In-Depth

Software configuration management shop talk

SCM consultant Michael Sayko offers the following advice on choosing a software configuration management tool:

Regardless of your company’s size, Sayko says, you’ll need to answer basic questions such as, What does your development process look like? How do you determine what the software requirements are? And, how do you take those requirements and turn them into code? Evaluate the process everyone follows, from the business analysts to the designers, and determine how you as a company work with your customers, Sayko suggests.

Next, develop a picture of how a software project might begin and move through its lifecycle. You can then use that to begin evaluating potential tools.

“Come up with a very specific scenario that includes identifying requirements, putting them into a repository for requirements, developing code, and simulating how teams will work on that code,” Sayko advises.

Too often, companies jump into purchasing an SCM tool without understanding what’s involved. That can happen when the purchasing decision isn’t made by the technical people who will actually use the product. Instead, the decision is handed down from the executive level, perhaps based on previous relationships or a vendor’s name recognition or market share.

Another common mistake is to choose a tool that’s too complex for your needs. “If you’re a large software development house with thousands of people using the tool and a really complex application,” Sayko says, then you might want to assume the administrative overhead and long learning curve of some of the largest and most complex tools.

IBM’s Rational products, for example, can be complex to administer—and may be a good solution for a large company. However, for a medium-size shop with less involved development needs, another tool might be a better fit. MKS and Borland’s SCM tools are both generally less complex to administer—a fact both companies use as selling points.

To get a handle on the cost of managing and maintaining the product, Sayko says, ask questions such as:

How much it will cost your shop to run this tool?

Will you need dedicated staff, first to set it up, and then to administer it?

How much staff, and at what skill levels?

Do you need dedicated staff to help with the processes behind the tool?

The amount of administrative support required can differ widely with different tools, and the companies Sayko works with seldom realize the cost going in, he says.

He often sees shops that don’t know exactly what they want initially, but make the mistake of purchasing more SCM software than they really need. “They go out and purchase an entire suite, then have unrealistic expectations about how long it’s going to take to roll that out.”

Don’t underestimate the cost of installing and configuring the product. Moving from a very simple configuration management solution to a more complex SCM suite isn’t usually done in a few weeks. Several months is more realistic, to include at least one, and probably two, software development lifecycles.

Back to feature: Software Configuration Management: New Tools to Streamline Development

About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at lbriggs@lindabriggs.com.

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