Friday, July 22, 2005

CM to an Interface, not to an Implementation

It's been a very busy and heated week or so for "Agile CM" discussion on First, we published the debate-provoking article about some fictitious "newly discovered" National Treasures of Agile Development. Then there was, and still still is, the ensuing (and much heated) discussion on the Balancing CM and Agility discussion thread.

The gist of the article was that it purported to have discovered some historical artifact whose wording resembled the July 1776 declaration of independence, but was referring to agile developers complaining about, and wanting freedom from, the so called "tyrannies" of many recurring heavyweight Software CM process implementations. Of course since it was posted in a forum for CM professionals, the article sparked some very strong reactions from some people (and you can read them in the "Balancing CM and Agility" thread if you like).

One thing regarding the article and discussion thread that struck me is very much related to one of the SCM Principles from GoF Design Patterns that I blogged about last week:
  • Program to an Interface, Not an Implementation (a.k.a "Separate Interface from Implementation")

Some regarded the "National Treasures" article as an attack against CM and CM principles in general instead of taking it for what it was, a grievance with some commonly recurring characteristics of some heavyweight SCM process implementations.

That got me to thinking - maybe these could be recast as instances of violating an important SCM principle! Previously, I had blogged about "separating interface from implementation" as it applies to designing build scripts/recipes as well as CM processes and workflow. But I didnt really talk about how it applies to the roles involved in defining the CM activities and in executing the CM activities.

In the case of CM and development, I think it is frequently the case in many heavyweight SCM implementation, that the developers quite likely did not get a lot of say in defining the process and procedures they must follow to meet the needs of CM. It was instead defined primarily by configuration/build managers to meet needs needs like reproducibility, repeatability, traceability, and auditability without enough considerations to development's needs for:
  • high quality+velocity acheived though rapid and frequent feedback that comes from very frequent integration (including being able to do their own merges+builds on their own "Active Development Line")

  • unit, integration, and regression testing with the latest development state of the codeline

  • effect fixes/changes quickly and efficiently without long wait/approval periods for authorization of changes they are likely to know need to be made ASAP (like most bugfixes and maintainability/refactoring changes found after the corresponding task was committed to the development codeline)
This leads me to think an important manifestation of separating interface from implementation is to:
      Configuration Manage to an Interface, Not to an Implementation!
What I mean by this is that when defining CM policies, processes and procedures, the impacted stakeholders (particularly the ones who will execute the procedures) not only need to be involved, but as the "consuming end-user" of the process and procedures, they need to play a key role in defining the process implementation.

  • CM (and other downstream stakeholders) should define their needs/requirements in terms of interfaces: policies, invariants, constraints, and entry criteria for what is given to configuration/build managers.

  • Development should be empowered to attempt to define the implementation: the processes/procedures and conventions for how they will meet or conform to the "interface" needed by CM.
This seems very "Agile" to me in that it fosters collaboration between CM and development. It lets CM be the "customer" of agile developers by giving them their CM process requirements and allowing them to drive and fine-tune the implementation's "acceptance tests" to ensure it meets their needs. It also allows development, the folks who are executing the development activities, to collaboratively define their own processes (in accordance with lean development/manufacturing principles).

Does that mean every different development group that delivers to CM should be allowed to come up with their own process? What about having consistent and repeatable processes? If the requirements/interfaces are defined and repeatedly met, why and when do we need to care? Each development group is defining and repeatably executing its process to meet consistent CM entry-criteria. And doesnt the CMM/CMMI allow for project-specific tailoring of standard organizational processes?

Still, there should be some mechanism for a larger-grained collaboration, such as a so called "community of practice" for all the development projects to share their successful development practices so that that knowledge can be reused throughout the organization. And every time CM collaborates with yet another project, they can point to an existing body of development processes being successfully used that the project they are engaging might want to consider adopting/adapting.

I do think that if they (development + CM) choose to use a different process or significantly adapt an existing one, it would be good to know the differences and WHY they were necessary. Seems to me that matches the description of what an SCM Pattern is: something that defines a solution to an SCM problem in a context and captures the forces, their resolution, and the rationale behind it.

Then when CM and development work together the next time for the next project, they simply look at the set of SCM patterns they have been growing (into a pattern language perhaps) and decide which combination of patterns to apply, and how to apply them, to balance and resolve the needs of both CM and development, collaboratively!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

SCM Principles from GoF Design Patterns

I was reading Leading Edge Java online and saw an article on Design Principles from Design Patterns. The article is part III of a conversation with Erich Gamma, one of the famous Gang of Four who authored the now legendary book Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software.

In this third installment, Gamma discusses two design principles highlighted in the GoF book:
  • program to an interface, not an implementation (a.k.a "separate interface from implementation")

  • favor object composition over class inheritance
Another recurring theme echoed throughout the book is:
  • encapsulate the thing that varies (separate the things that change from the things that stay the same during a certain moment/interval)
I think these three GoF Design Principles have pretty clear translations into the SCM domain:
  • Separate Interface from Implementation - this applies not only to code, but to Make/ANT scripts when dealing with multi-platform issues like building for different operating environments, or windowing systems, or component libraries from different vendors for the same functionality. We are often able to use variables to represent the target platform and corresponding set of build options/libraries: the rules for building the targets operate at the abstract level, independent of the particular platform. This can also apply to defining the process itself, trying to ensure the high-level workflow roles, states & actions are mostly independent of a particular vendor tool

  • Prefer Composition & Configuration over Branching & Merging - This is one of my favorites, because it talks about one of my pet peeves: inapproproriate use of branching to solve a problem that is better solved by using either compile-time, install-time, or run-time configuration options to "switch on" the desired combinations of variant behavior. Why deal with the pain of branching and then having to merge a subsequent fix/enhancement to multiple variant-branches if you can code it once in the same directory structure with patterns like Strategy, Decorator, Wrapper-Facade, or other product-line practices

  • Isolate Variation - this one is almost too obvious. Private Workspaces and Private Branches isolate variation/change, as does just about any codeline. And we do the same things in the build-scripts too

Can you think of any other valid interpretations of the above design rules in terms of how they translate into the SCM domain?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Whitgift's Principles of Effective SCM

In an effort to try and deduce/derive The Principles of SCM, I'm going through the SCM literature to see what other published SCM experts have identified as SCM Principles.

Among the best "oldies but goodies" are the books by David Whitgift (Methods and Tools for SCM, Wiley 1991) and Wayne Babich (SCM: Coordination for Team Productivity, Addison-Wesley 1986). These books are 15-20 years old, but most of what they say still seems relevant for software development and well-aligned with agile and iterative development methodologies.

Today I'll focus on David Whitgift's writings. In the very first chapter ("Introduction") he says that CM is more concerned with the relationships between items than with the contents of the items themselves:
  • This is because CM needs to understand the decomposition + dependencies among and between all the things that are necessary for a change to result in a correct + consistent version of the system that is usable to the rest of the team (or its stakeholders).

  • He also states that most of the problems that arise from poor CM and which CM is meant to resolve are issues of coordination/communication and control. And he gives a shopping list of common problems encountered in each of five different areas (change-management, version-management, build-management, repository-management, item identification/relationship management).
At the end of section 1.2 in the first chapter, Whitgift writes:
In the course of the book, five principles become apparent which are the keys to effective CM. They are that CM should be:
  • Proactive. CM should be viewed not so much as a solution to the problems listed in the previous section but as a collection of procedures which ensure the problems do not arise. All too often CM procedures are instituted in response to problems rather than to forestall them. CM must be carefully planned.

  • Flexible. CM controls must be sensitive to the context in which they operate. Within a single project an element of code which is under development should not be subject to restrictive change control; once it has been tested and approved, change control needs to be formalized. Different projects may have very different CM requirements.

  • Automated. All aspects of CM can benefit from the use of software tools; for some aspects, CM tools are all but essential. Much of this book is concerned with describing how CM tools can help. Beware, however, that no CM tool is a panacea for all CM problems.

  • Integrated. CM should not be an administrative overhead with which engineers periodically have to contend. CM should be the linchpin which integrates everything an engineer does; it provides much more than a repository where completed items are deposited. Only if an engineer attempts to subvert CM controls should he or she be conscious of the restrictions which CM imposes.

  • Visible. Many of the issues raised in the previous section stem from ignorance of the content of items, the relationships between items, and the way items change. CM requires that any activity which affects items should be conducted according to clearly defined procedures which leave a visible and auditable record of the activity.

Whitgift's "proactivity principle" might seem a bit "Big Planning/Design Up Front" rather than responsive, adaptive, or emergent. And his "visibility principle" one may seem like heavyweight traceability and documentation. However, in light of being flexible, automated, and integrated, it might not be as bad as it sounds.

Each of the above five Principles of Effective CM seem (to me) to be potentially competing objectives ("forces") that need to be balanced when resolving a particular SCM problem. I wouldn't regard them as principles in the same sense as Robert Martin's "Principles of Object-Oriented Design."

Each of the subsequent chapters in Whitgift's text delves into various principles for the various sub-areas of CM. I write about those in subsequent blog-entries.