Big Lever Software, Inc.

BIGLEVER NEWSLETTER: Introductory Series

The 3-Tiered SPL Methodology:
The Top Tier

Greetings from BigLever:

Welcome to part 3 of my 4-part introductory series on the 3-Tiered Methodology for software product line (SPL) engineering. This pragmatic methodology provides a holistic view that incorporates many of the successful new generation SPL methods and techniques that have enabled some of the industry's most notable recent success stories.

The 3-Tiered Methodology comprises three tiers of capabilities and benefits, where each tier builds upon and is enabled by the previous tier:

  • Base Tier: Variation Management and Automated Production
  • Middle Tier: Core Asset Focused Development
  • Top Tier: Feature Based Portfolio Evolution

This newsletter installment features a synopsis of the top tier.

>> See Part 1 or Part 2 of the newsletter series for a review of previous tiers.

The Top Tier: Feature Based Portfolio Evolution

The capabilities and benefits available at the top tier of the 3-Tiered Methodology embody a nearly optimal form of software reuse. It is in this tier that the strategic business benefits of SPL practice are fully realized.

With conventional product based portfolio evolution, the product marketing team typically creates a set of requirements for each product in the portfolio (often by cloning the requirements document for the last product and making appropriate changes) and then uses them to negotiate the content and schedule for the new product release roadmap. This time-intensive process of creating and negotiating requirements, schedules and roadmaps for each new product slows time-to-market, and ultimately limits the number of products that can be effectively deployed and maintained in a portfolio.

With a feature based approach, rather than manage the portfolio evolution on a product-by-product basis (with cloned requirements documents for each product), the portfolio is managed by feature specifications and feature profiles. Thus, features become the primary concept for managing the portfolio across the entire enterprise.

The product marketing team utilizes concise feature descriptions to negotiate effectively with the engineering team regarding extensions to the product line feature set. New and extended feature requests are simply expressed in terms of "deltas". Thus, the engineering effort required for any new product or feature is pure delta engineering, where the only new development needed for a new product instance is precisely what is lacking in the current assets. Everything else across the portfolio development lifecycle is fully reused.

The benefits of this feature based approach come both in the form of reductions in time-to-market for new products and features, as well as increases in the overall scalability of the portfolio:

  • New product feature profiles supported by existing feature models and core assets can be used to immediately and automatically configure the new products.
  • New product feature profiles supported by existing feature models, but not yet fully supported by the core assets, can be easily mapped into requirements for suitably extending the core assets.
  • New product feature profiles not supported by existing feature models and core assets can be easily mapped into requirements for suitably extending the feature models and core assets.

At the top tier, the evolution of the portfolio is motivated by the new features that deliver the most business value for the portfolio. Decisions are made based on clearly defined feature models, and according to the actual cost/benefit of adding features to the portfolio, rather than these business-critical decisions being driven by departmental politics or personal agendas.

Also, the size of the portfolio can scale as large as needed to meet business demands and opportunities. The number of products in the portfolio loses relevance -- this number can scale to the size needed to meet market opportunities rather than being limited by development cost and resources.

The business now has enhanced its competitive advantage. It has the agility to rapidly and precisely evolve the portfolio and expand into new markets. Products can be brought to market very quickly. The business can survive and even capitalize on turbulent market conditions.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of this introductory series, which will address the impact of this new generation methodology on SPL transitions and spotlight recent real world deployments. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback regarding your experiences with SPL practice.

Best Regards,

Charles W. Krueger
BigLever Software CEO Moderator

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