Jazoon 2012: Improving system development using traceability

When you develop a software, you will ask yourself these questions (quoted from here):

  • Is it still possible to accept a late change request? What would be the impact?
  • What is the overall level of completion of the system or a component?
  • Which components are ready for testing?
  • A failure occurs because the system is erroneous. What parts of the system should I check?

In his talk “Improving system development using traceability“, Ömer Gürsoy shows an approach to answer these. The idea is to trace changes end-to-end: From the idea over requirements to design, implementation, tests, bug reports and the product manual. For this to work, you’ll need to

  • Analyze
  • Document
  • Validate
  • Manage

At itemis, they developed tooling support. A plug-in for Eclipse can track changes in all kinds of sources (text documents, UML diagrams, requirement DSLs) and “keep them together”. It can answer questions like “who uses this piece of code?”

The answer will tell you where you need to look to estimate the impact of a change. That helps to avoid traps like underestimation or missing surveillance.

Today, the plug-in shows some promise but there are rough edges left. The main problem is integration with other tools. The plug-in supports extension points to add any kind of data source but that only helps if the data source is willing to share. The second problem is that it doesn’t support versioning right now. It’s on the feature list.

On the positive side, it can create dependencies from a piece of text (say a paragraph in a text file). If you edit other parts of the text file, the tool will make sure the dependency still points to the right part of the text. So you can make notes during a meeting. Afterwards, you can click on the paragraphs and link them to (new) requirements or parts of the code (like modules) that will be affected. Over time, a graph of dependencies will be created that helps you to keep track of everything that is related to some change and how it is related: Where did the request come from? Which code was changed?

Always keep in mind that tracking everything isn’t possible – it would simply too expensive today. But you can track your most important or most dangerous changes. That would give you the most bang for the buck. To do that, you must know what you must track and why.

A feature that I’d like to see is automatic discovery. Especially Java source code should be easy to analyze for dependencies.

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