Thursday, June 21, 2007

Did You Found Your Balance With Java?

When I was young I practised judo for a couple of years. Got myself a brown belt and nothing after that, as I wasn't the competition kind of guy. I could have managed getting the black belt on technique alone (by doing so-called kata's), but that would require a lot of practise and time, which I did not had. One of the reasons being that at the same time I also practiced jujutsu (got myself a green belt for that).

When I went to the university I visited a different dojo, again only for a couple of times because of lack of time, but long enough to understand what in the previous dojo the sensei failed to teach me: proper balance. Imagine that during a randori (that is sparring) you jump around too much, giving the opponent many opportunities to show you every corner of the dojo. Well, that was me.

I have not been doing martial arts for many years now, so I was way beyond any frustration about this. That was until on the recent J-Spring of the NL-JUG (spring conference of Dutch Java User Group) when I learned about the JavaBlackBelt community. As is described on the home page of their web site: "JavaBlackBelt is a community for Java and related technologies certifications. Everybody is welcome to take existing exams and build new ones." I couldn't help it, I had to check it out. Am I still jumping around, or have I found my balance with Java?

Well, I expect it will be a long way before I know, as again I don't have much time. But I managed to get at least a yellow belt! So for now I find some comfort knowing that at least I'm beyond the level of Java-newbie.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Cooking with OUM

The other day I had a really challenging discussion about how to apply OUM (Oracle Unified Method) / UP (Unified Process) on a running project. As with all projects, it had to be decided what needed to be done to deliver a system, no surprise there. The challenging part first of all was in that we tried to fit an incremental approach into a waterfall-like offering. Secondly the approach had to be supported by people that had no previous exposure to OUM nor UP. So how can you bring that to a success without boiling peoples brains?

Let me start with the good news, which is that we reached a point that people have an idea about what they are going to do, and made that plan themselves rather than me telling them what to do. That is exactly how you want things to be in the end, so what more do you want? I should be happy!

The bad news is that something 's nagging the back of my head, being that I made a couple of mistakes along the road, resulting in me not having the feeling the message was understood properly. But as a famous Dutch philosopher once said: "every disadvantage 'as it's advantage", in this case being that that me feeling miserable is not your problem, and we all might learn from it.

In retrospect I think the one and only real mistake was skipping the part in where you explain the principles behind OUM and UP, and being so naive to think I could do that along the road. OK, I jumped on a running train and the approach needed to be there yesterday, so maybe I'm excused, but boy, what a mistake that was as it made discussions so difficult. But let's skip the nag whine part and let me explain what I would do differently next time.

First of all I would explain very well the difference between a task and a deliverable. When that is clear, I would be ready to explain how iterations go in OUM. Pretty important when you need to explain how exactly you do high-risk activities first (a principle that I luckily did not forget to explain up-front).

Unfortunately, I presented all tasks using the name of what OUM calls 'work products', giving the impression that every task results in a deliverable that actually is going to be presented as such to the customer. As in my proposal there were quite a few tasks to do, it looked like I proposed creating a pile of deliverables, scaring the hell out of people.

In OUM the term deliverable is reserved for a "product" that we actually present to the customer and that you likely will find in the project proposal or project plan. In order to get to that deliverable, you sometimes do multiple tasks, like creating an initial version of some document, reviewing that with the customer, in a next phase adding details using some diagrams, reviewing it again, etc., before you finally come up with one concrete deliverable.

Every (intermediate) task results in a "work product" that might or might not be presented to the customer as a deliverable. The important thing to notice is that, although the tasks might have different names and associated codes, you actually work on multiple iterations of the same deliverable.

Below an example of how the Use Case Model is created in three iterations (I left out any review tasks between each iteration). The rounded boxes are the tasks, the iterations of the work products are the square ones. By drawing a box around the three Use Case Model iterations I express these will be combined into one single deliverable.

How many work products you plan to combine into one deliverable, is up to you. Three words of advice, though.

First try to prevent multiple people working on the same document at the same time, because that unnecessarily introduces the risk of people needing to wait on each other. When you anticipate this might happen, that’s a strong contra-indication for combining work products.

For this reason, in the example the Use Case Realization has not been combined with the Use Case Model, as in this case the assumption is that the Use Case Realization will be worked out by a Designer, while the Use Case Model has been worked out by a (Business) Analyst, both having different responsibilities.

Secondly, do not iterate the same work product over a long period of time, because you might get the feeling it never finishes. You definitely should not let deliverables iterate cross phases that need to be signed-off. Not many customers want to put their signature on a document in a state of “draft”. I always try to prevent this kind of signing-off way of working as it can be killing for agility, but when there is no other option, be aware that after signing-off normally a deliverable can only be changed after a formal change request procedure (and that takes valuable time).

In the example, this is one of the reasons the MoSCoW-list has not been combined with the Use Case Model, as the assumption is that the MoSCoW-list has been used to define the scope and priorities of high-level requirements, providing the baseline for the activities during the Elaboration phase.

Finally, wherever you combine work products, keep track of the link to the tasks that create them, and make explicit in what iteration the deliverable is, for the following reasons:

  • When keeping track of the original tasks you can make use of the work breakdown structure the method offers, supporting estimating and progress tracking (for some silly reason some managers like to know how far you are from time to time).
  • Knowing what task you are performing facilitates using templates and guidance the method offers for that task.
  • It allows for people outside the project to understand what you're trying to achieve with a specific work product, enabling them to have the right perspective when reviewing it. Otherwise there is a big risk of expecting the wrong thing and not talking the same language. I have seen this going nasty a couple of times when the customer brought in their own experts, believe me.
  • Whenever you want to know how a specific workproduct should look like, you can ask questions like: "does anyone have a good example of a RD.011 High-level Business Process Model for me?" and surprise everyone around you. You might even get what you asked for rather than some document that you have to study for an hour or so to finally conclude it's not what you need. Have you been there, done that?
These are benefits you directly start to profit from right here right now. But what about some next time? Would it not be nice when you could reuse your deliverables as an example for one of your next projects? Or even better, would you not be proud when one of your deliverables ends up in the company-library of outstanding examples, giving you the feeling you have achieved all there is to achieve, quit your job, sell your house and go and live like a king in France, as we Dutchmen say?

Hmmm... Suddenly I start to understand why sometimes it is so hard to get good sample deliverables in some organizations. It may be because of some company policy forbidding such a library.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

UML White Papers Released

Remember the UML white papers I talked about updating them? Well they got published today!

So when you are interested in getting started with:
  • UML use case modeling
  • UML class modeling
  • UML activity modeling
go to the JDeveloper Technical Papers section on OTN and download them from there. I expect the average paper to take not more that one to two hours to read and digest. Happy reading!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Recipe for Stress

When capturing specifications, it is always a challenge to weight effort against risk. The more you specify, the less risk there is of missing requirements. At least that is what you hope. Unfortunately, experience shows that no matter how hard you try, you never get them all. So where do you stop? When is it time to go home and grab a beer?

The other day I reviewed some use cases. Some of the use cases were worked out pretty detailed. There even was a log-in use case with a (conceptual) screen layout. But as this was only the start of the project no supplementary requirements had been defined yet. As an answer to of the question of how detailed one should get while capturing requirements, I provided the following example based on the log-in use case (which by the way is subfunction rather than a user goal).

Your customer might agree that you can leave the functional requirements for a log-in use case to "the user can log in by providing either a user name and a password or a customer number and a password", and not ask for a screen layout as for most people that is pretty straightforward.

However, at the same time supplementary requirements to this use case might be something like:
  • At a minimum passwords must be changed every 2 months
  • Passwords must be at least 8 characters in length, and a mixture of alphabetic and non-alphabetic characters
  • Passwords may not be reused within 5 password changes.

Notice how the functional requirement is very brief, only one short sentence. However, the supplementary requirements are and should be pretty specific, as often it is far from trivial how to implement them.

Thinking about something "simple" as securing passwords might also trigger the users to define other security requirements as well, like securing web services. When doing a mapping from sequirity requirements to an initial technical architecture, you might decide to use Oracle Web Server Manager. That might imply the need for some extra setup and expertise to do so. And it all started with a simple screen with only two items on it!

So what do we learn from this?

Failing to recognize supplementary requirements in the beginning, is a good recipe for a lot of stress later on. That is nice to know for the masochistic project managers out there. For those who are not like that you better make sure you have discussed the supplementary requirements with your customer to a sufficient level to be able to baseline at least is a little bit reliable.

Not discussing supplementary requirements and think it just will blow over is a mistake. Most customers have only a vague idea if any, and will expect us to tell them what their supplementary requirements should be. Failing to do so might jeapordize your relationship with your customer.