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Closing the Gap

The Voice of Millar's Clients

The real-life clients Millar sees have three things in common:

  • The organization is shifting (or has shifted) to a software-development process that is increasingly nimble, automated, and more customer-driven.
  • The organization is adopting (or has adopted) leading edge, standards based UML tools to improve communication, software quality, reduce project risk and improve ROI.
  • The software development process is increasingly more efficient and collaborative -- not just amongst software engineers, but amongst everyone involved in the process.

"This is all very real -- but virtually everyone I work with is keeping the details of their own process improvement very low profile," said Millar. "They see their innovations as a competitive advantage -- slightly ahead of the curve -- and they don't want to share outside their home base."

While preparing for this article Millar asked many of his clients to openly discuss details about their process improvement, and the only ones prepared to do so insisted their companies go unnamed. "Until these new approaches become ubiquitous, many current adopters are treating the details as 'trade secrets,' " he said.

First Client

Profile: What Gartner would call a "small and midsize enterprises (SME's)." A competitive company whose primary business is developing innovative and practical software products used primarily in the education sector: universities, colleges and public-school districts. Their solutions are very much shaped by customer needs, and they have emerged as a leader in web-based solutions tailor-made for education professionals.

Process improvement within the company is led largely by the Director of Software Quality Assurance who oversees a shop with 32 IT staff . He commented on how some of the newer tools have reshaped their development process in the past couple of years:

We are cutting back on the "scope creep" that comes from misunderstandings by using a combination of Microsoft's Visual Studio Team System (VSTS) and SPARX Systems' Enterprise Architect and integrating them through Microsoft's Team Foundation Server. In a VSTS/.NET environment this combination closes the gap between the business analysts on one hand and software engineers and QA testers on the other. We recently did a pilot project, and the clarity provided by the very first UML modeling project, produced with the new process and the new tools, repaid the entire cost of retooling.

Second Client

A very large national U.S. retail company that just celebrated its 20th anniversary, and is "very excited about the future." The retail operation includes outlets across the country from coast to coast. Their business strategy includes continually introducing improvements and innovations to make shopping easier and more convenient for the customer, while continually searching the globe for merchandise that gives customers "exactly what they're looking for." The retail industry has very small margins and improving software agility and services is viewed as a company-confidential competitive advantage.

The Chief Software Architect was prepared to talk for this article on condition that his organization went unnamed. As with the first example (above), his development team is using SPARX Systems' Enterprise Architect.

I've been able to impose a new level of discipline on the development process -- we've eliminated the 'weak link' by creating a common language (UML) between the business people coming in with requirements and the architects who are designing the new systems. The newer software-development tools are a breath of fresh air when I compare them to their predecessors -- that performed like a herd of elephants.

No Longer "Pioneering"

Millar said he personally no longer feels like a "in the wilderness" when he works with clients who are part of this change -- because he sees so much of it now in his professional travels

"As recently as five years ago the people bringing me in to an organization were the early adopters and ahead of their colleagues in the industry," he said. "I would facilitate workshops with a group of keeners, and it would take a day or two before the others in the team got excited at all the new and emerging possibilities."

"Today it's different," said Millar. "Now when I go in and work with a client -- typically everyone in the room is already enthusiastic about trying out new tools and learning how to improve the processes of evolving and delivering software."

When Millar talks about a "quiet, major transformation" in process improvement, standards and tools, he really sees a fundamental change in the way software development teams work together. He sees software development professionals embracing change as never before, and happily leaving behind dysfunctional software development practices.

"The light at the end of the tunnel is getting clearer."


Scott Ambler

David Anderson blog

Ivar Jacobson

Ramsay Millar

Microsoft Solutions Framework

Microsoft Foundation and Visual Studio Team System

SPARX Systems

International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA)

OMG (Object Management Group)

Useful Books

Agile Modeling
by Scott W. Ambler
Wiley; First Edition (2002)
ISBN-13: 978-0-471-20282-0

Requirements in Context
by Daryl Kulak and Eamonn Guiney
Addison Wesley; Second Edition (2004)
ISBN-13: 978-0-321-15498-3

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