Friday, July 07, 2006

Trustworthy Transparency over Tiresome Traceability

If there was an Agile CM Manifesto, then this statement should be part of it!
Trustworthy Transparency over Tiresome Traceability

Note that my position on traceability is more "lean" than "agile" I suspect. I base this on the XP & Scrum centric views that were expressed in the March 2004 YahooGroup discussion thread Why Traceability? Can it be Agile? I think the "tests over traceability" is probably a valid summary of the XP/Scrum perspective from that thread.

I think myself and David Anderson would probably say something more along the lines of "transparency over traceability", where we acknowledge the important goals that traceability is trying to fulfill (I'm not sure the XP community embraces all of those that I identified as the "8 reasons" and "6 facets" that I identified in my paper on traceability dissected). David in particular has written in the past about "trustworthy transparency" and "naked projects" (projects that are so transparent and visible in their status/accounting that they seem "naked").

I also differ strongly with the many vocal opinions expressed in XP community when it comes to the use of tools for tracking requests/changes: I'm strongly in favor of using a "good" tracking tool. I think index cards are a great and valuable "tool" for eliciting dialogue and interaction with the "customer" (and I use them for this purpose, along with post-it notes). But I believe index cards simply do not "cut it" as a serious means of storing, tracking, sorting, searching, slicing & dicing development/change requests).

I do believe an extent of traceability is necessary, and that it's not necessarily "agile", but that it can be, and should be, "lean" and streamlined, and should serve the purpose of transparency, visibility and status-accounting rather than being a goal in itself. And I think there are several strategies and tactics that can be employed to achieve "lean" traceability in service to "trustworthy transparency and friction-free metrics."

I think that a "lean" approach of traceability would focus on the following:
  1. Flow: If one uses "single piece flow" and does changes at the granularity that TDD mandates, then software-level requirements, design, coding, and testing are all part of the same task, and tracking them to a single record-id in the change-tracking system and version-control tool would actually go a long ways toward traceability (its much more work & intermediate artifacts when those activities are all separated over time (different lifecycle phases), space (different artifacts) and people (different roles/organizations). When traceability efforts noticeably interfere with "flow" is when agilists will start screaming.

  2. Minimizing intermediate artifacts and other perceived forms of "waste" (overspecifying requirements or too much requirements "up front") because fewer artifacts means fewer things to trace.

  3. Collocating both people & artifacts (the former for communication, the latter for "locality of reference") for those artifacts that are deemed necessary.

  4. Coarse-Granularity and Modularity/Factoring of what is traced: tracing at the highest practical level of granularity (e.g., is it practical to trace to the individual requirement or the use-case? To the line of code, or to the method/subroutine, or to the class/module) - this would be about "simple design" and "(re)factoring)" as it applies to the structure of the traced entities and their relationships.

  5. Transparent, frictionless automation of the terribly taxing and tiresome tedium of traceability: focus on taking the tedium out of manual traceability and have it streamlined and automated as much as possible, ideally happening seamlessly behind the seems (like with Jane Huang's event-based traceability (EBT), or thru the use of a common environment "event" catcher within Eclipse or MS Team System server), probably using a task-based, test-driven (TDD), or feature-driven (FDD) approach.
Many of these concepts and more are embodied in Sam Guckenheimer's recent book on Software Engineering with Microsoft Visual Studio Team System. I found this book to be surprisingly good (outstanding even), and not at all what I was expecting given the apparent tool/vendor-specific nature suggested by the title. The value-up paradigm and most of the other concepts and values in the book are very well aligned with agility while still meeting the needs of more rigorous ceremony in their software and systems engineering efforts.

I'll close with a description of a recent presentation by David Anderson on Changing the Software Engineering Culture with Trustworthy Transparency:
"Modern software tooling innovation allows the tracking of work performed by engineers and transparent reporting of that work in various formats suitable for everything from day-to-day management and team organization to monthly and quarterly senior executive reporting. Modern work item tracking is coupled to version control systems and aware of analysis, design, coding and testing transitions. This makes it not only transparent but trustworthy. Not only can a tool tell you the health of a project based on the state of completion of every work item, but this information is reliable and trustworthy because it is tightly coupled to the system of software engineering and the artifacts produced by it.

The age of trustworthy transparency in software engineering is upon us. Trustworthy transparency changes the culture in an organization and enables change that unleashes significant gains in productivity and initial quality. However, transparency and managing based on objective study of reality strains existing software engineering culture as all the old rules, obfuscation, economies of truth, wishful thinking and subjective decision making must be cast aside. What can you expect, how will you cope and how can you harness the power of trustworthy transparency in your organization?
As someone with a strong Unix and Open-Source heritage, I've long regarded Microsoft as "the evil empire" and loathed their operating system and browser and ALM tools. But in the last 3 years or so they've acquired a number of people in the Agile and ALM community that I highly respect (Brian White, Sam Guckenheimer, David Anderson, Ward Cunningham, James Newkirk) and the products these folks have worked on look incredibly impressive to me (even tho not all of them are still with Microsoft), plus I'm quite impressed with the whole of their Software Factories vision and approach ...

I actually may have to start liking them (or at least part of them :-). Don't get me wrong! I'm still a big fan Unix (and Mac OS/X), Open-Source, and more recently Eclipse, ALF and Corona; But the competing stuff from the folks in Redmond is looking exceedingly more and more impressive to me. Working on those kinds of things with those people would be an incredible experience I think (now if only I could do that without having to relocate from Chicago or spend 25% or more of my time traveling ;-).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


A recent posting from Johanna Rothman (and comments) may be interesting.