Monday, January 23, 2012

The Problem of Communication in Software Change Management

In our previous discussion of software change management, we focused on analysis and identification problems. This is only one of the problem areas in software change management that have been identified in studies in the field. Other problems that tend to recur related to software change management include communication issues, decision-making challenges, effectiveness roadblocks, traceability issues and problems with tools. As we examine each of these areas, we can see that a number of important issues frequently appear, especially when third-generation languages (3GL) such as Java, RPG, COBOL and various C-languages are involved (C, C#, C++).

In this post, we will review at a high-level how communication issues in software development and software change management can lead to problems. How can we overcome communication issues between developers, business analysts, stakeholders and users to ensure more effective and satisfying outcomes in application development?  Are there changes that can be made in the way we approach application development that will tend to reduce the impact and likelihood of errors?

Concurrent or parallel development can cause a need for greater and more frequent communication between developers, business analysts, stakeholders and users. This slows down progress overall and introduces the likelihood of communication errors and misunderstandings. This is especially true when communicating with non-developers. Developers figuratively “speak a different language” and this introduces a greater possibility of misunderstanding. Non-developers and developers can hear the same words and can take away different meanings. In addition, developers and non-developers will tend to attach different contexts, priorities and values to the meaning of communications. The need for greater communication caused by concurrent development, leads to a greater number of possible miscommunications leading to errors and unmet expectations.

Use of shared software components also exacerbates communication issues. Communication is required between more developers because of the shared nature of components. Developer A cannot simply change Component Y without considering the potential effects on development by Developers B, C, and D. This results in the need for distributed decision making on changes to components. Since computer languages are only readable by specialists, explaining the potential ripple effects of component changes can involve the need to communicate with multiple groups of business analysts, stakeholders and users.

A number of strategies can help to overcome these and other communication related issues in software development to help ensure more effective software change management. It is essential to have a communication plan, style and approach for development projects. The use of team development tools for source code control and other issues will tend to help avoid communication errors as well. Whenever it is possible to leverage more advanced development approaches to reduce the number of developers, this will have positive impacts on communications as well. More frequent development cycles by using agile or SCRUM development principles will likely improve communication as well. More frequent prototyping becomes very useful in reducing communication issues. Where human language fails to adequately portray software, prototypes can provide actual or simulated experiences that overcome communication and comprehension barriers. Leveraging repository-based development approaches provides a context for visualizing dependencies that is more effective than scanning a code base, for example. Making use of pre-compiled application platform capabilities will greatly reduce the development effort and minimize communication issues, especially thorny underlying issues in the environment that typically fail to capture the attention of business stakeholders but that can often lead to fundamental differences in judgment of software quality and completeness. If the platform selected allows for the leveraging of .NET based components in client-side development, there can be significantly fewer communication challenges as well.

More effective software change management hinges to a great degree on overcoming communication issues in software development. In our next entry, we will consider the question of effective decision-making or governance as a source of errors from a software change management perspective.

No comments:

Post a Comment