- understand the concepts of software processes and software process models;
- have been introduced to three generic software process models and when they might be used;
- know about the fundamental process activities of software requirements engineering, software development, testing, and evolution;
- understand why processes should be organized to cope with changes in the software requirements and design;
- understand how the Rational Unified Process integrates good software engineering practice to create adaptable software processes.
A software process is a set of related activities that leads to the production of a software product. These activities may involve the development of software from scratch in a standard programming language like Java or C. However, business applications are not necessarily developed in this way. New business software is now often developed by extending and modifying existing systems or by configuring and integrating off-the-shelf software or system components. There are many different software processes but all must include four activities that are fundamental to software engineering:
- Software specification The functionality of the software and constraints on its operation must be defined.
- Software design and implementation The software to meet the specification must be produced.
- Software validation The software must be validated to ensure that it does what the customer wants.
- Software evolution The software must evolve to meet changing customer needs.
In some form, these activities are part of all software processes. In practice, of course, they are complex activities in themselves and include sub-activities such as requirements validation, architectural design, unit testing, etc. There are also supporting process activities such as documentation and software configuration management. When we describe and discuss processes, we usually talk about the activities in these processes such as specifying a data model, designing a user interface, etc., and the ordering of these activities. However, as well as activities, process descriptions may also include:
- Products, which are the outcomes of a process activity. For example, the outcome of the activity of architectural design may be a model of the software architecture.
- Roles, which reflect the responsibilities of the people involved in the process. Examples of roles are project manager, configuration manager, programmer, etc.
- Pre- and post-conditions, which are statements that are true before and after a process activity has been enacted or a product produced. For example, before architectural design begins, a precondition may be that all requirements have been approved by the customer; after this activity is finished, a post-condition might be that the UML models describing the architecture have been reviewed
software processes are categorized as either plan-driven or agile processes. Plan-driven processes are processes where all of the process activities are planned in advance and progress is measured against this plan. In agile processes, planning is incremental and it is easier to change the process to reflect changing customer requirements. As Boehm and Turner (2003) discuss, each approach is suitable for different types of software. Generally, you need to find a balance between plandriven and agile processes.
Software process models
A software process model is a simplified representation of a software process. Each process model represents a process from a particular perspective, and thus provides only partial information about that process. For example, a process activity model shows the activities and their sequence but may not show the roles of the people involved in these activities. In this section, I introduce a number of very general process models (sometimes called ‗process paradigms‘) and present these from an architectural perspective. That is, we see the framework of the process but not the details of specific activities. These generic models are not definitive descriptions of software processes. Rather, they are abstractions of the process that can be used to explain different approaches to software development. You can think of them as process frameworks that may be extended and adapted to create more specific software engineering processes.
- The waterfall model This takes the fundamental process activities of specification, development, validation, and evolution and represents them as separate process phases such as requirements specification, software design, implementation, testing, and so on.
- Incremental development This approach interleaves the activities of specification, development, and validation. The system is developed as a series of versions (increments), with each version adding functionality to the previous version.
- Reuse-oriented software engineering This approach is based on the existence of a significant number of reusable components. The system development process focuses on integrating these components into a system rather than developing them from scratch.
These models are not mutually exclusive and are often used together, especially for large systems development. For large systems, it makes sense to combine some of the best features of the waterfall and the incremental development models. You need to have information about the essential system requirements to design a software architecture to support these requirements. You cannot develop this incrementally. Sub-systems within a larger system may be developed using different approaches. Parts of the system that are well understood can be specified and developed using a waterfall-based process. Parts of the system which are difficult to specify in advance, such as the user interface, should always be developed using an incremental approach.
The waterfall model
The first published model of the software development process was derived from more general system engineering processes (Royce, 1970). This model is illustrated in Figure 2.1. Because of the cascade from one phase to another, this model is known as the ‗waterfall model‘ or software life cycle. The waterfall model is an example of a plan-driven process—in principle, you must plan and schedule all of the process activities before starting work on them.
The principal stages of the waterfall model directly reflect the fundamental development activities:
- Requirements analysis and definition The system‘s services, constraints, and goals are established by consultation with system users. They are then defined in detail and serve as a system specification.
- System and software design The systems design process allocates the requirements to either hardware or software systems by establishing an overall system architecture. Software design involves identifying and describing the fundamental software system abstractions and their relationships.
- Implementation and unit testing During this stage, the software design is realized as a set of programs or program units. Unit testing involves verifying that each unit meets its specification.
- Integration and system testing The individual program units or programs are integrated and tested as a complete system to ensure that the software requirements have been met. After testing, the software system is delivered to the customer.
- Operation and maintenance Normally (although not necessarily), this is the longest life cycle phase. The system is installed and put into practical use. Maintenance involves correcting errors which were not discovered in earlier stages of the life cycle, improving the implementation of system units and enhancing the system‘s services as new requirements are discovered.
In principle, the result of each phase is one or more documents that are approved (‗signed off‘). The following phase should not start until the previous phase has finished. In practice, these stages overlap and feed information to each other. During design, problems with requirements are identified. During coding, design problems are found and so on. The software process is not a simple linear model but involves feedback from one phase to another. Documents produced in each phase may then have to be modified to reflect the changes made.
Because of the costs of producing and approving documents, iterations can be costly and involve significant rework. Therefore, after a small number of iterations, it is normal to freeze parts of the development, such as the specification, and to continue with the later development stages. Problems are left for later resolution, ignored, or programmed around. This premature freezing of requirements may mean that the system won‘t do what the user wants. It may also lead to badly structured systems as design problems are circumvented by implementation tricks.
During the final life cycle phase (operation and maintenance) the software is put into use. Errors and omissions in the original software requirements are discovered. Program and design errors emerge and the need for new functionality is identified. The system must therefore evolve to remain useful. Making these changes (software maintenance) may involve repeating previous process stages.
The waterfall model is consistent with other engineering process models and documentation is produced at each phase. This makes the process visible so managers can monitor progress against the development plan. Its major problem is the inflexible partitioning of the project into distinct stages. Commitments must be made at an early stage in the process, which makes it difficult to respond to changing customer requirements. In principle, the waterfall model should only be used when the requirements are well understood and unlikely to change radically during system development. However, the waterfall model reflects the type of process used in other engineering projects. As is easier to use a common management model for the whole project, software processes based on the waterfall model are still commonly used. An important variant of the waterfall model is formal system development, where a mathematical model of a system specification is created. This model is then refined, using mathematical transformations that preserve its consistency, into executable code. Based on the assumption that your mathematical transformations are correct, you can therefore make a strong argument that a program generated in this way is consistent with its specification. Formal development processes, such as that based on the B method (Schneider, 2001; Wordsworth, 1996) are particularly suited to the development of systems that have stringent safety, reliability, or security requirements. The formal approach simplifies the production of a safety or security case. This demonstrates to customers or regulators that the system actually meets its safety or security requirements. Processes based on formal transformations are generally only used in the development of safety-critical or security-critical systems. They require specialized expertise. For the majority of systems this process does not offer significant cost benefits over other approaches to system development.
Waterfall Model – Application
Every software developed is different and requires a suitable SDLC approach to be followed based on the internal and external factors. Some situations where the use of Waterfall model is most appropriate are −
- Requirements are very well documented, clear and fixed.
- Product definition is stable.
- Technology is understood and is not dynamic.
- There are no ambiguous requirements.
- Ample resources with required expertise are available to support the product.
- The project is short.
Waterfall Model – Advantages
The advantages of waterfall development are that it allows for departmentalization and control. A schedule can be set with deadlines for each stage of development and a product can proceed through the development process model phases one by one. Development moves from concept, through design, implementation, testing, installation, troubleshooting, and ends up at operation and maintenance. Each phase of development proceeds in strict order.Some of the major advantages of the Waterfall Model are as follows −
- Simple and easy to understand and use
- Easy to manage due to the rigidity of the model. Each phase has specific deliverables and a review process.
- Phases are processed and completed one at a time.
- Works well for smaller projects where requirements are very well understood.
- Clearly defined stages.
- Well understood milestones.
- Easy to arrange tasks.
- Process and results are well documented.
Waterfall Model – Disadvantages
The disadvantage of waterfall development is that it does not allow much reflection or revision. Once an application is in the testing stage, it is very difficult to go back and change something that was not well-documented or thought upon in the concept stage.
- The major disadvantages of the Waterfall Model are as follows − No working software is produced until late during the life cycle.
- High amounts of risk and uncertainty.
- Not a good model for complex and object-oriented projects.
- Poor model for long and ongoing projects.
- Not suitable for the projects where requirements are at a moderate to high risk of changing. So, risk and uncertainty is high with this process model.
- It is difficult to measure progress within stages.
- Cannot accommodate changing requirements.
- Adjusting scope during the life cycle can end a project.
- Integration is done as a “big-bang. at the very end, which doesn’t allow identifying any technological or business bottleneck or challenges early.
Incremental development is based on the idea of developing an initial implementation, exposing this to user comment and evolving it through several versions until an adequate system has been developed (Figure 2.2). Specification, development, and validation activities are interleaved rather than separate, with rapid feedback across activities. Incremental software development, which is a fundamental part of agile approaches, is better than a waterfall approach for most business, ecommerce, and personal systems. Incremental development reflects the way that we solve problems. We rarely work out a complete problem solution in advance but move toward a solution in a series of steps, backtracking when we realize that we have made a mistake. By developing the software incrementally, it is cheaper and easier to make changes in the software as it is being developed. Each increment or version of the system incorporates some of the functionality that is needed by the customer. Generally, the early increments of the system include the most important or most urgently required functionality. This means that the customer can evaluate the system at a relatively early stage in the development to see if it delivers what is required. If not, then only the current increment has to be changed and, possibly, new functionality defined for later increments.
Incremental development has three important benefits, compared to the waterfall model:
- The cost of accommodating changing customer requirements is reduced. The amount of analysis and documentation that has to be redone is much less than is required with the waterfall model.
- It is easier to get customer feedback on the development work that has been done. Customers can comment on demonstrations of the software and see how much has been implemented. Customers find it difficult to judge progress from software design documents.
- More rapid delivery and deployment of useful software to the customer is possible, even if all of the functionality has not been included. Customers are able to use and gain value from the software earlier than is possible with a waterfall process.
Incremental development in some form is now the most common approach for the development of application systems. This approach can be either plan-driven, agile, or, more usually, a mixture of these approaches. In a plan-driven approach, the system increments are identified in advance; if an agile approach is adopted, the early increments are identified but the development of later increments depends on progress and customer priorities.
From a management perspective, the incremental approach has two problems:
- The process is not visible. Managers need regular deliverables to measure progress. If systems are developed quickly, it is not cost-effective to produce documents that reflect every version of the system.
- System structure tends to degrade as new increments are added. Unless time and money is spent on refactoring to improve the software, regular change tends to corrupt its structure. Incorporating further software changes becomes increasingly difficult and costly.
The problems of incremental development become particularly acute for large, complex, longlifetime systems, where different teams develop different parts of the system. Large systems need a stable framework or architecture and the responsibilities of the different teams working on parts of the system need to be clearly defined with respect to that architecture. This has to be planned in advance rather than developed incrementally. You can develop a system incrementally and expose it to customers for comment, without actually delivering it and deploying it in the customer‘s environment. Incremental delivery and deployment means that the software is used in real, operational processes. This is not always possible as experimenting with new software can disrupt normal business processes.
When to use Incremental models?
- Requirements of the system are clearly understood
- When demand for an early release of a product arises
- When software engineering team are not very well skilled or trained
- When high-risk features and goals are involved
- Such methodology is more in use for web application and product based companies.
Reuse-oriented software engineering
In the majority of software projects, there is some software reuse. This often happens informally when people working on the project know of designs or code that are similar to what is required. They look for these, modify them as needed, and incorporate them into their system. This informal reuse takes place irrespective of the development process that is used. However, in the 21st century, software development processes that focus on the reuse of existing software have become widely used. Reuse-oriented approaches rely on a large base of reusable software components and an integrating framework for the composition of these components. Sometimes, these components are systems in their own right (COTS or commercial off-the-shelf systems) that may provide specific functionality such as word processing or a spreadsheet. A general process model for reuse-based development is shown in Figure 2.3. Although the initial requirements specification stage and the validation stage are comparable with other software processes, the intermediate stages in a reuse oriented process are different. These stages are:
- Component analysis Given the requirements specification, a search is made for components to implement that specification. Usually, there is no exact match and the components that may be used only provide some of the functionality required.
- Requirements modification during this stage, the requirements are analyzed using information about the components that have been discovered. They are then modified to reflect the available components. Where modifications are impossible, the component analysis activity may be reentered to search for alternative solutions.
- System design with reuse during this phase, the framework of the system is designed or an existing framework is reused. The designers take into account the components that are reused and organize the framework to cater for this. Some new software may have to be designed if reusable components are not available.
- Development and integration Software that cannot be externally procured is developed, and the components and COTS systems are integrated to create the new system. System integration, in this model, may be part of the development process rather than a separate activity.
There are three types of software component that may be used in a reuse-oriented process:
- Web services that are developed according to service standards and which are available for remote invocation.
- Collections of objects that are developed as a package to be integrated with a component framework such as .NET or J2EE.
- Stand-alone software systems that are configured for use in a particular environment.
Reuse-oriented software engineering has the obvious advantage of reducing the amount of software to be developed and so reducing cost and risks. It usually also leads to faster delivery of the software. However, requirements compromises are inevitable and this may lead to a system that does not meet the real needs of users. Furthermore, some control over the system evolution is lost as new versions of the reusable components are not under the control of the organization using them.
- It can reduce total cost of software development.
- The risk factor is very low.
- It can save lots of time and effort.
- It is very efficient in nature.
- Reuse-oriented model is not always worked as a practice in its true form.
- Compromises in requirements may lead to a system that does not fulfill requirement of user.
- Sometimes using old system component, that is not compatible with new version of component, this may lead to an impact on system evolution.
Real software processes are interleaved sequences of technical, collaborative, and managerial activities with the overall goal of specifying, designing, implementing, and testing a software system. Software developers use a variety of different software tools in their work. Tools are particularly useful for supporting the editing of different types of document and for managing the immense volume of detailed information that is generated in a large software project. The four basic process activities of specification, development, validation, and evolution are organized differently in different development processes. In the waterfall model, they are organized in sequence, whereas in incremental development they are interleaved. How these activities are carried out depends on the type of software, people, and organizational structures involved. In extreme programming, for example, specifications are written on cards. Tests are executable and developed before the program itself. Evolution may involve substantial system restructuring or refactoring.
Software specification or requirements engineering is the process of understanding and defining what services are required from the system and identifying the constraints on the system‘s operation and development. Requirements engineering is a particularly critical stage of the software process as errors at this stage inevitably lead to later problems in the system design and implementation. The requirements engineering process (Figure 2.4) aims to produce an agreed requirements document that specifies a system satisfying stakeholder requirements. Requirements are usually presented at two levels of detail. End-users and customers need a high-level statement of the requirements; system developers need a more detailed system specification.
There are four main activities in the requirements engineering process:
- Feasibility study An estimate is made of whether the identified user needs may be satisfied using current software and hardware technologies. The study considers whether the proposed system will be cost-effective from a business point of view and if it can be developed within existing budgetary constraints. A feasibility study should be relatively cheap and quick. The result should inform the decision of whether or not to go ahead with a more detailed analysis.
- Requirements elicitation and analysis This is the process of deriving the system requirements through observation of existing systems, discussions with potential users and procurers, task analysis, and so on. This may involve the development of one or more system models and prototypes. These help you understand the system to be specified.
- Requirements specification Requirements specification is the activity of translating the information gathered during the analysis activity into a document that defines a set of requirements. Two types of requirements may be included in this document. User requirements are abstract statements of the system requirements for the customer and end-user of the system; system requirements are a more detailed description of the functionality to be provided.
- Requirements validation This activity checks the requirements for realism, consistency, and completeness. During this process, errors in the requirements document are inevitably discovered. It must then be modified to correct these problems.
Of course, the activities in the requirements process are not simply carried out in a strict sequence. Requirements analysis continues during definition and specification and new requirements come to light throughout the process. Therefore, the activities of analysis, definition, and specification are interleaved. In agile methods, such as extreme programming, requirements are developed incrementally according to user priorities and the elicitation of requirements comes from users who are part of the development team.
Software Design and implementation
The implementation stage of software development is the process of converting a system specification into an executable system. It always involves processes of software design and programming but, if an incremental approach to development is used, may also involve refinement of the software specification. A software design is a description of the structure of the software to be implemented, the data models and structures used by the system, the interfaces between system components and, sometimes, the algorithms used. Designers do not arrive at a finished design immediately but develop the design iteratively. They add formality and detail as they develop their design with constant backtracking to correct earlier designs. Figure 2.5 is an abstract model of this process showing the inputs to the design process, process activities, and the documents produced as outputs from this process.
The activities in the design process vary, depending on the type of system being developed. For example, real-time systems require timing design but may not include a database so there is no database design involved. Figure 2.5 shows four activities that may be part of the design process for information systems:
- Architectural design, where you identify the overall structure of the system, the principal components (sometimes called sub-systems or modules), their relationships, and how they are distributed.
- Interface design, where you define the interfaces between system components. This interface specification must be unambiguous. With a precise interface, a component can be used without other components having to know how it is implemented. Once interface specifications are agreed, the components can be designed and developed concurrently.
- Component design, where you take each system component and design how it will operate. This may be a simple statement of the expected functionality to be implemented, with the specific design left to the programmer. Alternatively, it may be a list of changes to be made to a reusable component or a detailed design model. The design model may be used to automatically generate an implementation.
- Database design, where you design the system data structures and how these are to be represented in a database. Again, the work here depends on whether an existing database is to be reused or a new database is to be created.
These activities lead to a set of design outputs, which are also shown in Figure 2.5.The detail and representation of these vary considerably. For critical systems, detailed design documents setting out precise and accurate descriptions of the system must be produced. If a model-driven approach is used, these outputs may mostly be diagrams. Where agile methods of development are used, the outputs of the design process may not be separate specification documents but may be represented in the code of the program.
Software validation or, more generally, verification and validation (V&V) is intended to show that a system both conforms to its specification and that it meets the expectations of the system customer. Program testing, where the system is executed using simulated test data, is the principal validation technique. Validation may also involve checking processes, such as inspections and reviews, at each stage of the software process from user requirements definition to program development. Because of the predominance of testing, the majority of validation costs are incurred during and after implementation.
The stages in the testing process are:
- Development testing The components making up the system are tested by the people developing the system. Each component is tested independently, without other system components. Components may be simple entities such as functions or object classes, or may be coherent groupings of these entities. Test automation tools, such as JUnit (Massol and Husted, 2003), that can re-run component tests when new versions of the component are created, are commonly used.
- System testing System components are integrated to create a complete system. This process is concerned with finding errors that result from unanticipated interactions between components and component interface problems. It is also concerned with showing that the system meets its functional and non-functional requirements, and testing the emergent system properties. For large systems, this may be a multi-stage process where components are integrated to form subsystems that are individually tested before these sub-systems are themselves integrated to form the final system.
- Acceptance testing This is the final stage in the testing process before the system is accepted for operational use. The system is tested with data supplied by the system customer rather than with simulated test data. Acceptance testing may reveal errors and omissions in the system requirements definition, because the real data exercise the system in different ways from the test data. Acceptance testing may also reveal requirements problems where the system‘s facilities do not really meet the user‘s needs or the system performance is unacceptable.
Figure 2.6 Testing phases in a plan-driven software process
- Normally, component development and testing processes are interleaved. Programmers make up their own test data and incrementally test the code as it is developed. This is an economically sensible approach, as the programmer knows the component and is therefore the best person to generate test cases.
- If an incremental approach to development is used, each increment should be tested as it is developed, with these tests based on the requirements for that increment. In extreme programming, tests are developed along with the requirements before development starts. This helps the testers and developers to understand the requirements and ensures that there are no delays as test cases are created.
- When a plan-driven software process is used (e.g., for critical systems development), testing is driven by a set of test plans. An independent team of testers works from these pre-formulated test plans, which have been developed from the system specification and design. Figure 2.7 illustrates how test plans are the link between testing and development activities. This is sometimes called the V-model of development (turn it on its side to see the V).
- Acceptance testing is sometimes called ‗alpha testing‘. Custom systems are developed for a single client. The alpha testing process continues until the system developer and the client agree that the delivered system is an acceptable implementation of the requirements.
- When a system is to be marketed as a software product, a testing process called ‗beta testing‘ is often used. Beta testing involves delivering a system to a number of potential customers who agree to use that system. They report problems to the system developers. This exposes the product to real use and detects errors that may not have been anticipated by the system builders. After this feedback, the system is modified and released either for further beta testing or for general sale.
- The flexibility of software systems is one of the main reasons why more and more software is being incorporated in large, complex systems. Once a decision has been made to manufacture hardware, it is very expensive to make changes to the hardware design. However, changes can be made to software at any time during or after the system development. Even extensive changes are still much cheaper than corresponding changes to system hardware.
- Historically, there has always been a split between the process of software development and the process of software evolution (software maintenance). People think of software development as a creative activity in which a software system is developed from an initial concept through to a working system. However, they sometimes think of software maintenance as dull and uninteresting. Although the costs of maintenance are often several times the initial development costs, maintenance processes are sometimes considered to be less challenging than original software development.
- This distinction between development and maintenance is increasingly irrelevant. Hardly any software systems are completely new systems and it makes much more sense to see development and maintenance as a continuum. Rather than two separate processes, it is more realistic to think of software engineering as an evolutionary process (Figure 2.8) where software is continually changed over its lifetime in response to changing requirements and customer needs.
Coping with change
Change is inevitable in all large software projects. The system requirements change as the business procuring the system responds to external pressures and management priorities change. As new technologies become available, new design and implementation possibilities emerge. Therefore whatever software process model is used, it is essential that it can accommodate changes to the software being developed. Change adds to the costs of software development because it usually means that work that has been completed has to be redone. This is called rework. For example, if the relationships between the requirements in a system have been analyzed and new requirements are then identified, some or all of the requirements analysis has to be repeated. It may then be necessary to redesign the system to deliver the new requirements, change any programs that have been developed, and re-test the system.
There are two related approaches that may be used to reduce the costs of rework:
- Change avoidance, where the software process includes activities that can anticipate possible changes before significant rework is required. For example, a prototype system may be developed to show some key features of the system to customers. They can experiment with the prototype and refine their requirements before committing to high software production costs.
- Change tolerance, where the process is designed so that changes can be accommodated at relatively low cost. This normally involves some form of incremental development. Proposed changes may be implemented in increments that have not yet been developed. If this is impossible, then only a single increment (a small part of the system) may have to be altered to incorporate the change.
Two ways of coping with change and changing system requirements. These are:
- System prototyping, where a version of the system or part of the system is developed quickly to check the customer‘s requirements and the feasibility of some design decisions. This supports change avoidance as it allows users to experiment with the system before delivery and so refine their requirements. The number of requirements change proposals made after delivery is therefore likely to be reduced.
- Incremental delivery, where system increments are delivered to the customer for comment and experimentation. This supports both change avoidance and change tolerance. It avoids the premature commitment to requirements for the whole system and allows changes to be incorporated into later increments at relatively low cost.
- Rather than deliver the system y as a single delivery, the development and delivery is broken down into increments with each increment delivering part of the required functionality.
- User requirements are prioritized and the highest priority requirements are included in early increments.
- Once the development of an increment is started, the requirements are frozen though requirements for later increments can continue to evolve.
Incremental delivery has a number of advantages:
- Customers can use the early increments as prototypes and gain experience that informs their requirements for later system increments. Unlike prototypes, these are part of the real system so there is no re-learning when the complete system is available.
- Customers do not have to wait until the entire system is delivered before they can gain value from it. The first increment satisfies their most critical requirements so they can use the software immediately.
- The process maintains the benefits of incremental development in that it should be relatively easy to incorporate changes into the system.
- As the highest-priority services are delivered first and increments then integrated, the most important system services receive the most testing. This means that customers are less likely to encounter software failures in the most important parts of the system.
However, there are problems with incremental delivery:
- Most systems require a set of basic facilities that are used by different parts of the system. As requirements are not defined in detail until an increment is to be implemented, it can be hard to identify common facilities that are needed by all increments.
- Iterative development can also be difficult when a replacement system is being developed. Users want all of the functionality of the old system and are often unwilling to experiment with an incomplete new system. Therefore, getting useful customer feedback is difficult.
- The essence of iterative processes is that the specification is developed in conjunction with the software. However, this conflicts with the procurement model of many organizations, where the complete system specification is part of the system development contract. In the incremental approach, there is no complete system specification until the final increment is specified. This requires a new form of contract, which large customers such as government agencies may find difficult to accommodate.
A prototype is an initial version of a software system that is used to demonstrate concepts, try out design options, and find out more about the problem and its possible solutions. Rapid, iterative development of the prototype is essential so that costs are controlled and system stakeholders can experiment with the prototype early in the software process.
A software prototype can be used in a software development process to help anticipate changes that may be required:
- In the requirements engineering process, a prototype can help with the elicitation and validation of system requirements.
- In the system design process, a prototype can be used to explore particular software solutions and to support user interface design.
A general problem with prototyping is that the prototype may not necessarily be used in the same way as the final system. The tester of the prototype may not be typical of system users. The training time during prototype evaluation may be insufficient. If the prototype is slow, the evaluators may adjust their way of working and avoid those system features that have slow response times. When provided with better response in the final system, they may use it in a different way. Developers are sometimes pressured by managers to deliver throwaway prototypes, particularly when there are delays in delivering the final version of the software. However, this is usually unwise:
- It may be impossible to tune the prototype to meet non-functional requirements, such as performance, security, robustness, and reliability requirements, which were ignored during prototype development.
- Rapid change during development inevitably means that the prototype is undocumented. The only design specification is the prototype code. This is not good enough for long-term maintenance.
- The changes made during prototype development will probably have degraded the system structure. The system will be difficult and expensive to maintain.
- Organizational quality standards are normally relaxed for prototype development.
Boehm’s Spiral model
A risk-driven software process framework (the spiral model) was proposed by Boehm (1988). This is shown in Figure 2.11. Here, the software process is represented as a spiral, rather than a sequence of activities with some backtracking from one activity to another. Each loop in the spiral represents a phase of the software process. Thus, the innermost loop might be concerned with system feasibility, the next loop with requirements definition, the next loop with system design, and so on. The spiral model combines change avoidance with change tolerance. It assumes that changes are a result of project risks and includes explicit risk management activities to reduce these risks. Each loop in the spiral is split into four sectors:
- Objective setting: Specific objectives for that phase of the project are defined. Constraints on the process and the product are identified and a detailed management plan is drawn up. Project risks are identified. Alternative strategies, depending on these risks, may be planned.
- Risk assessment and reduction: For each of the identified project risks, a detailed analysis is carried out. Steps are taken to reduce the risk. For example, if there is a risk that the requirements are inappropriate, a prototype system may be developed.
- Development and validation: After risk evaluation, a development model for the system is chosen. For example, throwaway prototyping may be the best development approach if user interface risks are dominant. If safety risks are the main consideration, development based on formal transformations may be the most appropriate process, and so on. If the main identified risk is sub-system integration, the waterfall model may be the best development model to use.
- Planning: The project is reviewed and a decision made whether to continue with a further loop of the spiral. If it is decided to continue, plans are drawn up for the next phase of the project.
The main difference between the spiral model and other software process models is its explicit recognition of risk. A cycle of the spiral begins by elaborating objectives such as performance and functionality. Alternative ways of achieving these objectives, and dealing with the constraints on each of them, are then enumerated. Each alternative is assessed against each objective and sources of project risk are identified. The next step is to resolve these risks by information-gathering activities such as more detailed analysis, prototyping, and simulation. Once risks have been assessed, some development is carried out, followed by a planning activity for the next phase of the process. Informally, risk simply means something that can go wrong. For example, if the intention is to use a new programming language, a risk is that the available compilers are unreliable or do not produce sufficiently efficient object code. Risks lead to proposed software changes and project problems such as schedule and cost overrun, so risk minimization is a very important project management activity.