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Software engineers usually find coding to be the most satisfying aspect of their job. This is easy to understand because programming is a challenging, creative activity requiring extensive technical skills. It can mean getting to “play” with state-of-the-art tools, and it provides almost instant gratification in the form of immediate feedback. Programming is the development task that most readily comes to mind when the profession of software engineering is mentioned.
That said, seasoned engineers and project managers realize that programmers are part of a larger team. All of the integral tasks, such as quality assurance and verification and validation, are behind-the-scenes activities necessary to turn standalone software into a useful and usable commodity. Software configuration management (SCM) falls into this category—it can’t achieve star status, like the latest “killer app,” but it is essential to project success. The smart software project manager highly values the individuals and tools that provide this service.
This chapter will answer the following questions about software configuration management.
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SCM benefits an organization in four areas: control, management, cost savings, and quality. These four benefits are mapped to an organization’s overall goals and objectives when the decisions are made to bring a SCM tool in-house. The features of a SCM tool further support these benefits.
SCM Benefits the Organization in Four Major Ways
Control in SCM provides the ability to review, approve, and incorporate changes into a configuration item. There must be one controlling SCM tool so that there is only one set of training, license management, installation, and user procedures. All project personnel use the tool. Inherent in the tool is a standardized, measurable process for change. Integrity maintenance of CIs is enforced throughout the product life cycle. The tool permits only controlled change to the baseline CIs, and all changes are tracked.
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When planning for SCM in your product development organization, you must first understand the classes of potential problems that can exist. Once the classes are understood, the inherent problems that are causing configuration management issues may be easily identified.
Potential SCM Problem Classes
- Multiple developer syndrome—When you have a project that requires more than one developer, there is the problem with multiple people working on one product base. This could be a test plan, requirements specification, or code. Effort is wasted when two or more people work on the same file and then save it. Without SCM control, the last person to save the file has those changes saved. All the other changes are lost. The simplistic method of locking a file while one person reads it prevents others from simultaneously working on the file.
- Multiple releases—Enhancements to the base product should result in additional releases of the product containing the latest changes. Once the second release is available, some users are on an earlier release. Having an SCM makes managing those releases possible. When bugs are reported, changes must be made across all impacted releases. As new features become available in the product, they must be made available to all current users, no matter what the release date.
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