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 Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 8/28/2003

This is your bi-weekly e-Newsletter from Effective Engineering Consulting Services (www.effectiveeng.com).  If you would like to receive Effective Engineering e-newsletters as they are published, please send an email to e-newsletter@effectiveeng.com, and we will add you to our distribution list.


Development Methodology Basics: Stages of Development
  By Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [tdennis@effectiveeng.com]

Too many engineers believe product development begins when they start their detailed design or coding, and ends when product is released to manufacture.  This couldn’t be more wrong, and products developed under such an approach are usually destined to fail badly.  A framework for proper product development, also known as a development methodology, is required.  Such a methodology covers the appropriate stages and management of development, including what needs to be done, why, by whom, when, and how.  The subject of development methodology is broad, and can be very complex.  In the next two e-Newsletters, I will simply attempt to cover, very briefly, what many of the major elements of a development methodology are.  In subsequent e-Newsletters, I will go into more detail about many of the specific elements that are only briefly touched on here.  The level of development methodology also varies broadly (see eN-030731 – Development Methodology: Too Little, Too Much, or “Just Right”?).

Most broadly, a development methodology covers the Stages of Development, and the Management of Development.  This e-Newsletter will cover the Stages of Development (Requirements & Architecture, Build & Test, and Release & Support), and the next e-Newsletter will cover the Management of Development (see eN-030911 – Development Methodology Basics: Management of Development).

Stages of Development:
Requirements & Architecture: This stage is the most critical, and often the stage that is given far less attention than it deserves.  This stage forms the foundation that the product and project is based upon.  If the foundation is weak, then the construction built upon that foundation is likely to collapse and fail.  People are often in a rush to start building something, even if they’re not sure what exactly to build.  Do so, and you will pay the consequences later.  Time spent in the Requirements & Architecture stage is time well spent and can significantly reduce the time spent in the Build & Test stage, and significantly improve the overall product quality.  Typically, one third to one half of the overall development interval should be spent in the Requirement & Architecture stage.

Requirements includes everything needed to properly define the WHAT, WHO, and WHEN of the product to be built.  WHAT includes specifically what the product is to be and what it is not to be (see eN-030619 – What Do Your Customers Really Want?).  WHAT also includes the overall functional specs, architecture specs, detailed design and test specs, project plans, customer support documents, etc.  WHO includes the specific allocation of resources for the various tasks to be undertaken, to prepare the various requirements documents (broad, technical, and detailed), to develop the project plans, to define the architecture(s) to be used, to design, test, and document the product, to manage the project, to support the product, etc.  WHEN includes detailed milestones, schedules, dependencies, resource allocation timeframes, and any other time-related activities associated with product development.

Architecture includes everything needed to properly define the WHY and HOW about the product to be built.  WHY includes understanding the most critical aspects for the product’s success (e.g. speed, latency, transaction handling, accuracy, etc.), and then determining the best architectural approaches to achieve that success.  HOW includes examining alternate architectures to see what works best.  By doing proper performance engineering during this stage, at the concept level, proper architectural choices can be made early, rather than discovering much later, when corrective actions may be extremely difficult, that bad architectural choices were made. 

Build & Test:  This stage is the carrying out of all of the decisions and requirements, and building of the architecture(s), as specified during the Requirements & Architecture stage.  If the Requirements & Architecture stage has been properly completed, this should be a fairly straightforward process.  If not, then this stage can become bedlam, with everyone trying to both define and execute simultaneously.  This is generally a blueprint for failure.

Build includes detailed hardware, firmware, software, and mechanical design per the design specifications.  It also includes verification of the design at the unit or module level, before the unit or module is formally turned over to the test group.

Test includes all elements of testing, including module test, integration test, functional test, system-level test, “white-box” test, “black-box” test, negative test, regression test, testing “outside the box”, and more.  The intent of test efforts is to find any problems customers may uncover before the product ever reaches a customer.

Release & Support:  This is the stage where the product is released to be manufactured, and then encounters real customers.

Release includes everything needed to formally turn the product design information over to manufacturing.  This includes documentation (drawings, files, software, tests, etc.), and any other information that manufacturing may need to properly build and ship the product (e.g. packaging, labeling, pricing, etc.).

Support includes everything needed to properly support the product once it has reached customers, be they end users, distributors, or anyone else.  This includes documentation, training, update processes, and anything else intermediate or end user customers may require.

This has been a very brief summary of the major stages of development.  How these stages, and the elements within, are managed will be discussed in the next e-Newsletter.  More details about many of these elements are needed, and such details will be topics of many subsequent e-Newsletters.

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