Method Framework represents a consistent and repeatable approach to accomplishing a set of objectives based on a collection of well-defined techniques and best practices. The framework consists of three parts:
  • Content: represents the primary reusable building blocks of the method that exist outside of any predefined lifecycle. These are the work products that are created as a result of roles performing tasks.
  • Process: assembles method content into a sequence or workflow (represented by a work breakdown structure) used to organise the project and develop a solution. Process includes the phases that make up an end-to-end SDLC, the activities that phases are broken down into as well as reusable chunks of process referred to as 'capability patterns'.
  • Guidance: is the ‘glue’ which supports content development and process execution. It describes techniques and best-practice for developing content or 'executing' a process.
As well as giving us the 'language' for building our own processes SPEM also defines the rules for building those processes. For example phases consist of other phases or activities, activities group tasks, tasks take work products as input and output other work products and so on.

This is all well and good you might say but I don't want to have to laboriously build a whole process every time I want to run a project. This is where the second advantage of using SPEM comes in. A number of vendors (IBM and Sparx to name two) have built tools that not only automate the process for building a process but which also contain one or more 'ready-rolled' processes to get you started. You can either use those 'out of the box', extend them by adding your own content or start from scratch (not recommended for novices). What's more the Eclipse foundation have developed an open software tool, called the Eclipse Process Framework (EPF) that not only gives you a tool for building processes but also comes with a number of existing processes, including OpenUP (open version of the Rational Unified Process) as well as Scrum and DSDM.

If you download and install EPF together with the appropriate method libraries you can use these as the basis for creating your own processes. Here's what EPF looks like when you open the OpenUP SDLC.

EPF and OpenUP
The above view shows the browsing perspective of EPF, however there is also an authoring perspective which allows you to not only reconfigure a process to suit your own project but also add and remove content (i.e. roles, tasks and work products). Once you have made your changes you can republish the new process (as HTML) and anyone with a browser can then view the process together with all of it work products and, most crucially, associated guidance (i.e. examples, templates, guidelines etc) that allow you to use the process in an effective way.

This is, I believe, the true power of using a tool like EPF (or IBM's Rational Method Composer which comes preloaded with the Rational Unified Process). You can take an existing SDLC (one you have created or one you have obtained from elsewhere) and customise it to meet the needs of your project. The amount of agility and number of iterations etc that you want to run will depend on the intricacies of your project and not what some method guru tells you that you should be using! 

By the way for an excellent introduction and overview of EPF see here and here. The Eclipse web site also contains a wealth of information on EPF. You can also download the complete SPEM 2 specification from the OMG web site here.

3 comments:

  1. EPF don't runs well in Linux and I am looking for another similar open source tool. Some ideas?

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  2. Hmmm, I'm surprised EPF does not run too well on Linux. Have you posted to the Eclipse forum to find out why? Unfortunately I know of no other open source tools that support SPEM.

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  3. Eclipse EPF runs very well on several Linux distros, 1) provided the correct JVM/JRE is installed, 2)a compatible, window manager is installed - KDE, Gnome, etc. and 3) that the correct permissions are applied to the installation and library folders. Distros I have personally used with EPF 1.5.1 and the Java JRE 6/7 include CentOS, Ubuntu, Debian, openSUSE.

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