Sunday, July 17, 2005

Evaluating VSTS

Well, today I finally start evaluating Visual Studio Team System. Yesterday I upgraded my PC to 2 Gig of RAM as the Virtual PC image with VSTS beta 2 requires 1.5 Gig on it's own.
I am excited about the new version control system (SCC) mainly because having worked with Visual Source Safe in previous projects, I am all too aware of the need for a decent offering from Microsoft in the Source Control department, although I am going to be quite hard to please given that I have been using Subversion for my own projects for some time now, and have found it to be very good.
I am also interested in the unit testing and code coverage modules.

I have to confess though, I don't think the productivity gains are going to be quite as dramatic as the Microsoft hype is making out. The best that we can hope for is that with the tighter integration of all these aspects of the SDLC, there will be a small time saving in people not having to switch between applications to perform development related tasks, and that reporting on project status will become easier.

There are a few reasons I believe this.
- A good, productive software development team will already have processes in place that suit there projects, their tool set and their team structure, they will already have worked out procedures around the fact that their tools aren't completely integrated, so the integration of the tools can save a small amount of time here.
- A good team will also be disciplined in following procedure, If a code review or static code analysis is required before checkin, a disciplined team will adhere to this, and do not really need software to tell them that they've forgotten to write unit tests. In this case the only benefit I can see is when new staff are introduced to the development cycle, the procedures will be more evident and they may learn them quicker.
- A good development team will have good leadership that will keep an eye on the processes tweaking them if there are issues with the code produced, or if the procedures are becoming too burdensome.
- A bad development team would have discipline problems that require more than just some software rules to solve. In my experience, where there is a lack of discipline, it is either out of laziness, or a lack of understanding of the reasons behind the procedures and policies. Laziness is a serious problem, however a lack of understanding can be solved only through education and experience.
- A good team will have communications in place. One presentation I've seen suggests that with VSTS there will be no more need for weekly status meetings because the work item tracking and the automatic reporting will be enough to display status. Maybe the actual status reporting in such meetings could be simplified, but I have always found these kinds of meetings vital as they provide a forum for everybody, (not just the project manager) to get a feel for what is going on across the entire project, so developer X might be complaining about a problem he's having and developer Y says that he has just finished some code that solves a similar problem, and would just require some re-factoring to solve his particular issue, while tester A is struggling with a particular concept in the use cases, so one of the BA's offers to explain it a bit more thoroughly for the entire team who then suggest she re-word the use case slightly. These kinds of informal meetings are invaluable to a dev team, and until we start writing software with advanced AI, they cannot be replaced by software.

Anyway, I still think VSTS will be a worthwhile tool, but I just think we need to be realistic about how far software tools can take us, and we need to not under estimate the human side of software development.

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