I appreciated this article as far as it went, and space limitations always require abridgements. Even so, requirements gathering, client organizational culture, and budgeting/scope creep can be extremely important. So I found it interesting that the author chose not to address these factors and their influence on how well different software development approaches work.
By way of examples, compare and contrast the software engineering for Vista, Firefox, a cruise ship, and the next generation stealth fighter. I would expect Vista and Firefox experiences to be similar because they are both large scale projects where clients (consumers) are atomistic, failure is an option, and requirements are refined along the way. I suspect most if not all of the important decisions about the ship will have been made by the time detailed software design begins. (How big is the ship? What subsystems do we need? How many staterooms and work stations will there be? …) The ship investors may be assisted by staffs, but they will not be atomistic, and failure will not be an option - at least not for critical systems like steering and fire detection. I think the stealth fighter will be somewhat similar to the ship, with the major exceptions that the improved sophistication of foreign militaries, changes in the political landscape, and much higher levels of technology risk will result in great scope creep and expense - even just for the fighter's software. The testing process alone will present very different challenges for these projects.
I wouldn't be surprised if the methods that work best for a Vista or Firefox type project are similar, but I would be surprised if Vista/Firefox best practices also work best for the ship or fighter, or if best practices for the ship and fighter were similar to each other.
First figure out what needs to be done and the environment in which it will be done. Then figure out who should do it and the best way to get it done.
posted by Michael Lehr
October 29, 2011
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